-H.M.S. Hood Crew Information-
"Vignette of the War"
By "Gregale" (originally published in "Men Only", May 1940)
Updated 06-May-2014

This story comes from the May 1940 edtion of the magazine "Men Only". It was written by an as yet unidentified officer from H.M.S. Hood who wrote under the pen name "Gregale". It concerns Petty Officer Cook (O) William Henry Perry and his affection for a seagull. Sadly, William was lost in the sinking of Hood just a year after this was written. It was sent in to use by William's granddaugher, Sue Taylor.

Chainbar divider

He was a typical destroyer Officers' Cook ... a short, weather-beaten little figure who had only once been known to show any emotion~
That was on the occasion when Their Lordships, basking in the balmy days of peace, had produced an order that all naval cooks were to wear white chef's caps in the execution of their duty. He had then emerged from his galley, an indignant, bristling, but rather anxious little man, and bearded the Sub-Lieutenant in the sacred precincts of the ship's office.

After a short but decisive encounter he had left a shattered young officer looking wistfully at a Fleet Order that was so much wasted paper. Otherwise, he remained in a galley the size of a shore-side lavatory, singing his tuneless songs and producing, under completely impossible conditions, meals which would have put to shame the chromium-plated kitchens of a large hotel.

He never went ashore, but spent the dog· watches reading dreadful yellow-backed Western stories sitting on an, old butter-box in his minute but spotless galley.
The only concession he made to the fury of the elements was when-the ship was rolling her guts out and a green North Sea washed across the upper deck. On these occasions there was no coffee after dinner.

I think he was happy. I know we all loved him for the grand little character he was, but nobody ever got under his skin till Albert came into his life and revolutionised his existence for two glorious weeks.
We were crossing the Bay in a heavy gale, and the waves were crashing over the quarterdeck. Cookie hung on inside the after-screen having a quiet smoke and watching the tormented water with the expressionless eyes of, an unimaginative man who has seen it all before.

Suddenly he darted out and dived into the rushing water. The lifebuoy sentry shouted and started forward, but cookie jumped back with something in his hands-a faintly struggling seagull, its wings stuck fast with oil fuel. From that day he dedicated himself to the care of his novel pet.

The bird lived on a cushion in the bottom of the butter-box and fed richly on the same diet as the wardroom.

It was bathed frequently to try to get rid of the filthy stuff which had chained it, otherwise it worked ordinary naval routine, sitting placidly in its box till the evening, when it would perch on cookie's knee while he petted it or talked to it like a dog. After about a week it would walk sedately up and down the deck following its master while an interested audience of sailors sat and watched-not allowed to touch.

The cook was radiant. He had christened it "Albert" for some reason, and whenever he could find a listener he would extol the cleverness and high qualities of what he called" My -- winger, Albert." "Y" gun's crew, being just outside the galley, heard most of the stories and passed them on, somewhat coloured, round the messdeck, until Albert was credited with being a very paragon amongst gentlemanly. seagulls and became quite an integral part of the Ship's Company.

The Sub-Lieutenant issued him with an official Service Certificate headed SEAGULL, Albert, and giving all the required information ... " Swimming Qualification -Good, if not oiled. Trade brought up to -Fisherman Age-Uncertain. Weight-Disgusting. He even had a Conduct Sheet, which, unfortunately, he blotted.

One evening the whisper went round that Albert was dying. A stream of callers to the galley returned with the news that the bird had been found lying in his box stiff and still. Cookie was inconsolable. Dinner in the wardroom was positively haunted by the thought of the bedraggled little corpse above. After it was over the Flotilla doctor went up to carry out a post-mortem while the mess sat and awaited the verdict. Suddenly: howls of laughter floated down from the quarterdeck and the medical man came back with his findings. In a special offensive against the oil fuel the cook had washed the feathers with petrol and the bird had investigated the strange-smelling stuff. Albert was dead. Dead drunk.

Next day the charges were formally entered on, his Conduct Sheet: (I) Was absent from his place of duty, namely the Upper Deck, at "Seagulls fall in:' (2) Was drunk on board.

The ending is sad, I'm afraid.

Albert was well on the road to recovery. He was beginning to fly a few wings, and was so tame that he would sit around the galley by himself. It was while he was doing this that the breech worker from " Y" gun sneaked in to give him a walk in the absence of his master. Flushed by a sudden desire to show off, the unhappy bird gave several clumsy flaps and flopped over the side into the sea. As cookie returned, his helplessly floundering figure was dropping far astern.

It is an unfortunate fact that seagulls will eat each other in these circumstances. Furthermore, as any seaman will tell you; different countries breed different birds. Albert was a fluffy little Gallic gull, and the sea where he was decanted bred vicious, stringy Spaniards. The sailors realised all this. Moreover, through the long, weary days at sea they had poured out on that bird all the lavish affection give to a dog ashore. Perhaps it is ridiculous, but in a small ship on a big sea emotions do get tied up sometimes. Anyhow, that night was the saddest I've ever known at sea.

Just before "Pipe Down" there was a knock on the office door. The cook came in. He hadn't shaved, and he looked, somehow, rather pitiful. He handed in a tattered Service Certificate, all soup and oily thumbmarks, then went out without a word.

Across it were written two words-" Discharged dead."