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The Manning of a Ship

The following narrative has been adapted from The Mastery of the Sea published in 1929 and written by Cyril Field (1859-1942) who had served for more than four decades in the Royal Marines, an integral part of the Royal Navy, before retiring with the rank of Colonel. During his career which saw the advent of the dreadnoughts and the winding down of the Royal Navy after the Great War (First World War), the marines spent much of their time at sea, and he was uniquely positioned to describe the manning of the ships of his time and how the various roles of officers and men had evolved, and were still evolving.

"We're sober men and true,
And quite devoid of fe-ar.
In all the Royal N.
There are none so smart as we are.
When the wind whistles free
O’er the bright blue sea
We stand to our guns all da-ay ;
When at anchor we ride
By the starboard side,
We've plenty of time for play."
      H.M.S. "Pinafore". W.S. Gilbert

At the beginning of our naval story we found our fleets composed of rowing vessels, fought and commanded by soldiers. Then followed the Viking period when fighting-ships were manned and fought by warriors who were emphatically "soldiers and sailors too". In battle their "dragons" and "long serpents" relied mainly on their oars, but the sail began to take a much more important position than before, while the oars were no longer pulled by slaves, but by the crew proper, all of whom were fighters. In the period that followed, the sail – in northern waters at any rate – continued to grow in importance till in the biggest ships it entirely ousted the oars.

Then arose the professional sailor. Ships at first carried but very few sails, so that comparatively few men were required to handle them, and the fighting men on board and the commanders of ships and squadrons were once more soldiers. When, in Tudor times, the fully rigged ship had been evolved, the sailor element was necessarily increased, and, the heavy gun making its appearance on shipboard at about the same time, her gunners seem to have been taken from that class rather than from the soldiers who formed about half the ship’s company. But in the Royal ships the supreme command was always in the hands of a military officer, till the successes gained by the privately equipped vessels commanded by men like Drake and Frobisher introduced a new type of distinctly naval commander. Yet even then you will often find the former referred to as the "General". But the new class did not entirely supersede the military ship commander much before the time of William III. Up to that era men-of-war had sometimes a soldier like Blake – a cavalry officer – in command, and at others a sailor like Sir George Rooke and others.

The latter is a good example of the naval officer of what may be called the transition period, since he, like Sir Cloudsley Shovel and many other sea-commanders, had a commission in the Duke of York and Albany’s Maritime Regiment, instituted in 1664 and generally accepted as being the ancestor of the present Corps of Royal Marines.[1] It must be remembered that there was at this time a considerable difference of opinion as to the most suitable officers to command at sea. The "gentlemen captains" – as they were referred to, who, though they were in many cases soldiers, were quite often merely courtiers – clung tenaciously to their position, and the Court influence at their back enabled them to stand their ground. But at the same time the claims of the real sailors – the "tarpawlins", as they were called – who were neither soldiers nor gentlemen, were being more and more recognized by the public. And they certainly had a very strong case. They could sail, navigate, and fight their ships themselves, while the rival class had to have "masters" to do everything but the fighting for them. It seems possible that the intention of those responsible for the creation of the "Maritime Regiment", the men of which were indifferently referred to as "Marines" or as "Mariners", was not only to provide the nucleus of a disciplined personnel, but to produce a corps of officers who, while retaining a military status, would yet be professional seamen. It was an experiment, but not on a sufficiently comprehensive scale, to transform the ill-paid, ill-treated, and ill-fed seamen of the day into a loyal, contented, and disciplined body, and to supply a sufficient number of "gentlemen-tarpawlins" to command our ships and fleets. A large number of these officers did do so, but quite as many continued to serve as soldiers, some afloat in command of marines, and many others, like John Churchill – afterwards the famous Duke of Marlborough – in the army.

The experiment seems to have gone to pieces, and in 1676 Charles II made another attempt to create a suitable class of naval officers by the institution of what were known as "King’s Letter Boys". These were boys under sixteen, who were to be of good family, and entering at that early age might be expected to learn their profession properly. This does not seem to have borne much fruit either, for we find the Marquis of Halifax so late as 1694 still referring to a popular idea that our naval officers should consist of a mixture of "Gentlemen and Tarpawlins". [2]

As time went on things adjusted themselves, and before the eighteenth century had progressed very far, the sailor came into his own, The "days of oak and hemp" were nearing their zenith. Most of our men-of-war were commanded by officers who were thorough seamen, able to handle and fight their ships under sail themselves, though "Masters" who were navigation experts still remained. Their crews were composed of two distinct classes – seamen and marines. The former were, as before, recruited for the commission only, while the latter were regularly enlisted men bound to serve as long as the Government required their services. The best seamen, however, made a practical profession of the Navy, going from one ship to another as they were paid off and commissioned. If they made an occasional trip to sea in a merchantman or privateer between while, it by no means impaired their professional ability, and the "prime seamen" of those days were among the finest sailors of history. Unfortunately their number, for various reasons, was somewhat limited, and a ship’s company, especially if she or her captain bore a bad name afloat, had to be completed by all kinds of people, not infrequently undesirables. Even the marines, regularly enlisted men as they were, were by no means always of the same calibre. This was often due to detachments being sent afloat before there was time for them to have been properly trained and disciplined ashore.

Yet in spite of all these drawbacks, these men, good, bad or indifferent as they might be, proved true Britons when called upon to "strike home" for King and Country just as did their gallant descendants in the Great War of 1914-18.

In the first half of the nineteenth century when our Navy had no great wars on hand, the professional sailor was forthcoming in ample numbers for our fleet in peace time or in minor operations, and there was no necessity to send untrained marines afloat. Steam propulsion had made its appearance, but it was far from superseding sail-power. All the same, sailing masters were still retained, and seemed to be indispensable. Admiral John Moresby, in his interesting work Two Admirals, which relates his own and his father’s naval experiences from 1786 to 1877, gives the following account of the naval officers of 1847.

"The officers, with few exceptions, were content to be practical seamen only. They had nothing whatever to do with the navigation of the ship or the rating of the chronometers. That was entirely in the hands of the Master, and no other had any real experience or responsibility in the matter. I may instance the case of a captain whose ship was at Spithead. He was ordered by signal to go to the assistance of a ship on shore at the back of the Isle of Wight. In reply he hoisted the signal of ‘Inability: the master is on shore.’ ‘ Are the other officers on board?’ he was asked. He answered ‘Yes’, and to the repeated order ‘proceed immediately’ he again hoisted ‘Inability’, and remained entrenched in his determination until a pilot was sent to his assistance".

If a "practical seaman" was so dependent on his Master as this he would not appear to have been much of an improvement on the soldier-captains of earlier times.

Yet nowadays, when sailoring proper is a thing of the past, we know very well that no naval officer in His Majesty's service would have behaved in this way whether he had a navigating officer on board or not. Though they are not sailors in the original sense of the word, their performances in the Great War have proved that they are as good or better seamen than those who commanded our "wooden walls" in bygone days. But in 1847, probably on account of the long peace following on the battle of Waterloo, neither our Army nor Navy was in as high a state of efficiency as it had been earlier in the century or is at the present minute. The Crimean War broke like a thunderclap on our peace-organised and unprepared forces. Our gallant soldiers went through terrible times before Sebastopol on account of deficiency of commissariat, equipment, and every other aid to efficiency that should have been in readiness, but which, in fact, had no existence. We commissioned a fine fleet for the Baltic, but it practically effected nothing, and we had the very greatest difficulty in manning it.

"Public opinion," writes Admiral Moresby, "resented the revival of the press-gang; therefore the only alternative was the offer of a large bounty, and by this means the ships were filled with counter-jumpers and riff-raff of all sorts, and rarely a sailor amongst them. What this meant only those who had to do the necessary slave-driving can tell....In the Driver... we may have had twenty seamen as a nucleus. The rest were longshore fellows, and when Admiral Berkley came on board and told us that the Russians were at sea, and probably in a few days we should be in action, there was a strong dash of anxiety in our satisfaction."

So short were we of men that I have been told by an officer who served in that fleet that had it not been for the coastguardsmen and marines it would never have been ready for sea. "On board the St. Jean d’Acre," said this officer, "we had a splendid crew, thanks to the popularity of Harry Keppel; the work of fitting out from a mere hulk was done by the Royal Marines, with a small number of seamen-gunners from the Excellent and a few boys. The officers at Portsmouth and other places raised men who would not join until the hard work was over."

But good arose out of this evil which was so patent that it could not be overlooked by anyone. The usefulness of the Seamen-gunners and marines pointed the way to a remedy. The former were on the spot and under naval discipline; the latter were a permanent force. It was determined to institute an equally permanent establishment of seamen. The creation of this force was the most momentous and beneficial step ever taken by the Admiralty, and to it we owe the magnificent body of trained seamen who did such yeomen service during the Great War. Where should we have been without it? Imagine the disasters which would have befallen us if, as at the outbreak of the Russian War of 1854, we had had to hunt up crews for our fleet after the fateful 4th August, 1914! As it was everything "went on wheels", as the saying is. The Grand Fleet was ready, and other ships were put in commission without the least delay or hitch in the smooth running of our mobilization for war. Reserves were so plentiful that a residuum of both blue-jackets and marines was available as the nucleus of the Royal Naval Division, which was soon recruited to a high figure. In the course of the war the naval personnel rose from 151,000 in 1914 to 280,000.

It is not too much to say that the end of the Crimean War saw the beginning of our modern naval forces, with the exception of the Royal Marines, who had been in existence as a naval force of sea-soldiers belonging to the Admiralty ever since 1755. Later on were instituted the Royal Naval Reserve, Royal Fleet Reserve, and Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve, all of which proved of the greatest assistance to the regular naval forces in the stress of the World War.

The Royal Naval Reserve may be called the cream of the Mercantile Marine. They qualify with a certain number of annual drills during which they receive seamen’s pay and rations. In the late war this organisation was a very powerful and efficient auxiliary to the Navy, and its deeds of heroism would fill a mighty tome. The Royal Fleet Reserve comprises both bluejackets and marines, who, having served for 12 years on the active list, are permitted to transfer to this force. It includes also pensioners and men who have purchased their discharges. They receive a retaining fee, and full pay and allowances when called up for their annual drills or on service. The Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve is the representative of the old Royal Naval Artillery Volunteers first formed in 1873. This force was disbanded in 1892 on the report of a committee under the presidency of the late Sir George Tryon, which reported that in was "composed of men who have not, as a rule, practical acquaintance with the sea, but are attracted by sympathy and aspiration". It further suggested that if constituted a Volunteer Royal Marine Artillery Corps it would be "a far more permanently valuable force than any so-termed naval force in which are enrolled men not inured to sea-life and who have had no sufficient practical experience at sea, which experience cannot be given by Government under any volunteer system we can devise". Although the R.N.V.R. – especially some of them – did remarkably well during the late war, there is little doubt that had the recommendations of the Tryon Committee been followed they would have been even more valuable. Churchill’s Antwerp expedition would have been far more fitted for the job it undertook, and the later formed Royal Naval Division – actually a military rather than a naval body – would have been ready at the very beginning of hostilities.

The bluejacket of the present day is better termed a seaman than a sailor, since – except in boats – sails have disappeared from the Navy. But this is by no means the only or most important difference between the old so-called "sea-dogs" who fought our battles in the seventeenth, eighteenth, and early nineteenth centuries, and the disciplined, long-service, and self-respecting seamen who manned our ships in the Great War and who are now serving under the White Ensign.

In those comparatively far-off days the seamen proper were often not more than a third of the ship’s company. The remainder – excepting the marines – was made up of boys, landsmen, "quota" men, and "state-the-case" men: that is, men who considered that they had been illegally impressed and were constantly appealing to the Admiralty. The "quota" men were those supplied by the various county authorities and comprised men allowed to go to sea in lieu of jail, and the scum tempted to go afloat by the high bounties offered. Besides these there was often a by no means negligible contingent of foreigners. A good many of the latter were also to be found in the ranks of the marines.[3] As so many of these people were serving against their will, leave to go ashore was naturally very much restricted, so that when, after months or even years of confinement on shipboard, a ship’s company was given leave, or went ashore on their ship being paid off, their one idea – if we may trust historians and novelists – was, in modern parlance, to "paint the town red". Thus we have old poetry such as the following:

" 'T is grog is the soul of the sailor,
‘Tis that makes him squeeze the French frog;
Was the boat full, by Neptune I’d bail her,
Or drown in an ocean of grog."

The seaman of to-day is a far different character. He is not a pressed man, but enters the service of his own free will. In lieu of the press-gang, there has been for many years a properly organized Admiralty recruiting establishment, with branches at various important centres. These used to be in charge of officers of the Royal Marines, who were selected from those on shore who were not likely to be required for sea-service for a year or two. Later this duty was carried out by officers of the corps on the retired list, assisted by N.C.O.s from both active service and pensioners. I believe the work was specially entrusted to these retired officers in order to put them, so to speak, on the same footing as that of naval officers holding appointments in the Coastguard. Now that the latter fine service has been "scrapped", recruiting appointments are held by both naval and marine officers.

The man-of-war’s-man, nowadays, is not a close prisoner on board his ship like the old "pugs" and "tars" of the days of Smollett and Marryat. No, the "matlow"[4] of to-day is very well off as regards leave so long as he behaves himself, as he does with very few exceptions. Even those whose conduct has caused their privileges as regards leave to be somewhat restricted are far better off in this respect than the best of seamen in those times. Neither has the seaman or marine of to-day to content himself with the miserable and often foul and rotten provisions of days long ago. His rations are plentiful and he really lives well. The cooking on board ship is well supervised in his interest, and in modern men-of-war both electric and oil cookers are provided, as well as hot cupboards and cooling lockers. Boiling hot water is also laid on to the mess decks. In fact, compared to the "good" or perhaps one should say "bad old days" the British Blue lives in the lap of luxury. And he may be said to deserve all he gets, since he compares most favourably with the men of many classes in this country in sobriety, respect for legal authority, and good manners.[5] Many are married, and the better pay and leave which they now enjoy enables them to support and see more of their wives and families than would have been possible aforetimes. The Atlantic Fleet, for instance, gives its men a fortnight’s leave each time it visits its home ports, which is three times a year. This is independent of ordinary short leave to go ashore, of which there is plenty given at home and foreign ports, when drill and work allow men to be spared.

The seaman now often spends as much of his time on duty ashore as do his shipmates, the marines. The naval barracks at Portsmouth, Plymouth, and Chatham are fine buildings with excellent accommodation for their inmates and compare favourably with any military barracks, as, indeed, they should do, since I believe they are the latest barracks built. Besides living like soldiers in barracks, the Navy has adopted another military custom in the use of colours corresponding to the King’s Colours of a regiment. These consist of a silk White Ensign 3 feet 9 inches by 3 feet, with red, white, and blue silk cord and gold tassels, carried on an ash staff, surmounted by a gilt Admiralty anchor on a three-faced shield with a superimposed crown. These were approved by the King in 1925 and were issued to naval barracks and to the commanders-in-chief on the Atlantic, Mediterranean, East Indies, African, and North American stations. They are not to be paraded on board ship but reserved for guards of honour to royalty and special ceremonial occasions. The seamen and marines also share another and a very useful privilege with the Army and Air Service, in that, like the officers and men of these branches of our fighting services, they receive, if married, a marriage allowance. But although the naval estimates of 1925-6 provided for a similar allowance to their officers, it was eventually turned down, so that these alone out of our fighting men are subject to this invidious and unfair distinction.

Another recent military innovation in the Navy is the institution of official ceremonial music. I think that previously it was merely by use and custom that both Navy and marines "marched past" to the tune of "A Life on the Ocean Wave", the words of which, curiously enough, were composed by an American in New York in 1838, although the music is by Henry Russell, an Englishman. Now, however, while this air is retained by the Royal Marines, the bluejackets are to march to "Hearts of Oak", which was taken from Garrick’s "Harlequin’s Invasion" of 1759, and was written and composed in commemoration of the victories of Quiberon, Lagos, and Quebec which took place in that year. When at the close of a review the word "advance in review order" is given, "Nancy Lee" is to be played. With the "general salute" to senior flag officers "Rule Britannia" is ordered, and to others, "Iolanthe". To non-naval dignitaries entitled to a "general salute", the accompanying air is to be "Garb of Old Gaul".

But to return on shipboard. One of the outstanding differences between the ship’s company of to-day and of past centuries is that it is composed entirely of specialists. The omnium gatherum of those days has happily disappeared. Seamen, marines, and stokers are all specially instructed in their own line of business before they appear on board a ship in commission, and boys receive continuous and progressive instruction in school, seamanship, gunnery, and torpedo subjects until rated ordinary seamen.

The same holds good in the case of their officers. No more boys of nineteen are appointed captains on account of family connections; no more are officers of marines appointed from line regiments, or even from the cavalry, as in days long gone by. All, naval executive, marine, or engineers, have to undergo their own special courses of training and examination before going afloat, and they have many other courses of instruction to deal with during their service, some compulsory, others optional.

The work and duties of our naval officers and men of to-day is best demonstrated by a glance at the crew of a modern man-of-war in commission. First and foremost, of course, is the captain, not infrequently referred to by those under his command as the "skipper", the "Old Man", or sometimes as the "owner". His rule may be termed a benevolent despotism. He can no longer be the tyrant that he _ occasionally was in the "days of wood and hemp", and he has no desire to be anything of the kind. He is far too much of a gentleman and good fellow. But there can be little limitation to his monarchy or the machine would not work. He lives somewhat apart from his subjects, having his meals in lonely state, and only occasionally comes into the wardroom,[6] in which the ship’s commissioned officers live and move and have their being. The sub-lieutenants’, midshipmen’s, junior engineer officers’, assistant paymasters’, and clerks’ mess is known as the gun-room. It is probable that this enforced seclusion is one of the worst trials of the captain’s greatness, since he has spent the whole of his previous service afloat in the camaraderie and good-fellowship of the ward-room and gun-room. At sea he passes much of his time on the bridge, and in most ships has a special cabin in its close proximity. He is the supreme court of justice on board, and as he can dispense punishment up to ninety days’ imprisonment with hard labour "off his own bat", it must be a pretty bad case, or one in which an officer is concerned, that he has to send before a court-martial. Being in supreme command, he exercises a general supervision over his ship and all that it contains, and is, of course, directly responsible to the admiral under whom he is serving, and to the Admiralty, for its condition both as to material and personnel. But the second in command – the commander – may be regarded as the managing man. He lives, or rather has his meals, in the ward-room. As to where he actually lives, it may be said to be everywhere on board except in his own cabin. He is, perhaps, the hardest worked man in the ship. Up at daylight, he is engaged in running the whole show till he goes the rounds at 9 p.m. to see that everything and everybody is properly settled down for the night. He draws up a regular daily and weekly routine, which he personally sees is properly carried out. He "tells off" the "hands" for this, that, and the other duties, and sees that everyone is at his proper station at "general quarters" for action, fire quarters, collision stations, and many another "evolution". He holds a daily court of justice, and either deals with the defaulters who have been "shoved in the rattle", i.e. put in his report, or in more serious cases passes them on to the higher court – the captain. In the larger ships there is yet a minor court, held by the senior officer of marines on his own men. His powers are still more limited, and if, after investigation, he finds they will not admit a sufficient punishment for an offence, he takes the offender before the captain, who, in some ships, insists on the commander dealing with those of not sufficient importance for his own disposal.

In spite of the commander's hard work he has little to grumble at, nor, I believe, does he ever do so, except in the ordinary conversational way we all do at times, when we "let off steam". For he knows that, unless he is very unfortunate in his "skipper", he has his promotion in his own hands. He is showing what he is made of, and once he succeeds in negotiating the big jump to captain’s rank, he is assured of going right on to admiral, even if he is not fortunate enough to "hoist his flag" in command of a squadron or fleet. He has the relative rank of a lieutenant-colonel in the army, and is almost invariably a much younger man, probably from thirty to thirty-five years of age, and can well take and bear the strain of his position.

After the commander the lieutenants, Of these in a battleship three or four are lieutenant-commanders, and five or six lieutenants. The senior of these is known as the first lieutenant, or, less officially, as "No. 1". In smaller ships there are, of course, fewer. One of these will be the gunnery lieutenant, another torpedo lieutenant, and a third navigating lieutenant. The remainder are classed as watch-keepers, in which duty they are assisted by the officers of marines when in harbour. For watch-keeping and other purposes the seamen, marines, and stokers are divided into "watches". Formerly these were invariably two in number – the port and starboard watches. Nowadays in some ships – at the discretion of their captains – they are divided into three: the red, white, and blue watches. As everyone knows, the day and night afloat are divided into periods of four hours, known as "watches", except for the "dog watches" of two hours apiece. They run as follows:

Name.                Time.                      Bells.
Middle watch ... midnight to 4 a.m. ... 8 to 8
Morning watch ...  4 a.m. to 8 a.m. ... 8 to 8
Forenoon watch ...   8 a.m. to noon ... 8 to 8
Afternoon watch ...  Noon to 4 p.m. ... 8 to 8
First dog watch ... 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. ... 8 to 4
Last dog watch ...  6 pm. to 8 p.m. ... 4 to 8
First watch ...    8 p.m. to midnight ... 8 to 8

The bell is struck, generally by the marine sentry posted nearest to it, or by the corporal of the gangway, every half-hour, after reporting the time to the officer of the watch, who tells him to "make it so". Thus at 8.30 in the morning he strikes it once; at 9 twice – two strokes quickly following each other; at 9.30 three times – two quick strokes, an interval, and a single stroke; and so on up to 8 bells, struck in a succession of double strokes. There is also "little one bell" – a gentle stroke five minutes after midnight for the watch to "fall in". The dog watches have stood from time immemorial, in order to change the men of the night watches every twenty-four hours. Otherwise, when there are only two watches, the same men would always be keeping the same watches. Some men would always be on at night and others in the day time. By dividing the 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. watches into two halves – the "first" and "last" dog watches – the rotation is changed, so that men come on watch at fresh periods. There is said to be a tradition that the origin of the word "dog" is "dodge", and that they were originally known as "dodge" watches, the reason being obvious. But I should be sorry to vouch for the accuracy of this statement.

The officer of the watch is practically in command of the ship for the time being. He has to deal with any sudden emergency himself; there may be no time to refer to the captain, even if it is advisable to do so. He keeps his watch on the fore-bridge, and sees that the quartermaster at the wheel keeps the ship upon her proper course. He takes observations from time to time, and is entirely responsible, under the captain, for the safety of the ship and all on board. All sorts of reports have to be made to him from time to time, and he makes or sends any necessary reports to the captain.

The lieutenants have charge of their "divisions", which may be said to correspond to the companies of a regiment; have to inspect them at morning and evening parades, known respectively as "divisions" and "evening quarters"; and are responsible for their men’s clothing being uniform and kept up to the regulation quantities. They have many other incidental duties, such as boarding ships coming into harbour as "officer of the guard", going ashore in charge of men for drill, use of small arms, and other miscellaneous work of which space precludes the merest mention. A lieutenant, too, will have charge of a turret or of certain guns.

The gunnery lieutenant is, of course, responsible for the guns and gunnery of the ship, which includes the small arm [7] and infantry drill of the seamen and stokers. The torpedo lieutenant, as his name implies, has charge of the torpedoes and their tubes and the mining gear, and it is his business to see that they are all kept in proper working order and in instant readiness for action. In addition he has entire charge of the electric lighting and wireless telegraphy.

The navigating lieutenant has taken the place of the old "master", but is not, as he was, outside the executive line. His duty is to lay off the course of the ship, take her position at various times during the day by "shooting the sun" with his sextant, keep the chronometers wound up, and take general charge of the navigation of the ship.

Following the order of the Navy list in enumerating the officers of a ship, we come to that very important personage the engineer commander. In some sort he occupies a similar position to the old sailing masters in the days when ships were commanded by soldiers. The ship couldn’t get along without the special engineering knowledge of this officer and his understudies any more than William the Conqueror could have got across channel without the aid of Stephen Fitz-Erard, his sailing master. Though fewer in number in these days of oil-fired engines than when coal-fed furnaces had to be stoked and tended, the stokers belonging to his department form a very considerable section of the ship’s company. I had almost said "under his command", but that would not be quite correct. Although the engineer officers have again and again asked for what I may term "command" of their own men, it has always been refused. The executive have always determined to keep the Navy a close corporation for themselves, and have been too jealous of their own privileges to delegate any command to what they consider a subordinate department, although its officers and men have so great a share in the working of the ship, whether in peace or war. However, they were conceded nominal executive rank, so that instead of being called "Chief Inspector of Machinery", "Chief Engineer", &c., they had now to be called "Engineer Captain", "Engineer Commander", &c., and even "Engineer Admiral". Moreover, they were allowed to wear the coveted curl of gold lace on their cuffs, which had hitherto been the exclusive mark of the Naval Executive. This curl, made by the upper band of gold lace on the sleeve being twisted into an exact circle, was only introduced in 1856, and the reason for its adoption is not certainly known, though there is a "galley-yarn" to the effect that a certain Captain Elliott, being wounded in his arm during the Crimean War, twisted his lace round his arm to hold it up, and that therefore the twist or curl became known as "Elliott’s eye". But it does not seem unlikely that it was because it may have been an adornment originally suggested by a Captain Elliott.

While on the subject of uniform, it may be mentioned that the familiar "sailor hat" made of straw, or "sennet", which the public has connected with the blue-jacket for the best part of a century, although only made regulation in 1857, was abolished by Admiralty Order in 1921, leaving him only the blue cloth cap, worn in summer with a white cover, though sun-helmets are provided for the use of the men when on service in the tropics.

The engineer commander has charge of all the engines on board, the number of which runs to several dozen, for besides the big main engines for driving the ship on her way through the seas there are smaller engines for almost every conceivable purpose. There are engines to work the steering-gear, the winches and hoists, the dynamos for the electric search-light projectors and the lighting of the ship, for the magazine refrigerating machinery, and many others, to say nothing of those in the steamboats belonging to the ship. He and the lieutenant shipwright – who, by the way, till recently was known by the time-honoured title of "carpenter" – are also responsible for the hull of the ship, the expenditure and replenishment of coal and oil, and goodness knows how many other things. To assist him in all this mass of work and responsibility he has two or more engineer lieutenants and a number of artificer engineers, engine-room artificers, mechanicians, chief stokers, and in a big ship hundreds of stokers.

The duties of senior engineer lieutenant are no sinecure either, since he occupies practically the same position in regard to his chief as the commander does to the captain of the ship. The remaining engineer lieutenants keep watch down in the engine-room in the same way as the executive lieutenants, and, in harbour, the officers of marines, keep watch on deck.

Still following the present order of the Navy list, we come to the officers of the Royal Marines. These, as belonging to the oldest formed body of men in the Naval service, and sharing with the executive the fighting of the guns in action, used to come second, but the engineers have been allowed to oust them from their position, probably on account of the "curl", which for their part the "Royals"[8] have no ambition to wear, being proud of their own distinctive uniform, though this in no wise affects their pride in belonging to the Royal Navy. Their uniform, unfortunately, has not escaped drastic, and, to the wearers, very unwelcome changes. From 1686 the marines had always worn the national scarlet in full dress – with the exception of the Royal Marine Artillery, which from 1816 wore blue similar to the Royal Artillery – till, under the usual pretext of economy, the latter portion of the corps was abolished in 1923.[9] But instead of retaining the scarlet always worn by the larger portion of the corps, or even putting the whole into an artillery uniform, a hideous hybrid costume was evolved by goodness knows whom.

In the old days, when the ship’s company was composed of heterogeneous and not always very satisfactory elements, one of the most important duties of its detachment of marines was the prevention of mutiny. Naturally, in place of the camaraderie now existing between bluejacket and marine the former bore no love for the latter, and one of the insults they frequently applied to him was that he was "neither fish, flesh, or fowl, or good red herring". The designer of the present costume worn by the corps must have endeavoured to embody this idea in the new uniform. The ordinary infantry trousers with the narrow red welt are retained, but the tunic is blue with no facings except a red collar; with a bogus "slash" cuff outlined in narrow yellow braid. The whole effect is both sombre and cheap. The extra amount of gold lace on the tunics of the officers, and their crimson sashes, to some extent relieves the dinginess in their case. Curiously enough, the edict which inflicted this dismal garb upon the corps laid down that mess-jackets were to be scarlet as "being the traditionary colour of the Royal Marines". Why then, after this admission, was the "traditionary colour" of their full dress taken away from them?

In the old days of "three-deckers" there were perhaps five or six officers of marines in a line-of-battle ship, but nowadays in a big ship there are not more than three, besides a R.M. gunner – a warrant officer – unless it is a flagship, when there will probably be a major, a captain, and two subalterns, one of whom may be a land artillery expert. The flagship in the Mediterranean carries also a lieut.-colonel to command the battalion formed by the marines of the fleet should they be landed.[10] These officers’ duties are considerably more onerous than they used to be, since they are wisely made of much more use in the general work of the ship, instead of being relegated to the unsatisfactory rôle of being to a great extent "lookers-on at life".

The major is, of course, responsible for the conduct, drill, and military efficiency of his detachment, which may number 150 to 170 men, but he has in addition to inspect those of the other ships in the fleet or squadron from time to time, and to command and drill the marines of the fleet when landed together for exercise and tactical instruction. He, in his own ship, and the officers in command of other ships’ detachments, are also in charge of the gunnery work of their men. In a battleship they will fight one of the turrets in action, and one of their subalterns may be in charge of the control for either the 6-inch guns or the anti-aircraft weapons. In short, the marines usually man from a quarter to a third of the guns, great and small. The senior officer of marines is now also the ship's intelligence officer, and has charge of the various confidential books. He may also be called upon to instruct naval ranks in small arms, machine gun, light automatic guns, and field training on shore, or be told off to be "gas officer" of the ship. His subalterns assist him generally with the detachments, visit the sentries at various times during the day and night, keep their turn of watch in harbour[11] and of officer of the guard, and one of them not infrequently acts as assistant to the gunnery lieutenant of the ship. The ship’s band, too, is now under the charge of the senior officer of marines, wearing marine uniform, and having been trained at a marine head-quarters on shore. This has greatly improved their discipline and efficiency, since before this system was instituted naval bands were "nobody’s children", and were dressed in an absurd costume adorned with white "Brandenbourgs", and wearing little round caps which earned them the sobriquet of "The Hamoaze Hussars". In fact the marine officer of to-day is now put through such an extensive course of training before he goes afloat – comprising not only military subjects and naval gunnery, but even navigation, steamship, torpedo, and electricity – that he is considered and expected to be able to undertake a naval officer’s duties in case of emergency.

The Church takes the next place, in the shape of the chaplain, generally a great acquisition to the mess. The "padre" or "sky pilot" has to be a man of considerable tact, and, generally speaking, he is. He has to be on more or less friendly terms with everyone fore and aft, or he would find it difficult to carry out his spiritual duties effectively. On the other hand, I may fairly say that it is his own fault if in this respect he is not met more than half-way both by his messmates in the ward-room and by the "lower deck". He reads prayers at divisions or morning parade, visits the sick in the sick bay and the prisoners in the cells, superintends the instruction given by the ship’s schoolmaster, and, of course, officiates at divine service on Sundays. He and the paymaster commander often look after the men’s savings bank, and make themselves useful in other small matters connected with the interior economy of the ship and of her ward-room mess.

Mention of the "Paymaster Commander", recalls the fact that after the officers of engineers had been given the executive titles and "curl" in 1915, the civilian elements – paymaster, surgeons, &c. – thought they ought to have them as well, though, as a matter of fact, giving to them reduced the significance of the "curl" to zero.[12] Still, like the medicos in the army, they, by the omission of the qualifying prefix, can call themselves by militant titles, which do not cost the public anything and seem to give them some satisfaction. So instead of the fleet surgeon with one or two surgeons, we have the surgeon commander and surgeon lieutenants, but as aforetime, the medical branch is distinguished by red cloth between the lace arm stripes. The dental surgeon lieutenant, a comparatively new rank, wears orange. The paymaster commander, paymaster lieutenants, and the clerical branch generally wear white instead of the red of the medical branch. The engineer officers, by the way, wear purple – often very dark and so almost indistinguishable – between their stripes, while the newer branch officers, the electrical lieutenant and constructor lieutenant, wear green and grey respectively. Where a naval instructor is carried he wears sky-blue between his arm rings.

So much for recent changes in uniform and titles. To return to the duties of the various officers who form the ward-room mess, usually referred to as "ward-room officers". The surgeon commander and his aides have entire charge of the health of both officers and men. Their special domain is the "sick-bay", generally situated forward, so that the sick get the freshest air, and they are assisted in their duties by a staff of sick-berth stewards and sick-berth attendants. He is an autocrat in his way, as not even the captain can traverse his decision as to health and disease. He makes a daily report of the officers and men on the sick-list to the captain, and arranges that one of his surgeon lieutenants is always at hand in case of accidents. In action he and his staff and what extra assistants can be spared arrange a place down below the armour deck, where they can do what is possible for the wounded that are passed down to them. But in these days, when the guns are for the most part closed up in separate turrets and casemates, it is not too easy a business to arrange for the transport of these poor fellows. In the immediate future it will be still more difficult, if not impossible, on account of all compartments having to be not only water-tight, but gas-proof. Some can generate their own oxygen.[13]

The paymaster commander, to whom reference has been already made, is another non-combatant – so far as it is possible for anyone to be so classed on board a ship of war in which all hands may be blown up or go to the bottom together – and has the responsible duty of looking after the pay, accountant and clerical work of the ship, stores of all kinds, and many other matters of a like nature, including "slops" or clothing for the ship’s company.

This about finishes the list of ward-room officers, but those in the gun-room are just about as numerous. The autocrat of this abode is the senior sub-lieutenant, who is supposed to rule his subjects with a rod of iron, or, to be more exact, a leather dirk-scabbard, which at times forms a useful and effective instrument of justice. Here live the midshipmen, clerks, and sub-lieutenant engineers, and their duties have generally speaking been already indicated in describing those of the senior officers of the various branches to whom they are assistants and understudies. But a word or two about the midshipmen – "the young gentlemen" as they are generally called – will not be out of place. They have plenty to do. They have to keep watch like their seniors, and one important, though unofficial, part of the duties of the midshipman of the watch used to be to brew and bring up a cup of cocoa to the officer on the bridge in the middle watch. Possibly this is nowadays an exploded custom. A midshipman generally has charge of one of the ship’s boats, and takes great pride in keeping it and his boat’s crew well up to the mark. "The young gentlemen" drill under the gunnery lieutenant before breakfast, work with the naval instructor during the forenoon, and at any moment must be ready to go away in charge of their boats. Every midshipman is expected to keep a daily "log" which is periodically inspected by the captain. Some of them not only take the greatest pains to make their logs models of neatness, but decorate them with sketches, drawings, and plans, often of considerable merit and interest. Midshipmen, by the way, do not all join at about thirteen or fourteen and go through Dartmouth, but a certain number join from public schools by passing a special examination at the age of seventeen, after which they go through a short training afloat before being appointed to a ship in commission. I understand that, by very many naval officers at least, this innovation is considered an excellent one, and that these lads have proved fully up to the exacting standard required by the Navy.

This is but a very partial and fragmentary account of the duties of the boys from whom our future admirals and commanders-in-chief will be recruited; but it is time this chapter was drawing to a close, and we cannot leave our ship without at least mentioning a few other people who, though not commissioned officers, are yet of very great importance in her interior economy.

First and foremost there are the warrant officers, pre-eminent among whom are the boatswain, gunner, and warrant shipwright – the two first time-honoured titles. The boatswain may be considered as the commander's right-hand man, and has multifarious duties and responsibilities. The duties of the other two are sufficiently indicated by their titles. Then there are the engineer warrant officers and marine warrant officers, known as "Royal Marine gunners". The "Sergeant-major" of Marines, which is the courtesy title borne by the senior non-commissioned officer of the corps on board, is also a man of very considerable importance on board a man-of-war. Next come the chief petty officers, such as the yeoman of the signals, the chief quartermaster, chief boatswain’s mate, and many others, together with sailmaker, blacksmiths, armourers, electricians, wireless operators, and all kinds of ratings whose presence on board His Majesty's ships and vessels of war is little suspected by "the man in the street". Also there is the ship’s police, now known as the "regulating branch", headed by the master-at-arms or "jaunty".[14] These men are recruited from all branches of the Navy, and perform much the same duties as a "bobby" on shore, look after the prisoners in cells, and are supposed to detect all irregularities that may take place on board and to bring the delinquents to justice.

If a ship is a flagship there is naturally a more important personage on board than any of the officers whose duties and rank have been detailed – the admiral in command of the fleet or station. He may be a full admiral[15] – the highest rank employed afloat – a vice-admiral, or a rear-admiral, the difference in rank being indicated by the number of stripes on the cuff of his coat, placed above the lowest very wide stripe of gold lace. Thus a rear-admiral has one narrow stripe above it with the executive curl, a vice-admiral two additional narrow ones, and an admiral three. A commodore has merely the wide stripe with the narrow curl on the top edge.

The admiral lives in a regular suite of cabins, usually right aft, consisting of a dining-room or fore-cabin, a sitting-room or after cabin, and two or three sleeping cabins. The captain of a flagship is known as a flag-captain, and he, with the flag-lieutenant, secretary, and sometimes an officer of marines, used to form the admiral’s staff and were distinguished from the rest of the ship’s officers by wearing aiguilettes. Of late years this staff has immensely increased. On it are now a lieutenant fleet photographer, an engineer captain, a fleet accountant officer, an instructor captain as fleet education officer, a wing commander of the Royal Air Force as fleet aviation officer, a fleet medical officer, and a navigating commander as master of the fleet. At the shore base is a captain of marines as staff intelligence officer, distinguished by wearing a red brassard with a gold anchor and the letter "G" below it in black.

The flag-captain has, ex officio, the title of "captain of the fleet". He has, of course, to command his ship like other captains. The secretary, who is an officer of the pay department told off for this special duty, is the admiral’s right-hand man as regards the tremendous amount of paper work connected with the command of a fleet or squadron. The flag-lieutenant is the admiral’s personal aide-de-camp and so is specially to the fore, both in the big man’s inspection of ships and naval establishments, and in social duties and functions. He is also an authority in connection with signalling in its various branches, and necessarily and generally a smart young man all round. He, the flag-captain, and secretary mess at the admiral’s table and not in the ward-room.

A man-of-war, then, it will be realized, even from this necessarily very brief attempt to describe those who make their "home on the rolling deep" within her iron sides, is a little world in itself.



[ Back ] Footnote 1: On Sir George Rooke’s monument in Canterbury Cathedral the Latin inscription refers to him as "a soldier", the son of Wm. Rooke, a soldier, and also of course as a "Vice-Admiral of England".
[ Back ] Footnote 2: A Rough Draft of a New Model at Sea, 1694
[ Back ] Footnote 3: A retired officer of the Royal Marines has in his possession the original attestation of an Italian – one Gaetan Loyagalo – as a marine enlisted by an ancestor and sworn in before Lord Nelson on board the Victory on 22nd March, 1804. There are records of a good many other foreigners serving in the corps round about this period.
[ Back ] Footnote 4: The bluejacket of to-day often refers to himself as a "matlow" or a "flat-foot". He resents being referred to as a "tar". The marines are similarly termed "leather-necks" or "bullocks".
[ Back ] Footnote 5: As an instance of the innate courtesy of the long-service man-of-war's-man, I cannot refrain from quoting a small experience of my own, some years back when I was serving as Adjutant of the "Glasgow Highlanders". My wife and I were asked to lunch by the captain of a cruiser which had come in and was lying at "The Tail of the Bank". Our host said he would send in his gig for us at a certain time - I understood to Greenock pier. After waiting a considerable time I thought I must have been mistaken, and went on to Gourock. There was the boat. I said to the coxswain: "I am afraid you must have been waiting a long time." "Oh, no, sir, only about five minutes," was the polite reply. Surely a pardonable deviation from the truth.
[ Back ] Footnote 6: Said to be derived from "wardrobe", in old times right aft on the gun deck over the gun-room on the lower gun deck. As a rule, prior to 1854, the commissioned officers’ mess was known as the "gun-room", and the midshipmen’s as the "berth".
[ Back ] Footnote 7: "Small arms" is now used instead of the former word "musketry", owing to the many and various weapons now in use.
[ Back ] Footnote 8: A very usual abbreviation in the Navy for "Royal Marines".
[ Back ] Footnote 9: Euphemistically called "amalgamated". One Infantry Division (Gosport) was done away with and the Artillery deprived of their status and distributed between the Infantry Divisions.
[ Back ] Footnote 10: Owing to the large number of marines in that fleet.
[ Back ] Footnote 11 Officers of marines not infrequently did officer of the watch on the bridge at sea during the late war.
[ Back ] Footnote 12: They gained their desire in 1918.
[ Back ] Footnote 13: It is comparatively easy to keep gas out of a moving ship should it run into a gas cloud. But too many precautions cannot be taken, and even the voice pipes are now made gas-proof.
[ Back ] Footnote 14: Or "jaundy". Supposed to be a corruption of the French "gen-d’arme".
[ Back ] Footnote 15: A word of Eastern origin. "Amir-al-Bahr", Arabic "Lord of the Sea." The title "Admiral" arrived in this country by way of Genoa and France. The first sea commander bearing that title was Gervase Allard of Winchelsea, who is referred to in Sept., 1300, as "Admiral of the Fleet of Cinque Ports".



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