MY LIFE BEFORE THE MARS


My name is Henry Thomson, I am 13 years old and I live on the Mars Training Ship, the ship sits at anchor in the river Tay, near Woodhaven harbour, Wormit in Fife. This huge black and white painted boat is a big wooden 'hulk' which is home to over 300 homeless and destitute boys from towns and cities all over Scotland. I was brought here because I was caught stealing a bread roll, and as I had lost my father in the war, and recently lost my Mother to the fever, was now left on my own with no home and I was starving with hunger. The 'Polis' man said I was lucky to be sent to the Mars, as not that many years ago, I might have been sent to prison, or transported to a penal colony, like Australia.

ARRIVING ON BOARD


When I first arrived on board, at the age of 11, I was one of ten new arrivals, and we waited in line to be bathed, have our hair cut, very short, and fitted for our navy style uniforms. We met the admission officer who took our names and dates of birth, and any other details we could remember; he also gave us a number. This number we couldn't forget, as from that day onwards we would be known by that, mine was126 and even my best friends on board would call me that. I would not hear anyone call me Henry again, for a long, long time. The first night aboard was scary, I was cold and frightened, trying to sleep in my bed, my hammock, and though I had no place to call home, this was not a place I knew either. I cried that night, like most new boys, though few would ever admit to it.

THE MORNING'S WORK


The first morning was the same as most mornings until I left the ship at the age of 16. At the call of "Hands turn out" at 5 o'clock in the morning it was time to get up, within five minutes we are dressed, without boots, which were only worn in Winter on board, and standing at the head of our hammocks. Next we would pray then 'stow away' the hammocks. At 5.25 we rolled up our trousers and for the next hour and a half we would scrub the decks. It was cold and hard work and sore on your knees, we would start at one end of the deck, and on all fours, make our way, scrubbing, to the other end. This continued till the drum beat at 6.50, to "fall in" on the main deck. At 7 o'clock, at last, it's down to the lower deck for our breakfast of porridge and milk. At 7.30 we wash, in cold water, dress and clean up the lower deck, at 8 o'clock the main inspection of the day is in front of the Captain. At 9.00 we had a religious service and at 9.15 half of the boys would make their way to be taught practical subjects, such as seamanship, tying knots, working with sails, some to tailoring, shoemaking or working with the carpenter, and the other half, would spend the morning in the classroom being taught geography, English or Arithmetic.

THE REST OF THE DAY


At 12.30 the signal to "Clear up decks" is given and that is the end of the mornings work and lunch is to be had. From 1.30, when dinner is finished, there is three-quarters of an hour for play or 'skylarking' which is often hide-and-seek. At 2.15 the boys swap over their work of the morning, the ones who were taught in the schoolroom transfer to practical training. At 5pm school is over and tea consists of milk and a biscuit. At 6.00 its time to ourselves; in fine weather a party leaves to bathe, others play marbles on deck. There are also ninepins, fencing foils, and draughts, while some read. Sometimes we would have a game of football, in our bare feet, on the upper deck, the ball was made of rolled up paper and tied up with string, we would play until the ball went over the ship's side into the Tay. There is a library on board and we would often get old newspapers, donated by well wishers, to read. On Wednesday and Saturday afternoon we have time off and we would go to Wormit, to play either cricket or football, I like football best. At 8 o'clock in the evening the hammocks are once again brought out and made ready for use. At 8.30 it's time for prayers and 9 o'clock we are, once again, in our hammocks and very quickly fast asleep, knowing that we will be wakened again, sharp, at 5 o'clock,
Goodnight.