Ship’s Mess Photograph

Photographs of crew spaces on board Royal navy ships are rare, especially candid pictures from the days before flash photography was easy and common. Tonight’s photograph is therefore unusual as it depicts crewmembers relaxing in their mess on board a Royal Navy warship in the 1950s or 1960s:SKM_C284e18080914500 - Copy (7)The men are clearly ratings, their caps being perched above the seating area:SKM_C284e18080914500 - Copy (3)By the 1950s most ships included a number of mess decks for their crews and although hammocks were still in use, more modern ships were beginning to have bunks and central areas with seating and tables where men could sit when off duty and play games, talk or generally relax. This photograph appears to be in the mess of a group of ratings who may have been stokers or other engineering ratings as one of the men is dressed in a boiler suit:SKM_C284e18080914500 - Copy (6)It is clearly somewhere in the tropics as two men are stripped to the waist, and at least one is wearing shorts:SKM_C284e18080914500 - Copy (5)That might explain why they seem to be enjoying their ice-cream cones so much! Despite the heat, it appears it might be Christmas as a row of cards is hung up on the bulkhead behind them:SKM_C284e18080914500 - Copy (4)As one would expect from the date, the men are all clearly smokers and packets of cigarettes and lighters can be seen on the table in front of them:SKM_C284e18080914500 - CopyOne interesting feature about the table is that it has a series of pull out ashtrays built into the edge of it, one of which can be seen open with a cigarette in it:SKM_C284e18080914500 - Copy (2)Life aboard ship in the 1950s, even with a ship’s mess for downtime, could be boring as recalled by Alfred Pickup:

The long evenings sailing across the Indian Ocean were spent mainly reading. I could get through a book a day on average; the odd evening I would spend in the mess with my mates playing cards and listening to the ship’s DJ on the SRE (Ships Radio Equipment). It almost made you wish you were in prison where there were no bouncy floors and you had snooker and pool tables, darts, table tennis, television, gymnasium, library, visit from loved ones, and best of all a whole room to yourself.

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