The Sea Cadet, No. 5, Vol. 2, January 1945

Press By MAX DUNSTONE Illustrated by FRYER Joining the Navy to-day, even for those of us who have been con­scripted, is not a particularly fear­some altair. The medical exam.nation methodical of your history and then the interview with an officer who, after putting several shrewd ques­tions, and following your own wishes as much as possib.e, assigns you to the branch which he considers will bethe most suitable. The great adventure has begun. But let us for a moment visit a sea­port in the year 1802. It doesn't have to abe large port: Bideford, Penzance, Brixham, or a host of others will serve our purpose. The good ship Polly, a small coasting vessel of some 90 tons, has just putin. Nick Truscott, a young seaman, puts on his clean canvas breeches, and with his hat set at a jaunty angle, strides off to see his sweetheart, Comfort, who lives on the outskirts of the town. He whistles mer­rily ashe makes his throughway the narrow streets by the harbour, and calls in for a glass of ale at his favourite tavern. Life is really worth living! He is just beginning a second tank­ard with a crony of his when the door bursts open, and a small boy in.rushes “Press gang! Press gang! ”he yells at the top of his voice. Immediately the quiet of the tavern is shattered as the company breaks up in disorder. Their drinks forgotten, the seafaring men, and any others who happen to be present, bolt for the near­est doorway. They even dive through the windows, all with the same thought in mind, to escape into the dark night outside. Nick manages to climb into a passage that runs alongside the tavern, but his luck is out. He is about to turn into another alleyway when half a dozen figures loom up before him. He recog­nizes themas Navy men by their shiny straw hats and metal buttons. There is no escape. “Seize him! ”snaps an ele­gant figure, dressed in a cloak and cocked hat. Brawny arms pull him to the ground, and not too gently either. Ashe still struggles, a belaying pin is brought into action, and Nick is knocked un­conscious. Whilst the struggle is taking place, the officer, to give some semblance of authority to the proceedings, monotonously reads from a large scroll: “In pursuance of powers invested in me by His Most Gracious Majesty King George the ”,...Third but his voice is lost in the commotion. That was how Nicholas Trus­ cott came to join the Navy in 1802, and all because His Maj­ esty's frigate Seasprite happened to put into that particular port. on that particular evening, having lost three of the crew overboard in a gale. Nick regained consciousness next morning to find the frigate already at sea. No wonder he felt miserable. Before him lay the prospect of several years’ enforced service, under the most appalling conditions. Mouldy biscuits and salt meat to eat. brackish water to drink taken unwillingly to all parts of the globe fighting the French possibly commanded by cruel and utterly ruth­less officers. Never to see pretty Com­fort again. Not a bright outlook, you will agree. Impressment, as this means of re­cruitment is called, began in the Middle Ages, although in those days the men were taken mostly for the Army. In Elizabeth's time the press gangs were known as “the takers.” In the eigh­teenth century, however, it was the Navy that used this method, until it finally disappeared altogether in 1815. All seafaring men between 18 and 55 were liable to be seized, and, although a later Act limited the time of service to five years, the right of impressment was never disowned. The strange fact is that, in spite of the motley collection of recruits toadded the Navy by impressment, some of the greatest exploits in British maritime history were performed during this period. Even to-day, when we read of bricklayers and policemen manning our light coastal forces, we wonder what is this inherent quality that makes our people take to the sea so naturally. 131
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