John Ayres
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John Ayres - Aberdovey, Wales, 1952

My Outward Bound adventure began well before getting off the train at Aberdovey! Actually, it began during my last year at a secondary modern school in Orpington, researching career opportunities for, firstly, the Royal Navy (poor eyesight and no qualifications excluded me from both deck and engine room opportunities}and, secondly, the Merchant Navy. Again, a big "no"� for a deck career, and my lack of qualifications made an engineering cadetship a non starter. But there was a thin chance that access could be gained to the MN as an engineer officer at the age of twenty-one, subject to the right experience and credentials.

During my exploring a naval career I became acutely aware, time and time again, of Outward Bound. It was definitely something I had to experience and I tucked the aspiration away for a later opportunity.

You will have gathered by now I was desperate to go to sea in any manner or form. I did, and still do, respect the sea and many people that sail on it, either professionally or for pleasure. It would be stretching it a bit to claim to having the sea in my veins. I did, however, start to learn to sail, aged nine, on the Medway during the war, on Fireflies; my eldest sister was a WREN at Dover Castle during the Dunkirk repatriation and the rest of the war and my mother had sailed the Far East and Asian waters on small cruise ships as a companion/nurse to gentrified marine travellers. Oh! And my father had been across the Channel by ship to visit the Somme during the First World War with a bayonet in one hand and a couple of packs of fags in the other.

So, to getting the right "experience and credentials"�. With my father's help, I gained a position as an engineering apprentice with the Ministry of Supply at Fort Halstead, Kent, an armaments research establishment, at the age of sixteen. Five years later, with a bunch of C&G's and an HND and six month's experience in a heavy fitting shop at Woolwich Arsenal, I joined the Anglo Saxon Petroleum Company (later absorbed into Shell Tankers) as a Junior Fifth Engineer. To say the least, it was extremely satisfying, walking into the seaman's office in Cable Street, London, to collect my MN papers.

Having completed my first year's apprenticeship my thoughts turned towards gaining a place at Outward Bound. The entrance criteria in those days was fairly varied, including shipping company sponsorships, school patronage, Vicar's recommendations to Magistrates Courts, family depravation, plus a whole host of bursaries. The first named was "out"�, secondly, my school was being considered for demolition , my family were not that degenerate and no vicar in his right mind would entertain such mitigation on my behalf. So it came back to bursaries.

There were a few out there but I focused on the Association of Girls Clubs & Mixed Clubs, working on the principal that the two bursaries they gave each year would not, in those days, be contested by girls. The snag was the nearest club activity was in Maidstone, nearly 25 miles from home. During the first year of membership I either cycled there twice a week or my father subsidised the bus & Greenline fare. During that year I became a committee member, played table tennis for them at county level and successfully applied for a bursary!

The bursary was for the following year's entrance so I had quite a few months to collect the necessary gear together. Most items were assembled reasonably easily except for boots. Good ones in those years just after the war were not easily come by. But the Home Guard had them, prompting me to enrol pretty smartly. Drill parades were in an old schoolhouse once a week. Very often I was the only squaddie in sight and was drilled, entirely on my own, by the lowest rank available to the troop at that time - a First World War major! I am always reminded of it when I watch repeats of Monty Python.....!

My Outward Bound experience was then tragically delayed for a year owing to a broken thumb and wrist whilst playing tennis. The boots were, however, finally able to play their part during late 1952 and were returned to the Home Guard with DNA from Cader Idris,Tal-y-llyn and a Miss Owen's hill sheep farm, accompanying my resignation and humble thanks.

During the train journey from London to Aberdovey I met a number of professed Outward Bounders. One in particular (can't remember his name) was a townie, very bourgeois, and obviously had a better tailor than this little village boy. He thought I was quaint, with over polite eating habits. It was all a new experience for me and this was, so I learnt, what Outward Bound was much about!. He always tagged along with me on our weekly off hours on Wednesday afternoons and trekked, in all weathers, up over hills to a Miss Owen's sheep farm. She made the most delightful griddle cakes and cut home cured ham from sides hanging off the rafters. It was our treat of the week. I often wondered why or how my chum was at OB for he seemed to come from an environment that would forever shield him, including guiding hands to griddle cakes.

I joined course 123 on the 19th November 1952. My first impressions of the staff during the initial interview were a mixture of awe and respect with an overlay of anxiety of not being able to meet their demands. P I Martin, O/C Athletics, allocated me to Fisher watch. A boy from Pangbourne School was appointed our watch leader and a young cadet named Anstey, from the STS Arethusa, was made Vice Captain. In those days there was a democratic system prevailing that gave the watch the right to either confirm or change the watch leaders after a few days of assessment. Young Anstey was unanimously reconfirmed as Vice Captain and for reasons I was never able to fathom, I was elected watch leader.

At the time, I felt very sorry for the Pangbourne boy. His school had always been one of the main starting blocks for a sea-going career, producing embryo officers for the Merchant Navy, and this must have given him an uncomfortable jolt. I sadly cannot recall any involvement with him for the rest of the course but am still haunted by his face peering out from the course-end photo.

Our watch had been somewhat lethargic those first few days. Anstey and I got together and established a plan of campaign to smarten the whole squad up. Our ideas were based on hard work and discipline with the overall demand that every watch member appreciated and enjoyed being there. Marching was our first effort. Our watch put their backs into it, every yard, every step, achieving a rhythm that would have done any squaddie proud. We even established a "show off"� break step on the simple command of 1, 2, 3.

One central activity to our day was morning drill. Freezing cold, often wet, with sharp winds up your shorts, and always staff keeping an eye on standards. Anstey and I worked out drill routines that caught the eye at that time of day, always with masses of ribald comments floating around to gangling members of watch, cumulating with the whole watch and other bystanders chorusing at the end with "pick up the debris"�. And then cold showers! They frightened the nuts off me the first time in but subsequently, masochistically or otherwise, I found the avalanche of freezing water quite invigorating.

Fisher Watch became top watch fairly rapidly and stayed top throughout the course. Much of our success I put down to our really enjoying what we did, as well as we did, and the support everyone gave to the team. All of us came from different walks of life - different standards, different humour and certainly different aspirations. One young Cockney lad, named, I think, Danny, had a retiring, almost embarrassed nature and obviously came from an impoverished background. His contribution to everything we did as a team was unstinting, with quiet good humour and totally loyal to our team endeavours. He broke his leg coming down Cader on the big hike and we brought him down on a makeshift stretcher. When reporting to the delightfully indomitable G Fuller on return that our team thought the hike could have been a tad more demanding, we received the retort that it ruddy well would have been if we hadn't shoved Danny in a bakers van in Towyn for repatriation back to school! Danny, in my view, prospered more than most from his exposure to Outward Bound, purely because of the effort and humanity he put into it.

Many of the fine young colleagues on my watch stood out for various reasons. One in particular had his fair share of attention, and, depending what your hobbies are, not always for the best of reasons. For this narrative we shall name him Elwyn. He came to Outward Bound via the Vicar/Magistrate route, ostensibly for poaching. The magistrates in his home town of Abersoch had thought fit to curb his habit of snaring things at night to a few weeks among the elite of ne'er-do-wells at OB. His nocturnal habits did change, mainly because he felt lonely and away from his traps, so much so that he resorted to the only thing a healthy young chap does best to console himself. Unfortunately for me, this Abersoch poacher and I shared a bunk: I was on the top tier with the fumbling Elwyn on the lower. I thought at the time he had done some part time work shaking olive trees in Greece. Our bunks were not designed for abuse, self or otherwise, and in self defence, I resorted to taking my Home Guard trophies to bed every night to hurl at him. One pair wasn't enough so all my immediate bunk neighbours would load my bed and surrounding shelves up with their boots. I put it down to team building. Matron Griffiths often had to patch his face up in the morning but she had been quietly tipped off why it was occurring. The poacher always took it in very good heart, even when I told him it wasn't quite what I had in mind when encouraging him to pull his weight.

One downer for the School over that period was the weather, causing all sailing on the Warspite to be cancelled. The School's head of sailing, the indefatigable Howard Davies, and his invincible assistant, Stan Hugal, compensated for it by extra lectures on square riggers, barquentines and other rigs. If there had been a maritime Crufts at Aberdovey during my course the Davies/Hugal duo would have been Best at Show! Stan went on to be Curator at Aberdovey's Maritime Museum. He epitomised a mariner with beard and gait. He made the Players fag packet sailor look like a S'arthend fish & chip shop advertisement.

Warspite was a classic of her day and her bosun, Phillips, was equal to his job and more. Captain Fuller allowed me and a chum to stay on board Warspite the following summer during the School's annual two-week shutdown, so I got to know Bosun Philips even better. He brimmed over with sea craft and was a delightful chap to have a few beers with at the Penhelig Arms. It was a great two weeks holiday, spent mostly in GP 14's, over The Bar and relaxing in the other one.

What saved the absence of a sail on the Warspite was an equally exciting voyage on a totally different craft. The School already owned an old sailing life boat but then the School's main patron, Alfred Holt Shipping, donated a reconditioned Trinity House life boat. She had completed a refit in Beaumaris, Anglesey. Howard Davies put together a delivery crew of Captain Fuller, a local diesel mechanic from Penrhos Garage and two boys to bring her round to Aberdovey. The privilege of joining the crew went to a chap named Belmont and me. Belmont and I travelled the 76 miles to Beaumaris in the back of an open pickup truck, in heavy wind and rain, under the cover of a canvas awning. He was sick most of the way.

We left Beaumaris in the afternoon, down the Menai Straits, refuelling in Caernarvon, cutting in through Bardsey Island and over the bar into Aberdovey. Simple, really. Except that Captain Fuller, the engineer and my trucking friend with an already empty belly were all as sick as dogs the whole way round, under canvas cover, on the lea deck, with at least a force 8 blowing it's socks off outside the bridge housing.

From time to time Howard Davies produced a comforting bottle of rum and the occasional sip was allowed to warm the inner man. Somewhere around Bardsey Island channel I realised some personal bilge pumping was required. How to achieve this, covered in s'westers, sea boots "�an all, was beyond my experience. Skipper Davies came to the rescue by advising that in the old sailing ship days it was usual to do it in your sea boots. The secret was to switch the stream halfway through to warm up both feet. This was advice I've taken many a time since, and shared it with others. I skippered an Admiral's Cup yacht, Wild Goose, in the ill fated Fastnet race in 1979 and shared my warming habits with all on board. Much, as I was advised, to their relief.

During our last few days of the course the BBC came and recorded a programme of the Outward Bound ethos to be broadcast early the following year. I had some fun having a bit part in the interviews but was warned off by staff not to mention rum, boot warming or vibrating Abersoch poachers. A chap in my village back home in Kent, when hearing the broadcasted programme, said "did you really go there because you wanted to?"� The fact he asked the question meant he would not understand my answer.

If there is anyone out there reading this from course 123, Abersoch poachers or otherwise, I would really appreciate their contacting me through