Petty Officer T.A.T Hutchins went to fight World War Two in Europe, he took with him a small ‘ditty box’ filled with personal possessions. Hutchins’ ditty box is presently displayed at the Navy Museum and its contents continue to communicate a sense of family, honour and remembrance.
When Terrence Hutchins departed for Europe he left behind his wife Violet. While dislocated from his family, Hutchins’ ditty box allowed him to take mementos of Violet and home with him to war. Photographs of Violet sit alongside his pipe and bosuns call. However, it is Hutchins’ ID tag, with a greenstone tiki attached, which truly exemplifies the blurring of the boundaries between civilian and naval culture during times of war.
Ditty boxes were introduced in the Navy in the 1870s. They were plain, unstained wooden boxes, issued to Navy sailors to keep personal possessions in, such as photographs, letters and trinkets. They ceased to be Navy issue in 1938 when adequate kit lockers were provided on ships.
Petty Officer Terrence Hutchins joined the Navy in 1933. He served in HMS Achilles at the Battle of the River Plate. At the successful completion of the battle his wife, Violet, sent him a telegram congratulating him,”God bless you very proud, well done”.
Like many sailors in World War Two, Petty Officer Hutchins did not return home. PO Hutchins died following an operation for acute appendicitis in Port Vila in 1942. His wife received several letters of sympathy including one from Chaplain Bartholomew which said, “He was a lively, cheerful personality, and was liked and respected by everyone on board, from Commander downward”.
In another letter Lt. Washbourn wrote, “He spoke of you [Violet, his wife] many times and wanted me to write to you. He sent his love and wished for you to carry on. He mentioned how good God had been to him because he had you for a wife”.
The ditty box, which had provided Hutchins with comfort while overseas, was returned to Violet after his death, bringing solace to her. In later years, Violet added her husband’s medals, awarded posthumously, to its contents.
PO Hutchins’ ditty box is displayed at the Navy Museum and its contents continue to communicate a sense of family, honour and remembrance.