John Bailey
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John Bailey - Aberdovey, Wales, 1957

Course 167.

(Click on the link below to see more photos from John's time on the course)

At the end of our railway journey was “Penhelig Halt” a small station on a Welsh hillside and reminiscent of many an Essex village halt. It is situated a mile east of Aberdovey, but not of sufficient importance to appear on the map.

Once out of the station, everything seemed rather strange and unfamiliar, most of all faces of the other seventy odd boys who were to be my companions during this adventure. Adventure it was going to be without a doubt, but would there be too much discipline, would the going be too tough, could we really make the grade?

An officer, Mr Holland, was there to meet us, dressed in navy blue trousers with a sweater to match, which apart from his cap, was the official school uniform. His greeting was “Hands out of your pockets, bags into the motor truck and all boys proceed under their own steam up the road. After a mile you should come to the school unless you have lost your way”.

During this walk we were able to discuss among ourselves, our anticipations and forebodings regarding the course. It was a steep, badly made road and gave us our first taste of the Welsh hills, but after the long mile we reached the school where we were told to wait on the Parade Ground, which was in fact just like a small garden covered with concrete. We gathered round the instructor who was waiting for us and he detailed us to various watches, each named after a well known Admiral. I was allotted to the “DRAKE WATCH”. Without any waste of time, we were instructed to change into PT kit and report for medical inspection, after which we paraded individually for Capt. Fuller, the Warden of the school. At this parade he decided which boy should be Watch Captain and Vice Captain.

After all the interviews were complete we had our first meal at school, very much appreciated by all, although I had had a meal on the train. Later on our bags were unpacked and we met Mr Jones, our Watch master, who was a Welshman and experienced mountaineer. He gave a short talk and stressed the points to which we should pay special attention during the course.

One of the first activities was the assembly of the school, at which we were asked to take an oath, not a biblical oath, but a manly one, whereby we would all be enabled to abide by the rules of the school. “Lights out” was at 10 o’clock but this did not stop the tongues wagging. The tales getting taller and steeper, the corresponding volume of noise rising higher, until the Watch master materialised and had us out for a run round the parade ground in PT kit. He left us with the threat, “Less noise or a cold shower all round”. This had a good effect, but as the days proceeded, we were too tired for much talking and were well tucked down, even before “lights out”.

In the morning, it was up at 6.30 am (Sunday 7.30 am) in PT kit for a short run followed by a cold shower and those who tried to dodge the column were hosed! Then followed pre-breakfast duties, including polishing the floor of the hut, cleaning windows, cleaning latrines, sweeping outside, etc.
Cleaning the hut for the first time was quite a game with the boys on their hands and knees polishing the floor, others cleaning windows, not forgetting the chap whose turn it was to clean the latrines well armed with his stiff brush and can of disinfectant. We thought our cleaning was perfect, until Capt Fuller’s inspection. He found dust where we thought dust could never collect. We learnt our lessons and gained full marks towards the end of the course.

On completion of these cleaning duties the bugle sounded for breakfast and by now the thirteen starving members of Drake Watch eagerly attacked porridge, eggs and bacon, bread and marmalade; I must confess to an intake of twelve slices.

Our days on watch duty involved extra duties of cleaning the recreation and reading rooms, cleaning the parade ground of paper and sweeping and polishing the mess room after meals.
On Sunday at 7.30 am a master came in with “Wakey, wakey you happy campers” and we awoke not to a day’s holiday, but for a short run of about one mile in PT kit followed by a cold shower. We thought perhaps Sunday might be an easier day but no, it was straight down to cold showers, usual duties and lectures. Many of the boys and myself attended the evening services at the Aberdovey Church and on the last Sunday Capt Fuller called me into his office and asked me if I would read the lesson in Church; why he asked me out of 85 boys I really do not know.
One of our first lectures was on map reading, in theory, and that afternoon we had to test our theories by walking a distance of eight miles. The weather was good, we made our way there and back successfully and on the whole felt very satisfied with our venture, little did we know what the organisers had in store for us.

Our next long walk was for 25 miles, on Monday of the second week. It was walk, walk, walk all day and I thought my feet could never stand such walking. I was wearing thick sea boot stockings and had invested in the heaviest pair of boots I could buy, which fortunately enabled me to escape blisters. Many of the boys had to contend with four or five blisters. The most difficult part was carrying our rucksack. This was a feat of endurance because the weight was fantastic. My rucksack held three blankets, three loaves of bread, three tins of Irish stew, 6lb tin of corned beef and a complete change of clothing. After walking 26 miles we finally reached our destination, a place called “Hendre Dee” which is situated in a beautiful valley.

“Hendre Dee” was the name of the house where we stayed for three nights. During our stay here we helped the Forestry Commission with a job called “Brashing”, which means cutting off all dead branches on the pine trees to a height of six feet. This allows an easier passage for men through the forest in case of fire. The type of saw we used was interesting; it looked most primitive but proved to be entirely practical, and no doubt had been used for years.

We had to chop all the wood we needed for the fire for cooking. One tired hungry, hopeful lad did ask the master why a Primus stove was not provided. His question was answered by another, “Did you think you had come to Buckingham Palace? Go and chop wood or go hungry”.
One of our further tests while camping up the mountains was to walk eight miles and back to the nearest village and to prove we made it, we had to obtain the name of the foreman at a huge Slate Quarry. After taking 15 minutes to find a person who could speak English, and obtaining the foreman’s name, we then returned home.

At first, washing our clothes presented a problem as we had to carry this out in a stream. Soap and small items were carried away in the swiftly flowing current and one boy almost lost his pants. These were retrieved eventually but far more muddy than when they went in. After that we spent time in constructing a dam, and future wash days passed without incident.
On the fourth day we started the journey home. In our ignorance, we imagined it was going to be easier than the upward climb; but oh no. Even without so much weight in the packs (we had demolished all the food) the going was very hard indeed. It rained solidly from the time we set out until we arrived back at the school. I shall never quite know what kept me going; conditions were almost at their worst; we were soaking wet, our boots were full of water and mud and before we had gone far under these conditions we were dead tired. But we arrived eventually.

The next walk was an endurance test in every way. It was the main day of the whole course and we walked a distance of 35 miles, climbing to a height of 3,000 feet on the mountain Cader Idris. Two boys from each watch were chosen as leaders of six boys each. I was one leader.
We went by train to Dolgelly, then walked to Llyn Gwernan, and on to Foxes Path to the summit of Cader. Here we reported to an officer, after which we proceeded to Hafoty, then to Llanfihangel y Pennant. We had dinner at a place called Abergynolwyn and then went by way of a track to a slate quarry. During this walk, one of the boys in my team began to show signs of fatigue. The master asked if he would like to drop out, but no, he would keep going in spite of a heavy cold, a bad eye and a splitting headache. However, his condition was becoming worse as we approached Pennal Isaf and his walking pace shortening as we reached Pennal, “Six miles to go”, I said “Can you make it?” His reply was “I’ll try”. After about a mile his legs were buckling and two of us endeavoured to take his weight with his arms around our shoulders, for three miles to our last check point in Happy Valley. The master asked for my opinion as to whether he should continue and here I was in a most awkward position as the boy was so emphatic that he should continue, although by this time his legs were just moving automatically. With reluctance I told the master I thought the boy should retire as there was a hill and very steep one at that, and it would also have been a strain on the rest of the boys to continue to aid him. He had several days in the sick bay afterwards proving he had indeed reached the end of his endurance.

During this walk we encountered almost every possible surface one could meet. Here too we had to squelch through the most evil smelling bogs it is possible to imagine. Our boots were in a terrible state and we welcomed the fording up of a river rather than by crossing on a bridge a little farther on, to clear ourselves of this sticky smelling morass. The paths and tracks wound here, there and everywhere; at times they were just edges on the mountain side, with towering cliffs one side and a sheer drop of one thousand feet or more on the other, not very pleasant especially when we encountered the sudden obliterate mountain mist. For descriptions of all this scenery, I must leave it to brains more cleaver than mine, to draw word pictures of all this magnificent beauty.
It was dark, raining heavily and there was a wind force of 3-4 on the morning of our first sea trip. We were out rowing in a naval cutter 32ft long and having a beam of 7ft. They need a lot of handling but with a crew of 10 plus one coxswain, a fair speed can be maintained. As the boats had their masts out, the job of stepping them was given to us. Later in the afternoon in a lecture on rope splicing we were shown three splices – (a) the eye splice, (b) the back splice and (c) the end splice. Examples are given below:-

Then came the Wednesday, which to me was the best part of the course. We were sailing the cutters all day. They do need handling as such a lot can happen all at once in a sailing boat, but we survived I am glad to say in spite of the fact that many of the boys had not been in a boat before.
The next day, Thursday, we went to sea in the Golden Valley, a one time motor fishing vessel (MFV) until the school had her converted to a ketch. Her tonnage is 40, length 54ft and she is powered by a Kelvin K4 60 HP diesel.

Throughout the first day we were mainly on radio trials. There were two Army national servicemen accompanying us to manipulate the radio.
Soon after leaving the River Dovey entrance buoy we steered a course of 280 degrees, with wind SSW force 3, accompanied by rain. Visibility was very poor indeed. After covering a distance of 35 miles, we altered course for Aberdovey. We stayed on the ship that night, when some of us had two hourly watches to do; mine was from 2-4 am. I agree that the boys should cover these watches, as it did bring home to us the duties and responsibilities of those who go to sea.
The programme was about the same next day but instead of returning to Aberdovey, we docked at Barmouth. The water dries out here, and the ship would be left high and dry, but to prevent her keeling over we used the mainsail halyard, making one end fast to a point on the quay and keeping the rope taut.

The next day, Saturday, was by far the most rough of the three days at sea, with winds reaching force 7 – 8. This shook the boys more than anything else, especially when the waves broke over the ship. During this heavy weather it was noticed that a coil of rope was becoming uncoiled. Two of us made our way along the pitching decks and put it all tidy again. When it was time to make our way back, I gave the other boy word when to run for it, but when it came to my turn, I was not quite so lucky and felt the full force of that next wave, which knocked me flying and I heard splits in all directions in my brand new oilskins.

A number of the boys were sick, but I am glad to say that even this rough sea had no effect on me whatsoever. I enjoyed every moment of this sea trip and for me it was the high spot of the whole course. Throughout the trip I acted as steward, which entailed preparing the tables for meals, waiting on the officers and cleaning their cabin, not the easiest tasks in rough weather. For me, the three days at sea seemed to go far too quickly and has given me a greater urge for the sea than ever.

Part of our time was devoted to athletics but high and long jumps etc seemed almost impossible in view of aches and pains in every joint.
Captain Fuller, the Warden, gave us an interesting talk on artificial respiration, which I thought was extremely useful to assist in cases of emergency.
During the course, films were shown to us on the art of whaling, and life and work on the meteorological boats.
In addition to the compulsory courses, we were given the choice to accept one from the following three courses:-
1. Mountain Rescue
2. Seamanship
3. Fire Fighting

I chose the fire fighting course as I had always been interested in this but had not undertaken any instruction. We had various lectures on the different appliances and practical demonstrations on manning them. When it came to holding the hose and having the water turned on I had not realized how alive the hose became, rearing and bucking about all over the place until we had mastered the technique of it all. An old windmill was used for jumps into a blanket from a window 30ft up. Oh yes, that was going to be easy enough, looking up from the ground, and we swarmed up the stairs eager to make our jumps. When it came to my turn I took one look and recoiled. My companions down there looked like midgets and the distance looked more like 100ft. I leaned out gingerly and told the master I could not jump that far. He replied “I said jump and look sharp about it”. I said “Suppose I miss the blanket”? The master replied, “You will make a big hole in the ground, now jump”. More gingerly still my feet and legs went out over the window sill; then I followed, landed on the blanket with a “wham” and my stomach followed a few seconds later. That I hope is my first and last jump into a blanket.

The last day of all we gathered in the mess hall for prize giving; some had done well, others not so good; some had enjoyed every moment, while some were vowing never to set foot in an Outward Bound School again.

In conclusion I would like to take this opportunity of thanking all members of the staff at the school for their efforts taken and interest shown to all the boys and to members of the firm of Messrs. Lake & Elliot, Ltd, who made it possible for me to take part in this, to me, a most enjoyable and instructive course.