Category Archives: Documents

HMS Eagle Crossing the Line Certificate

The traditional ceremony of ‘crossing the line’ has been enacted for many centuries and even today, those on board ship who cross the equator for the first time are subject to a variety of high-jinx and must pay tribute to King Neptune. It has long been traditional to provide sailors with a certificate following the ceremony to prove they have crossed the equator and a few years ago we looked at an example form the carrier HMS Centaur here. Tonight we have another example of these certificates, this time from a different carrier HMS Eagle:SKM_C284e17120411480This certificate dates from 1967, but I have been lucky enough to stumble upon an account of crossing the equator aboard HMS Eagle in 1971 that gives a great description of the atmosphere and ceremony aboard the carrier:

Tradition has it that ceremonies are performed in obeisance to King Neptune as ships cross the Equator, and a day was set aside for such merrymaking. Initiation, sacrifice, call it what you will: a representative selection of the Ship’s Company were selected to be shaved, dolloped, whitewashed and thrown to the bears. With full court regalia, mermaids, policemen, etc., the Captain was the first to sample the Eagle twin tub, whiter than white, dollopwash. (He was accused of- 1. Sailing on time; 2- ‘Did deprive the Ship’s Company of Whit weekend’; 3- was seen to smile at the return of the squadrons). The Commander, Doctor, Dentist, Schooly, youngest chap on board- were all for it and all were duly accused (in rhyme too) and ducked. The formalities over, the duckings became less formal and a few innocent and unprepared spectators were manhandled into the water, and by mid-afternoon the pools were filled with volunteers and pressed (or pushed) men. Of course, someone had to pull the plugs out; the water drained away and revealed a small collection of keys and false teeth at the bottom of the pools.

Here we see a member of the Ship’s Company of HMS Eagle being ducked in a pool, surrounded by his cheery shipmates:CaptureThis certificate is part of a small grouping of artifacts all covering life on the carrier, we shall return to HMS Eagle in a few weeks for an interesting photograph of the ship herself.


British Army First Series Special Vouchers

We have previously looked at a number of different wartime forms of military currency including this 1 shilling note and these NAAFI tokens. At the time I wrote about the NAAFI tokens I mentioned that at the same time they were introduced, notes for other larger denominations were also rolled out. Tonight we have a couple of those notes to look at, namely the one shilling note:SKM_C284e17102416010 - Copy (3)

SKM_C284e17102416010 - Copy (2)And a half crown note:SKM_C284e17102416010

SKM_C284e17102416040These notes are both part of the first batch of currency produced by Thomas la Rue and introduced from August 1st 1946. 52,400,000 special vouchers were produced in this initial run, with a value of just over 10 million pounds sterling. The notes were only supposed to be used in official army canteens and establishments, as printed on the rear:

This note is valid only for transactions within official canteens and organisations laid down in GROs of the theatre except as maybe expressly provided in GROs. It must in no circumstances be offered to any person who is not entitled to use British Service canteens. Improper use of this note is a disciplinary offence and may render the offender liable to penalties.

But soldiers and locals soon bypassed this system and the black market the notes were supposed to stop continued anyway. With this in mind the military secretly designed a new set of notes that were released on January 6th 1948, with these notes being immediately demonetised.

Interestingly the 1/- note is not serialised, but the 2/6 note is- suggesting that the authorities were not really worried about forgeries of the smallest denominations but did see it as a risk for half-crown notes and above.

For those of our readers overseas, and indeed many in the UK who are too young to remember pre-decimalisation currency the following guide might be helpful:

12 pennies (12d) = 1 shilling (1/-)

20 shillings (20/-) = 1 pound (£1)

240 pennies (240d) = 1 pound (£1)

Pennies could be further broken up into ha’pennies (1/2 d) and farthings (1/4d).

Other denominations included the florin (2/-), the half crown (2/6) and the Crown (5/-).

Although this sounds very complicated, people grew up using this monetary system and most had no difficulties with it at all. Indeed many people born before the mid-1960s have far better mental arithmetic skills than later generations because they had to work with this currency from childhood without calculators.

NARPAC Leaflet

Most of the time when we look at the work of charities in wartime on this blog, the story is one of heroic and hardworking volunteers providing an essential service under trying circumstances. Tonight’s story is rather different and shows the infighting and administrative chaos that could arise from well-meaning people having differing priorities and aims without strong leadership to move them in the same direction.

Britain had a large number of charities supporting animals, many dating back to the late Victorian era. Some of these are still with us today such as the RSPCA and the PDSA, others such as ‘Our Dumb Friends League’ are now forgotten to history. At the start of the Second World War it was recognised that there was a real danger to domestic and farm animals in wartime and something had to be done to provide help to owners. The Nation Air Raid Precautions Animals Committee (NARPAC) was formed to provide an umbrella organisation to coordinate the activities of these different charities. Tonight we have a leaflet from their formation, the front cover of which gives a list of the main charities involved:SKM_C284e17103009590 - CopyThe organisation saw two main aims for itself during wartime, which it set out in this leaflet. Firstly it was to provide shelters and veterinary care to animals caught up in air raids. Secondly it sought to create a central register of pets to allow lost animals after a raid to be identified and returned to their owners (Click on the image for a larger version):SKM_C284e17103009591In order to achieve this aim the committee needed funds and the back page of the leaflet gave readers instructions on how this could be achieved:SKM_C284e17103009590Unfortunately, despite its lofty ambitions the charity never achieved its potential. Firstly there was a lot of competition between its constituent charities. Most relied on wealthy benefactors for the funding to sustain themselves, whilst others preferred small scale fundraising such as jumble sales. With ever greater pressures in wartime each charity and its board was competing with the other organisations in NARPAC for the same diminishing pot of money. This lead to infighting and accusations of charities encroaching into the fundraising spheres of one another and consequent bad feeling.

Added to this was that many people did not have the time to devote to the organisation, as ARP duties, fire watching, work and volunteer organisations such as the WVS used up much of people’s time. In 1939 NARPAC had 47,000 Animal Guards, by October 1940 this had fallen to 16,000- the official record admitted that the drop was due to ‘boredom and local quarrels’. At a higher level there was deep rivalry between the RSPCA and the PDSA and ODFL- the RSPCA seeing the latter as extremists due to their views on fox-hunting. Into this toxic mix was added the problem that there were not enough funds to cover the costs of the animal registration fees and that most owners were more concerned with the day to day problems of finding food for pets with wartime rationing.

It is unsurprising then that NARPAC never lived up to its potential and is today a footnote to the story of wartime civil defence, with small pieces of ephemera such as this leaflet one of the few reminders of the role it might have played.image

Help the Soldiers! Ticket

Throughout the Great War fundraising went on across the country to raise money for charitable causes, including the armed forces. These events were often arranged by local stately homes under the patronage of a local member of the gentry. A small fee was charged for entry and a variety of entertainments, food and stalls were provided to entertain the public and raise money. Tonight we have a ticket from one of those fundraising events in September 1915: SKM_C284e17102416010 - CopyStanden Hall is just south of Clitheroe in Lancashire and was in the Great War, and indeed still is, the seat of the Aspinall family. Standen Hall is a large ‘H’ shaped Palladian style country house, updated in 1757: Standen Hall Clitheroe 1Many of the ‘great and good opened their houses up as a location for charitable fundraisers, as in the case of Colonel and Mrs Cornwallis of Ruthin Castel, as reported in the Daily Mail in September 1915:

Colonel and Mrs Cornwallis are lending the grounds of Ruthin Castle today for a fete which they have organised for the French, Italian and Polish relief funds.

Fetes and fundraisers often had an historic theme, emphasising patriotism and ‘Britishness’ in a time of war. An Elizabethan theme was chosen for a Red Cross Fete held in 1916:

The scene in the hall and gardens of the Middle Temple on July 13 and 14, when a fete is to be held for the Red Cross and Order of St John, will carry one back to the days of Queen Elizabeth, as the decorations and dresses of the waitresses at tea and the programme sellers will be carried out in the designs of that period.

Scenes from “Twelfth night” and also from “Much Ado about Nothing” in which Sir George Alexander and Miss Ellen Terry will appear are to be given. Lady Diana Manners, Miss Elizabeth Asquith and Miss Lloyd George will be amongst the many programme sellers; and Mrs Patrick Campbell will preside over the flower stall. The Temple Choir will sing old English glees and songs.

The Lord Chief Justice is the president of the fete and Sir Samuel Evans the Vice President of the fete.

Both of these newspaper articles show the importance placed on having a man of influence, or his wife, involved with fundraising. The press made a point of naming these influential people and it was seen as a good way of promoting events- the important personage adding legitimacy to the event. Equally for those being invited to take on this function it was an important part of how they and their peers saw their place in society. Aristocratic women of the era did not have traditional employment and thus had the spare time to organise worthy events and help run them, gaining social standing and prestige amongst their peers for their good works.

The charitable sector had a crucial role to play in the Great War, providing funds for many of the projects and equipment needed by soldiers, animals and refugees that the government was unable or unwilling to provide. Although other causes did benefit from fundraising, it seems that the public’s imagination was most animated by charities that focused on servicemen, animals in wartime and those displaced by the war such as the Belgian refugees. There seems to have been a large batch of these particular tickets found recently as they are for sale on eBay for a few pounds each.


National Services Act Medical Grade Card

The 1939 National Service Act allowed the armed forces to call upon millions of men and women across the UK to serve in the armed forces, whether they wanted to or not. As part of the act, powers were given to the forces to review the health of these potential recruits to see what medical category they fell into and then to accept or reject the accordingly for service. The guidance to potential conscriptees read:

Men liable under the Act to be called up for service and required to submit themselves for medical examination will be summoned to attend for such examination by means of written notices served on them individually. There are about 150 medical boards situated in convenient centres throughout Great Britain and men will be allowed reasonable expenses and allowances for their attendance, including compensation for loss of remunerative time. At least two clear days’ notice will be given in all cases. Men will be informed of the medical category in which they are placed. Immediately after the medical examination men will be interviewed individually in order that their allocation to service units may be made to best advantage.

Tonight we have a grading card from one of those National Service medicals:imageThis card is for an ‘I McHugh’ of Chadderton near Oldham, the man’s identity number is written across the top and he has signed his name at the bottom. He had to travel to Manchester for his examination, on the 24th November 1943. He was found to be in category one health- note how the number is written out in words as well as Roman numerals so that it cannot be altered later to medically downgrade a man.

There were four medical categories agreed at this stage- I, II and III were suitable for varying degrees of military service; IV was rejected and the man was too unfit or unwell to be suitable.

The back of the card provides some descriptive details of the man and some instructions on what is needed next:imageInterestingly this is part of a larger set of documents to the same man, and despite his fitness category he never went into the military. Instead he was drafted as a ‘Bevin boy’ and sent off to serve in a coal mine. He was not too impressed by this and much of the rest of the archive relates to various court summons when he failed to comply with this!

Sergeants’ Mess Invitation

Sergeants and warrant officers in the British Army have their own mess, with its own strict rules about who can and can’t be invited to mess functions. Tonight we have a simple card invitation issued by the sergeants’ mess of the 9th Battalion Gloucestershire Regiment:SKM_C45817100908140This card is printed on yellow card and has never been written out. The only 9th Battalion of the Regiment I can find served in the First World War so I believe this would date from that era.

The following rules on guests in a Sergeants’ mess come from the King’s Regiment but would be representative of most regiments:


  1. Members may invite qualified male guests to the Mess. They are entirely responsible for the conduct of their guests. Guests are not to be brought into the mess after 22:00
  2. On no account is any male person in the armed forces below the rank of Sergeant or equivalent to be introduced into the Mess as a guest.
  3. No civilian guests are to be permitted to enter the Mess without the consent of the Regimental Sergeant Major, or in his absence the Mess President
  4. The Regimental Sergeant Major and President only are permitted to authorise Mess Guests drinks.        


57. Ladies are at no time to be permitted to enter the bar or living accommodation but may be invited into the Mess at the following times: 

(a) Daily from 1830 hrs until the Mess closes.

(b) Sunday’s from 1200 hrs until 1400 hrs.

(c) On special occasions.


  1. Children are only permitted in the Mess on Sunday’s between the hours of 1200 hrs and 1400 hrs. They are not permitted in the bar, dining room and living accommodation.

All messes hold a variety of social occasions throughout the year, hosting the officers or the corporals at differing mess dinners. For these a formal invitation would be sent, the mess using its stock of invitations, such as this one, to make that request.

HMS Sovereign Launch Commemorative Cover

This evening’s post is a commemorative stamp cover from the launch of HMS Sovereign in 1973:SKM_C45817091212480HMS Sovereign was a Swiftsure class nuclear submarine in service from 1973 until 2006. This cover was issued on board the submarine on the day of her launch, as witnessed by the ink stamp from her executive officer:SKM_C45817091212480 - CopyThe envelope features a photograph of the submarine on the slipway:SKM_C45817091212480 - Copy (2)A card inside the envelope has a picture of the submarine’s badge and some facts about the boat:SKM_C45817091212490The reverse tells something about her builders, with a picture of their yard:SKM_C45817091212480 - Copy (3)In July 1990 the Navy News did a special feature on the vessel:

About to work up with Captain Submarine Sea Training, HMS Sovereign is part of the Second Submarine Squadron based at Devonport.

She was launched in February 1973 by Lady Ashmore, wife of Admiral Sir Edward Ashmore, the then CINC-FLEET, and commissioned the following year.

Second of the Swiftsure class of fleet submarines, the Sovereign is powered by a uranium 235 reactor. Controlled nuclear fission heats pressurised coolant water, which is fed to the steam generators.

Here the coolant water transfers its heat to a secondary water circuit which boils, producing the steam which is fed to the main engines for propulsion. There is also a back-up diesel electric drive system.

As a hunter-killer whose main wartime role would be to track and destroy enemy submarines. HMS Sovereign has an impressive array of sonars: active sonars to locate targets through sound transmission and passive sonars for listening to noise in the sea.

She is also fitted with an underwater telephone to communicate with other units while dived. A number of echo sounders are fitted to establish water depth below and ice depth above.

The Sovereign has two periscopes- a search periscope for longer range work and an attack periscope for close range. Between them, these provide a sextant for astronavigation and the ability to take photographs while dived.

The submarine’s five torpedo tubes are capable of discharging the RN Sub Harpoon anti-ship missile and Tigerfish, an electrically powered, wire guided torpedo. Ground mines can also be laid. The maximum weapon load is 25.

HMS Sovereign has a ship’s company of about 100, of whom 12 are officers. The company is divided into operations, marine engineering, weapon engineering, supply and medical departments.

Displacing about 4,500 tons, the submarine can dive to depths in excess of 500 feet. She dives by flooding external ballast tanks and surfaces by blowing the same with air. She is capable of speeds over 25 knots and of sustaining a patrol for over 70 days.

Life on board is made the more pleasant thanks to a fully equipped galley and laundry. A quantity of films, videos and games are carried to entertain members of the ship’s company off watch.Strategist-SUBMARINE-2