Category Archives: Royal Navy

Royal Navy Boot Brush

One item of militaria that regularly comes up on Huddersfield Market are army boot brushes, indeed they are so common I have restricted myself to pre-war examples and not paying more than a pound each for them. By contrast Air Ministry and Admiralty marked brushes are far rarer and I was very pleased to finally add a Royal Navy example to my collection a couple of weeks ago for the princely sum of 50p:imageUnlike army brushes which are marked with a /|\ stamp, Royal Navy brushes have ‘ADMY’ stamped into them:imageThis particular brush is dated either 1922 or 1923, but the stamp is very indistinct and I cannot make out the last digit very easily:imageThe original owner has marked it up with his surname ‘Hutchinson’:imageOne distinguishing feature of these early brushes is they often have a number of small brass nails visible on the back:imageRoyal Navy ratings were issued two boot brushes and were required to mark them with their name to indicate who they belonged to. On board ship, sailors normally kept their boot brushes in their ‘ditty’ box along with other small ‘necessaries’ and personal items. These brushes were remarkable well made, hence their survival to the present day. One sailor who joined in the 1950s remarks, The boot brushes issued, with your name stamped upon must be strong, mine are still in service, having seen me through a police career of daily polishing after 12 years RN service.

Another sailor who was serving in the 1960s recalls using boot brushes to scrub the deck of his accommodation block during initial training. In this kit layout the brushes can be seen front and centre:15894770_10154830912618428_9167821151663050466_n

Royal Navy White Cotton Duck Working Trousers

White uniforms in the Royal Navy are traditionally associated with tropical climates, however white uniforms were also commonly issued as a working dress to sailors in the first half of the twentieth century. Originally these uniforms were made of canvas, but by the time of the Second World War they were made from cotton duck, a hard wearing but reasonably comfortable material that was ideal for working dress. Tonight we are looking at a pair of trousers from this working uniform:imageAs can be seen these are cut generously with wide ‘bell bottoms’ allowing the sailor to roll up the cuffs of the trousers if required to prevent them getting soiled. The trousers fasten with a three button fly:imageThat in turn is covered by a large buttoned flap:imageA single slash pocket is fitted inside the trousers:imageSadly I can find only one marking on the trousers, a simple stamping with the code ‘L261’:imageI suspect that this is a laundry mark. Here we can see an original photograph of a sailor from HMS Cardiff wearing the working dress, complete with bare feet:13062512_10154095527843428_7237053888063602370_nThis uniform is part of the packing list for my 1919 pattern haversack, although sadly I am still missing the top half to finish the set.

Royal Navy Boxer Shorts

We do seem to have covered a fair selection of underwear on the blog over the years. I am not quite sure why this is, but it is an essential part of military clothing and there seems to be an inexhaustible variety of different designs and patterns. Tonight we have a pair of loose white cotton ‘boxer’ short type undergarments. These came in a large batch of Royal Navy rating’s uniform from the Second World War all from the same chap so I am confident in saying they are Royal Navy issue. The boxers are made of a distinctive weave of white cotton:Compared to some of the woollen underwear we have looked at in the past, these actually look reasonably comfortable! They have a three button fly, with white plastic buttons:Sewn eyelets are fitted in pairs to each side of the waistband:I suspect these are for clothes stops. These were small pieces of string that were used to thread Royal Navy garments together for drying on board ship. They were passed through holes on clothing and tied together. Alternatively these eyelets might have been for a cord to act as a way of tightening the waist in place of a piece of elastic in the waistband. The back of the boxers has a simple stamped stores code:The ‘NXS’ number is a contract number used by the Admiralty to identify an item and manufacturer. The ’36’ will refer to the waist size in inches I suspect. Underwear was standard issue from stores throughout the war, with most sailors receiving two pairs- one to wear and one to wash. I would imagine that many would have added extra pairs to their kitbag, either issue or civilian types, to supplement what seems a fairly meagre allowance.

Royal Navy Convoy Press Photo

This week’s photograph is a truly splendid press photograph taken on board a British cruiser on convoy work:Press photographs are always a nice addition to the collection because the quality of the composition and subject matter is normally far higher than personal snaps and they usually have a detailed description on the back. In this case the back of the photograph reads:

Dramatic Air Attack,

A series of photos secured by our own staff photographer in a fight against a convoy in the Bay of Biscay and the Atlantic. The convoy and its escort were attacked by U-boats and Focker-Wolfe (sic) 4 engined Courier Bombers. After a fight of some hours, both bombers and U-boats were driven off without loss. These scenes were secured on board a cruiser while in action.

Photo shows. The ship’s torpedo officer wearing anti-bomb protecting gear gives a running commentary of enemy aircraft movements to ship’s company below decks.

Allowing for press inaccuracies, my guess is that the aircraft referred to were FW2000 Condor long range bombers:These were frequently used for long range maritime bombing. The picture itself is very interesting, despite some damage. The officer in the centre is a lieutenant, as shown by the painted rank insignia on his helmet:He is wearing white cotton anti-flash gear over his uniform as one would expect in battle, with a hood:And gloves:Around his waist he has an inflatable life jacket, here a rarer white version (more commonly the RN used blue examples of the life jacket):Note also his gas mask bag slung on his hip. In his hand is a large microphone into which he is giving his commentary:He is stnding on the open bridge of the cruiser, we can clearly see a row of voice pipes allowing the bridge to speak to other parts of the ships:Other ships of the convoy can be seen in the background:Thomas Kay describes an attack on a convoy he was part of by Condor bombers:

Towards the end of February 1942 we sailed as part of a large convoy, with a warship escort which included for a period the battleships HMS Rodney and HMS Nelson.

I first saw action in the Bay of Biscay when two FW 220 (Condor) aircraft bombed the convoy. The Condors stayed circling most of the day until one of our planes, a Catalina Flying boat, came on the scene. After a brief dogfight, the ‘Cat’ chased the Condors off. One ship was damaged but fortunately most of the bombs missed as the Condors had to bomb from a great height because the anti-aircraft fire from our escorts was so heavy.

Royal Navy Tropical Flannel

It is odd to think that despite many advances in the understanding of the human body and illness in hot climates, even as late as World War Two spine pads were considered essential in the tropics. The spine pad had been introduced in the late nineteenth century on the spurious thought that by protecting the vulnerable spine, the effects of sun stroke could be reduced. For a fuller history on this garment please take a look at this excellent post on ‘Military Sun Helmets’ here. It was not just the army which used the spine pad, the Royal Navy included it on their rating’s ‘tropical singlet’ which was an oval necked and heavy garment issued to sailors in the tropics. This was unpopular and sailors frequently wore the standard white cotton flannel instead as it was more comfortable. The Admiralty finally bowed to the inevitable and replaced the tropical singlet with a new shirt, based off the standard flannel in 1938:From the front this garment looks identical to the standard cotton flannel (as indeed it is), with the same blue edged square neck hole:However the rear shows that it has been ‘tropicalised’ by the addition of a spine pad:The spine pad here is a separate shaped piece of cotton sewn to the back of the flannel, rather than a removable piece of quilted cloth common on army shirts:The remarkable thing is that this was ever introduced at all, as early as June 1937 the Admiralty Medical Director had reported, ‘the spine pad is completely useless as an extra protection against the sun’s rays, and only adds to the cost and weight of the article; it should be abolished’. The response from the Director of Victualling replied, ‘there appears to be a considerable predilection for the spine pad amongst personnel of the fleet.’ The spine pad remained and was carried forward!

This tropical flannel was manufactured by B.W. & Co Ltd:Sadly I have been unable to ascertain which company used these initials, but having seen a number of other garment with the same initials they seem to have been contracted by the Admiralty to manufacture rating’s uniforms.

This particular garment was issued to a man named ‘D Lyth’ and his name is stamped into the inside at the back:Sadly this particular tropical flannel has suffered over the year and has been stored in a metal trunk resulting in extensive rust spots.

Royal Navy Next of Kin Card

In this modern world of instant communications it is easy to forget how hard it once was to communicate with people in other parts of the world, even as recently as thirty years ago. Families who had loved ones on board ship always found it hard to get a message quickly to those serving. Letters were reliable, but could take several weeks to arrive and satellite telephone calls were in their infancy. The Royal Navy recognised this problem and set up a system to allow families to get a message to crewman easily in an emergency. Those who had loved ones in the Royal Navy were issued with a yellow card instructing them what to do. The front of this card had a space for the serviceman’s details to be recorded before they left so the family member would have the relevant information to hand:Inside the card tells family members who to contact to get a message to their loved ones and the different options available to them:

The back of the card has a map of the UK with different districts marked so the correct naval base can be chosen to make enquiries:This card dates from 1986, and coincidentally my father was working in HMS Nelson just five years later when the Gulf War broke out running the office that dealt with family enquiries. Most of these were fairly routine, but he did recall one humorous incident when an anxious mother rang up desperately worried her son might be deployed to the gulf. My father reassured her that as her son was on the Antarctic Patrol Ship it was highly unlikely his ship would be sent to the desert!

Royal Navy Tropical Shorts

During the Second World War British naval ratings in tropical regions normally wore a uniform of white shorts, white cotton flannel, black socks and black ankle boots:

Tonight we are looking at an example of a rating’s white cotton shorts:The white shorts worn by ratings, senior rates and officers were all very similar and there are a number of patterns based on where and when they were manufactured, with ‘bazaar’ made examples also thrown into the mix. I suspect that from the RN’s point of view, as long as they were white and looked roughly in line with the proper pattern they weren’t too worried about minor detail differences! It is normally the waistband where differences can be found, many using a pair of brass friction buckles to secure them. This example however uses two white plastic buttons:White buttons are also used to secure the fly:Button down belt loops are provided around the waist to hold an RN money belt:The belt worn with this uniform was usually white as the blue example rubbed dye off onto the shorts. Slash pockets are provided on each hip:This example has a small label sewn into the inside of the waist band indicating it was made by Harrods in 1943 and is a 34” waist:Shorts had long been in use with the British military and no-one thought too much about them. It was therefore a shock to British sensibilities when complaints were received in Florida of all places. GS Guinn in his book “British Naval Aviation in World War II: The US Navy and Anglo American Relations” explains:

In Florida, the Royal Navy’s standard tropical white shorts were frowned upon as being offensive to local tastes and so, unless cadets were in their formal whites, they spent most of their time in khaki trousers and long sleeved khaki shirts. British trainees were unable to understand the nature of the offence to which shorts could give rise. They expected Americans to behave and think like British citizens and were surprised when they did not.