By ADMIRAL SIR WILLIAM JAMES, G.C.B., M.P.
The seventeenth- and eighteenth-century chroniclers painted. a very lurid picture of life on the lower deck in their time. The sailors were cooped up like sardines; the food was bad; the allowance of fresh water per man was very small; and men sometimes served for years without pay. There were always some ships in the Fleet, commanded by enlightened captains, in which an effort was made to ameliorate conditions of sea life, but even the most humane captain had to enforce a very strict and often harsh form of discipline, as the press gangs in their mopping-up operations made little attempt to discriminate between the criminal and the decent man.
If the spirits of the old-time sailors hover round the strange-looking steel vessels that have succeeded the three-deckers they must have had many surprises in the last fifty years. Closed-in. messes with pantries, hot water in plenty in bathrooms, spacious cooking plants presided over by skilled cooks, chapels, bookstalls, laundries, plates, knives, forks - except for the hammocks they would see nothing left of the life they knew, But if they have been listening they have realised that there is something else, there is something besides the hammock that has not changed through the ages -for the boatswains' mates still convey orders to the ships' companies by the same. whistles as their predecessors used in the Tudor age, and the words used in the deep-throated calls to work have undergone little change throughout the centuries. The ships' companies are still divided into fo'castlemen, foretopmen and maintopmen, though to-day there is no forecastle and there are no foretops and maintops as half-way resting-places to the top gallant and royal yards. The soldiers who fought in the forecastles of the earliest type of men-of-war will be looking in vain for a castle and wonder why the term is still in use. Admiral Vernon – called "Old Grog" because he wore grogram trousers - no doubt hears with surprise, not unmixed with gratification, the word " grog" on the lips of the sailor of to-day; the Earl of St. Vincent will be noting with great pleasure that the ceremony at the hoisting of the colours, which he inaugurated, is still observed, though he probably shakes his head when be sees officers not in full-dress uniform for the occasion.
Old Names Preserve Tradition
The old terms serve very well, and there is nothing to be gained by inventing new ones, and a service such as the Navy is fortified by preserving its traditions. In every corner of a man-of-war there are names which have come to us from the dim distant past - the ward. room, the gunroom, the sheet anchor, the gunwhale; but when every object in a ship has its particular name, names often first used in the sailing-ship era, it is difficult for a landsman to understand the daily life in a man-of-war. If he looks at the routine board and reads, "Hands to clean," "Watch for exercise fall in," " Hands to make and mend clothes," he may think that he understands what happens when the boatswain's mate goes round the decks piping these orders and he will be very astonished when he is told what they really mean.
Lieut.-Commander John Irving has most successfully tackled the task of lifting the veil behind which the sailor lives his mysterious life. He, so to speak, takes us on board a man-of-war for a personally conducted tour. We visit every deck, we look into every corner, we learn how the ship's company is organised, we learn the meaning of the strange terms in daily use, we learn about mess-deck life and how the sailor spends his day, and then weigh anchor and go to sea. There is a wealth of interesting information in this book and the author's method ensures that there is no dull page. After over four years of hard fighting the Navy has achieved its object which has from the first been to obtain control of the sea lines of communication so that our imports can flow in freely and our army can be landed at the selected points on the enemy's coast. Much of its work has of necessity taken place in comparative obscurity, but thanks to the Naval Press Correspondents and to many excellent books that have been published, the work of the Navy is well understood to-day and there is a general desire to know more and more about the lives of the men who man our ships. Lieut.-Commander Irving gives us a most interesting picture of the daily life of the men who are today fighting in every ocean and in every sea.
I. LET'S GO ON BOARD
Do you want to know something of your Navy? Not about the ships themselves: any text-book on naval architecture will tell you all you want to know of that side of it -and more. The ships themselves do not make up your Navy: that is made up of the officers and men who man the ships. Men whose fathers before them roamed our ships and whose sons, when the time comes along, will man them in their turn. To know something of your Kavy you must essentially know something of these men. What manner of men are these who, making a life career of the Sea and with Honour of Country as their beacon-light, gladly forsake the fleshpots of the civilian life with its comforts, it's safeties and its glittering prizes? With their eyes wide open they choose a life of exile, hardship, and, maybe, danger with no hope of other reward than the knowledge that, as just a small cog in their country's wheel, they have played their part. Duty done. Yes! That is the only way to know your Navy - know its personnel. And how can this be studied? There is, I firmly believe, only one way to do this. Just as the surest cure for seasickness is to go to sea, so the only way to learn something of the officers and men of the Navy is to go aboard their ships and see for yourself. There, indeed, you will learn more of the real Navy in an hour than could be taught you in all the instructional classes ever given, in all the textbooks ever written, There only shall we meet this sailor in his home, and discover how remote is his life from the landsman's. He has almost his own language, a tongue redolent of the salt air he breathes. His very uniform is a page out of history; his customs and the traditions around and about him are our links with the greatness of our Island story. Let us hurry aboard then. In the offing, little more than a mile offshore a battleship lies swung to the tide at single anchor. A feather of smoke from her sturdy funnel is, at this distance, the only sign of life - that, and an occasional group of signal flags which flutters its way to the yard-arm. Almost at our feet, at the jetty-steps, is the ship's picquet-boat (pronounced picket), impatient to return to her parent.
In a Battleship's Picquet-Boat
So down the weed-slimed jetty to the boat. There she lies; two sailors - the bowman and the stern-sheetman - holding her in to the steps with their boathook. Immobile beside her wheel stands her coxswain (pronounced cox-n), a petty officer; beside him the midshipman of the boat -in command, We look at the boat, at her all-prevailing trim neatness, at her purposefulness, her sense of strength and power - a ship in miniature and capable of being driven at 14 or 15 knots. The battleship will have two such boats as these, and. maybe a fast motor-speed-boat for the admiral as well as several motor launches (pronounced larnches), a sailing pinnace, several cutters, whalers and dinghies (pronounced with hard G).
The picquet-boat is the main link between ship and shore in almost any weather, but her essential function is her ability to tow a chain of men-laden cutters and pinnaces behind her.
As we step aboard her the midshipman gravely salutes, and we settle down in the Stern-sheets noticing that in the small cabin, and clustered about the deck on the cabin-top, are several officers of various ranks, A glance at his watch satisfies the midshipman in command that time is up.
Ship's boats run absolutely regularly to routine times - more so even than railway- trains. There is, further more, this extra difference: whereas if a train is late people may grumble but nothing else ever happens; if a warship's routine boat is late people will also grumble but rest assured something undoubtedly will come of it. Very probably the midshipman's leave will be stopped as a reminder that punctuality in the Navy is worshipped like a god. So, after requesting permission from the senior officer present in the boat, sharp to the minute, he orders "Shove off for'ard." The bow and stern-sheetmen bear off with their boathooks and, when clear of the jetty, he rings the engine-room gong at his side. With a mounting throb the engines roar into activity, over spins the helm, and with a bone of spray in her teeth the boat is off across the bay.
Warship's Cutters Salute Us
Speeding swiftly and smoothly across blue water, there is time to look about us as the distant bulk of battleship-grey draws steadily closer. A busy anchorage this, with warships here and there and boats out from them under steam, oars and sail busily plying to and fro. A cutter away under oars passes close down our starboard side in charge of her leading seaman. Junior in rank to our picquet-boat we hear him order "Oars" to his crew as he draws near. The crew stops rowing, one stroke after the order, raise their oars horizontally out of the water, blades feathered parallel to the sea surface. Each man sits square on his thwart and faces aft where the leading-seaman-coxswain stands to attention and salutes as he passes us. Then: "Give way together!" and he's off again, the crew striking a long steady stroke on their way.
Next, a cutter under sail passes, and as she draws near the midshipman in charge of her orders "Fly your sheets." For a brief moment her sails flog in the breeze and her speed drops - the sailing boat's salute to her senior. Then, "Aft sheets" - and she's away again with a scurry of spray over her weather bow. A simple courtesy this but it takes one's mind back through the pages of our sea history to those days of sword and cloak when junior shippes of warre" were expected to "veil their topsayles" when they drew near to the Grand Admiral. Just the same sort of salute, the same procedure, the same principle - preserved down the centuries as one of the imperishable rivets which hold our Sea Power together
We Meet and Salute the Admiral
And now, coming down fast on our port side, is a small green steamboat with a diminutive flag on a staff at her bows and a gleaming brass funnel - an admiral's badge. Our bowman peers hard and spots the admiral's flag on the staff. At once he turns round and puts his hands across his cuff as intimation to the coxswain that there is someone aboard the barge with "plenty stripes" on his sleeve - very much a senior boat to ours. Without orders, bowman and stern-sheetman pick up their boathooks, points down on the deck, and stand to attention motionless as statues. Coxswain and midshipman of the boat square their shoulders and, as the barge draws near, the midshipman rings down to his engine-room "Stop." The throb of the engines ceases at once and we cut through the water silently, as the midshipman stands to attention. The barge comes abreast, still at full speed, and into her little "well," out from her glass-windowed cabin, steps the admiral himself - that was why his boat carried the small tin admiral's flag at the bow-staff - he was aboard in person. With a critical eye. he takes in our boat, acknowledges our "snotty's" salute and goes back to his cabin, Our telegraph rings again, once more the engines roar ahead, and away we go. Pleasant courtesy all this - just good manners, which, when all is said and done, is what sound tradition really is.
But while all this passing and re-passing has been going on we have steadily and surely been drawing closer to our destination, to the battleship which is to act as our classroom. Her name. Does it matter? For our purpose all ships are alike, and if name there must be then let us call her His Majesty's Ship Nonsuch. Of course there is no battleship of that name but, who knows? by this casual statement we may set the Secret Service of Europe wondering whether Britain has not built a new ship of which they knew nothing!
First Close-up View of Battleship
There she lies, dead ahead of us, serene and massive. But as we look more closely at her we notice a marked difference from the ship we stared at when we stood on the jetty-end only a few minutes ago. Then she seemed inanimate and menacing - a still, grey shape with every angle of her ominous. Now, as we draw close we see that what seemed before to he inanimate is indeed no such thing. A veritable hive of industry is this ship. Things are going on about her upper deck and even over her side - too far off still to see quite what, but that will come. Essentially the vessel which stepped out of the Manual of Shipbuilding's pages is alive with people. And at her stern flutters proudly the White Ensign of her Service; at her foremast head a whisp of a thin white pennant flutters in the breeze.
More, perhaps, than anything else do our Navy's flags reveal the ageless immortality of the Service itself. Right down the ages our "shippes of warre" have worn their "insignia" or ensign - and note the use there of the word "worn." An ensign is part of a ship's suit of colours; suits are worn - so an ensign is worn by a ship but flown by an individual. In the Navy the Colours are not hoisted but are "made"; they are never "struck " - that is the ignominious emblem of surrender. The setting sun bows the Colours down and they are then "lowered." The Navy has not always used the White Ensign, a flag whose broad white St. George's Cross is a reminder that this Cross became our emblem after the Crusades. Various ensigns have at one period or another graced our ships until, by the seventeenth century, the position had clarified itself to the extent that the King's ships wore a Red, a White or a Blue Ensign.
More in Flags than Meets the Eye
Each of these was the especial emblem of one particular portion of the fighting fleet - the Van (or foremost ships), the centre and the rear. The admiral in command of each of these sections was known as the Admiral of the Red, the White or the Blue, as the case might be; and the Grand Admiral, the Commander-in-Chief of the whole fleet. took for his ensign our national flag, the Union Flag or Union Jack as it is called ashore.
Then, about the middle of the last century, came the final stage. The Royal Navy took to itself, for all its ships, the White Ensign. The Red Ensign became "the proper colours" of our Merchant Navy, and the Blue Ensign that of certain merchant ships commanded by officers of the Royal Naval Reserve as well as the yachts of certain privileged yacht clubs. And the whisp of bunting at the foremast head - that is the commissioning pennant of the captain. It is hoisted on the morning the ship commissions, and remains at the masthead until she pays off and that commission comes to an end. Its origins are to some extent lost in the obscurity of history. Undoubtedly it is a survival of the multi-coloured streamers and pennants with which Henry VIII decked out his ships. Again, there is the whispy semblance to a whip to rewind us of grim, stocky "General" Blake who in the seventeenth century "hoisted a whip to the mast of his ship" as an answer to the Dutchman who lashed a broom aloft as a boast that he intended to sweep us off the seas.
And as we look along the nearing great hull we notice just one more flag - this time a small Union Flag hoisted at a staff right at the very bows. This is the stem-jack which is hoisted as the anchor goes down and lowered when it is "aweigh." Again in this we see a seventeenth century survival - a reminder of the days of banners and streamers, and when ships set "a banner at the boultspreet end that all may know."
Flag’s are indeed a study in themselves and one that well repays more than passing interest. In our sea flags to a great extent lies the history of our sea service.
Painting of Warships in Peace and War
But we are quite close to our destination now and a multitude of events - hitherto cloaked by distance - now claim our attention. Men can clearly be seen painting down that part of the cable between the hawespipe and the water. To be spick and span - "man-o'-war fashion" - that must be painted the same shade of grey as the ship's side. All ships in the Royal Navy are not painted the same dull "Home Fleet" grey as this one. Ships of the Mediterranean station are painted a very light French grey, while on the East Indies, China and West India Stations, the hulls are painted white with light-yellow-coloured funnels.
These are, of course, the peacetime colourings. In wartime multi-coloured camouflage painting takes pride of place, the whole shape of the hull and upperwork being "broken" up into great masses of contradictory colour to make range-finding and angle-judging ("inclination") difficult for an enemy. Grey - "crabfat," as the sailor calls it - is however, the colour of H.M.S. Nonsuch, from the truck at her masthead to her waterline. She seems to be in need of oil fuel in her bunkers, moreover, for her waterline is a couple of feet more or less out of water, and beneath that line we can see the broad black band of her "boot-top," and below that again the brick-red bottom paint which is applied to the underwater part of the ship to prevent weed growths from forming and reducing her speed.
German Warship Defeated - by Seaweed
This question of weed formation may seem to be a trivial matter but, in reality, it can be quite important. In the First World War, during the Battle of the Falkland Islands, one of our older cruisers, H.M.S. Kent, set off in chase of the German cruiser Nurnberg. On paper the two ships had an approximately equal speed, so that with an effort Kent should have been able to overhaul Nurnberg. So, into the Kent's furnaces went the spare woodwork, then the cabin-doors and even the chaplain's harmonium-and her speed crept up half a knot at a time. But she soon outsped the German Nurnberg - for the latter's underbody was smothered with long weedy growth - she had not been docked for months for a renewal of the red anti-fouling composition on her bottom.
Near as we now are, we can see men alongside the ship on a small raft – known on board as the "copper 'punt,' - touching up the ship's side where some of the paint has been knocked off. Others, signalmen probably, are aloft reeving off new signal halyards. Incidentally, the wireless-room has to be informed before any man goes out on the signal yards. It would not do for the transmitter to be switched on and the man to risk a shock.
The foremost gun turret - massive sixteen-inch guns in their huge steel shield, the whole weighing maybe one hundred tons - swings out as we approach. A gun's crew are at training and drill inside it; for in harbour as at sea gunnery-drill goes constantly forward with never a break. Only by unremitting attention to tiny points of drill does the Navy achieve such miracles as fell to H.M.S. Warspite in the Mediterranean - a hit on an enemy ship at a range of 26,000 yards - thirteen sea miles. In the waist of the ship, between her funnels, we can see Royal Marines at drill in full landing order. Probably the smartest and most careful1y-selected body of men in the whole world are our Royal Marines. Originally known as The Duke of York's Maritime Regiment of Foot - His Majesty's Jollies as they are affectionately known - they are equivalent to the Guards in status-and any sailor will tell you that they surpass them in precision of drill!
Meet the World-famous Royal Marines
On board ship marines do all the special sentry duties - over the admiral's and captain's cabins, over the magazine keyboard and so on. They usually form the complete gun-crew of one of the big turrets, and also man certain of the secondary armament and anti-aircraft guns. Well do they live up to their soubriquet of "soldier and sailor too." Their's in peacetime is the lot of forming small landing parties ashore, and of sharing in the working of the ship afloat. They cling to their customs and traditions. For instance, a Royal Marine on duty only removes his hat in church. If he enters the captain's cabin with a message he keeps his hat on and salutes, whereas the seaman always removes his hat. On-board; their (living) "part of the ship" they call "the Barracks," and in all ships it is placed immediately between the officers' quarters and that part of the ship inhabited by the rest of the ship's company. This is in all probability, one of the most jealous rights of the Royal Marines, for it dates back to the eighteenth century when the Royal Marine's, as the only regular forces on board, could always be relied upon to remain loyal to their officers, At Divisions and other ceremonial parades you will always find the Royal Marines lined up on the quarter-deck - and on the starboard side too where possible - even though that side, by ancient right, is the captain's side of the ship. In many little ways they perpetuate the fact that they are sea soldiers. For example, marines are never piped to "muster" anywhere - they always "fall in"; they never go on board a ship, they "embark" – and "disembark" when they leave. The Royal Marine major, in peacetime, wears spurs with his Sunday "number one" uniform: a Marine boy-bugler is still known as a "drummer."
Battleship's Mass of Armour-plate
This digression on Royal Marines (whom we shall meet at closer quarters later on) has, however, taken us right alongside the ship. There she lies, her huge armoured sides towering above us like the walls of a house. There are a few portholes in the after part of this side, but the bulk of it is one unbroken mass of stout armour-plate. Sticking out at right angles from the side, and almost under the lines of the mast, is a stout spar - the "lower boom" with boats moored to it and a Jacob's ladder of rope with wooden-rungs to provide means for the crews of boats at the boom to get inboard and outboard. We ourselves in a broad sweeping curve approach the starboard gangway leading directly up on to the ship's quarter-deck. The midshipman of our picquet-boat rings down "Slow" - the pulse of our engines drops. Then "Stop" and then, almost at once "Half Speed Astern" and "Stop" again. We are alongside the grating platform at the foot of the gangway, still and at rest and with such nicety of timing that we could have put our hand between the boat and the gangway without fear of its being crushed.
At the top of the gangway a young seaman - the sideboy on duty - lowers a boatrope, and our bowman secures it as we prepare to go on board. Others in the boat stand aside to let us leave: there is an etiquette even about this, the seniors are the last to enter a boat and the first to leave it. The General Public, being the "Owners" of the ship as taxpayers, are of course very senior indeed! So up the gangway ladder we mount, noting the shining polish of its stanchions and the soft-whiteness of the cotton-line man-ropes on either hand, the scrubbed freshness of the gangway screen which protects users of the gangway from prying eyes in the boat beneath. As we reach the top and the smooth whiteness of the quarter-deck planking spreads out before us, we see the gangway staff in waiting - the Officer of the Watch complete with telescope under arm - entirely responsible for the time-table efficiency of the ship during his watch. At his side stands the Midshipman of the Watch also telescope-armed. Near them the Quartermaster and his Boatswain's Mate to pass on the orders - identifiable by reason of the boatswain's call suspended on a thin white-metal chain around his sun-tanned throat. Then there is the Corporal of the Gangway - a Royal Marine who acts, as it were, as the policeman at the gate - and lastly a couple of "boys" as messengers and sideboys. This little cavalcade await us, ready to receive us officially into their ship - waits and watches to see if we know the first great courtesy rule of the Royal Navy. We do - for as we step on to the snowy quarter-deck, we bare our heads for a moment, and punctiliously our salute is returned by the Officer of the Watch.
The Navy's Oldest Tradition
In that simple act of baring the head, of doffing the hat, the civilian takes part in what is perhaps the oldest tradition of his Navy - saluting the quarter-deck. It is an old custom and full of meaning. To-day the quarter-deck houses at its extreme end the White Ensign of the naval service - we salute that. But actually our salute dates from a far earlier age when, in place of the ensign now carried, the "shippes of warre" held a raised crucifix at the stern and men bared their heads to that sacred emblem. In the Service itself every officer and man salutes the quarter-deck whenever he walks on to it, be it ever so many times a day. Just a custom - but one of many and the Service is made up of them - is knit together by them.
While we are on the subject of saluting it may be as well to mention other points in the same connection. No one salutes anyone else when below decks in a ship - although there are always stories of devout Royal Marines who salute into the telephone when they hear the voice of a senior officer! On the upper deck and above the upper deck, that is to say on the bridges, etc., the saluting rule is that the junior salutes the senior when spoken to, when finished with, and the first time they meet during the day. These are odd times in which we live on shore, times when salutes and similar marks of respect, are frequently decried as marks of servility. Rubbish! They are marks of mutual respect for service-rank and professional seniority; somebody must initiate this exchange of respect, and rule and custom decrees that the junior shall be the initiator.
When the Captain Walks On Deck
Looking about us around the quarter-deck we notice it is strangely deserted. On our starboard side there seems to be only one inhabitant, a lonely uniformed figure pacing quickly up and down: he pauses for a minute in his walk to look at us and then continues. Even the officer of the watch and his gangway staff seem to have withdrawn. This is, by ancient custom; the captain's side of the deck. When he walks there all others withdraw unless he sends for them to share his exercise. The starboard side "belongs" to the captain - just as his cabin is, in almost every ship afloat, built on the starboard side of his ship. Why? - I cannot tell you, but it has always been so. The story is told how a couple of centuries ago a warship was sent out on a voyage of scientific discovery with a captain in command and an eminent scientist in charge of the investigations. By some strange whim the Admiralty gave the scientist the big cabin on the starboard side, and built another exactly similar in every detail on the port side for the captain of the ship. But it all went wrong somewhere and in a short time the ship was back, its mission unaccomplished. At the subsequent Enquiry one of the reasons for failure put forward was that the ship's company became uneasy, wondering who was the captain and if the naval officer was, why he was not living in the proper captain's cabin. Upon such little things do the success of great ventures by sea and land sometimes hang.
Right in the Heart of the Navy
Well, here we are at last. On the quarter-deck of H.M.S. Nonsuch, right in the very heart of the Navy. As we cross over the planking and leave the captain to his solitary "constitutional," we look for'ard across the teeming decks. So many jobs in progress; men coiling ropes, greasing hawsers, marines at drill, gun-crews at exercise. Towering high above us the gaunt tripod mast with its whisp of a commissioning pennant at the truck and its cobweb tracery of wireless aerials, its cross-yards with ever and anon a group of bright-coloured signal bunting fluttering up and down. We take in the tiers of platform upon platform, bridge upon bridge - that massive fore superstructure wherein is carried out the navigating and fighting of a ship under way -known from its bulk to the irreverent as "Queen Anne's Mansions"! We see it all - ship, officers, men - all knit together into a living, breathing, whole by Service and by custom and by tradition.
II. THE AFTERGUARD
As we cross over to the port side of the deck, passing before the towering barbette of the after turret, we notice we are almost at the head of another companion gangway similar in every detail with that by which we came aboard on the starboard side. This port gangway is the ship's working gangway: senior officers and guests come aboard and leave by the starboard side, others use the port gangway. At the head of this port gangway now stands the Officer of the Watch busy supervising the departure of a sailing cutter. The boat gone, he steps back to survey his wide domain, and by just watching him for a few moments we realise to what an extent almost everything centres about him. First to him comes a brass-hatted three-striped officer with bands of scarlet between the gold rings on his cuff. Just a trifling matter about getting a "cot case" - an injured man unable to walk - off to the hospital ship.
Then another officer, this time with white between the gold stripes, wants to know when he can have a boat ashore to "draw money." There's always a certain amount of cash kept in a Paymaster's big safe for emergencies, but when it comes to the fortnightly payment of the sailors in a battleship, several thousand pounds are wanted-and that means a visit to the bank ashore. "Have you got your escort, and your buoy and buoy rope"? asks the Officer of the Watch. A reminder this that by regulation a Paymaster "drawing" money must have an escort - usually a Royal Marine - and that a small wooden buoy with a length of buoy-rope must be attached to the money bag when in a boat so that in event of the boat capsizing and the money-bag going overboard it can be located by the buoy and hauled up by the buoy-rope.
No sooner has the Paymaster gone off about his business than another brass-hatted officer appears - this time with purple between his three gold rings. He wants to know when the picquet-boat can be hoisted in as something has to be done to its propeller -obviously the engineer-commander. The stripes and the coloured cloth between them, and the uniform itself, begin to take on a new importance in our eyes. Each of these officers is a specialist at his own job - his uniform is the key to the job he does, and the number of stripes on his cuff are an indication of his degree of responsibility. The very basic uniform itself appears now in its true light, the livery of a man steeped in the ways of the Service and as highly skilled professionally as anyone could ever hope to be.
Before the Navy Wore Uniform
The naval officer's uniform has not always been as it is to-day. True, for the past hundred years it has seen little more than changes in detail such as a wider crown to the hat and so on. At the beginning of the eighteenth century, however, there was really no standard officers' uniform, and each ship conformed largely to the sartorial whims of its captain. Even in much later years there must have been a good deal of latitude in dress, for one reads of Admiral Sir Charles Napier sporting a lemon-yellow waistcoat beneath a cut-away coat. In our own time we remember one diminutive be-ribboned admiral who always wore a black bow-tie with his uniform reefer-jacket. In general, however, the Uniform Regulations nowadays standardise everything, and the source of this present uniform is therefore of more than passing interest.
How the Navy Immortalises a Duchess
History records that His Majesty King George II when riding in Hyde Park caught sight of the then Duchess of Bedford – a very lovely woman dressed in a brand new riding costume. Perched on her crown of golden hair was a dark-coloured three-cornered hat - Wren Officers wear that to-day. The rest of her new riding dress was of dark navy blue with rows of gold buttons down the front, a white turn-down collar and gold lace at her cuffs. So struck was King George II with this colour scheme that he ordered there and then that his Navy should henceforth take navy-blue and gold for its uniform. We have worn it ever since. The coat collars of those days were, of course, stand-up collars without lapels: this type of collar still survives in the small "round-jacket" - vulgarly known as a "bumfreezer" worn in peacetime by midshipmen on duty. The white collar-patch which is a Royal Naval midshipman's insignia of rank is all that remains of the white cravat of the eighteenth-century officer, just as the three buttons on his cuff - erroneously supposed to be there to prevent him from blowing his nose on his sleeve - are the survivors of the long coat-sleeve which fell over eighteenth century hands but could be buttoned back out of the way when work had to be done.
Incidentally, the white patch at the collar is worn only by midshipmen RN. Midshipmen of the R.N.R (Royal Naval Reserve) wear a blue patch, and midshipmen of the R.N.V.R (Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve) wear a red patch. Naval Cadets wear, instead of the patch, a small button and a twist of cord-white for the RN., red for the R.N.V.R and blue for the R.N.R
Pursuing the origins of our present-day officers' uniform still further, his laceless Wellington boots - official dress footwear - are all that survive of the glistening boots that were worn with his tight white trousers in past centuries.
Marks of Officers' Ranks and Service.
The rank of an officer is denoted by bands of gold lace on each cuff: in his tropical white uniform and on his greatcoat he wears marks of rank in stripes on the shoulder. Executive Officers - that is to say upper-deck officers of the combatant and military branch - have just plain bands of gold lace on the sleeve material. Other officers in other branches of the service are distinguished by coloured cloth in between the stripes:See Alsonajlepsze atuty wzniesienia bezczynnościWersja 1.1.2 — stan bezczynności MelvoraIdle Slayer Guide: Tips, Tricks & Strategies to Become a Legend - Level WinnerQuest Idle Slayer Codes Wiki & Info May 2023
Engineer Officers, purple; Medical Officers, scarlet; Dental Officers, orange; Accountant Officers, white; Instructor Officers, light blue; Shipwright Officers, silver grey; Ward master Officers, maroon; Electrical Officers, dark green; Ordnance Officers, dark blue.
In addition to this we may see, at some naval establishment ashore, officers with an emerald green cloth between their stripes. These officers will invariably wear the single thin wavy stripes of the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve (The Wavy Navy): they belong to the Special Branch. Add to these various ranks the double, intertwined wavy sleeve markings of the Royal Naval Reserve - for the most part officers of the Merchant Navy in peacetime - and the sleeve markings of Wren officers to be encountered on shore, and there is quite a lot to remember:
Third Officer W.R.N.S., one stripe pale blue; Second Officer W.R.N.S., two stripes pale blue; First Officer W.R.N.S., two-and-a-half stripes' pale blue; Chief Officer W.R.N.S., three stripes pale blue; Superintendent W.RN.S., four stripes pale blue.
There was a time when the distinction between Executive Officers and their non-military colleagues was even greater than it is now. Twenty-five or so years ago only Executive Officers had a curl on the upper ring of their stripes; Non-Executive Officers wore just plain straight stripes without the "executive" curls. This was, however, quite an anomaly for, in a coalburning battleship, the Non-Executive Engineer Commander had as many ratings under his orders as had the Executive Commander of the ship - so Doctors, Engineers, Paymasters all received the curl.
One other rank-mark deserves notice and that is the small letter A to be found inside the curl of a Fleet Air Arm Officer's stripes. Pilots of the Fleet Air Arm also wear pilots' wings above the curl but they have a particular rule about these things - they may only be worn by officers still employed as pilots. Thus, if an officer gives up active flying, even though he has at one time been a pilot, he must "fold his wings."
Uniform of Admiral and his Staff
Before we leave behind the officer's uniform, a word about that of the Admiral and his staff. An Admiral's coat is heavy with stripes and medal ribbons; his uniform cap is heavy with two bands of gold oak-leaves round the peak-and even his buttons differ from those of other officers. In place of the crown and foul-anchor of the normal naval button, the Admiral's is encircled with a ring of oak-leaves too. His personal staff - his Flag-Lieutenant, his Secretary, and his Flag-Captain can always be recognised among a group of naval officers for they wear the aiguillettes of the personal staff - gold cords - draped over the left shoulder. In this way they are distinct from the naval personal staff and Aides-de-camp to His Majesty the King, who wear aiguillettes draped over the right shoulder. A hard task falls to the staff - the Flag-Captain is responsible for the general organisation of all the ships in the Admiral's command; the Flag-Lieutenant attends to the signal staff and the various social commitments of the Admiral; the Secretary, by regulations, is there as general adviser on any political and diplomatic issues that may arise.
Now for the uniform of the men themselves. At one glance it is easy to see that there are two distinct uniforms - one has the familiar jumper, blue jean collar, bell-bottom trousers and round hat, and the other has the serge or cloth reefer and trousers, a white collar and black tie and a peaked cap. The one is for men "dressed as seamen" and is known as "square rig"; and the other, worn by senior petty officers, chief petty officers and artisans, etc.- i.e. "men not dressed as seamen" - is termed" fore and aft rig."
Every Article of Dress has a Story
The world-wide-known "square rig" has a history all of its own. The cap, to begin with, is the lineal descendant of the stocking skull-cap of the seventeenth century on the one hand and the varnished "boater" type of hat of the late eighteenth century on the other. It has the softness of the former and (minus the brim) the shape-holding power of the latter. The "cap tally" with the ship's name on it is derived from the old-time sailor's habit of tying ribbons in his hat. His jumper is the direct descendant of the seaman's smock of Elizabethan times, a smock which is worn to this day by fishermen all the western world over. It was originally just a shapeless, canvas, bag-like garment with a hole for the head and two more holes for the arms - but it was waterproof, which is what mattered. Then, as in the early seventeenth century, men wore their hair longer, a small permanent collar began to appear at the back of the neck of this smock: this we see in the present seaman's jumper. Later again, in Nelson times, the flowing locks of sailor's hair gave place to a pigtail, well and truly tarred with Stockholm tar to keep it out of the way. This tar-pomade had an unhappy knack of "coming off" on a man's best jumper collar, so he took to wearing a false washable collar over it. This remains to this day in the light blue-jean collar with its three rows of tapes.
And here let us deal a crushing blow to those sentimentalists who declaim that the three rows of tape round the modern sailor's collar are put there to commemorate Nelson's three great victories of the Nile, Copenhagen and Trafalgar. Nothing of the sort - they are the survivors of the rows of tape with which Nelsonic (and later) seamen used to decorate their jerseys - some say as indication of length of service like the "chevrons" of to-day. And, while we are on the subject - to lay another heresy: the black square of silk which the modern sailor ties round under his jean collar was not introduced as a sign of mourning for Nelson. It existed in the Navy long before that - in the form of a choker or sweat-rag. You will see the same sort of thing worn by a Bootle trimmer to-day and for the same purpose. Nelson's men wore these chokers, and when they went into battle they tied them round their foreheads to keep the sweat out of their eyes. It so happened that the sailors at Nelson's funeral wore black sweat-chokers round their arms which undoubtedly gave rise to the pleasant fiction that the silk square was really a mourning mark.
Even Jumper Tapes are Historic
Moving further down the sailor's body we come to the twin tapes which secure his jumper at the breast and also confine the "duff-bag" of his knotted silk square. These tapes are the descendants of the tapes which in earlier days fastened the seamen's smock right up to his neck in bad weather, "forefathers" of the" body and soul" lashing of spunyarn with which the sailor secures his oilskin round his waist. Incidentally there is a way of tying these tapes and a regulation length to which the ends may hang down. The black silk has to be knotted - with a reef-knot - at the back of the neck and the bight of the silk tied in by the jumper tapes so that a "duff-bag" (loop) just sufficiently wide to hold two fingers hangs below. His "flannel" that he wears in summer is a dress substitute for a white woollen jersey, for originally he wore a white jersey in summer and a dark (blue) one in winter. The "jersey" itself is a corruption of "guernsey" and is a garment which has appeared in a seaman's kit for centuries.
The bell-bottom trousers come next under our survey. Their "cut" has not altered much in four hundred years, and the purpose of the" bell" at the bottom is to enable the sailor to turn his trousers up to his knees in rolls - and keep them rolled up - while scrubbing decks. Their present width was thus determined largely in the days when decks were scrubbed - and in some ships walked on- in bare feet only. Nowadays every sailor has his sea-boots, so the fulness no longer matters.
All that remains to look at now is the white scrubbed lanyard that he wears with his best "Number One" suit. That, officially, is supposed to have a knife on the end of it: its origin is lost in the mists, but we have been told that it is in part a survival of the sailing Navy days, when the good seaman always carried a twist of spunyarn about him to effect whippings and seizing when he was aloft.
Other Rigs for Special Duties
"Blues" are, of course, not the only rig a sailor has. For tropical stations he has "Number Fives" - a white duck jumper and trousers of the same cut and style. For working about the ship he also has a canvas painting suit (known as a "pneumonia suit"), overalls, oilskins, and so on. These are all strictly utilitarian and we cannot expect to see much tradition in them. Just one thing more - at the gangway we noticed among the gangway staff the Boatswain's Mate, distinguishable from his fellows by a slender white-metal chain about his neck. At the end of this chain he carries a boatswain's "call" on which he pipes all orders in that peculiar but entirely methodical wailing whistle peculiar to the Naval service. The call and chain has a history - probably the boatswain's" call" has the oldest association of anything in the Navy. It is the present-day successor of the small silver whistles with which Tudor Henry's masters and mates used to summon their sailors. In form, shape and purpose the "call" has not altered in seven hundred years. Unfortunately, modern methods of broadcasting may well spell the doom of the boatswain's piping. Not all Commanders nowadays insist upon the correct "calls" being piped, and still fewer boatswain's mates can pipe correctly. There is an art in it like everything else. If one appreciates how vast is a large warship with its maze of decks and labyrinth of "flats" and cabins, compartments and alleyways, obviously some way is necessary to get orders instantly from one end of the ship to the other. Formerly. the boatswain's mate on the quarter-deck piped an order and this was picked up and piped again at various stations throughout the ship by the duty "call-boys."
Navy's Ancient Broadcasting System
Each "pipe" closely resembled the words of the order it preceded - Phugh-ee-ee-ee-ee eugh-eugh would sound like "Away-ay-ay-ay-ay-whal-er!" the call to the whaler's crew to man their boat: the long high-pitched call for waking the hands in the morning would waken the dead; and the long drawn-out pipe for dinner was like the cry of a hungry soul. It was all so unmistakable, so seamanlike. But now each ship has its internal broadcasting system, and the boatswain's mate on the quarter-deck just switches it on and pipes into the microphone.
"Pipes" that convey orders are crisp and sharp and, as said before, try to trill the words of the order: " pipes" that convey general information to the ship's company are always prefixed with the words "D'you hear there. D'you hear there?" Then there are ceremonial pipes such as piping an officer over the side. This mark of respect is accorded only in sea-going ships to Admirals and to officers commanding sea-going ships, The boatswain and his mates "man" the gangway, that is to say they stand in two ranks on the quarterdeck at the head of the gangway. As the boat bearing the officer to be saluted comes alongside they give a short pipe, then silence, and then a prolonged piping as he ascends the ladder to the quarter-deck.
And the origin of it? In days long gone-by there was no mahogany or teak gangway as we have to-day, only a few rungs projecting from the bulging side of our wooden walls. To clamber up these steps was usually an undignified proceeding, so senior officers were customarily hoisted aboard in a form of cradle (of which to-day's swing-seat-like "boatswain's chair" is the descendant) and the tackle to hoist the dignitary was manned and hauled upon to the accompaniment of the boatswain's pipe.
We stand for a moment musing on past glories and changing but yet changeless customs - and wondering if, perhaps, when Admiral Burnett changed over ships in the heat of a Russian convoy battle seated in his armchair - "Was he piped over the side old-Navy fashion?"
The Ship Salutes the Admiral
A seaman with crossed-flags on his arm hurries past us to the Officer of the Watch and points out a small steam-boat moving down towards the ship and steering to pass under our stern. Quick as a flash the officer's telescope is to his eye. He sees a small flag a-flutter from a tiny flag-staff at the boat's bow and a belaced figure standing in her stern-sheets. "An Admiral passing in his barge" he calls. Then, "Drummer, sound the Attention!" A Royal Marine drummer - a bugle slung round his neck-springs up from nowhere, and in a second the notes of the "Attention" call ring out across the deck. Instantly all is still: men drop their splices, their cleaning gear, whatever they were doing, spring to attention and face outboard. The ship is silent, and on the quarter-deck the Officer of the Watch stands motionless at the salute as the Admiral passes. The barge dips out of sight under the stern. "Drummer sound the 'Carry-On'!" The bugle rings out again, and once more the bustle of the daily round continues. Just the same sort of thing as happened to us in our picquet-boat when we were coming across the bay: junior small boats saluting senior small boats. This time it is the big battleship with a Captain in command saluting its senior officer, the Admiral.
More Tell-tale Badges and Colours
The arrival of that rating with flags on his arm has, however, brought something else to our notice. Just as the engineer officer has purple between the gold rings on his cuff, and the doctor has scarlet, as indications of professional status, so has each trained sailor some indication on his arms of his rank and professional capacity.
First take the men in peaked caps – men "not dressed as seamen." Looking closely at a number of them we notice that their cap badges differ. Some have the Imperial crown and foul anchor surrounded by laurel leaves - these are Chief Petty Officers. Others have the crown and fouled anchor surrounded by a rope circle - these are Petty Officers. Both these are gilt badges. Others again have a crown and a fouled anchor (red) - artisans and others below the rating of Petty Officer. The Chief Petty Officer is a senior non-commissioned officer ranking immediately beneath a warrant officer. His status can be determined from the badge he wears on the lapel of his reefer - red for ordinary days, a gold one on Sunday "Number Ones." A Gunner's Mate (the highest gunnery rating) wears crossed guns with a crown above and a star beneath them; a Torpedo Gunner's Mate (the highest torpedo rating) will wear crossed torpedoes with a crown above and a star beneath; a Chief Yeoman of Signals or Visual Signalman First Class will wear crossed semaphore flags with a crown above and a star beneath, and a First Class Wireless Telegraphist similarly win wear the badge of his branch with a crown above and a star beneath.
Look carefully at the symbol shown in the badges, and in every instance the branch becomes obvious: the shipwrights, plumbers, painters, coopers and joiners wear crossed axe and maul, the ordnance artificer wears a crossed axe and maul also but has a gun horizontally across them. The diver has a diver's helmet (worn down near the cuff); the rangefinder operator has a rangefinder; stokers have a propeller; submarine detectors wear a whale-harpoon and coiled whale-rope; air gunners carry small vertical monoplanes on their badges; surveyors wear a sextant; air mechanics wear a horizontal two-bladed airscrew and an air fitter a four-bladed air screw. The physical training staff wear crossed Indian clubs; the sail-maker wears crossed sail-maker's needle and fid; photographic staff wear a camera; the sick berth staff wear a red cross on a circular white ground; cooks wear a 'C' in a star; officers' cooks wear an 'OC' (O for officer), supply ratings wear an 'S' in a star, and all writers and clerks wear a 'W'.
Rate and Good-conduct Stripes
With the exception of a Chief Petty Officer these ratings wear badges on the right sleeve. On the left sleeve is to be found, when below the rank of Chief Petty Officer, a man's "rate" and the good conduct stripes showing his length of "good" service. On this left sleeve, therefore, will be seen the single fouled anchor which indicates a leading seaman, the two crossed foul anchors indicating a petty officer and the one chevron for three years service or over, two chevrons for eight years service or over and three stripes for thirteen years service or over. In each professional branch the branch-symbol (gun, torpedo, flags, etc.) of the badge is constant throughout, the varying degrees of proficiency being first by the plain symbol (the lowest grade), then by a star above it, then another star beneath it, and finally by the upper star giving place to a crown. Reference to the diagrams will explain all this far better than words could.
Navy's Alphabet is not just A, B, C
Just a word here, however, on the various single letters which are added to certain badges. Take the gunnery branch for instance. An Able Seaman becomes, after passing a course in gunnery, first of all what used to be termed a "Seaman Gunner" but is now known as a Gunnery Rating Third Class. Depending upon the particular form of gunnery for which he shows aptitude, he wears a distinguishing letter beneath the horizontal gun-and-star of the Gunnery Rating Third Class. If he is adept at Fire Control, that is to say the handling of the instruments which make gunnery into an exact science, he wears a letter 'C' and is known as a Control Rating Third Class; if his bent is Anti-Aircraft Gunnery he wears an 'A'; if it is the laying and firing of a handworked gun he wears an 'L'; otherwise he wears a Q, as a Quarters Rating.
Somewhat similarly a Sick Berth Attendant who has specialised in massage work wears an 'M' above the red cross of his branch, an X-ray Assistant an ' X,' and so on.
Last of the professional branches - and by no means the least - comes the Regulating Staff. This branch is responsible for 'tween-deck discipline, for the general regulation and policing of the ship and includes the Jaunty (Master-at-Arms) who is, ipso facto the senior rating on board - and his Regulating Petty Officers, known as Crushers. These wear a solitary Imperial crown on the right arm - the Master-at-Arms being distinguished by a circlet of leaves round this crown on the coat lapels. In peacetime, incidentally, the Master-at-Arms is the only rating to wear a sword.
All this sounds complicated but in effect is quite logical. A ship is a highly-specialised piece of mechanism minutely subdivided into specialised professional compartments or branches. Each of these has its devotees and the symbolic arm badges are the natural means of mutual identification.
The Admiral Tells the Captain
Let us then look at our ship as we know it so far. . Right aft, immersed no doubt in tactical problems, sits the Admiral - "Father" as he is affectionately known. He is virtually a lodger in the ship, for although he is the senior officer on board he does not actually command the ship in which he lives. If, for example, he notices someone fishing from a porthole he does not - or, at least, he should not - personally start a 'hate' or a blitz' about it. To be scrupulously correct he should send for his aiguilletted Flag-Lieutenant and, seated at his table in the Admiral's cabin of H.M.S. Nonsuch, will say "Flags, make a signal to Nonsuch. I notice someone is fishing from one of your port after-scuttles. I trust his catch will be to your liking." It would, of course, be quite easy for "Flags" to take the message personally along the alleyway to Nonsuch's Captain - but, no! - custom decrees that the message shall now go up to the ship's signal bridge, be entered in the ship's signal log as a message from the Admiral, and in that form be taken down again and shown to the Captain of the ship - who passes it to the Commander marked "for information!!!" - who passes it to the Officer of the Watch marked "for immediate and necessary action" - who deals with the fisherman to his eternal discomfort, This example is given here to show that although the Admiral lives internally in one ship, his influence is external and embraces the whole force under his orders.
Responsible to the Admiral for just this one ship Nonsuch is, of course, her "owner" the Captain. He wields the ship with all her capacity for taking hard knocks (the carpenter repairs them) and "handing them out" (at the behest of the gunnery and torpedo officers). He expects speed at his lightest command (the engineer commander attends to this), perfect electrical equipment (here steps in the torpedo officer again), and flawless inter-communication (the function of the signal officer). Above all he expects that the ship will be fit, healthy, and clean, with perfect discipline, and made up of a "happy" and contented ship's company - and for all this, the Commander, the Executive Officer" The Bloke" -is directly responsible.
Detail is the Commander's Responsibility
Given a good "bloke" under whose all-seeing influence "Guns," "Torps," "The Chief," and "The Pilot" can each get the most out of their essential departments - a Captain's hands are free to fight a ship which he knows is perfect in every department and every detail. Clearly the kingpin is the Commander - "the bloke." He bears much on his shoulders, for he is Chief Magistrate, Chief Housemaid, Sports King, Welfare Officer and General Pooh-Bah. Here indeed is a lesson which modern industry could learn from the Navy. The Commander is the parallel to industry's Works Relations Officer - but he is next in authority to the Captain, to the Managing Director. This not only "works" as a system to-day but has worked for a good many years under extremely difficult conditions.
Of course, in his arduous primary function of maintaining a happy ship" the "Bloke" has his henchmen. There is the First Lieutenant - usually the senior lieutenant-commander on board. Often enough "Jimmy the One" as he is called, is in charge of the cleanliness of the mess decks and has an eagle eye for wet towels hanging where they should not be hung - and thereby making the men's sleeping-quarters musty-smelling. He has the doctor to advise him on ventilation and the purity of the water - a regular bone of contention this between the doctor and the engineer-commander. There is also "Bunjy," the physical training officer and his P.T. staff of "india-rubber-men" to keep the ship's company fit with "jerks." To this must be added the divisional system whereby each of the three great "divisions" - forecastlemen, topmen and quarterdeckmen - into which the ship's company is divided has a lieutenant and another officer and a warrant officer as its divisional officers.
Officers Responsible for Men's Welfare
These divisional officers are absolutely responsible for the welfare generally of the men under their care, that they appear as requestmen for badges when these are due, and so on. They are also responsible for the cleanliness of the many nooks and crannics in their own "part of the ship." In addition, on the welfare side, the commander is aided by the Chaplain - or chaplains, for many large battleships carry not only a Church of England chaplain but a Roman Catholic and United Board (Non-Conformist) chaplain as well. And because the real road to a happy "matelot's" heart is good "chow" and plenty of it - one of the commander's chief allies is the paymaster, who in addition to his accounting work runs the ship's catering and is in control of the storerooms and galleys, Between them all - the chaplains, the paymasters, cooks, bakers, supply staff, divisional officers and first lieutenant - the commander has a very varied and completely comprehensive team which attends to the inner man, and the outer man, which organises games and sports for "the troops" and plans their entertainments, compels cleanliness and contributes to a general peace of mind. In the end he gets that "happy ship" that is so vitally essential to the Captain's purpose.
Within the orbit of this "happy ship" the various specialists - "Guns," "Torps" and "Signals" - drive for the absolute fighting efficiency of their departments. " Guns," from his gunnery office, with his Chief Gunner's Mate as his trusty henchman and a "stripey " Able Seaman as his "writer," plans and organises, chases the elusive algebraic x and the ballistic Kappa. From there he directs the crescendo of training which ends in a battle-practice, whereupon he analyses its results and holds bitter post-mortems on the answer. From there orders go out to his Ordnance Artificers to repair gun machinery or to his electrical staff to repair gun-firing leads.
Similarly, from the torpedo office, "Torps" directs the complex torpedo mechanism in the torpedo flats below decks, and controls his army of "earthchasers" as his electric-light party is called. Both he and "Guns" have jobs in addition to their main functions: "Torps" looks after the switchboards, and "Guns" is responsible for diving. Let the ship get a stray wire wound around its propeller - then "Guns" must direct his Chief Gunner and his little posse of trained divers to go overside and free it.
Ritual of Navigator's Chronometers
Next in line, and still within the orbit of the "happy ship," comes the navigator. Often regarded playfully as an idler, he is really anything but that. With the ship at sea and under way "The Pilot" seldom leaves his navigating bridge. In harbour there are his charts to correct and a number of small jobs such as checking range-finder ranges which help the gunnery officer. He also has charge of the ship's chronometers - and here again tradition steps in. Time was when a ship's chronometer, used for determining by calculation the ship's precise longitude at any moment, were one of the most important items of her equipment. Latitude, the other geographical dimension, could always be found from the sun at noon, or the Pole-star at night; but to find the longitude necessitated a very accurate time-keeper which was never allowed to run down and of which the error on Greenwich time was known accurately to a second from day to day. Since in the knowledge of a ship's position at sea lies the safety of the ship the responsibility for the care of and the regular winding of the chronometers was always paramount - not only for the officers, but also for the men.
And how easy it is to forget to wind a watch or a clock - we all know that, But chronometers must not be forgotten - and, moreover, they must be wound at the same time each day. So the problem of clock forgetfulness was overcome in the Navy by the simple process of requiring a senior Royal Marine rank, often a Colour Sergeant, to follow the navigating officer (whose duty it is to wind the chronometers) like a shadow from eight a.m. onwards until the job has been done. Once they are wound, the "shadow" reports to the captain – "Chronometers wound" - a simple report but one which, in the old days before the advent of wireless time-signals, held in its grasp the safety of all on board. Even to-day, with wireless pips" going almost every half-hour from one station or another, the tradition of safety is maintained and the report continues.
There are our officers and men as we find them on duty - dressed in the "rig of the day" that was ordered by signal from the flagship just prior to breakfast being "piped." We see them as heads of departments or subordinates, each at work, as it were, at his own bench, fashioning and perfecting and keeping perfect his own section of the ship's fighting machine. Officially they have their style and title; unofficially this happy ship knows its officers and key ratings by age-old nicknames some of which are set out here.
Family Names Inside the Ship
The Admiral Father Flag-Lieutenant Flags Captain The Owner (by his officers). The Old Man (by Ship's Company) Commander (Executive) The Bloke First Lieutenant Number One (by the officers). Jimmy the One (by the hands). The Chief Housemaid (because he is responsible for the ship's cleanliness). Gunnery Officer Guns (by officers). Gunnery Jack (by the hands). Torpedo Officer Torp. Signal Officer Signals Navigating Officer Pilot, Navvy Navigator's Assistant. Tanky Physical Training Officer Bunjy, The lndiarubber Man. Chaplain Sky Pilot, Devil-Dodger, BiblePuncher, Vicar, Bishop, The Bish. Paymaster Pay, Pusser (Purser) (by officers). Pay-Bob, Tizzysnatcher, Inky-finger (by men). Captain's Clerk The Click Engineer Commander Chief Eng. Lieut.-Commander The Senior Senior Marine Officer. The Major Other R. Marine Officers Soldier The Bandmaster Bandie Senior Doctor P.M.O. (by officers) Other Doctors Doc., Butcher Dental Surgeon Toothy (by officers). Fang Farrier (by men). Naval Instructor Usher R.N.R. Officers Rocky, Sinbad, Cargo-Bill All Lieutenants Lootenant. Easy-going Officer A Jack-Shalloo. Sub-Lieutenant Sub (by officers), Subby (by men) Midshipmen Snotty, Wart (by officers) Mid. (by men) Deck Landing Officer Bats (in an aircraft carrier) The Boatswain Bose, 'Pipes' Warrant Supply Officer Salt Beef Squire Warrant Victualling Officer The Grocer Warrant Engineer Arch-Tiffy Instructional Gunner Daggers Chief Gunner's Mate Chief G-I Chief Boatswain's Mate Chief Buffer Physical Training Instructor Jumper, Clubs Sick Berth Attendant Poultice Walloper, Poultice Plasterer Ship's Cook Slushy Master-at-Arms Jaunty Regulating Petty Officer Crusher Schoolmaster Schoolie Leading Seaman Killick, Hookie Chief Petty Officer Chiefie Ordinary Seaman O.D.s (Oh Dees) Royal Marines Leathernecks, Jollies Royal Marine Bandsmen Musicians, Bandies Royal Marine Bugler Drummer Seaman Bugler Bugles Carpenter Chippie, Chips Armourer Army Lamptrimmer Lampy Postman Posty Clerk Writer Wireless rating Sparks Signalman Bunts, Bunting-tosser Cooper Jimmy Bungs Storekeeper Captain of the Hold - Tanky Engine-room Artificer Tiffy Bloke Boy Artificer Tiffy-boy Stokers Plumbers, Clinker-knockers Supply Staff Dusty Boys - Jack Dusty The Ship's Company The Hands, The Troops The Sailor himself A Matelot (pronounced Ma-te-lo)
III. A TOUR BELOW DECKS
Certainly with all the activity that is in progress there is no room for sightseers on the bustling upper-deck of a man-of-war during working hours. The midshipman of the watch is, therefore, tacked on to us as a guide - and, we suspect, to see that we don't get into mischief - and, in his wake, we dive down the after companion-way from the quarter-deck to look at the ship below decks. A neat, teak ladder this, with a handrail of mahogany, but like all other ship ladders steep to the landsman's way of thinking and with none too much head-room as we pass beneath the deckhead itself.
Once down below we find ourselves in a spacious lobby with doors giving off from it in all directions. The floor at our feet - of course we shall have to call it a deck - gleams with shellaced corticene: the walls - bulkheads, of course -are shining with white enamel; and the ceiling overhead - there we go again, the deckhead above us- is rough with matt-white painted cork. That is one great feature of all warships: deckheads are covered with cork-dust to prevent sweating, and then matt white painted.
This lobby-like all such places in a warship - is known as a flat, and it takes its name from its principal use. One of the doors leading from this flat is to the Captain's cabins - so this is known as "The Captain's Flat." There is only one actual occupant of the flat itself and that is the Royal Marine sentry who mounts guard over the Captain's outer door. No one can see "The Owner" without first passing this sentry - a fact which makes the Captain of a battleship probably the loneliest man in the world. There he lives at his own end of the ship, yet cut off from the 1,400-odd officers and men who serve him, first by his orderly-sentry and secondly by the age-old custom of the service that the Captain is a "being apart." Not that this is done for social reasons - it has a hard practical purpose. How could he preserve that perfect sense of discipline among his officers- or men - or even intervene like an Olympian god in their arguments - if he was one of them, lived among them, and made his personal friends among them? I have, indeed, known ships where the Captain and his second-in-command were personal friends of thirty years' standing when ashore together - yet, on board they met and worked according to the ancient rules which set a sentry between them.
"On Service" and" Off Service"
That, possibly, is the key to the one great feature of the Royal and Merchant Navies which is so often expressed by the terms "On Service" and" Off Service." The Commander can - and does - send for an officer only a few years junior to himself and, on the quarter-deck, rate him soundly for some unfortunate slip, maybe, in the routine. That is "on service." Half an hour later you will find them both laughing together down in the mess; probably they are playing golf together in the afternoon. That is "off service." This characteristic of the sea life is found almost nowhere else in its intensity; in a warship it is like a religion, and this, in all probability is why the Royal and Merchant Navies from the senior officer afloat to the junior "Boy First Class," are such happy services. Here, in very truth, hard words break no bones and lose no friends.
We look around the Captain's flat. Here, considering that the value of this battleship is some £12,000,000 of taxpayers' money, and that this' steel shell houses some 1,400 souls, is amazing Spartan simplicity. None of the rose-wood panelled boardroom of industry here; a darkwood door with the word CAPTAIN painted on it.
Spartan Simplicity of Captain's Flat
Through that door is a very small lobby with brass hooks for the Captain's hat and coat; to one side his bathroom, on the other side his little galley (kitchen) and pantry. At the end of the lobby another door gives access to his sitting-room-drawing-room-dining-room-study combined - a room which from time immemorial has been called The Fore Cabin. Doors out of that again open upon a small bedroom, a spare bedroom for an official guest; another door right aft, like a french window, leads to his stern-walk -the small steel balcony passing right round the stern of the ship. Everywhere the same white enamel, the same cork-painted deckhead, the same shellaced corticene underfoot. Two or three scuttles - the Navy's name for portholes - give light and air; the Captain can have scuttles in the side at this end of the ship, for he is clear of the main armour belt. Maybe there will be a small skylight overhead. Simplicity everywhere - the practical habit of the warship brightened by chintz-covered armchair or two, the Captain's private and personal books, a few pictures of ships he has served in in the years gone by, group-photographs of officers, and a chart or map or two. Here the Captain lives and works and thinks when in harbour; at sea he has an even more Spartan apartment - his Sea Cabin - up on the bridge in "Queen Anne's Mansions," ready at hand by day or night should his immediate presence be required on the bridge.
H.M.S. Nonsuch, like all major warships, is "fitted" to carry an admiral: that is to say that there is accommodation on board for an admiral and his staff. It means usually that the Captain takes over the Commander's cabin and the Commander moves down one, as it were; the Admiral himself taking over the little suite of white-painted cabins at the end of the Captain's flat. Then, of course, the flat rises in dignity and becomes the "Admiral's flat" but nothing else changes: the Spartan simplicity remains. We notice a door in the flat marked "COMMANDER" - he has two cabins - one as an office-sitting-room and the other a small bedroom. We notice also, ready at the Royal Marine sentry's hand, two massive keyboards - two glass-fronted keyboards full of keys on numbered hooks. A permanent light shines on these boards and beneath them on a small reading-desk stands an open book.
Sentry Looks After All Keys
One thing about which the Navy is most particular is that locked doors must be kept locked and, furthermore, may only be unlocked by people authorised to do so. In a sentry's charge therefore are all the keys of the ship: in a battleship they number more than 200. He has a list showing who may "draw" this key or that from him; when this person comes for a key he must sign the sentry's "key-book" to show who has the key and when it was "drawn." When it is returned the drawer signs out of the book - again with the time the key was returned. In this way a perfect check is maintained upon all locked spaces - and some of them need such a check. There are the storerooms and the spirit rooms, the gunner's and torpedo gunner's stores with their boxes of detonators. Above all there are the keys of the magazines and shell-rooms themselves, and of the compartments immediately surrounding them compartments known as the "adjacent spaces." One can readily imagine that there are many places in a modern warship which contain devices or maps or gadgets which must be kept from prying eyes like ours. These places are locked - and the keys are in the care of this sentry.
One other item of furniture in this "Captain's flat" is a massive steel safe - the ship's safe - placed here because it, like the keyboards, must always, night and day, be under a sentry's eye. In this safe the Paymaster keeps the ship's ready cash, his duplicate account ledgers, and various other items. Here also may usually be found a duplicate set of ship's keys, all neatly tallied and stowed away in a canvas bag. At stated intervals the Captain counts the money in this safe as a form of audit, otherwise its contents concern him very little. The safe has a combination lock of which only the Senior Accountant Officer knows the combination offhand; the contents are his and his the responsibility subject, of course, to the sentry who sees that no unauthorised person goes near it.
Why Doorways are Not Numerous
The Captain's flat explored, we move on - but to get into the next flat we find we have to descend a steel ladder, then walk a few paces, pass through a huge steel doorway and then mount a ladder again. This somewhat roundabout means of progress you will find very prevalent in a warship where every doorway through a steel bulkhead means a weakening of that bulkhead. The doorways are not, therefore, always where one would expect them to be. Besides, there are often ammunition hoists and trunks in one's path - to be circumnavigated by going down a deck, round a corner and up again.
Looking back at the steel door as we pass, the midshipman-guide remarks that it is one of the watertight doors. Every battleship has three classes of watertight door. The first class is always kept closed whenever the ship is at sea; this main class of door, when shut, ensures that the bulk of the ship is separated into large watertight compartments. The two remaining classes of doors, of which the one we have just passed is an example, are shut in action and if the ship, runs into fog when under way. These doors ensure that in addition to the major subdivision into huge watertight compartments, made possible by closing the first set of doors, these minor doors being shut still further subdivides the ship. Some of these doors are closed mechanically from the deck above them; others, like the one we have passed, close by hand and are held shut fast by strong steel clips.
We Explore Officers' Cabins Flat
The flat we now stand in is much larger than the Captain's flat and contains many more doors opening from it. This is the Officers' Cabin Flat, and a glance at the legends painted over the doors show that here live the Gunnery and Torpedo Officers, the Major of Marines, the Chaplain, and the several senior Paymasters and Doctors. Only two of these cabins are what are called "marked cabins," that is to say their ownership is printed on the original plans of the ship. These two cabins are those occupied by the Major of Marines and the Chaplain - and by common consent the Chaplains cabin is often known on board as The Vicarage.
The cabins from this flat are all more or less alike in size and shape - they are the homes of the heads of departments. Let us just glance into one - the jalousie-slatted door is slid open and the brown rep. curtain is drawn aside. There, against the ship's side, is a single bunk and underneath it four drawers. Overhead, secured to the deckhead by clips, is a flat tin bath; against the bulkhead is fastened a single-leaf small table with three small drawers for support, a fold-up washbasin and a mirror. In the corner is a sort of a wardrobe, and next to it a mahogany chest of drawers and a small chair. Add to these a water-bottle and glass, a small square of carpet-rug, a mattress, a pillow and some blankets and you have the complete furnishings of an officer's cabin. Sheets - he buys those himself, as well as towels, and pillow-cases and anything else he may fancy to make his cabin more personal to him. The result is his home in peacetime for a full two years after which he will move to another ship for another two years to a home very similar in detail. We look inside again - and realise that this is in its way as Spartan a habitation as that of the Captain or the Admiral on the other side of the steel bulkhead.
Up a companion-ladder - on to the quarter-deck again this time - for there is no dodging round the obstruction immediately for'ard of the officers' flat. That obstruction happens to be the steel-armoured barbette of the after-turrets, a circular castle of steel reaching from the upper-deck down to the magazines in the very bowels of the ship. Soon to the quarter-deck again, under the very shadow of the massive after-guns - and once more we doff our hats in respect. Along the deck and into the after-superstructure - an edifice not unlike a tenement building which rises up from the deck about the stumpy after-mast. On its top deck we find searchlights and AA-guns. Beneath it are the spacious, airy, but busy Gunnery Office and Torpedo Office, another cabin or so tucked away round corners, and a storeroom for brooms and scrubbing gear.
No Midshipman Locks his Sea-chest
Here we go down a ladder instead of up one, and again come into a spacious flat, furnished as far as we can see with a score of shining black boxes, each meticulously toeing the edge of a plank and each with its owner's name in white paint on the lid. This is the "Half-Deck," the Midshipman's Flat. These boxes are the snotties' sea-chests, and it will be noted that in a well-regulated ship no midshipman's sea-chest is locked. Of course it possesses a lock and key - but aboard ship there should be no need to lock anything away. Indeed, no matter what part of the ship it is, officers' quarters or messdecks, the most heinous crime aboard ship is pilfering - it ranks morally as a more deadly sin almost than murder. And as, among shipmates, this crime is non-existent, there is no need to lock anything away. There is a story of the Captain of a ship going "the rounds" one Sunday who found that one of his newly-joined midshipmen had locked his sea-chest. One can imagine the young man's dismay on descending to the half-deck a little later to find that the lock had been sawn out of his sea-chest by order of the Captain.
Snotties Learn to Rough It
In this sea-chest a midshipman keeps all his personal belongings, for he has no cabin, no other accommodation than this. For approximately four years he lives in his chest. For bedroom - here is the communal bedroom of them all, for in this Midshipman's Flat they sling in their hammocks suspended from the hammock-hooks and bars overhead. Between each so many midshipmen there is one Royal Marine Bandsman as a sort of batman - at night-time he slings his midshipmen's hammocks up for them, and in the morning takes them down again, lashes them up and stows them in the hammock rack provided.
Not much like a bedroom this, some may say - with lights on most of the time, and some of them - police lights - on all of the time. In one corner there is the permanent whirr of a high-speed electric fan-motor driving fresh air into the confined spaces below decks; in another corner a fresh-water tank which gurgles as it fills and re-fills. For ventilation - here there are no scuttles, and no side ports. Except for the air which comes up and down the ladders the midshipmen are dependent, as is everyone else between decks, on what is called "potted air" - forced ventilation through oblong metal ventilating trunks along the deck beams overhead. Everywhere there is the same white enamel, the same cork-dusted deckhead. One wonders - did Jellicoe and Beatty and Cunningham and Fraser live like this when they were 'snotties' The answer is Yes - only in their day conditions were probably not quite as good as they are to-day. As befits the stern calling he has chosen for a career, a midshipman's life in a ship is indeed not an easy one; there was more than a hint of truth in Charles Laughton's spoken words in the film of Mutiny on the Bounty - "a midshipman is one of the lower forms of animal life!"
If this is where the "snotties" sleep and dress, where then do they eat and spend what leisure time they have from their many duties? That is to be our next port of call and we pass through another watertight door in the bulkhead of the Midshipman's Flat, and come to a dark-wood door marked GUNROOM. Here a Sub-Lieutenant R.N. takes charge of us, hospitably invites us in, and tells us of his mess and its customs. Why it should be called a gunroom is open to some doubt, but probably the best explanation is that in Nelson's day the Midshipmen's Cabin was at the ship's side and had as part of its furniture one or more of the guns that had to be served and fought in action. In this mess - the two-year home of young men who will one day command ships like Nonsuch (and maybe fleets of such ships) dwell the ship's midshipmen, maybe a score or even more, any paymasters who still have but one stripe (paymaster sub-lieutenants) and the ship's sub-lieutenants. This mess is in charge of the senior sub-lieutenant-known as Sub. of the Mess, and he rules it with a rod of iron - or ash!
Age-old Traditions of the Gunroom
The customs of a gunroom have been handed down from one generation of "snotties" to another - and we can to-day read the memoirs of Nelson's officers and their doings as midshipmen and find there the same habits and practices as prevail to-day in Nonsuch. For instance, no senior officer enters a gunroom without permission. (By the way, all commissioned officers above gunroom rank and up to the rank of Captain are known as wardroom officers). He knocks at the door and awaits permission to enter. Even the Captain removes his hat when he enters a gunroom. By common consent one of the battered armchairs is always left vacant in case the senior sub. comes in. If he wants the gramophone played - then one of the most junior "snotties" plays it for him; if he is not in the mood for such light pleasure, woe betide the luckless "wart" who turns on the "bumblejar."
Swords and Dirks Must Never be Drawn
For furniture there is a long table with hardwood chairs at one end of the mess and a number of mess-purchased easy chairs at the other end. Lockers adorn the walls in which the"snotties" keep their studybooks and intimate belongings. On one wall is a rack for their dirks - a weapon which must on no account be drawn in the mess under pain of most condign punishment. This question of "drawing" a dirk (or an officer's sword from its scabbard) in a mess holds good in gunroom, wardroom and warrant-officers' messes; no sword must ever be drawn - even to show the beautiful chasing of its blade. And the reason for this custom is, of course, quite obvious. In days gone by when duels were common - and tempers less well under control than they are to-day - there was more than a hint of trouble in the sight of a drawn sword. Far better then than all the laws and official regulations designed to prevent this - a simple unwritten law among all officers that to draw a sword, even by accident, would cost the drawer at least a round of port, an expensive forfeit even where liquor is duty free.
Time was when midshipmen were a good deal rougher than they are to-day, and no little horse-play took place behind the gunroom door. From those rougher days comes down to us still a number of picturesque survivals. One of these is the existence, in every well-run Gunroom, of a group of junior "snotties" known as the Dogs of War. Amongst these will usually be found any of the mess rugger enthusiasts and others who in the picturesque phrasing of the seaman "know how to use themselves." Should a midshipman, or anyone else for that matter, render himself obnoxious in the mess at any time the Sub. of the mess' will languidly order "Dogs of War, out so-and-so!" There is a scrimmage - and maybe more than a scrimmage - and out so-and-so goes - out through the dark-wood doorway into the cold hard world of the white enamelled flat beyond. There he must remain until the Sub. says he may come in again. On Guest Nights in the mess this is indeed regarded as one of the high spots of the evening - and more than one popular senior officer has been ejected laughingly from a Gunroom - and put up the devil of a fight against the "dogs of war" in the process.
When Junior Officers are Not Wanted
At mess there are two other customs well worth remembering and keeping alive. Maybe the table manners of the very young midshipmen, the latest joined, may annoy my lord the Sub.; maybe he is moody and dislikes their very presence. Then he will pick up a tablefork from beside his plate and stick it on the beam ledge above his head - Fork in the Beam - and with a wild dash the small and junior fry will rush headlong .from the mess to wait outside until permitted to re-enter. Nor, let us assure you, do they stand upon their dignity in the order of their going; they pile into the doorway and in a body force their way out, lest the Sub., in a fit of stern judgment, should decide physically to assist the hindmost on his way.
One other Gunroom custom is worthy of notice here - that of Breadcrumbs! The scene is dinner in the Gunroom; at the senior end of the table maybe conversation has turned upon some topic or other which the Sub. of the mess deems unsuited to the ears of his junior and recently-joined "warts." So he orders "Breadcrumbs"- and every junior midshipman hurriedly jams his fingers in his ears lest one word of his seniors' conversation should reach him. The origin of this, like so much else, is lost in obscurity. All one can say is that the custom has undoubtedly prevailed for centuries, and in the past actual breadcrumbs must have been used as ear-protectors before a more civilised mode of life saved the bread!
One looks at this Gunroom now - the obvious habitation of some twenty and more healthy and vigorous males. In each corner stand piles of rods, hockey-sticks, golf-clubs, cricket gear and walking sticks; nautical textbooks and novels jostle cheek-by-jowl on the shelves. The chairs look the worse for wear; the piano in the corner a sadly battered contrivance - but no matter, no one can play it and only one of the "snotties" can even strum. Round it on guest nights the "young gentlemen" gather and roar themselves hoarse with songs which Gunrooms have sung for centuries. No book contains the words or the music of these songs; in three hundred years only a word here and there has been changed. Generations of "snotties" have learnt them by ear and heart and have sung them in all climes, in all weathers. Senior officers, as guests in the mess on these occasions, revive old memories, for they too have sung these same songs. A useful thing all round is that battered old piano - the centre point of festivities on guest-night and an invaluable receptacle within its lid for all unclaimed rubbish on Sunday morning before the Captain inspects the mess on his "rounds."
Captains and Admirals in the Making
Here, in this Gunroom, life at sea begins for those who one day will command fleets; here they learn the ropes as their forefathers learnt them. Here they learn the traditions of the trade - and its tricks. Outside in the midshipman's flat at night-time it is the newly joined greenhorn who does not automatically feel the knot at the head and foot of his hammock before he swings his weight into it. Let him be careless of this elementary precaution - and let his fellow-snotties realise this and one or another will "yarn his hammock" for him. To do this, after the hammock has been slung correctly by a virtuous Royal Marine bandsman, the villain of the piece will slip quietly into the flat and re-sling the foot end - never the head - by tying the hammock rope to the outside of the hook with several turns of cotton. This cotton is strong enough to support the weight of the hammock - but not its occupant. The unwary and careless snotty swings himself into it - down it comes with a crash-and in all probability the disturbance wakes up one of the sub-lieutenants who puts his head out of his cabin door, collects the victim and "remonstrates" with him in a way peculiar to Gunrooms. A good life indeed is the life of a midshipman, whether he is a Mid. R.N. or R.N.R or R.N.V.R: plenty of fun, plenty of horse-play - but plenty of hard work. The Royal Navy is the only Service in the world which takes its young officers at the first rung of their ladder and literally hands them over to the seamen whom one day they will command, to be taught their trade and taught how to command. A queer system-but it works.
We Make Friends With Josè
Before we leave this world of future admirals let us take a look into the little glory-hole of a room adjoining the Gunroom - the Gunroom pantry. Here dwells the Gunroom messman - almost invariably a Maltese and equally invariably known as "Josè." He is responsible for the general feeding of the inhabitants of the Gunroom-and, as one might expect, he is permanently blamed for it. He administers the "extras" - small items of delicacy like bars of chocolate or slices of melon, which are paid for at the end of the month in the "extra bill." Naturally he is never right in his totals - at least that is Gunroom opinion. He is - or used to be years ago - alleged to sleep with a cut ham as a pillow - in case the "snotties" should get at it in his absence. If he breaks a plate or burns the porridge, he is certain to avoid blame by saying he didn't do it but that the crime was committed "by my brother from Gozo." But he continues at his post: he watches midshipmen come and go; he sees them promoted to sub-lieutenant; he sees them leave for other appointments. According to him, each lot is worse than the last, but in spite of all this he still stays on.
And on this note let us leave the Gunroom, taking leave of its hospitable and despotic sub-lieutenant, and walk that short journey across the alleyway outside and round the bend to the Wardroom door - the walk that all Gunroom officers must take when they are promoted to the two stripes of a lieutenant. Here again is a dark-wood door and, beyond it, the Wardroom Anteroom and beyond that again the Wardroom Mess proper.
At Home with the Senior Officers
Here in these two rooms dwell the senior officers of the ship - everyone above the rank of sub-lieutenant with the exception of the captain. As President of the Mess the Wardroom has the Commander or the senior executive officer. The Ante-room is equipped club fashion with deep armchairs and a sofa or so; on the bulkheads hang signed portraits of their Majesties the King and Queen; in a glass case on the sideboard are some of the trophies won by the ship in the realms of inter-ship-and inter-squadron sports and regattas. There is an attitude of quiet and dignity about this mess in strong contrast to the mess we have just left. The papers, magazines and illustrated periodicals are set out in ordered array, and are whole and entire, not in fragments as in a Gunroom. Almost overwhelming can this atmosphere be to a young sub. newly promoted to lieutenant. Let him feel cheerful - and some ageing Engineer Commander or Paymaster is almost certain to frown from the depths of his chair. In general, in the Ante-room one sees the naval officer "off-service" and at his best. Seamen come in and out from time to time with a message for this officer or that; a signalman armed with message-pad brings a signal newly received for the Commander. Even here, in their clubroom, there is no real relaxation from the duty going around and about them.
At meal times they move into the messroom adjoining. With the exception of the Commander, whose place is at the head of the table, each officer sits where he wishes. Dinner in the evening is the only formal meal, and during this meal interval we see the strong hand of custom and tradition at work again. No lady's name must ever be mentioned until the port has passed round - this under penalty of paying for a round of port - no light matter in a mess of maybe fifty officers. In days gone by a lady's name mentioned lightly might easily lead to a brawl, and this ban was no doubt introduced to keep a ship's officers that "band of brothers" of which Nelson was so proud.
Guest Night Ceremonial
On Guest Night - Duff Night - we see the Wardroom Mess at its most formal. The Wardroom attendants - Royal Marines in the charge of a corporal - wait while the mess seats itself decorously. The Commander raps the table for silence and the Chaplain offers "grace." There is a story that in one ship, where there was no Chaplain, the Commander used to look questioningly down the table each guest night and say, "What? No Chaplain – thank God!" - a "grace" which could have been taken in several ways. Grace said, dinner begins and pursues its steady way to the accompaniment of a babble of chatter and banter within and the strains of the Royal Marine (string) band playing in the flat outside. At last the plates are removed and the table swept at its crumbs; the waiting marines place port glasses at the elbow of each officer, and at either end of the table decanters of port and marsala are set. At a sign from the President the stoppers are removed and the decanters pass silently round the table clockwise in their progression as each officer who wishes tops up his glass with port. Port and Marsala have always been the ceremonial drinks of the Royal Navy - from the days no doubt when admirals' drank three bottles of port a day in their retirement and got gout as a reward, and "pipes" of Marsala stowed low down in the ship were "rolled round Cape Horn" to make them more palatable.
"Gentlemen, The King!"
Back come the decanters to the Commander, and the Corporal of Marines whispers "The wine has passed, sir." The band outside stops its light music and a hush falls as the President raps the table and gives the loyal toast: "Gentlemen, the King." Each glass is raised and the band outside strikes up "God Save the King." Each glass is sipped and there is a deep murmur of "The King - God Bless Him" and the toast is over, but it has been drunk by all officers still seated. That perhaps is the oldest and most precious mess tradition possessed by officers of the Royal Navy and shared by them with no other body of men. Its origins are of royal interest, and two stories are told to account for the custom. The first is that a king dining in an old-time line-of-battleship, trying to rise from the table in his officers' mess, was so tall that he banged his head on the stout oaken beams above him. Wishing to prevent his loyal officers from suffering the crack he had taken, he is said to have given permission for naval officers to sit for the loyal toast for all time. Another explanation put forward is that another old-time monarch had dined so well in the mess of one of his ships that he feared he might have difficulty in rising and so announced that no one need stand for the King's health. Whichever version holds the real truth is immaterial - the fact remains that to this day the King's health is drunk seated by naval officers in the King's ships.
Saturday Night at Sea
There is yet another dinner custom of Wardroom officers, but this only occurs if the ship is actually at sea on a Saturday night. Then, the King's health having been drunk according to solemn custom, and the President's permission to smoke having been granted, round go the decanters a second time and a second time the glasses are topped up. Again the Corporal whispers "Wine passed," and again the Commander raps for silence. This time it is a particularly naval toast: "Saturday Night at Sea, Gentlemen," he says" Sweethearts and Wives!" and a toast is drunk to the "Chinas" and "oppos" however far away they may be. Be sure some cynical wag will mutter into his glass "May they never meet"; a sentimentalist may even add, "May the. former become the latter and the latter ever remain the former." Be that as it may, the toast will be drunk sincerely and then, to crown it, the Commander will usually call upon the youngest member of the mess to make an impromptu speech upon some aspect of female life or habit - or costume - which is certain to provoke bursts of laughter and sallies of wit from everyone in the mess. A queer custom this - but one which goes on all over the world. We ourselves have seen this toast drunk at the edge of the eternal southern Antarctic ice at the gateway to the Weddell Sea a full 8,000 miles from home. Call it sentiment if you like - we would rather call it living within and up to a code set by tradition and custom. Moreover it is not only the large and major customs that matter - there are the smaller ones too - small in themselves but just as important. No guest night would be complete, for example, if the bandmaster were not invited into the Wardroom after the King's Health has been drunk. In he comes to a seat beside the Commander to be thanked personally for the efforts of his band to please, and to join the commander in a glass of port. In all probability he and "The Bloke" have been "old ships" before - that is to say have both served in some other ship together, Then there are reminiscences to be exchanged - more thanks - and "bandie" goes back to his musicians to play one last tune "by special request." It always happens like this - and it always will. As we pass out of the Wardroom and Ante-room into the cool enamel-painted flat outside where the band is playing its hardest and where a few of the Wardroom cooks gather in silent appreciation we realise how age-old it all is, age-old and unending.
IV. THE "BARRACKS"
As we leave the Wardroom flat and move through the screen-door farther forward in the ship, we enter at once the home of the ship's company and there, at the threshold, as it were, between officers and men we find the Royal Marines in their "Barracks." Fitted in precisely the same way as we shall find the seaman's messdeck later on - with its hammock bars overhead, its ship-side racks of mess "gear," its personal lockers, its 'thwartship mess-tables and stools - there is somehow a sense of difference. Almost without having to be told we appreciate that here live men who are soldiers and sailors too. They are soldiers to the extent that they form landing parties from His Majesty's ships whenever necessary; they capture landing bases and then occupy them to secure the greater effect of the warships themselves; they are sailors in that they form part of the complement of a ship, they live in it and man a proportion of its main and secondary armament.
Elsewhere in this book mention has been made of this Corps: here in their "barracks" we can survey them in greater detail for, come what may, anyone who serves the sea is the wiser for a knowledge of "His Majesty's Royals" as they are affectionately called. They come to a warship as that ship's Royal Marine detachment from one or other of the three great Marine Divisions - Chatham, Plymouth and Portsmouth - where depots were opened for them in the late eighteenth century, Over these shore depots and barracks, be it noted, the Royal Marines do not fly the White Ensign of the naval service but the national Union Flag, a reminder that ashore they are under the Army Act, whereas, once over a ship's brow, they come under the provisions of the Naval Discipline Act - soldier and sailor too, with a vengeance. These shore Divisions are complete units in themselves with their own "sappers " and other technical experts. Royal Marine uniforms are made in the tailors' shops attached to the Divisions which are virtually self-supporting in every way.
History and Honours of Royal Marines
When we said, however, that the Divisional depots came into existence towards the close of the eighteenth century we did not mean to imply that the Marine Corps itself only came into existence then. Its beginnings were far earlier - why! before the barracks were ever planned on an architect's drawing board the Corps had already established itself as "Second to None." The actual origin of the Corps lies with that Merry Monarch Charles II who in 1664 created a regiment of foot for sea service which he called "The Duke of York and Albany's Regiment of Foot." This was an inconveniently long title and, as the Duke also happened to be a Lord High Admiral of England, the name of the Corps was conveniently shortened to "The Admiral's Regiment."
It was under this name that, forty years after being raised, the Regiment, under the general command of Admiral Sir George Rooke, stormed the Rock of Gibraltar thereby winning that "immortal honour" which they have sustained on every field the world over ever since. No other body of men, indeed, has so many battle honours. Said the famous Lord Charles Beresford, "Not a thousand standards could contain their brilliant record." Their continuing glory is enshrined for all time in the badge of the regiment - as we look across the" barracks" we can see it gleaming on the collar of a nearby corporal - a brass globe showing our Eastern Hemisphere, the whole surrounded by a wreath of laurels.
That badge has gleamed, new-burnished in the sun, and has reflected back the eerie snow-blink from East to West, from Pole to Pole - and it tells the history of the Corps more clearly than can anything else. The wreath of laurels is a reminder of our Seven Years War when, with our main Home Fleet blockading the now-battered harbour of Brest, the Marine Regiment was landed to seize Belle Isle and establish an advance base. For that deed they were permitted to have a laurel wreath emblazoned on their colours; from the colours it passed to the cap-badge and collar-badge. Throughout the Napoleonic Wars they were ever to the fore. As a reward for their part in the first half of that titanic struggle His Majesty King George III granted them the proud title of "Royal," and "His Majesty's Royals" they have been ever since. In 1827, with Napoleon vanquished and reduced to a mere memory, the future King William IV, then Duke of Clarence and General of Marines, gave new royal colours to the Corps and on them was the badge of "globe and laurel" as we know it and see it to-day.
The World is Their Battlefield
And the reason for so strange an emblem as a globe - the future monarch explained that. When the reigning king, His Majesty King George IV, had considered the battle-honours to be shown on the new colours, so great had been the difficulty of making a selection for a Corps which had served with such distinction all over the world that he gave them "the Great Globe itself." Their motto - Per Mare Per Terram, "By Sea and By Land" - remained as before. And there we have the badge and crest as we see it today: Globe and Laurel with the Imperial Crown above and the motto beneath - a reminder to us that "what men have done, men can do." Already the past glories of the Royal Marines are celebrated at the Divisions ashore on a number of set days in each year, each time with a fanfare upon silver bugles; to this long list must now be added the exploits of "The Jollies" in Norway, Faeroes and Iceland, in Holland and France, in Malaya and Madagascar and Burma, in Malta, at Dieppe and in Sicily, and as the evacuating rearguard on the bitter beaches of Crete.
Sharing the Globe with the U.S. Marines
Just one more point about the proud badge of our "National Sheet Anchor" - The Marines. Our Royal Marines have for their badge a globe showing the Eastern Hemisphere: it is particularly fitting that that other great marine Corps, the United States Marines, should also have a globe for a badge - and their globe depicts the Western Hemisphere. Coming events are said to cast their shadows before them; maybe this sharing of the whole globe between the two great English-speaking Marine Corps is prophetic of their national joint duty in the years that lie ahead.
The natural function of these sea soldiers to provide the personnel of landing forces from the Fleet is by itself quite obvious. That marines should be fleet gunners is, however, not so obvious but, oddly enough, they are the oldest permanent gunners of our Service. It was in Nelson's time, in the year before Trafalgar, that the Royal Marine Corps was given the added fleet responsibility not only of manning certain guns but of being the professional gunners whose duty was to train the seamen in the art of gunnery. Those, after all, were the short-service days when a man was either "pressed" for a seaman or signed on voluntarily for a single voyage under a specified captain. With such a system of service it was impossible to get the continuous gunnery training needed for the skilled artilleryman. Marines who were long-service men were, therefore, trained for the task of gunnery instruction.
Thus the Royal Marines threw out their first branch as Royal Marine Artillery and these came to be known as the Blue Marines because of the blue tunics they wore as opposed to the scarlet coats of the remainder. As Blue Marines this group set to work to train the seamen in the art of gunnery, and in this capacity continued without a rival until the middle of the last century when so much of the Naval Service went into the melting pot. As told before, the three ensigns worn by H.M. ships of war were whittled down to the White Ensign alone, and at about the same time, or just before, continuous service for a specified number of years was at long last introduced for sailor ratings. This introduction made regular gunnery instruction possible, and the sailor soon developed his own nucleus of seaman gunnery instructors. The primary function of the Royal Marine Artillery thus went overboard, but their gunnery record was so high that it was deemed advisable to retain them on board as part of the gunnery complement, One sees in this retention today one last lingering link: the senior marine officer of a Marine detachment at sea today has done a full course of naval gunnery instruction in H.M.S. Excellent and is thus still a qualified gunnery instructor.
Economy Axe Strikes the Royal Marines
With the duties of the Blue Marines so precised, it only remained in this cycle of evolution to determine those of their scarlet-coated colleagues - landing parties and boarding parties. In this way the dividing lines in the Corps became clear cut and, side by side, to sea went the Royal Marine Artillery (Blue Marines) in their blue tunics and the Royal Marine Light Infantry (Red Marines) in their scarlet ones. Each section had its Royal Corps badge of Globe and Laurel, but the Blues had a grenade above it, and the Reds, like all other Light Infantrymen, had a bugle. So the two branches of this great Corps grew up and sailed and fought side by side for sixty years until, submerged by the wave of foolish disarmament that struck this country some three or four yars after the last war, the fighting Services had to be reduced in strength. The Royal Marine Corps suffered in common with everyone else, and the Red Marines and the Blue Marines once again were merged into one corps of Royal Marines. Gunners and privates became just Marine So-and-So; the grenade and the bugle disappeared from the badges; the distinctive peakless forage cap worn for so long gave place to the present day peaked cap with its scarlet band; the re-united Corps retained the blue tunic of the Blue Marines and the scarlet piped trousers of the Red Marines. The Royal Marines are one Corps again.
In this great ship they man one of the two after-turrets from gunhouse to magazine; they man one of the control posts; they man a battery of secondary armament and a share of the anti-aircraft guns; they police the gangway; they mount guard over the Admiral; they guard the keyboards; they act as butchers, postmen, printers and officers' attendants. Each morning in harbour the colours rise gracefully and solemnly up their slender flagstaff to the strain of our National Anthem, while a picked guard of Royal Marines presents arms. They provide the landing parties and beach and demolition parties for amphibious operations: we ourselves have had marines with us as part of a prize crew. As we look around their spick and span "barracks" here below decks in a battleship we see them as they are, " soldier and sailor too," and proving in their bearing every word of it.
Would You Like to See Perfect Drill?
If we look hard we may notice an unusual badge on the left arm - just below the shoulder - of one particularly smart-looking marine. Upon closer inspection this badge reveals itself as the Royal monogram - G.R.- encircled with a laurel wreath. Note well this marine: at each of the three great Royal Marine Divisions ashore there is a senior squad among those in training and this squad is known as the King's Squad. To watch it at drill is to watch perfection, and to the ordinary eye there is not one ha'porth of difference between the perfection of one of its members and another. But the trained eye will detect one man who is always just that hair's breadth smarter than the rest - the best all-round recruit of the impressive King's Squad. That man is granted the King's Badge - the monogram and laurels - and he wears it just below his left shoulder as long as he remains in the Service.
Bandsmen who also Serve the Guns
Another badge that maybe seen is the Marksman's badge worn near the cuff - that explains itself. Then again there are those men who wear a lyre on their tunic collars and the letters R.M.B. on the shoulders: these are musicians of the ship's Royal Marine Band. These bandsmen are very hard-working members of the ship's company, and popular too, for not only can they play the solemn music of the ceremonial parade and the light music for Wardroom Guest Night dinner, but they also make up from among their number a dance-band which performs for the ship's company's dances. They, too, have a battle-station, usually down in the ship's gunnery nerve centre where they work the all-essential instruments which make naval gunnery the deadly accurate science it is to-day. Some of them manipulate voice-pipes and telephones; others again are engaged in passing and providing the ammunition for various minor gun positions. Busy men at sea are Royal Marine Bandsmen - apart from the anxieties attendant upon looking after the personal needs of a score of midshipmen. Then, when at last the ship gets into harbour and the rest of the ship's company can more or less relax, the Band is still at it - playing selections to "the troops."
There are the Royal Marines as we see them down here in their own sacred "barracks," Just a few are seated around their mess tables: one man writes a letter, another reads, a third is ironing, a fourth is dozing quietly with his head on his hands, others do this and that. These are just the few, just some of the off-watch guard who presently, when the bell strikes the hour, will be away to their own special job. The others are at their own work, the printers down in the printer's "shop" are hand-setting into type the Admiral's standing Orders to be issued that afternoon. In the butcher's shop the marine butcher and his "mate" are busy cutting up the carcasses into joints for the next-day's dinner. The postman is ashore - "Postie" - with his mailsack and his mate to collect and bring off the ship's mail from the local post office - no light task to be the solitary postman for a small township of 1,400 lively inhabitants. Others are in their turret or at their guns-gun drill, cleaning guns, control drill, and the one-hundred-and-one routine details which go to build up gunnery efficiency. Down in an obscure bowel of the ship the Band is practising maybe; the Wardroom Marines are busy in the Wardroom. Seldom if ever are they all together here in the Barracks; there is always work to be done by some.
Here, in their own especial part of the ship, we take leave of them. We have given them a chapter to themselves, nothing else would have been fitting, for they are beings apart. As "Old Jarvie" - Lord St. Vincent once said over a century ago: "There is nothing like the Royal Marines."
V. WE GO FOR'ARD
As a massive white-enamelled steel watertight door clangs to behind us, we leave behind the home of the Royal Marines and enter upon the home of the matelot himself - that heterogeneous mass of compartments, storerooms, bins, lockers and spaces known collectively as for' ard, or, in part, the mess decks.
Here lives "Jack" - they might well write that up in letters of gold above the mess-deck bulkhead-door through which we have just passed. His domain stretches from this door, right through the ship, into the very eyes of her. The deck we stand on - the Lower Deck - the deck beneath it too, and other spaces dotted about here and there, are all his. Here the sailors "men dressed as seamen" and "men not dressed as seamen" eat, live, dwell and have their being. Time was, in Nelson's day, when some, of them had their wives down here on the 'tween decks, too. Happily, however, that is a feature of the past and one that will never return. The mess-decks of a ship are very much men's quarters, and so they will now remain.
As we take a cursory walk through these spaces we notice that the general organisation is precisely the same as that in the Royal Marines' "Barracks." There are short mess-tables slung by steel rod supports from the deck beams overhead or stayed up on steel legs from the deck beneath. Mess stools, all scrubbed to an unbelievably snowy whiteness, lie trimly and exactly parallel to the sides of each table. Overhead are the stout steel hammock-bars from which, when the order Stand by Hammocks is piped, the long Service hammocks are slung by their pointed and grafted lanyards and their network of neat clews.
Here is the Sailor's Home
At the ship's side end of each mess-table is a rack holding the mess traps or utensils for that mess - the fanny, or fish kettle, the mugs and plates, the salt dredge, the butter can, and the various articles of "private" food belonging to individual members of that mess. Squarely at the inboard end of each mess table on the deck stands the big bread bin or breadbarge which holds the bread for the mess and which also, traditionally, was the seat for the junior member at that mess. Once more to the ship's side, near an open scuttle - only let a sailor hear you refer to his "scuttle" as a porthole and he will collapse in fits of derisive laughter - near the scuttle by the racks are private photographs of the relations and friends of some of the men in that mess - maybe there will also be a cut-out picture from a magazine of some "pin-up girl" or another. Overhead and running across the hammock beam-ends there are racks for the sailor's attaché case wherein he keeps his most sacred and private belongings. In a word - here is his home.
We notice that the mess-tables in this ship have letters painted large over them - these seem to run from A to Z then from AA to ZZ. If the ship's size and the number of messes warrants it, no doubt they will go on from AAA to ZZZ. These are the mess numbers - a man belongs to No. BB Mess in H.M.S. Nonsuch, just as John Smith lives in Paradise Street, Happytown. By giving to the messes letters for names as in this ship, or numbers as prevail in some other ships, the job of serving out the right dinner to the right mess is made easier for the galley.
From this complicated and vast dormitory, ladders give access to the decks above and beneath, steel, flat-runged ladders with chain handrails which clatter as anyone runs up or down. Doors that are ordinary doors, and doors that are steel watertight mechanisms, lead to this compartment or that, to this storeroom or that. Overhead, on the deck beams above, is the same all-pervading matt-white painted cork-dust to kill "sweating": we noticed it in the officers' quarters. On the bulkhead and ship's side the same light grey and white enamel painting as everywhere else. Beneath our feet the stout corticene - usually red-shellac painted.
A World of Ordered Busy-ness
All around us here is order and yet bustle. Men hurry to and fro in the gangways between the tables; some are boats' crews, away to man their boats. 'others are men off duty coming below. Boys scurry with messages; signalmen pass and re-pass. At the mess-tables sit a few sailors - part at the "watch below." Some read, some write, some mend; a small group watches a stern-fought game of chess in progress. On one mess-table a sailor's collar is being ironed out with a large bottle full of hot water for an iron - your "matelot " is nothing if not versatile. Ever and anon, there is a metallic click as the broadcast system from the quarter-deck is switched on, and the boatswain's Mate's "pipe" is heard followed by some" call" or another. Another click and a deep-toned bell strikes six times in three clear distinct groups of two strokes each - eleven o'clock of the forenoon watch. Two or three men sitting round the mess-tables get up and begin to get ready for an afternoon of duty. Another - a "cook of the mess" - is away to the galley to draw the watchkeepers' dinner for them. Watchkeepers have to be on deck and on duty at twelve noon, the normal ship's dinner hour, so they have what is termed a "Seven-Bell Dinner," a special hot dinner for watchkeepers served at half-past eleven (seven bells).
All About Time-keeping by Bell
Here is something which has long clung to the sea - the method of timekeeping by bell. Every half-hour, except between" Pipe down" and" Calling the hands," commonly called the "Silent hours," the great ship's bell booms out the half hours, a relic of those far-off days when in our streets the night watchman called the time. At sea these bell-strokes run in four-hourly series, thus keeping step with the change of the usual four-hour watch. Twelve-till-four, four-till-eight, eight-till-twelve, throughout the whole twenty-four hours they go, with an additional stroke for each half-hour from the start of the watch. They are very easy to learn if one remembers this. There is, in fact, only one variation to this rule in the Navy, and that is in the interval between four o'clock in the afternoon and eight o'clock at night. Instead of this being one straight four-hour watch, it is split into two equal portions known as "The Dog Watches" - the First Dog lasting from 4 p.m. till 6 p.m., and the Second Dog (or Last Dog) from 6 p.m. till 8 p.m. The reason for this is easy to see: if the seaman always worked regularly to the four-hour spells from midnight to midnight he would - as there are six four-hour watches in a 24-hour day - get the same watch each day.
Some people like this arrangement, and this system prevails largely in the Merchant Navy - they call them "standing watches." In the main, however, it is unsatisfactory, because with it one man has more than his fair share of broken sleep, so the dog-watch system is introduced to break the chain and make certain, in the usual three-watch ship, that a man has the same watch only every third day. For the two Dog Watches, therefore, the bell system breaks the cast iron rule: it strikes once at 4.30 p.m., twice at 5 p.m., thrice at 5.30 p.m., and four times (two pairs of strokes) at 6 p.m.; but at 6.30 p.m. (the first half-hour of the new watch) it goes back to one bell again and two at 7 p.m. At 7.30 p.m., however, it reverts, for some obscure reason, to the normal four-hour-watch chime and strikes seven bells, and then the welcome "eight bells" at 8 p.m. It may sound complicated but with a little thought it will be seen to be an entirely logical treatment of an important point.
(Note: I was hoping there might be something about why they are called "dog-watches". We will just have to make do with the reason given by Dr Maturin in Patrick O'Brien's "Master and Commander" series - "because they are 'cur-tailed'!" Which took Captain Aubrey some time to work out)
Sixteeen Bells Heard Only Once a Year
The bells thus strike with their steady note and reverberate through the ship - everyone knows the time - and "all's well." There are two quaint bell-times which here deserve some mention. Firstly there is "One Bell" - a time which has no real reference to time! It is a single stroke of the bell made at some time decreed by the "bloke," and is a warning to the watch below that they are to be ready to relieve the watch on deck. Then again there is "Sixteen Bells" - but that only happens once a year - marking midnight on New Years' Eve. At that moment it is an ancient tradition in the Navy that the youngest member of the ship's company shall usher in the New Year on the ship's bell - he strikes eight bells for midnight and eight bells for the end of the old year's "watch" - making sixteen bells in all. Then again, perhaps, one may mention the mess-deck expression, "to knock eight bells" out of someone. Usually the tone of voice in which such a thing is said leaves little to the imagination as to what is meant, but why "eight bells" one might reasonably ask? Because eight bells marks the end of a dreary four hours' watch on deck, and the man who strikes those eight usually puts into his work all the pent-up joy that his watch is over. Be that as it may "eight bells" is always the hardest struck.
We mentioned above, once or twice, the word watch - the watch on deck, the watch below, the three-watch system, and so on. Maybe a word of explanation about these terms may not be out of place here before we continue our visit of exploration. Traditionally a whole ship's company is divided into watches, an equable division of the ship's company which enables one part to work the ship while the other rests. In days gone by there were two watches - the Port Watch and the Starboard Watch – and "the hands" were thus equally divided into two sections. Originally the two senior lieutenants picked their watches man by man when the ship commissioned, one standing on the port side while he picked, and the other on the starboard side of the ship, from whence were derived the names for the watches.
Why Watches are Now Picked Carefully
That may have been an entirely satisfactory method when ships were driven by wind whistling through their masts, sails and rigging. Every seaman then was an able-seaman or soon learnt to be. Those were the days when one could say of a matelot that "his every finger was a marline spike, his every hair a rope-yarn." Later, however, when ships became mechanical and there were many skilled technical jobs to be done, it was necessary to pick the watches more carefully, and instead of calling on a man because of his sinews he was "picked" for a special technical duty. Then the next step was to write the two watches down in the Watch Bill, in parallel columns of port and starboard. Each man had his job in his own watch, and by a glance at the Bill he could see who would do the same job when the other watch came on deck and took over. It was always the man whose name was written down opposite his own - and from that springs the sea term "my oppo" usually meaning my close friend (or even a man's wife) for the man who worked in the opposite watch had to be a friendly sort of chap or he left work for his relief to do. .
Thus far for the main division of "The Hands" into Watches Port and Starboard. But another subdivision of this was necessary for local efficiency; the subdivision of the watch into tops, or as they now call them, divisions. Just as the watch division was one made down the fore-and-aft line of the ship, so now the subdivision was made athwartship. There was an obvious guide in the beginning: some men worked on the forecastle with the head sails, others worked on the the three masts - Foremast, Mainmast. Mizzenmast - the latter would of course, also work on the poop. The original 'thwartship division of the ship's watches into tops was thus Fo'c'lemen (written FX on their brooms!), Foretopmen (FT). Maintopmen (MT), and Quarterdeckmen (written AX as short for Aftercastle or Afterguard). By these simple subdivisions it was assured that in each watch there were the requisite number of "hands" to work the sails and, below decks, to dean their respective parts of the ship and work the guns in their top.
The Three Modern Watches and Divisions
Even with the disappearance of sails these 'thwartship, subdivisions have been retained for general cleaning and "work-ship" purposes, but the passage of time has whittled them down nowadays to three sub-divisions and the current passion for change of name has altered "top" into "Division." To-day, your modern warship has, therefore, three of these "Divisions" - the Forecastlemen (still writing FX on their brooms and buckets for an obvious reason), the "Topmen" (who write FT on theirs), and the Quarterdeckmen (who write AX or QD as the Commander's whim dictates).
A change has also taken place in the watches themselves. With two wars in twenty-five years the constant round of patrol, escort and convoy duty at the guns early proved that, with only two watches there was not enough rest for the men nor instant readiness for the ship. The Navy, therefore, has changed very generally to a three-watch, system: Port and Starboard Watches are slipping quietly overboard, and in their place comes the Red Watch, the White Watch and the Blue Watch. With such a system there is more leave for more people when in harbour, more rest for more people when on normal patrol, for with only a third of her armament closed up a modern warship is still a formidable instrument of war. With one-third guns manned by the men of the duty watch, with the men of another watch standing-by if called upon to reinforce them, and with a third watch definitely resting, one now achieves the maximum of rest and efficiency for all concerned. "The old order changeth - giving place to new." So to-day we have our Red, White, and Blue watches, our FX, FT and QD divisions - and, to make shore-leave and general routine work problems even easier where there are so many men, these groupings are broken down still further into two "parts" in each of the three watches, and each part again is broken down into two subdivisions.
The Round of Watches
These are very handy units from all points of view. Suppose, now, we have a ship's company in which there are 300 working hands; with the three-watch system that means there are 100 in each watch, 50 in each part of the watch (fore part and after part), and 25 in each subdivision of the watch. If there is a big, a really big job to be done then the Duty Watch is called. The watches take Duty Watch for twenty-four hours in rotation in harbour. For a smaller job, maybe, the duty "part" is enough - fore part or after part depending upon whether the date has an odd number or an even number: if that produces too many hands then the "Duty Sub" - the duty subdivision of the duty part of the duty watch - will, when mustered, provide 25 hands. If, at one end of the stick, one watch is not enough, then the bugler sounds All Watches for Exercise Fall in, and if that is not enough, then Clear Lower Deck is piped - a call that brings every officer and man not actually on a vital job to the upper deck at the double. At the other end of the stick - if 25 men is too many for a small job, such as hoisting in a dinghy or getting some small stores aboard, then there are the "Duty Hands," numbering probably a dozen men and detailed off each day from all duty divisions in strict rotation.
This explanation of the Watch Bill has rather led us away from our hurried tour below, but it was necessary, for the watch and its parts form a great deal of the sailor's working life. But to move on.
Everything in its Place
As we pass mess-table after mess-table, each as ordered as its neighbour, we begin to grasp the real meaning of the phrase Ship-shape and Bristol Fashion. Down here on the mess-deck there is a place for everything and everything must be in its place. There are racks for wet towels; there are special lockers for oil-skins and sea-boots. The hammocks, when no longer required for sleeping purposes, are "lashed and stowed," that is to say they are unslung, the bedding is tucked in, and the hammock nettles tied together. Then the long hammock lashing is passed round the hammock with a regulation number of marline-hitches, and the whole is made into a secure, firm bundle. Time was when each hammock, when lashed for stowing, had to be just so long and so thick and in some ships it had to pass a gauge! Those days are gone - that was a useless custom, a mockery of tradition; the modern Navy, like the modern world, has no use for either custom or tradition where it treads upon efficiency and commonsense.
The hammocks once lashed are stowed in specially constructed hammock-racks on the mess-decks. Time was when they might have to be used as part of the ship's armour. In Nelson's day they were taken on deck in action and stowed in the "nettings" round the side of the upper deck as a form of splinter mat.
Commanders have Eyes that Miss Nothing
Woe betide the luckless Ordinary Seaman who leaves his socks or his towel sculling round the Mess Deck when the Commander goes his rounds. Commanders have lynx eyes at the best of times, and from the cradle up seem to have been trained to find the one offending garment not in its proper place. We have heard it said of some Commanders and Captains that they are not happy until they do find something "out of line," and after that life is all smiles. One Commander we remember used to inspect the mess-decks microscopically, searching, probing and rummaging into every corner but never noticing what was left in the middle of the deck. He used to mutter, "There's a war on," like a pagan incantation when he found anything. Of another it was told that his mess-decks' officer always left a small wet cloth or even half a potato lying about in a semi-conspicuous position near the starting point for "Mess Deck Rounds." The Bloke's eagle-eye would spot this almost at once and a stern homily would ensue to which the mess-deck officer would listen with downcast head - but the rest of the inspection was made almost "at the run" with the inspecting officers looking neither to the right nor to the left. They had found something to justify their vigilance and were happy! Such Commanders are, however, few and far between. The average "bloke" has no quaint mannerisms and cannot be put off by obvious and oft-repeated tricks. If he finds gear sculling around, then he laconically remarks to his ally the jaunty - "Scranbag."
The Scranbag is an ancient institution in all His Majesty's ships and shore establishments. Originally, no doubt, just a sack. Nowadays, with large ship's companies, it is a large locker under the immediate care and eye of the Master-at-Arms. Into this repository goes the stray towel, the lost sock, the homeless football boots that a luckless seaman failed to hide from the Commander's eyes. There they go and there they stay until their owner redeems them by proffering a half-inch section from a bar of Service yellow soap – pusser's yellow! From time immemorial that has been the scranbag fee for the lost garment, and the soap is used for cleaning ship.
Those who Feed in Splendid Isolation
Presently, in our wanderings we begin to notice various shut-off spaces, compartments boxed off, as it were, from the main mass of the mess-decks. These contain the Chief Petty Officers' Mess, the Petty Officers' Mess, and so on. In a warship, for many a long year past now, it has been the custom - enforced later on by regulation -for various sections of the sea community to mess apart from "the matelots." Among these are the C.P.O.s and P.O.s. Obviously they do not always want to be with their men, for discipline might go by the board if they were. Then, again, the Master-at-Arms messes alone, as befits the Senior Chief Petty Officer in a ship who is at one and the same time the Commander's right-hand man, and is also the Chief Constable and the Clerk of the ship's Magistrate's Court. Clearly he must not "mess" with the Chief Supply Petty Officer, or some mischievous person would be sure to say that they put their heads together! Each of these small "broadside'" messes is complete in itself: it has its own number, its own mess traps, and its own "messman" - one of the ship's ordinary seamen who is detailed in rotation to minister to the personal comforts in mess of his more august betters (professionally, of course).
We continue on our way and notice that the messdeck for the ship's boys - Boys First Class, drafted straight to sea from H.M.S. Ganges or H.M.S. St. George, the great Boys' Training Establishments - is again entirely separate from the rest of the mess-deck, as also is the stokers' quarters. The seamen live together, the boys live together, the artisans - carpenters, coopers, plumbers, blacksmiths, painters, and so on - are together: so are the stokers, the writers and the cooks and stewards. Some of these men, the writers, for instance, are known as the idlers, for they never keep a regular watch as do the seamen and stokers. Theirs is a normal hard day's office work, and it would be absurd to sling their hammocks muddled up among watchkeeping seamen who would be disturbing them twice a night as they turned out for their watch, and then, four hours later, turned in again.
Order and Comfort Make for Efficiency
Much of these "musts" and "must-nots" are, as said before, laid down; by which is meant, in naval parlance, are found set out in the King's Regulations and Admiralty Instructions. The general comfort and lay-out of a ship's mess-deck is, however, like so much else, the Commander's own whim and responsibility, for upon what order and comfort can be secured below decks to a great extent depends the efficiency above decks.
Then again, there is an age-old maxim by no means confined to the shore - "Feed the brute!" Everyone knows that upon some occasion or another Napoleon said that an army marches on its stomach: the Navy sails that way, too! In other words a well-fed and well-messed ship is nine-tenths of the way towards being a "happy" ship. Messing and catering and all things appertaining thereto are, oddly enough, the sole perquisite of the Accountant branch.
The Senior Paymaster in a battleship is literally the manager of the hotel! He is responsible that the refrigerators and flour rooms, the wet storerooms and dry storerooms, and the vegetable bins below decks, contain not only enough for emergency stores for months but have sea stores and fresh provisions for immediate use. His henchmen in this are the "dusty boys" - the supply staff who handle the incoming stores and in turn issue it in ration form to the hands. Under the Paymaster's control also comes the ship's bakery: no light undertaking when it is appreciated that in a battleship the bakery will turn out five and six hundred loaves a day as well as rolls, buns and cakes. We have known a ship's baker to produce on occasion a birthday cake, complete with lettering and candles, and even a suitably iced wedding cake.
Ship's Galley is Housewife's Dream
Then again there is the galley - we can pause to look in there. The modern galley - the housewife would prefer to call it a kitchen - is oil-fired just as are the main boilers. It used to be a stock naval joke to ask a greenhorn how much coal H.M.S. Queen Elizabeth took to sea with her. The answer was, if we remember rightly, one ton, and all of that was needed for the blacksmith's forge! There are few coal galleys nowadays and certainly none in the big ships: a tap is turned, the oil flows, and the heat comes. As we look round the galley and note the huge steam cauldrons for vegetables, the great rows of steam-heated hot-plates for keeping warm the men's dinners till Cooks to the Galley is piped; the vast ovens, and even the grill and the fish-frying plant, one realises that it is no joke at all to cook for 1,400 hungry mortals. Wardroom, Gunroom and Captain's Messes all have their own small galleys, so this main galley cooks for the hands - all of them. And beyond the galley - into which no sailor dare enter uninvited - lies the galley flat in which the vegetables are prepared.
If cooking for 1,400 men is a task - then what of peeling potatoes for them? This would indeed be a Herculean undertaking - but for machinery. In the corner of the galley the Chief Cook will proudly show, first, his "electric cow," which converts water and milk powder into milk, and, secondly, his potato peeler - chipper-and-masher - a wonderful machine which, according to the Chief will do "everything its told except take the eyes out of the spuds."
How the Ship's Messing is Organised
The usual system of messing in use among most ship's companies to-day is what is known as "General Messing," whereby the Chief Cook at the beginning of each week receives an approved Menu Sheet for all the week's meals from the Paymaster Commander, and cooks to that menu. The various messes draw their rations according to the menu and according to the number of men in each mess, put it on a numbered metal meat dish, and take it to the galley. There all is cooked together, and when Cooks sounds on the bugle, the "cook" of each mess - a seaman detailed from the mess itself - collects the cooked meal for his own mess.
This system ensures the best cooking available and also that everyone feeds basically alike. It also helps the checking of the victualling allowances - no small item in a big ship. By this system the value of the expended ration is checked off against each mess and any balance of money left over can be expended by the mess on extra delicacies for the common use, or saved up into a small local mess fund. There always will be a few grumblers at any system, and in this instance it must be remembered that it is a sailor's right and privilege to grumble - it always has been.
From the galley to the mess-tables at mealtimes is but a short step, and there we find that Jack Tar eats just like anyone else - why shouldn't he? In peacetime he can supplement his ration from the canteen, if he wants to, or add an ice from the ice machine, just like anyone else: The only odd thing about his meals is that mostly he has his own names for them; and at this stage, perhaps, we see more clearly than at any other how far removed is the modern sailor from shore life. His clothes, his habits, his mode of life we know are different; the very calling he follows makes it that way. But over and above all this he has a complete language of his own. At, the back of this book will be found a glossary of some of the more usual words and phrases in common use about the decks of a ship. Others cannot be included -others again are so obvious that to include them would be to waste valuable printer's space. For almost every expression in common everyday use ashore he has a "navalese" equivalent, Sometimes it has been acquired from the Army who, in turn, got it during long years under the Indian sun. Sometimes it is a corruption of an Arabic word or a French word. Again some words ring loudly of happy days on the China Station, with pidgin English as the only verbal currency ashore. Here on the mess-deck we get a first flavour of this language at mealtimes and a short list, by no means complete, is given here of a few navalese food-words and their shore-going counterparts.
Sailors' Words for Food (Chow)
Food generally Chow, Scran Bread Parny, Soddick, Soft Tack. Biscuit Hard Tack (Ship's biscuit), Bannock Tea Plew, Char, Chai (from Chinese Tchi) Milk Cow-juice, Cow Butter, Margarine Grease Cocoa (Ship's) Kie Cheese Trap, Mouse-trap Bread and Cheese Soap and Flannel Cake Wad Buns Rocks Porridge Burgoo Eggs and bacon Three-sixty-five Poached or fried eggs Rubbers Kippers Two-eyed Steaks Bloaters Spithead Pheasant Jam Pozzie Fried Bread Bacon Duck Sardines Whales Sausages Bangers, Bags of Mystery Stew Lobscouse, Pot-mess Potatoes Spuds Peas Bullets, Shrapnel Corned Beef Bully Corned Beef Hash Crackerhash Salt Beef Salt Horse Cornish Pasty Tiddy Oggy Gravy Gippo Onions Violets Green Salad Rabbit-food Sausage and-Mash Floaters in the snow Roast Beef and Potatoes Schooner on the rocks Pudding Afters Boiled Pudding (Plum duff etc.) Duff Boiled currant pudding Spotty Dog Blancmange Bathing Beauty Dumplings Sinkers Custard Yellow Peril Figs Depth Charges The Mess Menu The Tombstone Knife, Fork, Spoon Eating Irons, the Tools Mess utensils Mess Traps To wash up To dish up
But we must not spend our time watching and listening during meal-hour. Sailors do not like being watched while they eat any more than any other section of the civilised community. Besides, traditionally, the meal-hour is the sailor's leisure-hour; except for urgent emergency, no calls are made upon him at these times, no special boats are called away - it is his own time. The length of this time allowed is "laid down" - and strictly adhered to by every Commander who wants a "happy ship." So we leave the hands to their food and leisure. If it is fine, the Ship's Band will start playing up on deck, and the sailors will gather round and smoke and listen and yarn, and some, too, will dance - while the luckless "cooks of the mess" below "dish up"- that is to say wash up after the meal, burnish the white-metal mess-traps and stow them back once more in their orderly array in the ship's side racks.
In the Ship's Gunnery Nerve-Centre
We take the chance to nip below and pass doors marked Gunner's Store and Torpedo Gunner's Store, Boatswain's Store, and the like. Here is the realm of the storerooms. Below this again is a Spacious Flat which houses the Transmitting Station - the gunnery nerve centre of the ship in action. Therein Royal Marine Bandsmen sit, in action, silently setting carefully calculated ranges and angles on dials for instant transmission to the guns. above. Here, in action, there is scarcely a sound - just a barely perceptible shudder even as one's own heavy guns fire. We are well below armour here as befits so important a point. Further afield lies the Plotting Room, again below armour, where a constant record of the ship's movement is kept in action, independently of the record kept by the navigator up on the upper bridge. Further ahead again, and immediately under the bridge structure lies the heavily-armoured lower conning tower, from which, in extreme emergency, the ship can be directed.
All these below-deck "spaces" are minutely subdivided into watertight compartments, with unpierced bulkheads and heavy watertight doors between each. There is no direct ventilation down here, but the air is always kept clean by means of the "potted air" plant - forced ventilation.
Switchboards for Messages and Power
If we turn aft in this labyrinth of doors and bulk, heads we come to the Telephone Switchboard - an unexpected sight here at sea, a switchboard larger than most on shore, by means of which any part of the ship can at once be put in telephonic communication with another. There is, of course, a day and night watch maintained here by some of the Torpedo Officer's staff. Further on again is the Low Power Board, a small switchboard which conveys low-power current to all the gunnery instruments and firing circuits in the ship. Below us we can hear the hum of the great generators which provide the ship with constant electric light and power, night and day. Beyond and below that again is the main engine-room, with its monster cased-in turbines, which hum away at sea with no more noise than a well-tuned-up car. A phantasy of gleaming steel and copper is the modern big ship's engine-room. Pipes cross and re-cross in a manner entirely bewildering to any but a "plumber." Through a bulkhead door beyond lie the boiler-rooms, with their oil-fired furnaces and their giant forced-draught fans which roar into activity when a burst of speed is wanted suddenly. High up on a grating, by a maze of dials, is the manoeuvring platform - the Engineer Commander's Action Station. Here he is in direct "blower" contact with the Captain on the bridge. He also has dials and repeat dials for the actual revolutions of each engine, and clanging telegraphs to pass the orders for Ahead and Astern, Full Speed or Half Speed.
Normally in a warship the telegraphs on the bridge, once the ship has left her anchorage or harbour, are always set to Half Speed Ahead. Unlike a merchantman, they are never set to Full Speed except in emergency. The actual speed at which the ship is to steam is communicated by the navigator to the engine-room as "so many revolutions" not "so many knots." Should, however, the telegraph clang suddenly for Full Speed, then "the Chief" knows that full speed is really wanted: every valve is at once opened to its utmost, the draft vanes speed up, and it is sometimes alleged that the Chief Stoker is sent to sit on the safety valve. When the bridge" asks for full speed be very sure they always get it.
Oil pumps and compressors, main engines and manoeuvring turbines, condensers and fans, all these and many other machines are the household gods of the "Chief." If they go wrong they must be put right; he has a skilled staff - probably the most skilled engineers to be found anywhere. In various stowages down in the great shaft tunnels, which house the propeller shafts, there are spare parts if needed; for the rest there is a well-provided engineer's workshop with its lathes, drilling, and milling machinery.
Beware of Being Caught Here!
Beware of this part of the ship- strangers are neither wanted nor welcomed. Moreover, it is the scene of one, at least, of the standing practical jokes played upon the newly joined. We ourselves were once a victim. Just before dinner-time - having no doubt been a nuisance on the bridge - we were told by the Officer of the Watch to nip down to the engine-room and ask for a long weight, and not to come back without it. We went down dutifully and swiftly found the engineer on duty and asked, as ordered, for the long weight. His reply was to the effect that he was busy for a moment, but would get it if we stood away in a corner out of the way. Several times during the afternoon we reminded him of our presence, but the answer was always the same - "In a minute." In the end, sharp at eight bells - four o'clock - and we had already missed our dinner and our watch below, he turned and said "Cut along now; you've had your long wait. Go and ask the Officer of the Watch if it was long enough. If not come back again!" Needless to add we stood not on the order of our going, nor did we ask if the wait had been long enough!
More Traps 'for Unwary Greenhorns
Such practical jokes as this are always in progress at one end of a ship or another. Greenhorns are sent to the Carpenter to get green oil for the starboard light, or else a box of port tacks for the second cutter, or some such thing. We have even seen a newly-joined hostilities-only Ordinary Seaman approach a cruiser admiral on his bridge, just before opening fire at target practice, tap him on the shoulder and ask him for wool to put in his ears! There are always traps for the green and unwary in every walk of life, but nowhere do they abound more plenteously than in a ship, where even. the language helps the practical joker.
But we must be on our way; no one here is likely to try to hoax us – yet! Beneath our feet the storerooms, the spirit store, the paint locker, and below that again the fuel tanks and the double-bottoms. There is nothing for us there, so we go forward again as far as we can go. We pass the great steel hatch which gives access below to the submerged torpedo tube flat; a hatch large enough to permit the torpedo to be passed when "stocking up." Right for'ard we go, into the eyes of the ship and the cell and cable-locker flats. There is no need to dwell here upon the contents of the cell flat - cells, that is all. In a community of 1,400 or 1,500 persons there is bound to be on some rare occasion a malefactor, an offender against the law and rules of the naval service. Laws and rules are made for the guidance and safety of a civilised community; and if one member breaks those rules and laws made for the good of all, he must pay the price. Here in the cell flat, with its few grille-windowed cell doors, the rare deserter; the rarer insubordinate, and the even more rare violent sailor, expiate their crimes and perceive the error of their ways. No one may be confined to a cell for more than 14 days in a ship, and during his sentence he spends a. certain amount of his time in the open air at exercise. Naturally he has not got hotel accommodation: usually for two or three days his diet is "low," that is to say biscuit and water, and he has a daily "task" of oakum to pick. Picking oakum is an acquired art, for it means the teasing out into soft strands of a thick length of hard, tarred rope.
Massive Chains to Hold a Giant
From the cell flat we pass into the cable-locker flat. From above our heads, through the deck navel-pipes of the forecastle, the great chain cables pass down into the darkness at our feet - cable with chain links, three inches and more in diameter. These cables hold the ship at anchor; they stow down in the cable locker beneath our feet and, here in this flat, are controlled as they pass in and out of the ship by giant compressors. Around us pass vertically the stout, steel spindles of the capstans and cable-holders; on the bulkheads hang the cable-hooks and various implements needed for working cables. We have reached the end of our 'tween decks tour, and pass up a steep, steel-runged ladder, into the bright sunlight of the upper deck once more. The whole length and breadth of the ship have we glanced at below decks. We leave it with the certainty that no one could ever learn his way about every part of a modern battleship unless he lived there all his life - nevertheless he does achieve this miracle and usually in very few weeks. We leave it firmly convinced that we now know more of the sailor and the marine, and of their officers - and all their lives than we ever thought there was to know.
Royal Navy in world War 2 (2023)
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