A SNIPPET

BEARDS IN THE ROYAL NAVY

Truly, there are three types of beards?

The first kind is the subject of this page,
The second kind covers those who are not in the Royal Navy,
The third kind is a wife [or a female partner].

The last one may need some explanation.  When 'gay' men have not "come out" and do not wish to reveal their sexuality, they take a wife [or a female partner] and this is said to give them manliness [or heterosexual maleness] manifest in having a 'beard'. It normally applies to stars in show business but can apply to any.

Those important revelations out of the way, let us continue.

If we are to believe the motion picture director's of our childhood, or the author's of nautical novels of antiquity, we can't help but note that sailors had beards and that there were generally unkempt, or, in our parlance, darn right scruffy scran-bags. Now whilst that may have been true for mariners of yore, it certainly was not true for the "new Victorian navy" which came about in the very middle of Queen Victoria's reign [early 1860's].  Whilst it is true that her navy was continuously evolving and re-inventing itself, the watershed for much change was introduced in the 1860's and one of those changes [1861] was that beards were taboo and to be clean-shaven was the norm and order of the day; that's every day! There was an exception however, that being for Royal Marines, who served under two sets of regulations [one the army and one the navy depending upon their employment/deployment], and Soldiers were allowed moustaches, ergo, so were Marines.

By the end of the 1860's, all that had changed, and the 'facial-set' was on offer [as being conducive to health and comfort - it also saved a great deal of fresh water although cold shaves in sea water were not uncommon], the 'set' comprising of a beard and a moustache, neither of which could be grown separately.

Sailors applying to grow the set had to abandoned all use of the razor and facial hair was to be grown naturally and not trimmed other than with scissors. Many men couldn't [and can't] grow enough facial hair thick enough and wide spread enough to constitute a set [although I heard the other day that some female sailors can] and after what was considered a trial period, they were ordered to continue shaving.

Kings [Edward VII and George V], Princes, noblemen and just about every Admiral and Captain sported a set as did many other less senior officers, but when it got down to the young Lieutenants, the subbies and the middies, most were clean shaven; {It is not recorded whether or not officers had to seek permission to grow the set}.  The same applied to the lower deck with the vast majority of CPO'S and PO'S wearing a set, although some grew them for convenience [not having to shave - longer lay-in in the morning or more time for breakfast- and a protector against the adverse weather or the blazing sun] but others grew the set because it actually saved them money - no cut-throat or sharpening-strop to buy/replace, no brush or soap to buy/replace.

Post George V period [neither Edward VII or George VI sported a set] and after WW2 at the start of the 1950's there was a complete reversal as more and more officers abandoned them along with virtually 75% of the lower deck. Today, when visiting a wardroom or a senior rates mess, you would be hard pushed to spot even one.  It is thought that this was little to do with service life but everything to do with the female relations and their reaction to whiskers. 

In 2003, Britain adopted EU law which outlawed discrimination in the work place. From that date onwards. Muslim men in the navy were automatically allowed to have their traditional cultural and Islamic belief beards and no permission was needed from the Commanding Officer. What was good for Muslims was good for Christians inter alia, but in several areas, beards are now associated with religion [Arabs, Turks, Iranians, and all other Muslim States, plus of course Sikhs and others] and that reason might be the cause why western men shun them. In 1964, DCI [RN] 1173/64 was issued which said that officers and ratings of the Sikh nationality could wear turbans instead of caps and to keep their hair long if they so wished. Apart from learning the new non-discriminatory rules ordered by the EU from Brussels, in was also the time to re-write orders which had been written when naval discipline was all that mattered, taking no account of ones Christian denomination or the voodoos associated with certain non-faiths.  Immigration had changed things in the Royal Navy which no amount of mutineers or foreign enemies could have ever done!