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November 16, 2018

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Short Rounds

Mrs. Perry’s Yarn Beam

During the hard winter of 1786-1787, some small holders in rural far western Massachusetts became so disaffected with the state government that they staged an impromptu insurrection, known to history as Shay’s Rebellion, after Capt. Daniel Shay, a Revolutionary War veteran who was the most prominent of its leaders. The insurgency was shortly put down, with a minimum of bloodshed, but had far reaching consequences; but a few months later the Constitutional Convention would meet in Philadelphia, in no small measure as a response to the events in Massachusetts.

At one point during the outbreak, a company of the rebels under Capt. Peter Wilcox, Jr., descended on the small town of Lee, Massachusetts, intent on prevent the state court from sitting. A company of loyal militiamen 300 strong under Brig. Gen. John Paterson advanced to intercept them. The rebels retired to a hill on a farm owned by the Perry family. Being outnumbered, and poorly armed, the rebels resorted to a ruse.

They borrowed Mrs. Perry’s yarn-beam and mounted it between two wheels, so that from a distance it looked like a cannon. They positioned this “cannon” so that it was partially concealed behind a building on the hill. When Peterson’s loyalists came into view, the rebels ostentatiously went through the motions of loading their “cannon.” Men shouted appropriate orders, others made suitable motions, swabbing out the barrel, loading and then ramming the piece. Finally, one of them wielded a lighted tar-match. That was enough. Paterson’s men, thoroughly intimidated, beat a hasty retreat.

And the rebels? Well, they managed to negotiate an acceptable settlement, surrendering in exchange for being tried in a local court, which promptly let them off with little or no punishment.

 

The Floating “Ditty Box”

Ted Posser joined the Royal Navy in 1902 and soon made a name for himself with his remarkable ability to identify any ship at a glance. He could tell one sister ship from the other by the smallest differences, such as the arrangement of steam pipes or other minor details. His skills were such, that during World War I, by which time he was chief petty officer, Poser was attached to the staff of Admiral John Jellicoe, commanding the Grand Fleet as chief of signalmen and lookouts, serving in this capacity at the Battle of Jutland. When Jellicoe was promoted to First Sea Lord, Posser was retained by the new commander of the Grand Fleet, Adm. Sir David Beatty.

One day in 1918, an odd looking ship entered the Grand Fleet’s anchorage, at Scapa Flow. It had a totally flush deck and was painted in a vivid black and white striped camouflage. Posser had never seen such a vessels before. Stumbling for words, he finally decided to finally keep things simple, and said, "Ship entering, sir."

This caught Beatty by surprise, as Posser would normally have given a complete identification. The admiral naturally reacted with some anger at such a vague report from the man who was supposed to be the flagships' expert on ship identification, saying something like, "Damn it all man, what ship is it? What sort of ship?"

Non-pulsed, Posser quickly replied. "Well, it looks like a floating ditty box, Sir."

At that, Beatty and his staff roared with laughter.

It soon transpired that the ship was none other than HMS Argus, the first proper – i.e., flat-topped – aircraft carrier ever built. Thus, Posser’s lack of familiarity with the new vessel was natural. Neither he, nor anyone else in the fleet, had ever seen an aircraft carrier; seaplane carriers and flying deck cruisers, yes – but they had flying off platforms before or aft of the superstructure, not a totally flat deck.

In any case, having redeemed himself by a bit of wit, Posser earned a suitable reward. Beatty was to wont to send petty officers a 'tot' of rum when he was pleased with the way one of them had performed. That night Posser had a couple of tots; from the Admiral, from the Captain, the Commander, and various officers, all of whom were having drinks in the wardroom and laughing about the new arrival. In fact, Posser had so many tots, that he later said he was very glad that he was able to keep out of harm’s way the next morning as he had an enormous hang over.

By the way, a “Ditty Box” was a small wooden case about the size of a shoe box, that was provided to each sailor so that he could store his valuables. And Posser’s impromptu comparison between the new carrier and a ditty box, gave Argus the nickname that she would bear throughout her career, which ended when she was scrapped in 1946.

--Courtesy Mal Wright

 

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