Sea Stories

Seven Bells

QMCM Albert N. Crawford, USN (Ret.)

The USS Whitehurst (DE-634) was tied up to Pier 4 in Pusan, Korea and we were generating electricity into the South Korea power company's lines 24 hours a day. The crew was bored out of their minds. Liberty in Pusan was a one time deal, then self-restriction applied.

Many things have been recorded in our web site about how we were desperate to do things to occupy our time.

Well, sad to say, one day I had an idea for a little fun. It came to me like a bolt out of the blue, and I played it exactly as the thought came to me.

As a Quartermaster one of our jobs was to strike the bells to announce the time of day at 1200 (12:00 noon). At 1200 we were to ring eight bells.  Underway, the bells would start over again, ringing one at 1230, two at 1300, etc., until the maximum of eight bells would be rung at 1600, or 4 p.m.  This sequence was repeated every four hours.  In port we only rang the bells to announce noon.

I grabbed a QM accomplice, and told him of my plan.  I needed his cooperation to pull it off.  The bells are sounded in series of two, ding-ding, pause, ding-ding, and so on. We rang the bells over the 1MC which is the ship's General Announcing system, and can be heard in every part of the ship.  On the face of the 1MC are three switches: one for all parts of the ship except the engine room and wardroom (officer's country), then one for the engineering spaces and the third for the wardroom.

I told my partner in crime that I wanted him to turn off the wardroom switch after the 7th bell, and he had to be quick. We QMs keep exact time on board ship, receiving a daily time tick from radio NSS, Washington, DC.  So with watch in hand we stood by the 1MC and at exactly 1200 with the three switches in the ON position, I started ringing bells, ding-ding, ding-ding, ding-ding, ding-(the wardroom switch was switched OFF) ding. That meant that everyone aboard ship had heard eight bells, except for the captain, the XO, and all the officers in  the wardroom where they only heard seven.

The captain and all the officers were seated in the wardroom being served their noon meal. In a matter of seconds the phone in the pilot house rang.   I picked it up and said, "Bridge aye, Crawford speaking."

It was a junior officer: "Who rang the bells at 1200?"

"I did, sir," was my reply.

"Why did you only strike seven bells?" he asked accusingly.

"I'm sorry, sir, but I rang eight bells."

"Well, we definitely heard only seven in the wardroom," he said.

"I don't really know how that could be, sir; perhaps you could check with the OOD on the Quarterdeck to see if he heard only seven," I told him.

I later checked myself with the OOD, who told me he had a call from the wardroom, and he told them he had heard eight bells.

Now, can you imagine the conversation in the wardroom? Ringing the bells at noon is so routine that no one really pays any attention to them, and for sure does not bother to count them.  You hear the bells, you know it's 1200, and that's it.

What got the officer's attention had to be that lone seventh bell.  As long as the bells were going ding-ding they could eat and talk, but with that seventh bell only going ding - - their ears perked up, and, "Where in the hell is the eighth bell?"

When the OOD confirmed that there were eight bells rung, I'm sure there were some undecided officers eating their lunch.  Some were certain they had heard only seven, while others said perhaps they had been talking and were not paying close attention to the bells, and there well might have been eight.

This is the first time I have confessed this incident, and if any officers who read this remember and want to comment, shoot!

Back   Back to Sea Story page

HOME Articles Sea Stories Book List
Links Deck Log Contribute About