Stoker on HMS Rodney Caught in a Compromising Position With A Sheep
British Royal Navy battleship HMS Rodney firing a salvo in a pre-war exercise. All of Rodney’s main batteries were forward of the bridge giving the ship a very odd look. (Photo courtesy IWM)
In late May of 1941, 18-year-old Midshipman Peter Poland found himself aboard the battleship HMS King George V while she was steaming to stop the Bismarck.
Battleship HMS Rodney had been ordered to join King George V in chasing down the German ship. As Rodney appeared and steamed past KGV to take up station astern, the sailors on the upper deck of King George V began to bay like sheep at the Rodney.
This behavior by the ratings surprised young Peter on duty as Midshipman of the Watch. The officers took no notice.
Later, another mid informed him that one year past, a stoker from HMS Rodney had been discovered in a comprising position with a sheep on one of the small islands around the Royal Navy fleet anchorage in Scapa Flow, in the Orkney Islands of Scotland.
Writes Peter, “rumour had it that at his subsequent court-martial he had pleaded that he thought the sheep was a Wren in a duffle coat. (Wrens were women in the Royal Navy). Since then and for the rest of her service life, any time either Rodney herself or one of her ship’s boats was sighted, it would be greeted with a chorus of ‘Baas’. Now, even though action was imminent, there was no exception.”
From Hands to Actions Stations, the war memoir of Lt. Commander Peter Poland, RN.
HMS Rodney off Mers-el-Kebir, November 1942
Imperial War Museum