Category Archives: Royal Navy

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.

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Royal Navy Trade Patches (Part 5)- QARNNS

So far all the badges we have looked at have been blue on a white background. Tonight however we have a selection of badges that are red, including a medical trade badge:imageLeading hand’s rank badge:imageAnd a petty officer’s rank badge:imageThese badges were actually for use by the Queen Alexandria’s Royal Naval Nursing Service (QARNNS), and were worn on the traditional blue nurses uniforms:CaptureIn 1883, a committee determined that improvements were needed in medical and nursing care in the Royal Navy. As such, in 1884, a uniformed Naval Nursing Service was introduced, staffed by trained nurses. These nurses served on shore, initially at Haslar and Plymouth.

In 1902, Alexandra of Denmark, the queen consort of Edward VII of the United Kingdom, became President of the Nursing Staff; in her honour, the Naval Nursing service was renamed Queen Alexandra’s Royal Naval Nursing Service.

Queen Alexandra’s Royal Naval Nursing Service Reserve was established on 13 October 1910.

In 1914, with the outbreak of the First World War, QARNNS was significantly expanded, with many volunteers from the British Red Cross and civilian hospitals; similarly, during the Second World War, many volunteer QARNNS nurses were deployed overseas.

In 1949 a nursing branch of the Women’s Royal Naval Service was formed; however, in 1960 these nurses were integrated into QARNNS, creating a single nursing service. In 1982 an integrated service was formed, allowing men to serve as nurses in QARNNS. The first man to join was Senior Nursing Officer Rajendrasen Purusrum, who was commissioned on 1 March 1983.

Although fully affiliated to the Royal Navy from 1977, QARNNS was technically a separate service until 31 March 2000, when it officially became part of the Royal Navy.

Queen Alexandra was President until her death in 1925. The following year she was succeeded by Queen Mary. Princess Alexandra became Patron in 1955.

The trade badge at the top was to indicate a QARNNS Auxiliary and the design was first introduced in the mid-1960s. The ratings badges were introduced in 1985, the service having its own distinctive rank insignia prior to that point. It was found that those outside the QARNNS did not recognise what the ranks and rates meant so there was a slow move over to more conventional badges. The officers were to follow, with ranks renamed in 1982 when men were permitted to join and in the mid-1990s with the use of conventional rank insignia, but surmounted by a red double ‘A’ badge to indicate their status as nursing officers.

Royal Navy Trade Badges (Part 4)- Mine Warfare

Continuing our survey of Royal Navy trade badges, tonight we are looking at that worn by Mine Warfare ratings:imageThis badge is a printed example and has a design based around an old fashioned contact sea mine, with a ring at the bottom where a real mine would be tethered to the sea bed and the horns sticking out that would detonate when hit by a ship.

Mine warfare was one of the areas where the post war Royal Navy led the world, with specialist ships and training that few other navies could match- indeed much of the sweeping and hunting for mines in the Gulf over the last thirty years have beeped by the British rather than the US Navy as they recognised the Royal Navy’s expertise.

A 1984 leaflet from the Third Mine Countermeasure Squadron explained:

A nation that depends on sea transport for the bulk of its trade is vulnerable to the threat of enemy mines. Mines are effective weapons in terms of the cost of production and sowing; compared with the amount of damage they do, the disruption they cause, and the effort required to clear them.

The most common minesweeper of the Cold War as the Ton Class, which cleared mines using a sweep that brought the mines to the surface to be destroyed. Mine warfare ratings on these ships were responsible for the sweeps and the paravanes that held the sweeping cables in the correct orientation to the ship:imageToday, mine clearance is done by hunting individual mines using sonar and dealing with them on the sea bed by exploding a mine disposal charge next to them. This fun cartoon from the early 1980s illustrates the difference:imageWhatever the method of mine clearance, serving as a mine warfare rating was hard work on small ships, with as much danger from the sea as anything else. This photo shows the sort of seas that tossed little minesweepers around- not an easy posting!image

Photograph of L-Class Submarines

This week’s photograph is an interesting interwar image of a fleet of five British submarines tied up in harbour: SKM_C45817091209230 - Copy (3)This is a small snap taken on a box-brownie and judging by the gunwale of a boat in the foreground was taken by someone on a harbour trip on a small pleasure craft. The nearest boat is L22, an L class submarine. We looked at another image of one of this class, L27 here. L22 was sold for scrap in 1935 so the image is before she went to the breakers, and perhaps shows the boats laid up waiting their fate. Other boats in the image include L52 and L20. Interestingly there is another photograph I have found showing all three of these boats tied up together at Gosport in 1933: Submarine_Flotilla_1933_at_GosportThe L-class submarine was originally planned under the emergency war programme as an improved version of the British E-class submarine. The scale of change allowed the L class to become a separate class.

The armament was increased when the 21-inch torpedoes came into service. The Group 3 boats had two QF 4-inch guns fore and aft of the lengthened conning tower. Also, 76 tons of fuel oil was carried in external wing tanks for the first time in British submarines. Several of the Group 1 boats were configured as minelayers including L11 and L12. In the Group 2 boats, L14, L17 and L24 to L27 were built as minelayers carrying 16 mines but without the two beam torpedo tubes.

The introduction of the L class came too late to contribute significantly in World War I. L2 was accidentally depth-charged by three American destroyers in early 1918. L12 torpedoed the German submarine UB-90. L10 torpedoed the German destroyer S33 in October 1918 but was sunk by accompanying destroyers.

L55 was sunk in 1919 during the British naval intervention in the Russian civil war by Bolshevik Russian destroyers. She was salvaged by the Russians and was re-commissioned by the Russians with her original service number.

The L class served throughout the 1920s and the majority were scrapped in the 1930s but three remained operational as training boats during World War II. The last three were scrapped in 1946 after long distinguished service.

In 1937 The Times reported that another of the class was up for sale:

Submarine L. 71 has been placed on the sale list at Portsmouth. This leaves only eight vessels on the effective list of the once numerous “L” class, which formed the bulk of the British flotillas for several years after the war. The class embodied the experience gained with earlier oil-engined submarines, particularly the “E” class and L.1 and L.2 were in fact begun in 1916 as E. 57 and E. 58. L.71 was begun in September 1917, by the Scott’s Shipbuilding Company, Greenock, but was not finished until 1920, when she was commissioned by Lieutenant G.A. Garnos-Williams, D.S.C., now maintenance commander at Gibraltar. Up to last year she served in the 2nd Submarine Flotilla, Home Fleet, and was among the units detached to the Eastern Mediterranean at the time of the Abyssinian concentration.

Royal Navy Trade Patches (Part 3)- Cooks

This week’s Royal Naval trade badge is for a Petty Officer Cook:imageThe badge has a six pointed star in the centre, with a letter ‘C’, surmounted by a crown. The rear of the badge is sealed to prevent the threads from coming loose:imageHere we see a Leading Cook, wearing his version of the trade badge with two stars on it, but with the same central design:imageThe 1981 recruitment leaflet gives some helpful information on the branch:

With over 70,000 men and women to cater for, Navy cooks need to have a wide range of professional skills- and be able to work to the same high standards, whether on shore or at sea, or whether it’s egg and chips on the menu or a full banquet for VIPs.

Specialist training: an eleven week course at HMS Pembroke at Chatham, Kent where you’ll learn a variety of skills including the preparation of stocks, sauces, fish, meat and vegetable dishes, salads and various hot and cold sweets; you’ll also be given instruction in bakery. When you leave HMS Pembroke you’ll go to a shore establishment to gain experience in a Naval shore galley for nine months before your first draft to a ship and the challenge of catering at sea. imageFurther progress: As a leading cook you’ll be entitled to City and Guilds 706/2 (Cookery for the Catering Industry). As a cookery instructor you would be awarded the Hotel and Catering Industry Board Teaching Certificate, and you can subsequently qualify for the City and Guilds Certificate 706/3 (Advanced Cookery for the Catering Industry).

Average time from joining the Royal Navy to first sea-going draft- 12 months

Modern Royal Navy Dress Uniform Collar

Tonight we are looking at a fairly modern pattern of Royal Naval blue collar:imageIt is worth taking a moment to compare the design to that used during the Second World War here. Despite looking very similar when worn, the modern naval collar is far simpler to fit and is held securely to the rest of the uniform using Velcro tabs on both the ‘tails’:imageAnd around the collar:imageNote also the button hole, this attaches to a button on the back of the neck of the dress uniform and ensures the collar is correctly centred. This collar is not actually of the most recent pattern as the latest examples have small button loops on the back, bottom corners of the collars to fasten to corresponding button loops on the jacket that prevent the collar flying up in the wind, this example then is an earlier design without this feature.

The collar retains the traditional mid-blue shade, with three white stripes around the edges:imageThese collars are marked with the owner’s name- today this is written on the label, but in this example the original user has printed his name on with white paint to the underside:imageI actually have a pair of collars to this sailor, each marked the same. They are identical apart from the manufacturer’s labels, one of which has washing instructions included:imageCollars are ironed to give a distinctive set of folds in them that go ‘/\/\’ and it is crucial to iron these in carefully when first issued as a wonky crease will never truly come out once ironed in! The new design of collar with Vecro was first introduced in the 1970s and caused trouble for one new recruit:

I think our class was the first to be issued with the new style No1s in 1977 with the velcro collar, (don’t know if its changed since).

The abuse I got at Culdrose when duty “PT runner” for the first time, I was bollocked & threatened with being trooped as well as a kit muster by PTO & CPOPTI For being in a “circus rig” told to come back in proper uniform. As a young 17 year old, fresh out the box, I’ll admit I wasn’t far from blubbing as I had never been chewed out like that before, told the OOW what had happened, straight away said that’s the new rig isn’t it.

At least the CPO had the decency to say sorry.88986461

HMS Theseus Sailor and Family Photograph

This week’s photograph is a delightful family grouping including a naval rating:SKM_C45817091209230 - CopyThis photograph was taken at the very end of the nineteenth century and the women are wearing particularly fashionable dresses that first come into vogue about 1895. They are clearly a family of means and they would seem to be a middle class or at least upper working class group. The sailor has a cap tally for HMS Theseus:SKM_C45817091209230 - Copy - CopyThis enables us to date the photograph to after 1896 when this cruiser was commissioned. It is highly likely that the subject of this photograph was on board the ship when it was involved in a punitive expedition to Benin in a now forgotten colonial spat.

The Punitive Expedition to Benin lasted nine days and was to see the end of the Benin Empire and the burning to the ground of Benin City. The origins of the expedition are complex, but came down to a number of factors:

  • A trade embargo imposed by Benin on the lucrative supply of palm oil.
  • An increased military presence by Benin on her borders.
  • The rulers of Benin had a reputation for treating slaves harshly and displaying large quantities of human remains in public. This gave a moral ‘justification’ for any campaign.

The trigger point for the Benin Expedition came after a British column, ostensibly on a trade mission, were ambushed and massacred leaving just two officers alive. In response to this a punitive expedition was sent to the country under the command of Rear Admiral Harry Rawson. The force consisted of a naval element of which HMS Theseus was a part and the country was soon subdued. The crew suffered badly from malaria whilst on campaign and when HMS Theseus was refitted in Chatham later that year the opportunity was taken to disinfect the ship thoroughly. It is certainly tempting to imagine the sailor in our photograph as part of this expedition.

Also of note in this photograph is the small boy sitting in the foreground:SKM_C45817091209230 - Copy - Copy (2)He is dressed in a miniature replica of the sailor’s suit, complete with collar and cap. This style was particularly popular for children of the middleclass at the end of the nineteenth century, illustrating the pride the country felt for its navy and the self-confidence of the later Victorian in his nation, Empire and military- it would also likely to have been even more popular if a family member was in the Royal Navy.