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Sub Lieutenant Stripes
These are the Sub Lieutenant, Lieutenant, Lieutenant Commander, Commander and Captain Stripes worn by Naval Officers. They are always in a pair, one for each shoulder.

   

The Midshipman Stripes - A True Life Story

I reached Air Force Station Bidar for my advanced phase of flying on Kiran Mk 1 aircraft after completing my basic flying course on the same aircraft at Air Force Academy at Dundigal near Hyderabad. The year was 1988 sometime in the month of June. We were in all five coursemates all being Aviation Cadets with just eight months experience in the Navy and we were to do the flying course along with a dozen Indian Naval Officers, who had also come along with us to the Indian Airforce Station at Bidar. We were to fly along with the Indian Air Force cadets also trying to become pilots. A week after we joined the AFS Bidar, came the letter marking the end our Aviation Cadet days in a weeks time. We were to be promoted to the rank of Midshipmen, if you can call that a rank because there was not to be any gold on the stripes. A Midshipman is supposed to be in the middle of the ship where the roll and pitch of the ship is the minimum so that they don't feel sea sick which according to our coursemates who were on ship had later told us was just a myth. Most of their day and night were spent on the foxel or the front tip of the ship which goes in and out of water as the ship sails.
  

   

I have seen midshipman's stripe as well as Sub Lieutenant stripes, Lieutenant, Lieutenant Commander stripes & ocassionally even a Commander stripe during our four weeks Pre Flight Course we had done six months back at the Naval Base in Kochi  at Kerala which was held between our Naval Academy completion and beginning of basic flying training at AFA, Dundigul time. But never did I imagine in my wildest dreams that I will also get promoted to be a Midshipman myself some day, because we were never given time to think whilst we were undergoing tough courses at the Naval Academy and flying training at AFA. Now we are to be promoted in a week's time and here I am without a Midshipman stripe with me and neither was it available within a few hundred miles around AFS Bidar. Next Wednesday is the great day we are supposed to ship stripes. I asked my good friend Ashu, as we all called him, (Aviation Cadet Ashutosh). He told me very confidently, "Pal, Don't worry. Kaps (Aviation Cadet R Kapur) has already ordered Midshipman Stripes for all five of us from a course mate at Kochi last week. In 1988, please remember that we were using Inland Letters ofcourse, which takes at least three days to reach one way, give one day for the poor course mate to buy the midshipman stripes for us and another three days for these stripes to reach us.
  

   

By Tuesday, Five days later, after the night flying briefing was over I asked Ashu, "How do we ship stripes tomorrow if the Midshipman stripes have not come till now". Ashu replied, "Pal, don't worry. They are already here and I got one just yesterday from Kaps. You also go and ask Kaps for yours." He refused to show me his stripe when I asked him, because I have never seen a midshipman stripe in my life and had never imagined that I will need one, in this god forbidden place. Those days we used to go from the Mess at about 12:30 pm post lunch, for day flying training followed by night flying training, till well past mid night and then we get back to mess by around 02:00 am or later depending on debrief by our instructors. Then we sleep till about 8:00 am, take a bath, do our routines and then go and have breakfast. We come back to our cabins and most of us go back to sleep till 12 PM, get up from bed, take a bath, change and then have lunch after which we put on our white naval uniform and take the Air Force bus to the training base for flying training. After we came back to our Mess cabins, I changed my uniform and then I went to Kap's cabin to ask him for my pair of stripes. He looked at me and said in Hindi Language which is the national language of India, "Tu toh Kochi ja ke aaya, stripe nahin liya vahan se?" What he asked me was that why did I not buy my midshipman stripes from Kochi when I had gone there before coming to AFS Bidar. I replied, "I was in train for 10 days continuously." This 10 days in train was a different true life story. Read The Army Train which is a true life story and completely hilarious.
  

   

Kaps did not believe my train journey true story and replied, "Don't tell lies to me, OK. I am sure you have bought Midshipman Stripe for yourself." I said, "Stop joking and hand over my stripes". He said, "I am sorry Mats. Only four pairs of Midshipman Stripes came. I gave away three to the other three course mates and kept the fourth for myself. I was very sure that you already have bought a Midshipman stirpe for yourself and now I don't have any more to spare". His expression told me he was serious. I asked him to show me his Midshipman stripe. But he too, refused to show it to me. Probably because I was the healthiest of us five and these guys were scared that I will rob their Midshipman stripe from them. I went to my cabin and tried to forget what just happened. I sat thinking what to do next. I was having no choice. I had to shift my stripes tomorrow and I don't have one with me. Otherwise my four coursemates will become Midshipmen and I will float around the academy as an Aviation Cadet from the Indian Navy, who is an idiot, who never thought about getting a pair Midshipman stripes along which was available near his home town to buy. I could not imagine my life changing after my course mates becoming Midshipmen. I even contemplated running away back home the same night, to avoid such a situation.
  

   

That is when an idea came to my mind. All our one dozen Naval Officer Coursemates living in the same mess, should be having an old Midshipman stripe with them because some of them were promoted to Sub Lieutenant from Midshipman just before joining the AFA or Air Force Academy around six or seven months back. I decided to try my luck asking all of them for an old Midshipman stripe. Beggers can't be choosers. If not a new one, an old one will do. If I get one from them, my Midshipman stripe will look old compared to the new Midshipman stripes my course mates may be wearing. But it was still acceptable than not wearing my rank at all. With a heart, full of hope, I started visiting the cabins of my Naval Officer flying course mates, starting from 3:00 am. These Naval Officers were also given accommodation in the Air Force Cadets mess itself by the Air Force. I started asking them one by one, if they by any chance have a midshipman stripe lying somewhere in their luggage. Some politely and some arrogantly said "No", without even checking or thinking, as they were already in sleep. Some ot the Naval Officers just shouted and threw me out of their cabin, ruthlessly. It was all over in about five minutes. I have to find new ideas now.
  

   

I went to my cabin empty handed and lay on my bed unable to sleep. I suddenly got an idea. Let us try again. I went back to a few of my Naval Officer flying course mates who were polite with me the first time, woke each one up, one after the other, seniority wise from the juniormost first, asking for an spare Sub Lieutenant Stripes this time. Most of them who were polite last time were shouting this time for waking them up a second time the same night, except one Officer. He asked me in Hindi Language, "Tu kya karega agar mein tere ko ek Sub Lieutenant stripe diya toh?" which means, "What will you do if I give you my Sub Lieutenant stripes". I said, "Sir, just tell me how a Midshipman Stripe looks like, because I have never seen a Midshipman's stripes and I will make one out of your Sub Lieutenant stripes". He just smiled at me and took a brand new  pair of Sub Lieutenant's Stripes and said giving it to me. "This is my division type stripes. Try if you can convert it into a Midshipman Stripes which is just a plain black stripe with a half inch by one inch rectangular white cloth on which there is a twisted lace lenghtwise, near the brass button. You will have to remove the golden line and Nelson's ring on the stripe first and then attach the cloth piece and lace on its other end near the brass button".
  

   

A pair of Midshipman's Stripes

This is the Sub Lieutenant Stripe which converted into a Midshipman stripe

Armed with a pair of Sub Lieutenant Stripe as you see the picture on the left here and a briefing shorter than a 140 character Twitter Tweet, I actually ran back to my cabin. I opened up the Sub Lieutenant Stirpe using a small shaving blade and also removed the golden strip from the stripes carefully. But now the problem was that the mark of the removed golden ribbon and the Nelson's ring has left a colour difference in the stripe which was glaringly visible like a dark silloutte there even at night. By day it will be worse. I have no choice but to remove the colour difference. I opened the the cloth out of the plastic base completely and washed that black cloth with soap and water in the bathroom and wringed it nicely. Then, I used my electric press to dry it. I was happy with the result, the colour difference has been evened out. But then came the second hurdle. After washing and drying, the black cloth pieces had strunk in size and there was no way I could stitch them back together around the plastic base piece inside. I had sewing needle and two rolls of thread, one balck and the other white, from the time I had joined the academy, to do the stitching. But they are useless now with cloth shrinking.
  

   

I never ran short of ideas. I was now on the varandah rubbing the plastic base on the rough cement floor, trying to reduce the width of the plastic base to fit the cloth, making enormously generous amounts of grinding noise, at about 4:00 am. My neighbour was an Air Force Cadet named Guron, who later went on to lift the "Best in Flying Trophy" but had to be content as a transport pilot because he had too long legs which won't fit into a fighter aircraft cockpit, because of which the Air Force shunted him to transport aircraft shattering his dream of becoming a fighter pilot. Guron could not sleep hearing all the commotion I was making. He came out and abused me with some foul words in Punjabi which is a Language spoken in his home state called Punjab and went back to his cabin, repeating it every three to five minutes for at least three times before I finished trimming down the plastic base to the required width. I was not bothered by his foul language. I was in a different world altogether. I was still happy that now I have at least one witness who had seen me create a pair of Midshipman stripes from Sub Lieutenant stripes. Now the plastic base and the black cloth pieces were matching in dimensions and can be stitched together. But before stitching them back, I have to find a white cloth piece to fix on the black cloth for the Midshipman stripe now. I could not find one in my entire luggage.
  

   

It was 5:00 am and I woke up Guron myself, asking him for a piece of white cloth, just a small piece less than an inch in length. The length and breadth of foul language he was pelting at me were in feet or may be in meters. On any other day it would have been like someone putting salt on your wound. Today, I didn't mind, because we were all going through some bad phase called Night Flying Phase those days and who will not know how sleepy you feel at the end of a day that starts at 12 in the noon and ends at 2 am every morning. I came back dejected and was now scared to wake up any more cadets. I searched my entire luggage once again and I found my mufti (white shirt and black pants) issued at Naval Academy just a day prior to leaving for the Pre Flight Training at Kochi in Kerala about one year back. I took out my old pair of scissors which were meant to trim my baby mustaches which The Barber at the Naval Academy had shaved off completely as per the academy rules. I had no use for my scissors since then for over one year.
  

   

My brain said, don't even think of cutting this brand new white shirt, but my heart wanted a pair of Midshipman stripe urgently to save my self esteem in the Air Force Station Bidar and to satisfy my Navy ego. My heart won. I cut the pocket of my brand new dazzling white terricotton shirt which has never been worn by me even once. I stitched the white cloth piece on the black cloth near the button, but where is the lace now. I could use my white PT shoe lace. But what will I wear to go for PT at 8:00 am and face the Air Force Sargent with W shaped mustache, who loved shouting at us, the Aviation Cadets from the Navy, with his hoarse super manly voice and usually without any reason during PT session at the Mess. This Air Force guy hated the Navy for unknown reasons. So off I went to wake up my unfriendly neighbourhood guy Guron, only to return back with a ear full of new foul words once again in Punjabi language. Unfortunately, I knew Punjabi and knew the exact meaning of each vulgar word, he fired at me even in his half sleep. No point going to anyone else, just to be bombarded with even more of such foul words in different Indian Langugages some of which I don't even understand.
  

   

As I entered my cabin, I saw the white thread roll still lying on the floor and I picked it up. I had another idea which came to me instantly. I made a lace with the white thread twisting sixteen strands of the same thread to look like a lace, cut it and stitched it to the white rectangular cloth as neatly as I could. Then I stitched the big two pieces of black cloth pieces and now my new pair of Midshipman stripes were ready. My Midshipman stripe, was actually a pair of Sub Lieutenant's stripe Demoted to a Midshipman's stripes. I was happy with my creatiion. It was already 7 am by the time I finished the manufacturing process and I had already put in four hours of work under the most stressful conditions imaginable when everyone else were sound asleep in their cabins. I dozed off for about 45 minutes, woke up and went for PT, followed by breakfast and slept once again, woke up three hours later and was at the Briefing room at 1:00 pm. No tension, because I was having my newly manufactured Midshipman Stripes in my bag. I was the happiest man around in that Air Force base, that moment. Kaps came to me with a sad face and said, "You take my Midshipman's stripes, go and get your stripe shipped first when the CFI or the Chief Flying Instructor calls. After your stripe shipping ceremony is over, you give it back to me, OK. I will try and get you a new Midshipman Stripes in about ten days." I felt happy. In under 12 hours, I have discovered a second man with a good heart. The first one was the Sub Lieutenant who gave me his brand new Sub Lieutenant Stripe, a few hours ago for me to convert them into a pair of Midshipman's stripes. I told Kaps, "Thanks for your concern. You get your Midshipman Stripes shipped first. I will go the last. Don't worry." He looked at me in disbelief at my confidence perhaps and moved away.

   

Midshipman Stripes

This is the Midshipman Stripe I Manufactured  all by myself in about 3 hours whilst I was doing my flying training to become a pilot at Air Force Station Bidar.

I saw four of my course mates wear their Midshipman stripes and come out one after the other. It was my turn now. I was a bit apprehensive as to how my hand made Midshipman stripe would look. Is it the correct pattern? Will it be different from their's? You can see how the Midshipman Stripes look in the picture of a pair of Midshipman Stripes I have put on the left here. My name starts with a W and thus I was the last to go, with four pairs of sad eyes following all my movements till I entered the room. I doubt if they even blinked their eyes till I came out wearing my brand new self manufactured pair of Midshipman's stripes. That is when Kaps who was the first to react said in Hindi Language, "Saaley, jhoot bola tu ne? Kochi nahi gaya tu, haan?" what he said was, "You idiot, you told me a lie. You had gone to Kochi, isn't it?"I just smiled at him. That is when Guron who happened to pass by shouted, "Kal kya kar raha thha tu %#@!&*. So nahi paaya main %$^&#$@". He was firing real bad words in Punjabi Language at me in public. In punjabi language ammunition never runs out. He would have sent a few more long bursts, had our Naval Officers not come there in time, to congratulate the five of us. I had a close look at the Midshipman stripes of my course mates and found that my home made Midshipman stripe looked brand new, where as my course mates were wearing used midshipman stripes with soiled white cloth strip on them. I was not just happy, but even proud of my capability and achievement. The Sub Lieutenant who gave me his stripes, touched his stripe, now resting on my shoulders having been converted into Midshipman Stripes. He stood for a while not leaving my right hand he held to shake hands with me, for about half a minute, probably trying to find the marks left behind by the golden stripe I had removed from it and said with a real expression of disbelief, "I don't believe this!".
  

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