Shipmates: Inside the Royal Navy Today

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By , the focus of British Naval strategy had moved away from the protection of a far-flung Empire — warm seas and a white awning over the aft-deck — towards a European war in the chill winds and waters of the North Sea, the Channel and the North Atlantic. The location of Navy yards had been left largely unchanged since the 17th and 18th centuries, all of them in the far South of England, the handiest place to fight the French or to send fleets beyond Europe. The Navy was now — had been for many years — a highly disciplined, regularised outfit; the days when press gangs scavenged pubs to seduce volunteers with rum were long gone.

According to Christopher McKee, the Navy enjoyed a better public image than the Army during the last century and could be choosy in the young men it recruited. Were they such a danger to nice girls — or indeed to nice boys? McKee is an American academic, a specialist in navies, and he is the first to warn that he has drawn his portrait of sailor lives from a very narrow sample: from the archived letters, diaries, taped interviews and unpublished memoirs of about eighty sailors none of them officers; this is a book about Naval ratings, the men of the lower deck , which is a tiny number given that in the Navy contained nearly , ratings the figure today is about 35, Whatever the case, this is a small and hard to mourn loss in a rich and valuable account of the way sailors lived and worked and the kind of people they were.

Many were running away from hostile or feckless parents — unloving stepmothers and drunken fathers feature in several reminiscences — or from the prospect of onshore unemployment. I was taught discipline, a trade and a pride in achievement. I enjoyed comradeship to a degree I believe unavailable in any other walk of life.

I was fed, clothed and housed, and travelled to many parts of the world that I otherwise would never have been able to visit. I would add that it was not all sweetness and light. Many times I felt lonely, afraid, bored, homesick and seasick, but never to the extent that it seriously affected my desire to serve in what I regarded as a privileged fraternity. And yet, and yet: life at sea was so often hellish, especially in wars.

There was no life at all aboard a destroyer. And we always had a rope round us because. And the water used to come down just like a waterfall all the time. And you could never cook nothing. I used to boil a dozen eggs before we left Scapa. You lived an awful life. In battle, gut-wrenching fear was the dominant emotion. A signalman described the consequences of an attack on the destroyer Kelly in , on condition that he remained anonymous.

That torpedo broke my nerve. Before, I always slung my hammock and undressed before getting into it, but after it I never slung it nor undressed when the ship was at sea. I slept as best I could on the lockers. What is more I was never happy below decks once the ship had left harbour. At every bump and bang, be it only a wave breaking against the side, I went hot all over. Stokers worked as far below decks as it was possible to be and had no clue as to what was happening in the world above; their only duty was to keep the boilers fired and steam up.

But how did men live with this fearful possibility day by day? Two other destroyers were blown up and sank with half their crews. Interviewer: And all the time you were at sea. Dunn: You had oil tanks up at the side of you. You had oil underneath you. And you had pound of steam all round you.

Dunn: Yes. I got — in the war I used to have one thought in my mind: if I had one more leave. As long as I could have that one more leave, well, anything could happen — and it would, I thought. But if I could only go ashore once more. In a battle, oil has its disadvantages; it is more combustible than coal and coats the sea and all those men unlucky enough to be suddenly in it, oil in their mouth and lungs, oil that makes them slippery to the grasp of other sailors who are trying to haul them to safety. Men just a few feet away from a dry deck and a blanket would slide back into the sea and drown.

But nobody in the Navy regretted the disappearance of coal, and the filthy, dangerous labour of taking the fuel on board, the task known as coaling. A First World War battleship typically carried more than three thousand tons of coal, but at high speeds in battle conditions could get through almost eight hundred tons in a day. The great enemy was dust. All doors would be sealed; small holes were filled with oakum; lifeboats were hoisted outboard; officers and men alike wore their oldest clothes and poked Vaseline up their nostrils and spread it around their eyes. Wire ropes would snap and the coal come crashing down on the men on the deck below.

Inside the bunkers, men would trim the coal with shovels, distributing it evenly across the floor. Every coaling brought its crop of injuries, and sometimes deaths. But everybody mucked in. When a ship was coaling, Naval hierarchy and deference were relaxed for the day. A sailor might tell an over-officious officer where to get off and suffer no punishment. Ratings divided officers into good and bad. You were told to jump or double and you jumped and doubled. They were officers and you were not, and that was that. The food could be grim.

Living and sleeping arrangements were overcrowded. McKee sums it up. Strict and relentless discipline. Daily close-quartered living devoid of privacy. Boredom, day after uneventful day at sea. Dangerous, fear-inducing work. Sudden illnesses — sometimes deadly. Long absences from home and family. Burdens of responsibility. No human being could endure these indefinitely and without respite.

What kept them going? Many sailors referred to comradeship as their finest memory of the Navy. If they endured enough together, his family came second. Whatever this kink was — and it was the antithesis of self-preservation — it really existed. This fellow-feeling was fostered by drill and split-second team work — raising anchors, lowering boats, firing guns — but that was true also of the Army and even once of primary schools. Where the Navy differed, what intensified its comradeship, was the way ratings looked after one another as a kind of seagoing family, replacing the real one where it existed, happy or unhappy on land.

The way sailors ate is a good example of this domesticity. In the Army, soldiers were fed by lining them up at the cookhouse door and then dumping food on their held-out plates. Until the s, the Navy had a much more complicated — and apparently more inefficient — arrangement. Sailors were assigned to messes, each of around ten to twenty-five men, and equipped with a stowable table, cutlery, plates and a bread bin. Eventually he would return to the galley to collect the cooked food.

Afterwards, he would clear the table and wash up.

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Bread and jam were usual for breakfast and tea. Dinner — at noon — might be a roast with potatoes and onions or toad-in-the-hole, with a duff of pastry and raisins for pudding. Supper might yield cheese and pickles, eggs, tinned rabbit or salmon. Every rating learned to cook by cooking for his shipmates, and therefore, if he were to keep the friendly esteem of his mess, he would need to learn to make the best of his often unpromising ingredients, to cook passably well.

And when the mess sat down to eat they sat as a family: the serving pan was passed around the table, and each man was trusted to take no more than his fair share. It was the same with laundry. The wet clothes would be spread out to dry in the heat of the boiler-room, with the permission of some sympathetic engineer. Of all these little businesses, the most interesting was tailoring. The sailor who could use scissors and a sewing machine never lacked work. Sailors, as McKee writes, were instinctive dandies, especially when ashore.

The ready-made uniform in its standard sizes was regulation wear on board, but considered simply not up to the job for attraction and seduction. Decorative elements could be purchased on the sly from a small mail-order company: James Ward, 90 Markhouse Road, Walthamstow. You used to write to Ward and get a Vengeance , Revenge , Powerful , Terrible — they were the favourite cap ribbons. The only time you wore it [was] when you were on leave. Despite all the onboard activity, boredom was always hard to conquer on a long voyage.

It is just so much water to me. There were occasional concert parties, which afforded cross-dressing opportunities, and on the bigger ships frequent dances, when a piano would be hauled on deck and men in bare feet would be tutored in foxtrots, quicksteps, quadrilles and waltzes. At such times, as at coaling, rank was given a holiday; a lieutenant might take a stoker as his dancing partner. McKee describes it well. Daily Orders follow each link Orders [follow each link] 1. Vacancy — Chairman Standing Orders Committee 2. Field of Remembrance 3.

Lamp Light of Peace 4. Early Doors Joke — Russian Couple 6. Charity Donations 7. Guess Where? Portsmouth Historic Dockyard 9. Joke Time — Sunburn! One Thousand Good Deeds Assistance Please — Shipmate Colin Welborn Unashamedly Shep Woolley Shanty Party Whiskey Barrel Clock Assistance please — Kings College London Joke for the Road. Dear Shipmates, Welcome to our September Circular. Having been fully certified for rotary aircraft, the time has come to try out our new fast jets, the F35 Lightening 2 or Sea Lightening as Admiral West likes to call it!

Lets wish them the best of luck. The National Museum of the RN hosted the Lamp in their gallery and provided a rumsoaked breakfast buffet for the participating shipmates. So many thanks to the great turn out of standard bearers and shipmates, it really showed the Army and the RAF how it can be done! An important date for the diary. After marvellous support for the Jutland Wood, the time has come to plant it!

Shipmates, families, cadets etc are all warmly invited to the planting event on 16 March 19 at Langley Vale. Royal Marines can do the Commando Crawl. We are coming up to the Remembrance season. We have a bid in the Circular for branches to review placing a cross in our Field of Remembrance plot at Westminster Abbey. Please consider having a cross placed in our plot.

Life on board a British nuclear submarine

We have a lovely mini-Service after the senior Royal has visited our plot and you are welcome to join us. Nigel is the contact for tickets. We have now put the dates of the Open Day into the Longcast, so please start booking up with Andy and Nigel, good chance to meet the new GS and have a great day out. Made event better by the fact that our lift is now working! Christmas Card order forms are at the back of this Circular, get ordering!

This allows easier transfer for those who are members of more than one association, and also aligns more closely with the Royal Navy. We have been working with Forever Jack on adapting the design of the 10 Area badge and we have now taken delivery of. The NC has decided that there will be a free issue to all Area and Branch Standard bearers and that SB should wear the metal badge from 1 January Those Areas and branches with an appointed Deputy SB may also apply for a grat issue.

Non standard bearer members may continue to wear the cloth badge until 1 Jan , but then must move across. Applications for the badges to Nigel please. This is a very important, independent appointment that supports the democracy and integrity of the RNA Conference and our Royal Charter.

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If you are interested, please give me a ring or send me an email. Applications by 5 November please to me at paul royalnavalassoc. I will be remaining for a couple of weeks to write the annual report, as best I can, and go on leave and draft as the Central Office shuts for Christmas on 21 December The Project Semaphore Team have issued 9 iPads and I had the pleasure of meeting some of the candidates who have benefited.

It was humbling to hear the difference it makes to them to be on line for the first time. A great reminder of this Project. The GS trying to work out how to transfer photos from a phone to the iPad! Note highly amused learner. Applications are therefore sought from suitably qualified Shipmates to apply for the above positions. Shipmates who may wish to apply for this vacancy, in the first instance should apply to the General Secretary by 01 October Field of Remembrance — Thursday 8 November Given the cost of travel to London and increased security in recent years it is sad to report that fewer and fewer branches have purchase a Cross to be placed in the Field of Remembrance outside Westminster Abbey or attend the short memorial service.

The placing of crosses is a unique opportunity for all RNA Shipmates, Area, Club or Branch to join together in one RNA act of remembrance in a modest sign of Remberance commemorating those sailors who have fallen, have served and are still serving our country. If you are planning to attend you will need to bring your ticket, a form of ID and have entered the garden gate by and then proceed to muster at the RNA plot. Alternatively, If you would like a cross placed in the garden then please forward details of what you would like transcribed on to it and Central Office will arrange for the cross to be planted.

The National President and General Secretary will be in attendance and he can be contacted on his mobile — if required. The procession crossed he road, which was lined by Shipmates to the Jutland Museum where a short service of welcome was held. On completion the Royal Naval Museum very kindly provided bacon butties and plenty of rum for all those involved in the parade. In the second week he travelled back to Lichfield Staffs so that he could join the South Staffordshire Regiment.

Serving in many areas he saw action at the Somme, being awarded the DCM for taking command after the officer had been killed and captured the two machine guns that had been holding up the advance. These two guns are now in the Regimental Museum Liichfield at the same time he also captured a high ranking German Officer Who objected most strongly to being apprehended by a subordinate officer.

He was wounded three times, Gassed three times.

Royal Navy - Show of Strength (The Modern Navy - State of Alert)

His wartime commands were all Destroyers. The Germans managed to attack JW 51B several times but were forced back. During the action Sherbrook was seriously injured resulting in him loosing his sight. However, he still managed to take command of HMS Onslow and the other escorts until the convoy was out of danger. For his valour he was awarded the Victoria Cross. His citation dated 12 January read as follows; The King has been graciously pleased to approve the award of the Victoria Cross, for valour in the defence of a convoy to: Captain Robert St.

On the morning of 31 December, off the North Cape, he made contact with a greatly superior enemy force which was attempting to destroy the convoy. Captain Sherbrook led his Destroyers into attack and closed the enemy behind a smoke screen to avoid the threat of torpedoes and each time Captain Sherbrook pursued him and drove him outside gun range of the convoy and towards our covering forces.

These engagements lasted about two hours, but after the first forty minutes HMS Onslow was hit and Captain Sherbrook was seriously wounded in the face and temporarily lost the use of one eye. Nevertheless, he continued to direct the ships under his command until further hits on his own ship compelled him to disengage, but until he was satisfied that the next Senior Officer had assumed control. It was only then that he agreed to leave the bridge for medical attention, and until the convoy was out of danger.

His courage, his fortitude and his cool and prompt decisions inspired all around him. By his leadership and example the convoy was saved from damage and was brought safely to its destination. He crossed the bar in his home town of Oxton aged 71 on 13 June A Russian couple was walking down the street in St. Petersburg the other night, when the man felt a drop hit his nose. Just then they saw a minor communist party official walking toward them. But the woman insisted: "I know that felt like snow!

To which the man replied………. Petrol Station. This month can you name this former establishment? This is very hard.


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Remember no hovering or looking on Google or Wiki!! Well done to Shipmate Alan Biggs for guessing where correctly. Portsmouth Historic dockyard are running a number of events over late summer and Autumn and Winter please see the list below. Watch the parading of the beef with tradition drummers and join the Captain in a port toast to the memory of Vice Admiral Lord Nelson. Plus enjoy sea shanties as you dine. Book tickets today at historicdockyard. With entertainment and traditional Georgian mess, come on board and remember this momentous day in true nautical style.

See the ship dressed for the festive season whilst enjoying your three-course square meal. Capture your Yuletide memories in in our photo booth, enjoy the live entertainment, and dance the night away with our disco. Then finish the evening by dancing along to a Ceilidh band. A guy visiting in Hawaii fell asleep on the beach for several hours and got a horrible sunburn, specifically to his upper legs. He went to the hospital and was promptly admitted after being diagnosed with second-degree burns.

With his skin already starting to blister, and the severe pain he was in, the doctor prescribed continuous intravenous feeding with saline, electrolytes, a sedative, and a Viagra pill every four hours. If you would like to support our Victory Walker please visit victorywalk My Dear Friends, As you may be aware I was diagnosed with bladder cancer in - one of 10, every year in the UK.

Yes - thats bladder, prostate and lymph nodes. The surgery was conducted at QA Cosham, a European centre of excellence, and trains surgeons in these procedures. The Robot was bought by public donations - the Rocky Appeal. This will be used to treat those in the Urological flexi clinic who are not fit enough for major surgery: it is minimally invasive thus avoiding many other complications in vulnerable patients especially secondary infection.

Many, Many Thanks. For more info Shantynights gmail. Central Office received a request for assistance from Hannah Harwood a research assistant at Kings College in London for which Shipmates may be able to assist. We are conducting some research investigating links between military service-related mental illhealth and the risk of developing dementia in older UK military veterans. We would love your support with passing on information about our study to help recruit participants if possible.

It would be great to discuss the study further with a member of your team; I am happy to send more information and advertisement materials if you are able and willing to advertise the study by any means available to you. We look forward to hearing from you! A man was arrested yesterday after falling into a combined harvester whilst trying to steal it…. New on the market are Viagra Tea Bags. Captain Bill Oliphant assumes duties as GS. News from around the Areas and Branches This Month Featuring……..

Steve who is a founder member and has never served in the RN! Our first day started with an early minibus pickup for the journey down to Portsmouth. We then had a guided tour of the ship whilst Bob told us some very interesting facts about the Warrior such as; she never actually saw action and although she went a long way to making sailing ships redundant as she had both engines and sail, she soon became obsolete herself due to the fast inventions and changes in ship design at the time.

We all met back at the minibus at to travel to our accommodation. Both groups made the most of the evening but surprisingly all ended up in the bar area where many dits were spun into the night. What no Pussers! We were then invited to take a boat tour around the dockyard areas. The boat tour was very enjoyable as the weather was very warm and the new aircraft carrier HMS Queen Elizabeth was alongside and stole the show as the star attraction for many. GS Paul gave us a running commentary on the historical features of the dockyard, the surrounding areas and ships alongside.

The boat tour took about an hour and was very much appreciated by the whole group, I think even those who were not ex-Navy seemed to spring sea legs. When we came alongside to disembark everyone had smiles on their faces as they had thoroughly enjoyed the tour. We thanked our hosts for their hospitality and said our goodbyes as we knew we had to contend with the M25 again on the way back.

The lack of rain has kept the weeds down and unless we get a lot of rain, I will not need any work parties in August. Alright for some, eh?


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Everyone sweltered in the heat and a wonderful buffet was provided at the end of the parade. The bar staff at the club worked tirelessly to help quench the thirsts of the participants. Winners of each race were treated to chocolate and snacks. RNA Aldershot Branch. For further details of any of the above events please contact Eddie Toyne or Mick Mills on Aldershot have had a busy summer……….. Members of the Branch found themselves on a minibus at the unearthly time of on a Saturday morning, heading towards Chatham Dockyard. A great day had been planned with the assistance of Chatham RNA and the early start meant we were going to make the most of the day.

A smooth journey around the M25 saw us arrive spot on time. You should expect nothing less with a Joss on board. After a quick cuppa we ventured into the dockyard and for some in the party it was the reliving of their past. The day in the dockyard was fantastic, who would have believed that rope making could be so interesting, and it was! We even saw a few of our members breaking a sweat to make a bit of rope of their own.

Many lamps were swung and many dits told as memories were triggered by walking through the messdecks and across the upper deck. The ship has been lovingly restored and is a credit to the team that have undertaken this task. After lunch we visited the submarine HMS Ocelot which was another informative visit. It makes you realise why submariners got extra money and, in my opinion, they are welcome to it. At the end of the day and at the request of a few shipmates we drove around HMS Pembroke which is still looking impressive, although now it is a site of the local universities.

An enjoyable day was had thanks to our hosts and it was only brought to a close because our minibus driver had a deadline to meet. They attended the Victoria Day parade around the town and travelled the mile and a half route through the crowds, making the most of the open top bus, as they waved to the crowds who always love to see the veterans.

The trip around the harbour was complemented with a drop of rum and gorgeous weather, almost as if the HQ staff had booked it. After a short social gathering the team headed home. For some unknown reason they had to have a quick replenishment stop at the Jolly Farmer in Blacknest which was a great conclusion to a day out that is recommended to all.

At the drumhead service one of crowd took what for us is a contender for our photo of the year. Our Branch Standard coming up from the dip in full flight! Mid July and we were off again on our trips. We were also joined by RNA Horsham.

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The venue near Cranleigh was lovely, tasty food, a great bar and a beautiful view. The competitive skittles match saw Aldershot just lose overall to the Care Ashore and Horsham team. However, with 21 members in attendance I think the Aldershot team won the post-match drinking session. It is always great to bring some naval tradition to the home of the British Army! It was also fantastic to be joined by some of our Shipmates from Bracknell, Basingstoke and Woking who took up the open invite and the free tot!

The procession of the coffin, appropriate words from the Sky Pilot and hymns sung by the Branch choristers all added to the occasion which was more of a sods opera than a service. The RNA paper gizzit hats were worn by all, including the roughy, toughy Paras, they had no choice if they wanted their free tot. A jackspeak quiz and disco rounded off the evening and another excellent occasion finished as the bar was closed.

Our busy year continues with our banyan at the end of August with Shep Woolley entertaining the masses, which I am sure we can report on in the next Semaphore. The welcome was outstanding and there was no mention of reduced rations or Black Tot Day!

Life on board a British nuclear submarine | UK news | The Guardian

The Pussers flowed freely and everybody had a great evening. Some Shipmates even managed to visit the Llandudno Camera Obscura, which is looked after by volunteers, including Shipmate Matt Shields, the following morning, which was obviously an eye-opener! A great weekend enjoyed by all A very respectable sum was raised for Branch funds. It was also school holidays so there was lots of interest by children in the stand, which meant that there were lots of sailor hats to be seen floating around the store.

Of especial importance was the advertising and handing out of leaflets for a fund raising Royal Marine Band concert in September, to be held in St Neots. Armed with crosswords and various other puzzles, at the end of July, a combined Task Force of 32 shipmates from Stowmarket, Ipswich, Colchester and Beccles branches, all from Area 5, let slip their moorings and sailed for a run ashore at Bletchley Park, the central site for British codebreakers during World War 2.

What proved to be a beautiful day throughout, saw our hardy. Or, as some did, immediately find the bar! The Mansion and lake proved a perfect setting for the tour though we forget our beach towels for a bit of fun lakeside , with everyone kept entertained throughout the day.

Of particular interest was Hut 11 and 11a, showing the challenge of solving the Enigma and the creation of the Bombe machines, which were mostly operated by Wrens. The evening saw the holding of defaulters for two shipmates who were absent at the bar when the group phot was taken.


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A great day out, and one that proves that branches, big and small, can together really enjoy themselves. Talks at our monthly meetings this year have covered such topics as Crop Circles, Shaka Zulu, the Battle of Mers el Kebir and the work of the excellent Accessible Boat Club which supports disabled and disadvantaged adults and children to experience life afloat.


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