Doug Gilling - An Australian in the Navy

Running time
2 mi 56 sec

Department of Veterans' Affairs


Well it's the difference between upstairs and downstairs. If you've seen Downtown Abbey, have you? You know what downstairs is and you know what upstairs is. It's essentially that same difference. It's a different culture. Sadly, you're a number and you've got a job to do, and you come under a totally different regimen of behaviour. As an officer, you're treated, certainly in the Royal Navy, you get a cabin and you get a servant and you don't have dinner in the middle of the day, you have it at night. And you are in a position of authority, that's really what it is. And it's a very long, drawn out tradition, particularly in the Royal Navy.

I didn't serve very long in the Australian Navy, but I spent the whole of my service in RN ships. You didn't really go ashore with a rating. And as a rating, you didn't approach an officer and ask him to go have a beer with you or anything like that. You were very much in a very separate social level. I'm really speaking of what it was like in England, because when you come from here and, you know, even before the war, we were verging on an egalitarian society.

And I think that's one of the first shocks that my generation of Australians felt when they went there, suddenly the difference in these stratas of different, of the working class, the lower middle class, the middle class, the upper class and so on and so forth, and up there, the aristocracy. And it's that pyramid of social class which never existed in Australia. And that gave us a totally different attitude towards one another.

We were very much individuals with one another, whereas I think the lower deck, the ratings and in the Royal Navy, they knew their position, just like the people in Downtown Abbey in the servant hall knew their position, and so did the people above them as well. And they didn't cross that bridge such as we did here. And I believe it happened in the Australian Navy as well.


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