TO CATCH A THIEF
In the old days the crew was known to take things into their own hands once in awhile. This is a tale of one of those times......
It can be safely stated that the presence of a thief on board a ship will not be tolerated by the crew. There are few sins of omission and commission that arouse animosity as much as a person who would steal from his shipmates.
The old ship's laundries were notorious for losing clothes. This too is a given. Crewmen would put their laundry bags full of dirty clothes on to a pile on the day that was designated for their division. The laundryman would pick the dirty laundry in their bags up in a huge bag, drag it to the laundry, unload the bags one at a time and separate the clothes into whites and colored such as mother would do at home. The laundry was then washed, extracted and dried but not folded or pressed. When the divisions laundry was completed at the end of the day the laundryman would put it all with the individual washed laundry bags into a huge bag and return it to the division's compartment. Socks were handled separately and washed in mesh bags with a large numbered pin used to keep the bag closed.
The next day after the compartment cleaner finished his routine morning cleanup he would open up the huge bag and distribute the laundry by placing each item on the individual sailors rack. Clothes were required to be stenciled or stamped for identification and name tags were tied on to each rack. When a sailor returned to the berthing area he would (or should have) folded the pile of now clean clothes neatly and stowed them in his sea locker. The folding had to be done neatly and tightly so the clothes would fit. Sea lockers had very little storage space.
Inevitably clothes would be missing. The laundryman and the compartment cleaner would be blamed for carelessness but it was usually the fault of the owner. After being subjected to the harsh laundry soaps, bleach, and hot water several times the marking would fade. The person should have remarked it. On ships with honest people the clothes with illegible markings were put on an empty bunk and a man could pick it over and find the missing article(s). The rest would go to the "lucky bag."
On one weather ship which shall go unnamed clothing losses exceeded the norm. Very few items were ever found on the extra bunk. It was suspected there was a thief in the midst and that was an anathema.
Several of the senior division petty officers discussed this one evening after the movie and began a plan of action. It was senseless to complain to the officers as nothing would happen. So this is what was done: A skivvies and tee shirt set with light markings were selected. They were in almost new condition. Laundry keys were obtained under the pretense that a leak had to be fixed at night while the laundry equipment was shut down. The selected skivvies and tee shirt were soaked in as strong a lye solution as could be brewed up. They were sent through the extractor and dried quickly. On the next laundry return day for that division the two items were put on the excess clothes bunk. Within two hours they disappeared.
Several days later a sailor showed up at sick bay with chemical burns almost following the outlines of a tee shirt on his upper body. Word spread to the perpetrators -- Eureka -- The Thief was identified.
In today's "New Guard" the man would have been turned over to the officers for punishment and the perpetrators identified and turned over too. But not in the "Old Guard!" Word spread quickly amongst the crew.
The poor sailor who had been in sick bay the day before with chemical burns returned there that night after having taken a terrible fall from the mess deck down into B-2 Engineroom on the mid-watch. It had to have been terrible because his whole body was bruised and there were cuts and abrasions over his arms and face. Lucky for him no bones were broken.
He remained in sick bay for the remainder of the patrol and was transferred off of the ship at his own request as soon as the ship arrived home.
For some reason or other the problem of the missing clothes went away.
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