Was It Really So Long Ago

By LincolnGreen

The Museum, The Ferry and The Ganges

For nearly the last 40 years, a significant portion of the Shotley peninsula has been under private ownership and for at least the last seven of that, in the hands of property developers. From just after the turn of the twentieth century, until 1976, It was a Royal Naval Training Establishment (RNTE), known as HMS Ganges. In 1866 HMS Ganges became the boys' training ship anchored in Falmouth harbour, before moving on to Harwich and later just across the river Stour at Shotley in 1905 where it took up a much respected position as a shore training base. The ship itself was towed on its final journey to Cardiff for disposal.

Today was the first of 2016 that the Harwich ferry operated, coinciding with the first day of the HMS Ganges museum opening this year at the Shotley Marina (see extra photo). It is a small museum, run by enthusiastic volunteers, containing a wealth of memorabilia from the Ganges establishment, including a host of service records from the navy boys stationed there. One of which was my paternal granddad, Alfred John "Jack" Green.

He trained to become a navy rating there in 1924, in his mid teens. We don't know much about his time there, although we do have a couple of photos, one of the swimming baths and another of the mess. The establishment was reputed to offer a hard life for the youngsters, under strict regimes, aimed at turning out reliable and obedient naval servicemen. 

Part of that training included climbing the iconic mast (which can just be seen in the middle of the picture), 143ft (48m) to the top. On ceremonial occasions, manning the mast was performed to music in a formal fashion (see clip here on youtube), with the button boy standing on the very top (the button being a piece of wood, around 30cm in diameter). Once on top, the button boy saluted, before returning to the ground and earned an extra shilling for having volunteered! Grandad is said to have been a button boy himself and although reasonably happy with heights, standing on a piece of wood so high is more than bond me.

Unfortunately, the mast and Ganges as a whole has suffered the ravages of time. Although listed, the mast has been allowed to rot and crumble. I think its really sad to allow this icon become so derelict. The housing development will go ahead and as part of it the mast will remain, although only a replica is expected and smaller than the current one. Engineers estimated costs of over £1m a number of years ago to renovate the mast and since then, more has fallen from it.

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