HEART OF OAK by Tristan Jones


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Jones (The Incredible Voyage) described his early-teenage years, running away from Wales to work on trading ships, in A Steady Trade (1982). Here, with the same effective combination of burly nostalgia and gritty deglamorization, he continues the story through WW II--starting with 1940 enlistment, at age 16, in ""Andrew,"" a.k.a. the Royal Navy. Training for new lads took place on HMS Ganges, ""a brain-twisting, body-racking ground of mental bullying and physical strain."" Jones, cocky from his boyhood at sea, learned ""to become one of the herd,"" the only way to survive the regimentation nightmare: ""We ran, and we ran, and we ran. If we weren't standing to attention, marching, eating terrible food or exhaustedly sleeping, we ran."" And, despite fitful pleasures (sexual initiations on shore, camaraderie and intellectual awakenings at sea), the war years would bring other, worse nightmares. Jones' first ship burned and sank, with rescue--for 180 of the men--by a nearby destroyer: ""It is difficult to give an impression of the risk of jumping from a ship's deck in the screaming wind over mountainous seas. . ."" The ""Jimmy"" (First Lieutenant) on his next ship was a martinet who ""tried to impose battleship bullshit on men who were living in conditions which would make a Devil's Islander blanch""--though a fine skipper and a fierce mission (part of the ""Sink the Bismarck!"" campaign) kept the men from mutiny. And the rest of the war brought: the death of both of Jones' parents; a comic interlude with a Liverpool prostitute (a German bomb blows out the room's outside wall, exposing All); and a grisly double.sinking, this one with few survivors and un-heroic gore on both sides. With bawdy songs, thick Andrew jargon (a glossary's included), and anti-militaristic bitterness shading the nautical patriotism: another strong episode in Jones' seagoing autobiography, featuring plenty of North Atlantic action.

Pub Date: Aug. 29th, 1984
ISBN: 1574090194
Publisher: St. Martin's