Naval Gazing

A senior journalist on a well respected national radio station suggested, when quizzing a high ranking naval officer in an authoritative voice, that being in the Sea Cadets was somehow ‘elitist’ and the reserve of public schoolchildren. What utter rubbish. As an ex Corby secondary school pupil – sorry, student – I had joined the Sea Cadets, T.S (training ship) Corbei, which would meet every Thursday in a group of old wooden buildings on the town’s Cottingham Road. This had been quite a radical move for me because, as a non swimmer, it served only to prove my commitment to my closest friends who were already members. We were issued with two full uniforms – one for summer and one for winter. I can still see my mother ironing the almost black-blue bellbottomed trousers which had to have seven equally spaced horizontal creaseses in each leg. (I think it was a representation of the seven seas). We learned how to parade, march, drill, salute and to fire a .22 rifle on a firing range which was situated on Elizabeth Street in the Territorial Army building. A building which, incidentally, had been opened by my late uncle Jack many years previous. (Major John Nimmo). My friends and I were taught boxing in a well controlled and disciplined fashion, so much so, and contrary to my own conviction, that we were deemed fit to enter a regional boxing tournament that would be held at the Festival Hall in Corby. Needless to say, being a somewhat ‘wiry’ light-weight boy of fourteen, I had hoped that they might match me with a lad of similar stature and weight. No such luck. I remember entering the ring for my three round bout wearing a heavy leather head guard and gloves that seemed to weigh a ton. Imagine my horror when I spotted my opponent in the opposite corner. He was a very tall boy from Leicester who was bouncing around like Tigger and seemed to have arms as long as clothes posts. From the moment the first bell sounded he proceeded to pummel me with all his might and despite my umpteenth attempts to hit him somewhere, anywhere, I just couldn’t get near him. I ended up with a bloody nose which heralded the end of my one and only appearance in a boxing ring. My dad seemed to be quite proud of me saying something consoling like ‘It’s the taking part that counts’. At school the next day I was amazed to find that, win or lose, the few of us that had taken part were seen as very heroic by our contemporaries. I don’t remember feeling heroic. This was the Corby Sea Cadets: not Eton, not Harrow, but Corby! The old huts along with the cadets of T.S Corbei have long since slipped their mooring.

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