Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Humor in Uniform : “DUTY WATCH”

Humor in Uniform

A Spoof

Way back in the 1970’s – when we were trainees at the Naval Academy Cochin (Kochi) – we used to go for our drill practice to the neighbouring Gunnery School Drill Square.

There would be GIs (Gunnery Instructors) lurking everywhere – prowling at every nook and corner – waiting to yell at us for the smallest of infractions in parade drill.

Once – when the “guard” was being marched in for morning Divisions – a Chief GI bellowed at the top of his voice: 

“Is that the guard or the bloody ‘duty watch’…? March smartly – not like the ‘duty watch’…”

He implied that instead of marching smartly like a “guard” – we were walking in a rather slovenly manner like a “duty watch”.

While sailing – and in harbour too – the ship’s company is organized in “watches” to operate a ship 24/7.  Earlier it was the “2 Watch System” (1-in-2) – where half the sailors would be on duty – and the other half would take rest – but now – it is mostly a “3 Watch System” (1-in-3) – where one-third of the crew are on duty and the remainder 2/3rd are off-duty and take rest.

The “watch” on duty is called the “Duty Watch”.

When a ship returns to harbour – everyone wants to rush ashore – the married sailors want to meet their families – and the bachelors want to have a good time and paint the town red.

But – sadly – the “Duty Watch” has to remain on board ship – and – obviously – the sailors in the “Duty Watch” are quite demoralized – and this is reflected in their bearing – as they move around in a rather dispirited manner. This is what the Chief GI was implying when he yelled at us: “March smartly – not like the ‘duty watch’…”

Now – I must tell you a rather amusing “Duty Watch” story which happened more than 36 years ago – in the late 1970’s.


Once we joined the Navy – we realized that the slogan “Join the Navy and See the World” applied to the Merchant Navy and not the Indian Navy.

In fact – due to ‘austerity measures’ – even the so-called “cruises” to nearby countries had been curtailed.

We were – therefore – delighted when our ship was sent on a “cruise” to an island nation – an archipelago – in the Indian Ocean.

The sea was quite rough – but then – as we approached the Equator – the sea became calm.

Soon – we crossed the Equator – and had the customary “Crossing the Line Ceremony” – which transformed us from “Pollywogs” into “Shellbacks”.

In due course – we reached our destination – and – the moment land was sighted – the first person to surface was the Ship’s Doctor – who had dived below into the sick-bay the moment we had left our base port Mumbai (then called Bombay).

Now – our Doctor was a “sea sick type” – and he used to hit the bunk the moment the sailing order was received.

But now – he was dressed in the best of “civvies” – a bright red T-Shirt – looking out for his “girlfriend” (his medical college classmate) – who was settled here – and was waiting for him on the jetty.

The moment we came alongside at 10 in the morning – the magnanimous Captain announced a “modified routine” – and “liberty” was piped – and soon – everyone was “ashore” – except the unlucky “Duty Watch” – who haplessly watched their shipmates proceed ashore to have a good time.

Of course – since it was ‘modified routine’ – rather than hold back 1/3rd of the sailors – besides the OOD (Officer of the Day) – a reduced ‘Duty Watch’ was held back on board – in order to let maximum sailors enjoy the ‘liberty’.

By noon – the officers and sailors – were spread all over the island – on the beaches, in the bars and pubs – enjoying themselves to the hilt.

The Captain was enjoying himself in the Yacht Club – where he had been invited for Lunch – by the crème de la crème of society.

At around 3:30 in the afternoon – after plenty of beer and a sumptuous lunch – the satiated Captain was contemplating going back to his ship for a “siesta” – but he was reminded that he was required to proceed to the sports stadium as the “Chief Guest” for the “friendly” football match between the visiting “ship’s company” and local club which was to begin at 4 o’clock.

“Oh, Yes…” he said –  vaguely remembering the invitation for the football match – the message had been delivered to him the moment the ship had come alongside – and he had marked it down to his XO (Executive Officer) for “necessary action”.

The Captain then went ashore – to the Yacht Club – and within seconds – his XO followed him out – and soon – he was swimming away on the best beach – trying to woo the beauties in bikinis.

Everyone had gone ashore – the “Duty Watch” was hanging around morosely – and the OOD (Officer of the Day) was drowning his sorrows in the Wardroom.

At around 3 in the afternoon – a bus arrived on the jetty.

A ‘Liaison Officer’ alighted from the bus – walked up the gangway from the jetty to the ship – and informed the gangway duty quartermaster that he had come to pick-up the ‘football team’.

The duty quartermaster called up the Wardroom to inform the OOD.

“What bloody ‘football team’…?” the OOD muttered annoyingly.

“I don’t know, Sir…” the quartermaster said.

“Okay – I am coming up…” the OOD said – and he downed the remains of his beer – put on his cap – and walked up to the gangway.

After speaking to the ‘Liaison Officer’ – the OOD asked the Quartermaster: “Do you know anything about this…?”

“No, Sir...” he said.

“Okay – call the ‘Duty Signalman’…” the OOD ordered.

The ‘Duty Signalman’ was duly piped for – and he arrived within a minute.

“Yes, Sir…” the ‘Duty Signalman’ said, “there was a message regarding a ‘football match’ – the Captain marked it down to the XO – so I left it on the XO’s table…”

“Bloody Hell – did the XO see the message…?” the OOD asked the ‘Duty Signalman’.

“Sir – I don’t know….”

“You buggers are great – now – go on the double and get the message…” the OOD shouted.

The OOD read the message.

The friendly football match was scheduled at 4 PM.

The time now was 3:15 PM – just 45 minutes to go for the match.

The OOD did some quick thinking.

Recalling the ship’s company was not feasible – the sailors would be all over the island – enjoying themselves – on beaches, in bars and on the streets.

So – the OOD told the Quartermaster: “I want the ‘Duty Watch’ assembled here immediately.”

The Quartermaster piped “Duty Watch Fall-in on Gangway” – and within minutes – the ‘Duty Watch’ had fallen-in on the gangway.

The OOD asked the Quartermaster and the Duty Engine Room Sailor to fall-out.

Around 15 ‘Duty Watch’ sailors remained on deck.

The OOD told the rest of the ‘Duty Watch’ sailors: “You are proceeding to play a football match – 11 of you will play – the rest of you will be substitutes’ – now change into sports rig and do your best…”

With the ‘Duty Watch’ playing the Football Match against a talented local team – you can well imagine the result of the match – thankfully – the referee blew the whistle before the score could reach double figures.

The embarrassed Captain was the only one cheering his Ship’s Team – while his Officers and Sailors were painting the town red.


Next morning – the ‘Master-At-Arms’ informed the XO about the Football Match Fiasco and then he asked the XO: “Sir – about liberty today…?”

The XO – who had come back to the ship in a most ‘happy’ state in the wee hours of the morning – and was nursing a terrible hangover – said: “Bloody Hell – after yesterday’s fiasco – the Captain is sure to stop ‘liberty’ today – do one thing – why don’t you ask the Captain directly…?”

“Sir – I was told by the Quartermaster that the Captain has already gone ashore…” the Master-at-Arms said.

“Okay – that means that he hasn’t stopped ‘liberty’ – so announce ‘liberty’ as usual…” the XO said happily.

Later – we met the Captain sunbathing on a beach.

We expected a tongue-lashing.

But the Captain did not utter a single word about the ‘Duty Watch’ Football Match Fiasco – he just said that he was happy the officers and ship’s sailors were enjoying themselves.

As far as the fiasco was concerned – we realized that the Captain’s silence was the most effective reprimand.

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1. This story is a spoof, satire, pure fiction, just for fun and humor, no offence is meant to anyone, so take it with a pinch of salt and have a laugh.
2. All Stories in this Blog are a work of fiction. Events, Places, Settings and Incidents narrated in the stories are a figment of my imagination. The characters do not exist and are purely imaginary. Any resemblance to persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

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