I have been IN many places, but I've never been IN Cahoots. Apparently, you
can't go alone. You have to be IN Cahoots with someone.
I've also never been IN Cognito. I hear no one recognizes
I have, however, been IN Sane. They don't have an airport; you have to be driven
there. I have made several trips there, thanks to my friends, family
I would like to go TO Conclusions, but you have to jump, and I'm not too much on
physical activity anymore.
I have also been IN Doubt. That is a sad place to go, and I try not to visit
there too often. I've been IN Flexible, but only when it
was very important to stand firm.
Sometimes I'm IN Capable, and I go there more often as I'm getting older. One
of my favourite places to be is IN Suspense! It really gets the
adrenalin flowing and pumps up the old heart! At my age I need all
the stimuli I can get!
I may have been IN Continent, and I don't remember what country I was in or even which one – continent that is? It's an age thing.
I have never been IN Dire Straits which must be a seaway in Antarctica or in the
East Siberian Sea, for I have never sailed those waters.
Rarely have I been IN Trospective
choosing the team member and gregarious way of functioning.
Yes, and now especially at my
age, I have been IN Disposed, occasionally.
And who hasn’t, from time to
time, been IN Discreet?
Having had, by and large, a
good and interesting life, I have often been IN Awe of the people I have met…..
……leading to the fact that I
have never been IN Secure or IN Dispute with anything or body for more than a short
period – thankfully.
I could add many more IN’s [as I am sure you could too] but enough is enough, at least
in the first session. I am not going to attempt the OUT’s for they are much too troublesome to contemplate. Just think
of the associated words like DONE, PLAYED, SPOKEN,
SHONE, MANOEUVRED, CAST, RAGED
etc, although AND ABOUT sounds nice!
My sister tells me that she
and her pal’s marked up 275
IN’s in a charity appeal
Christmas 2012 for a local hospice up in our home territory of the
Yorkshire Dales. They
obviously are of IN Compos mentis, as indeed I
believe we are also.
Try it as a family quiz or
even as a fund raising event for those not as fortunate as us.
THE START OF
THE UJC @ WATERLOO LONDON.
I am a life
member of this wonderful club. I am also a frequent user of its
facilities when on the research trail in London's generous Museums.
Have a look at this piece of trivia: well it is today but wasn't
back in 1903 when this story was published on the
HANSARD 1803–2005 →
Released Personnel (Clothing
HC Deb 21 August 1945 vol 413 cc426-7
6. Mr. Lipson
asked the Secretary of State for War if he is aware that persons are
waiting outside Army release centres offering between £14 and £19 for
the clothing package issued to released Army personnel; and if, in
order to prevent this happening, he will provide more policing of the
areas surrounding release centres and the railway stations affected,
and see that men overseas are warned of this danger.
The men are warned at the dispersal centres not to part with their
clothing rashly. Military police are on duty at the centres but these
427 actions take place
after the men have left when the clothes are their own property. I
should be reluctant to surround release centres with military police.
Is the right hon. Gentleman satisfied that men overseas in particular
are sufficiently aware of conditions in this country to be warned
against disposing of their clothes to people in this country?
All men overseas go through dispersal centres and they are warned
seriously at those centres about this matter. I should say that,
having seen these clothes at one of these centres, I should be very
much surprised if there were many men concerned in this matter of
disposing of their clothes.
Will the right hon. Gentleman take notice of the particular instance I
asked the Secretary of State for War why a free issue of clothing is
not made to officers whose terminal or notice leave commenced before
8th May, 1945; and how this date came to be fixed.
In normal circumstances officers do not receive a free issue of
civilian clothing as other ranks do. But it was decided, as a special
case, to give non-Regular officers the same treatment in this respect
as other ranks as part of the general release benefits which took
effect from the date of the end of the war in Europe. I am, however,
looking further into this matter.
Does the right hon. Gentleman propose on reconsideration to take into
account the considerable feeling among officers whose leave commenced
before this date that they should receive a free issue of clothing?
I have not been very long in the War Office, and I have given all the
attention I could to personal matters affecting the soldiers, but when
my attention was drawn to this matter I made up my mind to have a
fresh look at the whole thing.
Is it not most unfair that officers who have been serving five years,
during which time moths have perhaps ruined their clothes, should not
have a free issue?
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HANSARD 1803–2005 →
Hooter Signals, Portsmouth
HC Deb 22 August 1945 vol 413 cc625-6W
Sir J. Lucas
asked the First Lord of the Admiralty if his attention has been called
to the fact that the use of air-raid sirens instead of bolls as time
signals in Ports-
626W mouth Dockyard is
causing great annoyance and distress to the citizens; and if he will
arrange for hooters of some other note to be installed instead.
Yes, Sir. Factory hooters will be used instead as soon as they can be
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HANSARD 1803–2005 →
Dockyard Workers (Release)
HC Deb 12 October 1945 vol 414 c557W
asked the First Lord of the Admiralty whether he will release the 438
building trade workers now working in His Majesty's dockyards as
dilutee shipwrights, in view of the urgent necessity for these men on
bomb-damage repairs and building of temporary and permanent houses in
All restrictions on the release of workmen of the shipbuilding and
engineering trades in the Royal dockyards were removed on 17th August
last. It follows, therefore, that any dilutee shipwrights in the
Dockyards who are building trade workers may take their discharge if
they so wish.
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HANSARD 1803–2005 →
9 October 1945
Written Answers (Commons)
Conscientious Objector (Treatment)
HC Deb 09 October 1945 vol 414 cc56-8W
asked the Secretary of State for War whether he has considered the
case of a conscientious objector, named Roy Woodward, now at the State
Hill Detention Barracks, Castleton, near Rochdale, particulars of
whose alleged treatment at these barracks have been sent on to him;
and whether he is prepared to have an investigation made into all the
circumstances of the case.
This case has been investigated and the facts are as follow: No.
97007722 Private Roy Woodward was registered as a Conscientious
Objector to do non-combatant duties by the Northern Appellate Tribunal
on 29th May, 1945, when he appeared on an appeal from the decision of
the local Tribunal that he should do full military service. He was
posted to the Non-Combatant Corps and was called up on 2nd August,
1945, on which date he reported to No. 12 Pioneer Corps Holding and
Training Unit, Prestatyn. On 14th August, 1945, he was tried and
convicted by Court-Martial on a charge of disobeying a lawful command,
namely, refusing to take a kitbag when ordered to do so. He was
sentenced to 56 days' detention and was admitted to No. 15 Military
Detention Barrack, Stakehill, Castleton, near Rochdale, to serve his
sentence. On admission, his civilian clothes were taken away from him,
in accordance with the rules prescribed for Military Detention
Barracks and Military Prisons. These rules provide that once a soldier
has been admitted to a Detention Barrack his plain clothes will be
taken away at the time of the medical inspection, and he will then be
dressed in uniform. Private Woodward was given his military clothing
to put on. This he refused to do, although efforts were made by the
Commandant, the Assistant-Commandant, and also by members of the
Staff, to induce him to change his mind.
Private Woodward's father called at the Detention Barrack and was
permitted to interview his son. It was hoped that he would succeed
where others had failed, but Private Woodward persisted in his
attitude and refused to put on any military clothing. For the sake of
decency and health he was dressed on several occasions by the Staff,
but immediately removed his clothing at the first opportunity, and
wore only a towel round his waist. The whole of the time during which
Private Woodward was dressed in a towel, military clothing was in his
room ready for him to put on.
On 1st September, 1945, Private Woodward was charged with a further
offence of disobedience, and was remanded for trial by Court Martial.
On 4th September he was allowed to dress in his civilian clothes and
was removed from the Detention Barrack to a military unit to await
trial. He was brought to trial on 17th September, 1945, and was
93 days'imprisonment without hard labour. This sentence will enable
him to appear again before the Appellate Tribunal for the purpose of
pleading his conscientious objection to military service, and
arrangements to that effect are now being made. He is at present in
custody at His Majesty's Prison, Strange ways, Manchester.
Whilst Private Woodward was in custody at No. 15 Military Detention
Barrack, he was treated with every possible consideration. He was
committed to the Detention Barrack concerned as a result of his
conviction by Court Martial for an offence against military
discipline, and on his admission to the Detention Barrack he
necessarily became subject to the rules and regulations applicable to
such establishments, which include the wearing of military uniform. He
was kept under observation by the Medical Officer who was consulted
throughout as to what steps were necessary in the interests of the
soldier's health. He was visited by his father twice and his mother
once, and his parents would have been permitted to visit him again on
9th September if he had remained at the Detention Barrack. In addition
he was granted an interview with a Quaker, Mr. Sutherland, on 29th
It will be appreciated that Private Woodward was sent into the Army on
a finding of the Appellate Tribunal, with full knowledge that that
course would involve the wearing of uniform. The military authorities,
both at the Court Martial of 14th August, in the matter of the
sentence awarded, and subsequently in the Detention Barracks, were
therefore justified in assuming that it was not unreasonable to
require Private Woodward to accept the consequences of the finding,
and he must himself be held responsible for the periods of time he
spent clad only in a towel, while his uniform was available to be put
Channel Islands Service
Noticed a typo?
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© UK Parliament
HC Deb 27 April 1933 vol 277 c258258
Sir BERTRAM FALLE
the First Lord of the Admiralty when the report of the Committee
presided over by Admiral Sir Frank Larken,
K.C.B., on the communications branches of the Royal Navy will be
The CIVIL LORD of the ADMIRALTY (Captain Euan
It is not the practice to publish the reports of Admiralty Committees
of this kind; and no reason is seen for departing from the rule in the
© UK Parliament
CUSTOMS OF LONG AGO which died out NOT THAT LONG AGO! anon
The customs of the Navy are so many, varied and ancient that we can
only touch lightly on them. Up to the present day we find that
coins are still put in a ship - often under the step of the mast when
she is built. The present Royal Yacht is a case in point.
This custom possibly dates from the Romans, who had a habit of placing
coins on the mouth of a person when being buried so that he might pay
his fare to Charon when ferried across the Styx.
Coins were possibly put
into ships so that in the event of sudden disaster those drowned would
at least have their passages prepaid.
One hears frequent references to Davy Jones
. This really is the Duffy or ghost of Jonah, Duffy
being an old English word for ghost.
The use of the Boatswain’s pipe
is almost lost in antiquity, but we know that the ancient galley
slaves of Greece and
kept stroke by the flute or whistle. The Pipe
or Call was
originally used as a badge of rank also and as such was worn by the
Lord High Admiral and known as the Whistle of Honour and was made of
gold and suspended from the neck by a gold chain. These officers
also carried a Whistle of Command , which was of silver, and
was used for passing orders and blown as a salute to certain
personages. It was enjoined that it should be blown on these
occasions “three several times.”
BOTELER’S DIALOGUES, 1624-85. Comdr. BOTELER, of the Stuart
period, has much to say concerning it; Shakespeare mentions it, and
Pepys makes a few remarks about it, and as we go back in history we
find continuous references to it. The first time I can find it
being used actually to pass an order was during the Crusade of 1248,
when the Cross-bowmen were piped to come on deck and engage the enemy.
In the action between LORD HOWARD, son of the Earl of Surrey, who, as
Lord High Admiral, was killed in action with the Chevalier PRECENT DE
BIDOUX on April 25th, 1513, off Brest, we are told that,
when he observed that his capture was imminent he threw his Lord High
Admiral’s whistle into the sea. His Whistle of Command was found
on his dead body.
At times the whistle seems to have been a somewhat weighty instrument.
I think it was HENRY VIII. who laid down the names of the parts
of the whistle, and the weight of the Whistle of Honour was put at 12
“Oons“ or ounces of gold, while the chain was to be of a
certain value of golden ducats. Unfortunately my records
concerning this were lost in 1914.
In the old days when Captains were frequently called onboard the
Flagship when at sea, and in weather too rough to permit of the use of
the sea gangways, it was customary for the Captain to enter and leave
his boat by means of a Bos’ns chair
on a yardarm whip, and he was
hoisted out and hoisted in, and the requisite orders were passed by
The present call for piping the side is, although much more drawn out,
very similar to the call used for “hoisting and walking away,” and as
it was ordained that the “Pipe” or “Call” should be blown as a form of
salute, I think the origin of piping the side dates from practice, as
it is customary for the Officer of the Watch even now if the Captain
is reported coming alongside to give the order Hoist him in,
notwithstanding the fact that the gangway may be available for use.
While speaking of Piping the Side
it may not be out of place to observe that this form of salute is
reserved expressly for certain persons and is an entirely nautical
honour. The relevant orders are laid down in K.R. and A.I., Art.
137 and appendix, and the actual calls used in H.M. Service are shown
in the latest Admiralty Seamanship Manual, Vol. 1., 1926, Appendix
No Military Officer, Consular Officer or other civilian is entitled to
this form of salute. By the Custom of the Service a corpse of
any Naval Officer or man is piped over the side if sent ashore for
“Admirals of Ports” and “Vice-Admirals of the Coast” are offices held
as sinecures, whose legal functions have been merged into either the
Admiralty or other Government department and whose rights were
abolished by the Municipal Corporations Act of 1835. These
officials, as such, are not entitled to be Piped over the Side of H.M.
Ships and they hold no Military Commissions.
At the funeral of the late QUEEN VICTORIA and KING EDWARD The Side was
piped as the coffin was lowered and at both funerals the Navy with a
gun carriage was responsible for the conveyance of that coffin during
the last part of the journey. I believe that this was due to the fact
that at the funeral of QUEEN VICTORIA the Artillery horses got somewhat
out of control and a Naval Field Gun’s crew was substituted. At Portsmouth there is kept a
special rubber-tyred limber which was used at the funeral Of KING
EDWARD and I believe is being kept expressly for State funerals.
The Blue Peter
has long been a sign that a ship was about to sail. and probably
derives its name from the French word “Partir” – to depart.
Admiral Cornwallis obtained his nickname of Billy Blue
from the fact that, on anchoring,
he generally hoisted the Blue Peter.
The drinking of healths in the Royal Navy has always been looked upon
as a ritual of some importance. It is hard to say with
exactitude what the toasts
were for every night of the week, but I give the following which were
told me by a very old officer as being in vogue in the days of Nelson:
Our ships at sea.
Ourselves (as no one is likely to concern themselves with our
A bloody war or a sickly season.
A willing foe and sea room.
Sweethearts and wives.
On Saturday night it is customary for the youngest member of the Mess
to be called upon to reply on behalf of “The Ladies.”
I cannot trace the exact date when the privilege of sitting to drink
the health of the Sovereign was accorded to the Navy. Some say
that it was WILLIAM IV. and others say it was Charles II., who on
returning to England
in 1660 on board the “Naseby,” which
had been re-christened the “Royal Charles,” bumped his head when
replying to a toast, and ever afterwards held Naval Officers excused
from rising on these occasions. To sit when drinking the
Loyal Toast is not permitted when the National Anthem is played.
This is in accordance with the ruling given by the late Marquis of
Milford Haven, on June 4th, 1914 [Lord Louis Mountbatten's
father] at which date he was First Sea Lord.
In the days when to be on short ration was not uncommon the following
graces before meat were sometimes used. Messing three among four
of us, thank God there weren’t more of us. This, of course,
inferred that the mess was on three-quarter rations. Messing
four among two of us, thank God there are but few of us, was used for
When a mess was forced to solely on the official ration and could not
supplement their stock of food from other sources it was referred to
as Being on bare Navy
In the Merchant Service the amount of food allowed to each man is
regulated by the “Board of Trade” and the Merchant Shipping Act, and
the quantity so allowed is termed The Board of Trade Whack
or Back Whack
The custom of imposing penalties for making a bet or mentioning a
lady’s name prior to the loyal toast was instituted so that argument
should not become heated nor quarrel take place while the proceedings
in the Mess were still formal.
Similarly a fine is imposed on anyone who draws a sword in the mess
without previously asking permission to do to. The object was to
avoid any hasty action, particularly in the days when duelling was
It is still considered bad manners to enter a strange mess while
wearing a sword, and was discountenanced in order that no aggrieved
party should come on board with the intention of forcing a quarrel at
A dispute between two men could often be amicably settled if these
precautions and customs were observed in accordance with the
instructions contained in K.R. & A.I. Act 512, where a unique
reference is made, namely, “Any officer who shall act as herein
denoted and consequently refuse to accept a challenge will be deemed
to have acted honourably and to have evinced a requisite obedience not
only to this order, but also to the pleasure of the King.”
WILLIAM IV. was the last holder of the title of Lord High Admiral,
which he held when Duke of Clarence, from May, 1827, to August 12th,
The origin of the motto, The King, God Bless Him, on the Grog Tub is
probably due to the fact that many men used to drink their tot as soon
as it was issued and toasted the Sovereign while doing so.
In H.M.S. Cadmus, in the summer of 1913 at Hankow, quinine was issued
three times a week. It was issued in a large bottle and the
cups were placed in a bowl of disinfectant on the capstan head.
The lower deck was then cleared and, commencing with the Captain
followed by the Officers and ship’s company, everyone took his tot and
toasted the King.
H.M.S. Cadmus and her sister, H.M.S. Clio, though built in 1903, were
fitted with hand capstans and hand wheels (aft under poop). They
each were allowed one musician in the scheme of complement for playing
when weighing or working cables.
It was often customary in the Army when quinine was issued daily on
certain stations for the regiment to parade and for the senior officer
to toast the Sovereign with his draught, thus ensuring that all
officers and men took their medicine out of loyalty if not out of
If no one partakes of the wine for the drinking of the Sovereign’s
health the Mess President is entitled to a glass Down to the Mess
, so that all may share in giving proof of their loyal sentiments.
No member other than guests may accept a glass of wine for this toast,
it being a point of honour to pay for it oneself.
It is still customary in the Army and in Royal Marine messes for the
President to remain seated until the last member has left the table,
and the decanters should be stoppered prior to The King and remain
unstoppered after The King as long as the President is sitting.
A President who leaves the table without either stoppering the
decanters or delegating his authority lays himself open to the
customary fine. In strictly conducted messes this custom is
observed in the Royal Navy. The reason for stoppering the decanters
prior to the Loyal Toast is to imply that it is solely for
this that the wine is provided and that it is no longer required after
all have filled their glasses.
In former times the Officers of H.M. Yachts were messed by the
Board of the Green Cloth
, which is actually the Lord Steward’s Department. When this
custom was done away with a sum of 6/- per diem was paid by the Board
in lieu of messing. This was changed to 5/- per diem when H.M.
was afloat, then to 3/-per diem, then to 3/- per diem and 2/- for
Warrant Officers when the Standard was flying, and in this form it
still exists today.
The Officers serving in H.M. Yachts make a practice of standing when
drinking the Loyal Toast. I understand that this is merely to
emphasise the honoured distinction of serving in the Royal Yachts
The Records of the Board of Green Cloth at Headquarters do not go back
beyond 1895 and consequently without reference to earlier records
elsewhere it can only be stated that the Allowance has been paid
continuously at the latter rates since that time, although it is known
to be of much earlier origin.
was first paid to Military Messes to Royal Marine Messes ashore in the
early part of 19th Century, probably during the Regency at the end of
the reign of KING GEORGE III., and was instituted in order to meet the
high cost of wine. It survived under the official designation of
Mess Allowance at the rate of £6 per annum per officer until 1919,
when it was abolished in consequence of the improved rates of pay then
granted to Officers of the Fighting Forces. The Allowance is
referred to in Article 536 of the Army Allowance Regulations, 1914.
In pre-war times £6 per annum (approx. 4d. per night) just sufficed
for a glass of No. 2 Port.
I have been Informed by French Officers that for many years, even up
to 1917, it was the custom in the French Navy to drink to the health
of the Little black ship, which they assured me was the “Monmouth,” in
order to mark their appreciation of the gallantry displayed by this
ship, although I cannot state definitely which occasion is referred
to. Callender states that in his opinion it was the Battle of Granada,
1779, between BYRON and d’ESTAING, when the “Monmouth,” together with
the “Suffolk,” made a most
determined attempt on the head of the French battle fleet in order to
ensure the escape of a British convoy. Professor Callender’s ruling on
this subject is of interest, but I seem to remember that my French
friends stated that the incident did not occur in a general fleet
action, and I think it possible that it may date from the action
between the “Monmouth,” 64-gun ship, and the “Foudroyant,” of 84 guns,
on February 28th. 1758, when Captain Gardiner was killed in action and
the “Foudroyant” actually surrendered to Lieutenant Carkett, his First
Lieutenant. The “Foudroyant” at this time was considered the
finest ship in the French service. The action took place between
Toulon and Cartagena. Professor Callender is
supported in his opinion by Fraser in his book “Famous Fighters of the
The late Marquis of Milford Haven, when First Sea Lord prior to the
War, drew attention to the fact in Admiralty Orders that, although the
Navy had the priviilege of sitting when honouring the Loyal Toast
, they did not have the privilege of sitting when the National Anthem
was played. In order to retain the privilege many ships did
not play the Anthem. The First Sea Lord, from his position, had
the strongest grounds for drawing attention to this matter, and it is
well understood that these orders are in strict accordance with His
Majesty’s wishes and with the Custom of the Service. The order
was dated June 4th. 1914, and read, “The underlying idea is that
whenever the Anthem is played, when the king’s Health is proposed,
everyone stands up. If it is not played, people remain seated.”
In fact, the admiralty from time to time since 1914 have brought out
most stringent regulations ordering that everybody should stand on all
occasions when the National Anthem was heard, but our prerogative of
sitting whilst drinking the Sovereign’s health has never been
REGULATIONS AND INSTRUCTIONS
RELATING TO HIS MAJESTY’S SERVICE AT SEA
Established by His Majesty in Council. The 13th Edition.
PRINTED IN THE YEAR 1790
When any Persons of Quality, or of a Publick Character, embark on
board any of His Majesty’s Ships, they may be saluted at their coming
on board, and also at their departure, with the following Number of
A Duke, or Ambassador with 15 Guns.
Other Publick Ministers, or Persons of Quality, with 11 guns or less,
according to their Degree of Quality.
Nothing in the foregoing Article is to be understood to restrain
Commanders in their respect to any of the Royal Family, who are to be
saluted by Guns, at the Discretion of the Commander in Chief.
The anniversary Days of the Birth, Accession, and Coronation of the
King, of the Birth of the Queen, of the Restoration of King Charles
the Second, and of Gun-Powder Treason, shall be solemnized by
His Majesty’s Ships, if they are in Port, with such a number of Guns
as the Chief Officer shall think proper, not exceeding Twenty-one each
Salutes of all sorts and descriptions are as old as history.
Ships’ salutes in the days of sail were carried out by striking or
lowing topsails, by letting fly sheets, and by the firing of guns.
Mr. Pepys informs us of how, when the news of KING CHARLES’
declaration came to the Fleet in the Downs, “The General began to fire
his guns, which he did, all that he had in the ship, and so did the
rest of the Commanders, which was very gallant, and to hear the
bullets go hissing over our heads as we were in the boat.” The
firing of guns in the olden times was responsible for a most prodigal
waste of ammunition and the practice has been greatly curtailed.
Dressing ship and
manning ship is as old
as the time of Queen Elizabeth, and the ceremony of receiving a Royal
Personage, as described by Commander Nathaniel Boteler in the reign of
CHARLES I., is almost exactly the same as that prescribed in the
present year of Grace.
The ship salute
is said to have been enforced in the
Seas by Kings ALFRED and
EDGAR. King JOHN certainly issued a decree that it was to be
Professor Callender states that the demand for the salute in the Narrow Seas
cannot historically he conceded prior to EDWARD I., who claimed both
sides of the Channel and consequently the intervening sea.
King JOHN was also “Duke of Normandy” and would therefore appear to
have as good claim to both sides of the Channel, even though he was
responsible for losing much of our French possessions.
It is noteworthy that in the Channel Islands - which alone remain to
us of our former possessions in France - His Majesty is still
officially referred to as “Le Roi notre Duc” - the King our
We find that on May 2nd. 1635, My Lords were most careful to emphasize
the necessity for enforcing the old decree and they lay great stress
on the matter, and also to the keeping of order in the Narrow Seas.
I refer to the Admiralty Letter to the Earl of Lindsey.
The Dutch formally conceded the salute in 1673.
The instructions on this subject were embedded in the King’s
Regulations up to the Trafalgar period, when they were somewhat
modified and non-compliance was to be reported and not enforced by
shot of gun as hitherto. There was a special clause in the
treaty of Westminster, April 5th,
1654, that the ships of the United Provinces were to accord the salute
in British Seas (end of first Dutch War).
The fact of shortening sail or letting fly sheets inferred that the
person saluting was willing to place his ship at a disadvantage in the
matter of speed, and the firing of guns denoted the fact that he was
temporarily unarmed on account of the time taken in those days to
reload the cannons.
The insistence by British vessels of the Flag being saluted led to the
Dutch War. In May, 1652, off the Start, and on June 8th. 1673,
off the Lizard, our claim to the salute by Dutch men-o’-war was
enforced by action. On the early occasion the Captain of the
“Dreadnought”, one, Henry Straddling, went so far as to lodge the
Dutch Rear Admiral’s Flagship in
Port for the neglect of
what Straddling considered to be his duty.
In retaliation for the incident of 1652 Tromp was so infuriated that
he flaunted his flag off
and attacked Admiral BLAKE, and after these preliminaries the Dutch
Nowadays, though there are no written regulations stating that
merchant ships shall dip
to British men-o’-war, the
Admiralty consider that this an act of courtesy, and in accordance
with A.F.O. 172/29 desire that the non-observance of this custom by
British Merchant ships shall be reported to My Lords.
On entering a foreign port in the days of sail, after a salute to the
Country and the Governor had been fired, it was customary to run up
the jib, or loose, hoist, or let fall the foretopsail at the first
gun, and furl or pick it up on completion., or if topsails or
topgallant sails were set (as the old expression was), to “veil” them
when saluting any Sea Officer or the Admiral of the Port. This
privilege was not accorded to dignitaries who were not connected with
Many high dignitaries were compelled, by cannon shot, to salute the
English flag in various sea. Among others may be mentioned King
Phillip of Spain when visiting Queen Mary in
1554; the King of Denmark when returning from visiting King James I.;
a Portuguese Ambassador, and numerous ships of war, the Commanding
Officers of which were in some cases tried in the
Admiralty Court and their ships were
detained during the proceedings.
Saluting the Quarterdeck
I myself do not believe originated due to the belief that there was
originally a crucifix there, as we find that in former days when the
Quarterdeck was saluted it was customary for all Officers present
there to return the salute by uncovering, and this leads me to think
that it was not the crucifix that was saluted, but the fact that the
Quarterdeck was the seat of authority and the position nearest to
which the King’s colours were displayed. This, however, is a
matter on which I am prepared to be convinced. I do not think
that any custom which was based on saluting the crucifix would have
survived the many religious upheavals to which the country was
SIR JOHN JERVIS made it a practice, even when addressing an inferior
rank, always to remain uncovered.
instituted the salute in the Navy as opposed to uncovering.
The occasion being when she sent for certain Officers and men to
Osborne to thank them for rendering help to a distressed German ship
and did not like to see men in uniform standing uncovered.
The personal salute with the hand, although borrowed from the Army, is
full of interest and various theories have been evolved concerning its
origin. There is the usual theory that it has been the custom
from time immemorial for a junior to uncover to a superior, and even
to-day men in the Brigade of Guards remove their caps instead of
saluting when wearing fatigue dress. The holders of this theory
maintain that the present salute is merely the first motion of
removing one’s head dress. It was introduced into the Navy in
1890, but during the war a large number of old retired officers were
in the habit of doffing their head gear instead of saluting, this, of
course, being the method to which they were accustomed.
In a book called “New Art of War,” printed in 1740, it is stated that
“When the King or Captain General is being saluted each Officer is to
time his salute so as to pull off his hat when the person he salutes
is almost opposite him.”
Another tradition is that the salute and its return were given as
mutual tokens of trust and respect, so that when two armed men met
they raised their visors, thus laying themselves open to attack.
The old head dress being clumsy and not easily removed, the
preliminary movement of the salute was considered sufficient.
That the hand is kept open is probably a relic of very ancient times
and denotes that no weapon is concealed therein.
The salute with the left hand was abolished in the Navy in the year
1923, so as to bring our customs into line with our Allies and also to
conform to the practice in vogue in the Indian Army. Both on the
Continent and among Indian and African troops a salute given with the
left hand was considered a gross insult.
The Salute with the Sword
is undoubtedly of very ancient
origin, but there are certainly two schools of thought concerning it.
Some hold that it is of Crusader origin and that the position of the
“Recover” is symbolical of the act of religious homage wherein the
cross hilt of the sword was kissed as representing the crucifix, and
that the holding of the sword at arm’s length represents the hailing
or acknowledging of the leader, and the sinking of the point to the
ground betokens an act of submission to superior authority. The
other school only differ, I believe, regarding the origin of the
“Recover” position and affirm that it is derived from the Oriental
custom (still existing) of shading the eyes from the magnificence of
I cannot say which belief is more correct, but the latter was, I
believe, that which was taught some years ago at the Royal Military
Training Colleges for Officers.
It is noteworthy that the only straight-bladed cross-hilted swords
still in use in the Services are those of the Scottish Archers,
undress swords of the Highland Regiments, Midshipmen’s dirks and
When an Officer is tried by Court Martial, prior to the judgment of
the Court being delivered, his sword is placed on the table so as to
have the point towards the prisoner if he has been found guilty and
with the hilt towards him if he has been found not guilty.
This custom is the equivalent of the old practice on shore where the
executioner, carrying his headsman’s axe, immediately preceded the
accused on his return from the Court to the prison and in order to
demonstrate the judgment of the Court turned the edge of the axe
towards or away from the prisoner, depending on whether sentence of
death had been passed or not.
When decapitation ceased to be the extreme penalty in
and was superseded by death by hanging it was at one time the custom
for the executioner to tie together the wrists and thumbs of the
prisoner by means of a short cord in order to intimate to the public
that the prisoner was under sentence of death. In the event of
an acquittal the hands were left free.
A Rogue’s Salute
or One Gun Salute is the
signal gun fired to denote that a Court Martial is about to assemble
to try a case under the Naval Discipline Act. If the Court
assembles on board one of H.M. ships the Union Flag is flown at the
peak halliards while the Court is sitting. In olden times it was
customary to fire this signal gun in order to muster the hands of all
ships in company to witness a yard-arm execution. A yellow flag
was hoisted at the same time and kept flying until the sentence had
been carried out.
When Keelhauling was recognised as a punishment a single gun
(sometimes shotted) was fired over the head of the delinquent as he
emerged from the sea “In order to astonish and confound him.” Due to
the severity of the punishment this additional discomfort would appear
to have been unnecessary, as the unfortunate culprit had in all
likelihood lost consciousness.
The practice of receiving senior Officers and others on entering a
ship is very ancient and used to be attended with much pomp and
ceremony. In fact, at one time, no matter what hour of the day
or night the Captain returned to his ship, all Officers were expected
to attend to welcome him, notwithstanding, as one quaintly remarks in
his memoirs, “ Though he should be drunk as a beggar.”
As a rule the sea gangways were used by junior Officers in harbour and
by everyone at sea, weather permitting, the accommodation ladders and
entry ports being barred in. It is curious to find, even as late
as 1914, that ships still existed with the second or third step of the
sea gangway made longer than the remainder. This was to enable the man
ropes to be held out to the person boarding the ship by two men
specially stationed on the long step for this purpose. The step
being extra long, these men were clear of the gangway and the
expression Manning the Side
became a literal fact.
Articles 922 and 923 of K.R. & A.I. lay down the orders for the
conduct of a junior Officer in command meeting with a senior Officer
in command, and direct that “Providing the state of the weather admit,
he is to wait on such senior Officer, to show all the orders which are
not secret that he is acting under, and inform him of the state and
condition of the ship or ships under his orders, etc., etc.”
In accordance with these regulations it is customary and good manners
for the junior Officer to ask the senior Officer’s permission “To
proceed in execution of previous orders” should the meeting take place
at sea and the junior be on detached service. In harbour
the junior Officer is expected to enquire at what time it will be
convenient for him to wait on his superior and then make a formal
visit at the time specified.
The junior enters a boat first and leaves it last so that the seniors
shall not be in any way incommoded or wetted, as so often happens when
lying alongside in rough weather.
A Merchant ship in need of hands used to hoist a bucket, but this
custom is now seldom if ever seen. A man who desired to quit the
ship used, I believe, in the Merchant Service to hang his shirt,
tail-up, in the forerigging, and his exit would be arranged at a price
by a shore boatman. I have also heard that a sea boot displayed in a
like manner had the came signification.
The hoisting of a broom is to this day common on the east coast of England and in most North Sea
Countries as an indication that a change of ownership of a vessel is
about to or has very recently taken place. In
Russia, round the White Sea,
it is a signal that there is a holiday, or “Prasnik” - a matter of
frequent occurrence when Vodka was obtainable.
I think it possible that TROMP hoisted his broom to signalise the
capture of either the “Garland” or the
“Bonaventure” off Dungeness on November 15th, 1652, when BLAKE was
defeated. Regarding TROMP and his broom, the Dutch most
emphatically state that the alleged incident is not compatible with
his character and they are inclined therefore to discredit this story.
BLAKE hoisting the whip and thus originating the pendant may, I think,
also be regarded as a myth, as pendants
were authorised by law about the middle of the 14th Century.
While on the subject of pendants, it might be pointed out that until
quite recently an Admiral’s flag was flown by the senior sailing
trawler of particular fleets in the North Sea.
He was always known as the “Admiral”, and his motions and orders were
most implicitly carried out by means of a well recognised code of
signals. His fleet sometimes consisted of as many as 150 to 250
ships, but with the era of the steam trawler this custom began to die
out and is now almost extinct, although it existed as recently as the
“Dogger Bank Incident,” caused by the Russian Baltic Fleet, October
Ships in mourning are those which make their appearance as slovenly
as possible, and the half-masting of flags is a relic of this.
To be slovenly in a appearance has been a sign of grief from the
earliest times, and there are many Biblical references to this
practice. In the Merchant Service it is customary to leave
ropes’ ends trailing and yards scandalised. I think that the
last occasion that one of H.M. ships scandalised her yards as a sign
of mourning was when H.M.S. Exmouth carried out this procedure in 1908
when laying off Lisbon after the murder of
Don Carlos, King of Portugal. H.M.S. Exmouth was commanded by
Captain Arthur Henniker-Hughan and was flying the flag of Admiral The
Hon. Sir Assheton George Curzon-Howe, K.C.B. H.M.S. Arrogant was
also present and, for lack of known precedent, yards were cockbilled,
mainmast down to starboard, foremast down to port, lower booms were
dropped. “Arrogant” copied “Exmouth” and the condition prevailed
from 0800 with a gun fired every 15 minutes until “Sunset.”
Admiral G. A. Ballard, in a letter to the Society for Nautical
Research (“Mariners’ Mirror,” Vol. XIV. No.4. Oct.,1930) confirms that
this practice was carried out at Tientsin in 1894 when he was the first Lieutenant of
H.M.S. “Linnet.” The occasion was the death of the Czar
ALEXANDER III., and the following ships were present: H.M.S. “Linnet,”
the Russian “Sivoutch,” the German “Wolf,” the French “Comete,” and
the American “Monacacy.” The procedure followed was
commenced at 8 o’clock in the morning and the motions of the Russian
ship were followed by all ships present.
Colours were first hoisted, then halfmasted and the order “Top Away”
was given simultaneously in all ships, and yards on the fore were
topped to starboard and those on the main to port. No ship
present had yards on the mizzen and, although all ships acted in the
same manner, no pre-concerted arrangement had been come to.
Braces were kept fast and no gaffs were lowered.
On the fourth morning afterwards, when colours were hoisted at 8 a.m.,
the order “Square Away” was given in like manner in all ships, and as
a spectacle it was most effective. Sail tackles were hooked to
the topmast heads to get a sufficient angle for the lower yards.
H.M.S. “Linnet” had no yards on the main as she was rigged as a three-masted
brigantine, so only the yards on the fore were topped in the manner
The American “Monocacy,” being a pole-rigged paddler, dressed ship
with half-masted Russian and American colours.
Until recently it was the practice (even within my memory) that a
volley should be fired at sunset, at which time the colours are
lowered when in harbour. The privilege of firing this gun is
only enjoyed today by certain Commodores and Flag Officers, and the
old expression which was used on hearing the evening gun fired was the
Commodore has fallen down the main hatch , or, in other words,
his day’s work was finished. This is connected with the custom
of firing an evening gun, which some say was meant as a sign of
defiance to the enemy, while others affirm that it was to ensure a dry
priming and charge being in the gun prior to nightfall. It has
always been strictly enjoined by regulations, which still exist, that
ensigns or flags should not be kept abroad during windy weather nor at
times when they could not be clearly discerned. During the hours
when colours are not formally displayed in harbour they are
temporarily hoisted when British or Foreign men-o’-war or ships of
importance approach or leave the anchorage.
There is a curious incident in connection with the colours at sunset
which for many years was practised at Gibraltar.
During one of the sieges of Gibraltar the Queen of Spain, a most
devout Roman Catholic, made a vow that she would sit in a chair on a
spot still known as the “Queen of Spain’s Chair” until she saw the
English Colours over Gibraltar hauled down. The English General,
on hearing this, and not wishing to incommode the lady, and as he had
no intention of surrendering, ordered that the colours should be
dipped five minutes before sunset. I have seen this done many times to
the “Jack” which used to fly on “King’s Bastion,” although I have
never seen it practised since the War.
Two other customs at Gibraltar which have fallen into disuse are,
firstly, the salute by all parties of men, armed and unarmed, when
passing the Trafalgar Cemetery, and the other, the locking up of the
Fortress at night with a guard and band everybody in the street
raising his hat or saluting as the King’s keys passed. The custom of
saluting the King’s keys is still carried out in the Tower of London
and is the only occasion, I believe, when the Guard is permitted to
talk in the ranks, not being a Divine Service. The keys being
delivered up, the Officer in charge says “God save the King” to which
the Guard reply “Amen.”
Naval Officers on full pay have the right to seize certain ensigns if
flown by unauthorised persons when afloat. The ensign so seized
is forfeit to His Majesty and the delinquent is also liable to a heavy
The Lord Mayor of the City of London is
still by appointment the Admiral of the
Notwithstanding this, the Navy is not permitted without asking special
permission to march through the precincts of the City with fixed
bayonets, nor with any colours displayed. The Royal Marines have
this privilege, which dates from the 18th Century. It happened
in the year 1746 that a detachment of Marines were beating for
recruits in Cheapside. A
Magistrate of the City approached the Officer and required him to
cease beating the drum, as no soldiers were allowed to interrupt the
civil repose. The Captain commanding the Marines immediately
said: “Sir. We are Marines.” “Oh, sir,” replied the Alderman.
“I beg your pardon. I didn’t know it. Pray continue your route
as you please.”
I think the only regiments entitled to this privilege are the
Grenadiers, the “Buffs,” or East Kent Regiment, the Royal Marines, and
the 6th Battalion Royal Fusiliers, and (prior to the war) this
privilege was, as regards the Household Regiments, confined to the 3rd
Battalion Grenadier Guards, and also to the H.A.C. This is as
reported by Mr. Adrian Polloch, Remembrancer to the City of London (and I refer the
curious to the R.U.S.I. Journal, Number 470, of May, 1923).
The Broad Arrow is a Government mark which dates from the reign of
Queen Elizabeth, and is the cognizance
of Lord de L’Isle, the First Lord Commissioner of Ordnance in the
reign of that Sovereign.
CHARLES I., in 1627, ordered all muskets, cannons and weapons for sea
service to be marked with “ C. R.” and an anchor. Our guns to this day
bear the Royal Crown and motto of the Garter. The Foul Anchor or
Sailor’s Disgrace was the badge of Lord Howard of Effingham.
TRINITY HOUSE, whose ships have the privilege of flying the White
Ensign when escorting the Sovereign (conferred by Admiralty Letter of
June 21st, 1894), is an institution founded by “Sir Thomas Spurt,
Knyte,” Controller of the Navy to HENRY V11I. It was he who founded
the Yards of Woolwich and Deptford. He also was in command of the
“Henri Grace A Dieu” or Great Harry. TRINITY HOUSE up to a recent date
examined in Navigation those aspiring to become Masters in the Royal
The Royal Yacht Squadron also have the privilege of flying the White
Ensign by authority of Admiralty Warrant of June 6th, 1829. There are
no regulations about Royal Yacht Squadron ships dipping to H.M. Ships,
but those who have good manners invariably do so.
In the days when livestock was carried onboard it was natural that the
Captain should be careful to select the tit-bits for his own table,
and I think we can say that this originated the custom of demanding a
cask of tongues on commissioning from the Victualling Yard. This
practice lapsed when meat cards were introduced during the War.
The taking off of the hat by a rating is merely a mark of respect to a
superior and is still carried out at inspections, or when he appears
either as a defaulter or even for investigation before a superior
Officer. The fact that it is laid down in the regulations that this
should be done, even if only for investigation, I think proves that in
no sense was it meant to lower a man in his own estimation or in that
of others. Strangely enough, the same custom exists to a certain
extent in the Brigade of Guards. In the Italian Navy it is customary
for the boat’s crew to remove their hats when the Captain boards or
leaves his galley.
It is only about 80 or so years since women ceased to be carried in
men-o’-war, and it was Queen Victoria who ordered this practice to be
discontinued. In the old days when no leave was given, the ship was
invaded by crowds of women on her arrival in harbour and any man was
free to choose as his fancy dictated. Officers were very jealous of
the reputation of their ships, and not infrequently those women
thought by the Officer of the Watch not to attain the standard of
beauty considered essential were ignominiously returned to the shore.
The boatmen at the Naval Ports were careful in their selection of the
cargo they wished to import, as it was customary for women to
stipulate that unless they were accepted they would not pay for their
Scenes of profligacy and debauchery used to take place on the gun
decks of our man-o’-war. The gangway however, had to be kept free and
it was in the space between the guns that these scenes occurred.
Hence, to call a man a Son of a Gun was equivalent to casting doubts
on the legitimacy of his parentage. An old definition of a
man-o’-war’s man was that he was Begotten in the galley and born under
a gun. Every hair a rope yarn, every tooth a marlin spike, every
finger a fid hook, and his blood, right good
An Officer in the Fleet has informed me that when his grandfather was
commanding a brig off the Spanish coast in about 1835 he made the
following entry in his diary: “This day the Surgeon informed me that a
woman onboard had been labouring in child for twelve hours and if I
could see my way to permit the firing of a broadside to leeward nature
would be assisted by the shock. I complied with the request and
she was delivered of fine male child.”
I think I may say that this is one of the few occasions on which
Gunnery Officers of the Navy can truthfully claimed to have achieved a
satisfactory result without hitting the target.
On another occasion we hear that practice with the great guns was
discontinued at the request of an Officer, as there was a woman
onboard in such a condition that it was feared that the shock might
prove detrimental to her
A Wet Christmas
was a thing to shock the least
susceptible, and the Officers as a whole wisely kept clear so as not
to excite the men who were entirely out of control.
It was not uncommon to find several men and sometimes women dead when
discipline was again enforced, and I think from these orgies dates the
practice of permitting the harmless buffoonery which still exists and
which includes the custom of the junior and senior ratings exchanging
clothes and duties.
The origin of the call of the morning to Show a Leg dates from
the time when women were carried and those who thrust out a leg or a
Purser’s stocking were exempt from turning out until Guard and
Steerage ; nor did the old cry of Out or down there , which
prefaced the call, ever affect them and which meant that if they did
not turn out summarily they would immediately be cut down.
The Service hammock is suspended and spread by cords which are known
as clews , and the expression So and so is going to fit
double clews is undoubtedly derived from the practice of women
being carried in ships, but nowadays means that a man is about to
There is an old story related by Captain Glasscock in 1826 of a sailor
who asked leave to marry and when it was pointed out by a Lieutenant
that the woman was a most notorious harlot he replied that it did not
matter and that when he came into port and found the good lady aboard
some other ship he proposed to shove alongside and claim her as his
own. History does not relate whether his request was granted.
It was not uncommon in the old days for a body of women 500 strong to
march across country to join up again with a ship which had proceeded
from one port to another. Only a few privileged persons were permitted
to take their wives to sea. The remainder of the so‑called “wives,”
whether permanent or “acting,” were ejected before sailing.
The Sergeant‑Major’s duties regarding the reporting of “chronometers
wound” I am unable to trace but I have always been led to believe that
the Sergeant‑Major, having nothing whatever to do with the routine of
the ship beyond setting the Guard, was more likely to remember this
most important detail than anybody else.
The custom of hoisting the ensign of a prize inferior to one’s own one
is unable to place definitely as its conception. The French had the
custom of hoisting a captured ships ensign reversed, and in Admiral
Saumarez action with Admiral Liniois on July 6th, 1801, off Algeciras,
when the British ship “HANNIBAL” was captured, it was not realised
that she had struck as it was thought that the ensign reversed was a
sign of distress and the barge of H.M.S. “VENERABLE” in going to her
assistance was also captured.
In 1915 when bringing in the German trawler “WURTZBURG” I hoisted the
White Ensign superior to the German but this was not understood by the
fishing boats I met off the Yorkshire coast and with whom I was
anxious to communicate, and, as they told me afterwards, they thought
it was “Ruse de guerre.”
It will be remembered that the first Lieutenant of the “SHANNON” in
her action with the “CHESAPEAKE” was killed due to the “SHANNON”
re‑opening fire because he accidentally hoisted the Stars and Stripes
superior to the British Ensign. It is therefore evident that this
signal of victory was the only one in our Service which formerly was
The incident of the “HANNIBAL” may be explained
by the fact that the capture of a British battleship by the French
was such a rare occasion that very few knew what procedure to expect.
The custom of Evening Quarters which is still with us
originated when before dark every ship, according to the degree of
readiness required, prepared for night action. We might note that even
to‑day the bugle call for Evening Quarters and that for General
Quarters or Action is precisely the same with the exception of the
additional “G’s” sounded. There was an A.F.O. which stated that the
call for “Divisions” is to be used at Evening Quarters, and that
formerly used for this purpose is to be used only at General Quarters
or Action. This order is seldom now observed.
In the old days they were very wary when preparing for action because
of the danger attending the handling of loose powder. The following,
some of which has its counterpart now in our Magazine Regulations, was
the ordinary routine when preparing for action.
Partitions to cabins and all movable gear liable to splinter was
dismantled and struck down or thrown overboard. Frieze cloths
were wetted and hung on all approaches to the magazines and cartridge
rooms. The cartridges were handed through a hole in the screens, while
the magazines were lighted by reflected light from behind thick
bull‑eyes. The powder boys had instructions to carry the cartridges
under their jackets and were the only people with the exception of the
Master‑at Arms who were permitted to descend below the gun decks
during action. Midshipmen were stationed at the top of the hatches
where the gratings had been tripped with special instructions to
pistol anyone who attempted to contravene these orders and escape
They were fully aware of the importance of splinters, and it was
customary when going into close action to reduce the charges in the
guns so that the shot would have a less penetrating but more
The insides of the gun decks and the scupper ways were painted red so
that blood stains should not be so noticeable. Women who were onboard
were generally employed in the cockpit or magazines. It was the duty
of the Master‑at-Arms continually to do the rounds and to note the
expenditure of ammunition and keep tally of the casualties.
The table in the Midshipmen’s berth was used as an operating table.
Anaesthetics were unknown and insensibility to pain was produced by
All gear that could be was sent down from aloft. Preventers and extra
yard slings were rigged and screens of red cloth known as Top armings
to hide the riflemen were placed round the top. Nelson deprecated this
practice, but it was always used by the French and, as is well known,
it was from the maintop of the “REDOUTABLE” that Nelson received his
Hammocks were lashed over shrouds in the chains and other places where
covering protection was deemed to be necessary. Boarders were
detailed from the guns’ crews and sail trimmer, and actually worked at
their guns armed for boarding. It was customary in some ships to have
the decks wetted and whatever sails were not in use were rolled up
tight and wetted.
Sir ALEXANDER BALL, when in the Battle
of the Nile
onboard the “ALEXANDER,” owes the safety of his ship to his foresight
in carrying out these precautions against fire, as a large part of the
“ORIENT” fell onboard “ALEXANDER” when the former blew up. The
“ALEXANDER” caught on fire, but it was quickly extinguished. Broke of
the “ SHANNON
“ also followed this example with good effect.
The Master‑at‑Arms was responsible in olden times for the training of
the men in the use of small arms and for noting the expenditure of
ammunition in action. Subsequently the former duty was performed by
the Master‑at‑Arms under the supervision of the junior Lieutenant. In
more modern times the Master‑at‑Arms has been entirely relieved of
this part of his duties.
The Master‑at‑Arms is today known as the Jaunty , which is
believed to be a corruption of the French word “Gendarme,” which
became John Damme and thus Jaunty. The Master‑at‑Arms has a
staff of Petty Officers to assist him who are now called Regulating
Petty Officers, but prior to 1913‑14 were known as Ship’s Corporals.
They carry out the duties of ship’s police and, from the fact that
formerly they occupied their time in searching for (as opposed
to preventing) crime, they became known on the lower deck as Crushers.
To give some idea of the expenditure of ammunition in a heavy action
we may mention that at the bombardment of
the British Fleet expended 118 tons of powder, 50,000 shot and 1,000
10” shells in about 9 hours. The “Queen” at the “Glorious First of
June” used 25 tons of powder and 6o tons of shot. This was equal
to 130 broadsides.
In action those who were very grievously wounded or killed were
bundled through a port. Those who died after the action were buried in
the ordinary manner at sea, although in the French Service it was
customary to bury the dead in the ballast. I do not know whether this
was due to superstition or for what reason. I imagine that this custom
is the origin of the expression to show someone Where the dead
Marine was buried , in other words an impossible place to find in
the bowels of the ship.
Whistling in a man-o’-war has always been most strongly discouraged
for obvious reasons, but custom ordains that the Cook of the Mess
shall whistle when engaged in stoning plums or prunes to mix in the
duff, as this shows that he is not stowing his own hold to the
detriment of the rest of his messmates.
Up to 1690 at the launching of a ship her health was drunk from a
silver cup which was after use thrown into the sea, but this was
discontinued as a measure of economy.
Up to 1811 a ship was always launched by a Royal Personage or a
Dockyard Commissioner, but in 1811 the Prince Regent instituted the
practice of a lady performing the ceremony. The religious service now
held at a launch of a man-o’-war was, I believe, instituted about 1875
at the launch of the Tug “Perseverance” in Devonport Yard. The
institution of the service is generally ascribed to the
representations of Admiral King Hall.
At night five minutes after the watch on deck changes one soft stroke
is given on the ship’s bell as a sign for the new watch to muster.
This is always called Little One Bell . A Little One Bell
relief is a particularly unpopular person as he is so called owing to
his habitual lateness in taking over the watch.
Striking the Bells and Dog Watches
. It is noticeable in British ships that the hour of 1830
or 6.30 P.m. is denoted by the striking of one bell. I believe
in olden days it was the custom to strike five bells at half past six
in the last dog watch, but the present practice was instituted after
the mutiny at the Nore, owing to the striking of five bells being the
signal for the commencement of the mutiny on May 13th, 1797.
Foreigners still carry out the old routine, but I am led to believe
that a certain number are more or less falling into line with our
The nautical day is divided into watches of four hours’ duration,
except for the period of 4p.m. to 8p.m. (1600 hours to 2000 hours)
which is split into two watches of two hours duration each.
As the ship’s company used normally to be organised in two watches
(Port and Starboard) it followed that a man would always have the same
periods of duty unless one of the watches was split. The 4p.m.
to 8p.m. period was accordingly split and the watches are known as The
First Dog Watch and The Last Dog Watch. The team is probably derived
from Dodge Watch.
The expression Second dog watch is never used at sea. I do not think
that the pun of the dog watch being a watch ‘Cur-tailed’ has any
bearing on the term.
The points of the compass card are of very early origin.
The very ancient charts had a Wind rose marked on them, and the French
still use the term “Rose des Vents” to mean a compass.
The early navigators worked chiefly in the
Mediterranean and naturally marked the card with the
letters designating terms familiar to them. Thus North became “T” for
Tramontana, and this letter subsequently became converted into a
spear-headed symbol and finally into a “Fleur-de-lis,” though there
are some who affirm that the emblem represents a lotus flower and that
it is of Oriental origin.
Burials at Sea
. When sewing the corpse up in an old hammock or piece of
canvas it is usual to put the last stitch through the nose of the
deceased. I have heard that this is done in order to avoid any
chance of launching the body overboard while in a state of catalepsy,
the shock of having a stitch passed through the nose being considered
sufficient to bring the patient back to life. I can find no
regulations in support of the custom, but for very many years it was
usual for the man who did the sewing up of the corpse to be paid a
guinea a body. On board H.M.S. “CASTOR” after the Battle of Jutland
the sum of twenty‑three guineas was paid out from the public funds to
the rating who officiated in this respect. This was vouched for by an
officer who was present.
“While serving as first Lieutenant of H.M.S. ‘LEGION’ we had occasion
to bury three dead Germans and I well remember that my upper check
Petty Officer did his best to cajole three guineas out of me, but was
met with the remark that I had no cash to spare for live Bosches and
certainly did not propose to chuck any away on dead ones and that he
had better make an official request through the Captain. The
above‑mentioned Bosches were killed in the action of October 17th.
1914.” In the olden days there were celebrations similar to those on
“Crossing the Line” when crossing the 30th parallel and on entering
the Straits of Gibraltar.
The Vikings put their novices at sea through some very strenuous
ordeals with a view to proving them and the customs referred to
probably originated with them. All initiates had to vow to do the same
The custom of having prayers onboard H.M. Ships is of great
antiquity and in BLAKE’S time it was usual to sing hymns and psalms at
the changing of the watches. In the 17th and 18th Centuries it was
usual in go to prayers prior to commencing an action (e.g., Lord HOWE
on June 1st. 1741, at 0730 hove to and went to breakfast and prayers
before engaging the enemy).
H.M. Ships have carried fishing appliances for many years, and in the
earliest printed instructions the Captain is ordered to employ some of
the people in fishing and the catch was to be distributed among the
Officers’ and Seamen’s messes without favour or partiality and without
any reduction of provision allowances.
We have the expression Working a dead horse, which strictly speaking
belongs to the Merchant Service, a Dead Horse being the monthly
advance of erases given to a man on signing on so that he could
purchase the necessary kit, etc., before sailing. This usually was
spent prior to departure and therefore the first month’s work was done
for money already received and spent. In the Merchant Service it was
customary at the end of the month to make a canvas effigy of a horse
and hoist it up to the tune of that well‑known chanty “They say old
horse you’re dead and gone; they say so and I hope so.” At the
conclusion of the chanty the effigy was cut adrift and any work done
after that was considered “Good,” as it was paid for afterwards,
probably on paying off.
At Malta near the top of San Giovanni
on the southern side there is an implement known as Promotion hook
. Custom ordains that junior Officers desirous of being promoted in
the Service must crawl through this hook or staple whilst ascending
the steep street of San Giovanni.
Professor Zammit informs me that his hook originally stood at the
corner of San Giovanni and Strada Mercanti and was used in connection
with the pillory which was at this corner certainly as late as the
time of Grand Master Pinto, who functioned between 1741 and 1773.
This pillory was used in connection with the Court of Justice known as
the Castallania. The hook appears in have been moved down the street
towards the end of the 19th Century in order to make room for a shop
In the old first‑rates the after bulkhead was pierced by a door
amidships which opened from the Captain’s cabin to the half deck,
which space was covered by the Quarterdeck. The half deck was also
known as the “Steerage “ from the fact that the steering wheels
and binnacles were placed there. The term Guard and Steerage refers to
the Guard and those people who were entitled to sling in the Steerage
and who did not necessarily turn out with the hands. The old cry for
calling the hands , given in full, was:
Out or down there! Out or down there! All hands
rouse out, rouse
out, rouse out. Lash and carry, lash
and carry, show a leg or else
a Purser’s stocking.
Rouse and shine, rouse and shine.
and stow, lash up and stow, lash up and stow.
Often followed by the
words: It’s to‑morrow morning, and the sun’s a‑scorching your eyes
The more imaginative Boatswain’s Mates would sometimes conclude their
remarks by informing all and sundry that they were Off the cloudy
coast of Cornwall or The sunny coast of Spain, or other information of
a like nature.
Hammocks (or Hamacs) according to Admiral W. H. Smyth, are the
undisputed invention of Alcibiades. Columbus found them in use in the
Bahama Islands. The modern word is said to be
derived from the language of the Caribbs and the article itself was
introduced into the Navy about 1590, probably as the result of the
experience of Sir Francis Drake and many other Elizabethan seamen who
had frequent dealings with these natives.
In the old days when the raised forecastle and aftercastle were
carried in ships, as a historian says in the reign of Queen Elizabeth
“The more for their majesty to astonish the enemy” it was customary to
refer to the after structure as the Aftercastle , and it is for
this reason that a careful Captain of the Quarterdeck to this day
marks his wash‑deck gear with the mystic symbol “AXLE” or “AX.”
Whilst on the subject of customs it might be advantageous to recall
some of those which have fallen into disuse since 1914. They are many
and varied. No longer do we have the smoking circle and smoking
lantern on the upper deck. Boats do not now challenge each other by
tossing their oars or letting fly their sheets off the starboard
gangway of the ship they desire to compete against. In the
evenings we seldom see the old games such as Priest of the Parish
‘which was a sort of gamble resorted to in the olden days, with a
man’s prize money as the stake), Biffers , and Sling the
Signalmen when hoisting or lowering colours no longer remove their
caps. At the issue of rum the Band nowadays does not play one of the
old‑time tunes such as “Nancy Dawn” or “Drops of Brandy” and we do not
clear up decks or beat too quarters with the drum. These two
latter customs were falling into disuse prior to the War, but were
done in a few ships, of which the “HINDUSTAN”
A ship going home to pay off was always played out of harbour, and it
was considered a thing of some importance that she should be given a
proper send‑off, but this is not always now an organised effort on the
part of the Fleet as it used be. The paying off pendant ,
however, is still with us. When the Atlantic Fleet left Gibraltar to pay off in 1912 the “VENERABLE” was the third
ship in the line and we requested the “PRINCE OF WALES” which was the
Flagship to haul in her pendant somewhat, as the fly was dangerously
near our standard compass. All the ships in that Squadron had
approximately the same length of pendant.
Custom ordains that its length should be that of the ship if the ship
pays of on the proper date and up to the accepted time. An extra
length is added for every period, e.g., for a commission which is
stretched from 2 years to 2 years and 2 months the length would be:
length of the ship plus 1/12.
The custom is alleged to have originated in the 19th Century when all
cleanings rags were put together and hoisted as a sign that they were
The Admiral’s or Captain’s Joiner dates from the time when a craftsman
of that nature was always carried in ships to keep in repair the
wonderful gilded scroll work and carving generally called ‘Gingerbread
‘ work, which ornamented the stern and quarter galleries of the old
skips and which first became really prominent in HENRY VIII.’s “GRACE
à DIEU” or “GREAT HARRY.” Hence the term to Knock the gilt
off the Gingerbread.
was the official general term that embraced all who are now designated
as “Daymen” (Coopers, Painters, Blacksmiths, etc., and all other
Artisan Ratings who normally kept no night watches). The term existed
till quite recent times and was abolished due to it being a very inapt
appellation for a highly skilled and hard working body of craftsmen.
The following nicknames need little explanation, but are almost
forgotten. The Master or Navigator was formerly known as Old
Soundings and his assistant to this day is known as Tankey
, and so also is the Captain of the Hold known on the lower deck. The
Navigator or Master in former times was in charge of the fresh water
of a ship, although nowadays this duty really devolves on other
Officers. Tommy Pipes was the Boatswain, and Old Blue Lights
was the Gunner. We have already referred to Mr. Nipcheese .
The Royal Marines have been known by many and various nicknames, but
that of Cheeks dates from the Nelsonic period when the skirts
of a Marine’s coat or tunic were looped so as to give free play to the
legs, and on looking at a Marine dressed in this manner from the stern
view the inference is obvious. Before the amalgamation of the Royal
Marine Artillery and Royal Marine Light Infantry they were known at
sea by the nicknames of Bullocks and Turkeys respectively. The
Royal Marine Artillery were noted for their magnificent physique and
size, while the Royal Marine Light Infantry were clothed in the
scarlet tunic the same as the Infantry of the Line, hence the above
A sailor when speaking of any Royal Marine often referred to him as a
Leatherneck and sometimes used the same term for soldiers as a
whole, the reason being due to the leather tongue which closed the
opening of the collar in the military pattern tunic. The Royals is
another term by which the Royal Marines are known, but this is never
used when talking to any of H.M. land forces as in military circle, it
refers to the Royal Dragoons (1st).
The soldier is also sometimes referred to as A Pongo , A
Grabby , A Bezook or A Squaddie , the latter being
an Army expression which the sailor has borrowed in the same way that
the Army borrowed our word Matelot. In military circles the sailor is
described as A Flatfoot , A Baggy , A Blue
, or A Matelot . The expression Webfoot is also
sometimes used but strictly speaking this is the sailor’s term for a
West Country seaman.
Tell that to the Marines. Should anyone doubt the truth of a story he
may make use of this expression in order politely to demonstrate the
fact. Many and various are the origins attributed to this expression,
and that well known writer, Colonel W.P. Drury, Royal Marines, gives
an origin which accords so well that I am led to believe that such may
possibly be the true and correct explanation. The “Merry Monarch,”
KING CHARLES II., doubted the veracity of one of his attendants at
Court, who stated that when serving in the Southern Seas fish had been
observed which flew in the air. The King, loth to cast aspersions on
the integrity of the raconteur, referred the matter to a Marine
Officer who was attending his person, and the Marine Officer vouched
for the truth of the assertion. The King thereupon remarked “That in
future should we have any occasion to doubt any statement we will
first ‘Tell it to the Marines .’”
From the ubiquitous nature of their service the Royal Marines are
certainly very well qualified to judge of the facts of any
Some aver that the expression took its birth due to the fact that the
Marines were a military force and therefore were apt to be credulous
regarding matters connected with maritime affairs, but many consider
that the story is apocryphal, even though Byron refers to it in 1823
(“The Island.” ii., XXI.), and Scott does the same in “Red Gauntlet,”
in 1814 (chapter X111.).
It is probably rare in these days to find the old custom of
Christening midshipmen kept up. The ceremony used to be carried out in
the case of all newly‑appointed junior “Young Gentlemen” and consisted
of a plate of ships’ biscuit being broken on the head of the subject,
who also had to drink some sea water and frequently was given a dozen
with his own dirk scabbard for having the temerity to Bring his name
It was not unknown for the subject to have a broad arrow lightly
nicked on his nose with a razor, the owner of the nose to heal the
soonest being subsequently dealt with again in order to chasten his
vile body for so discarding His Majesty’s mark.
Junior Midshipmen were always known as Crabs or Warts ,
and no opportunity was ever lost of impressing on them that their
status in the state of creation was with, but after, that of a black
is a slang term for a Midshipman and is derived from the allegation
that these Officers used to make their sleeves do duty as
handkerchiefs and that to obviate this practice buttons were placed on
the cuffs. The term Wart is used to demonstrate the fact that a
midshipman is an excrescence on the face of Nature.
Everything on top and nothing handy
, like a Midshipman’s chest, is used to describe any gear carelessly
The old term for a Midshipman was a Young Gentleman or
Reefer , and the latter word is still used to designate the coats
worn by subordinate Officers who have not yet attained the dignity of
their first gold stripe. The short (pointed back) type of jacket worn
by these Officers when in best uniform is known as a Freezer
and the reason is not far to seek. Regarding the universally held
opinion as to the lowly estate of Midshipman it may not be out of
place to recall that Admiral Collingwood announced that he would teach
his people to touch their hats to a Reefer’s coat even if it was only
hung on a broomstick to dry. From his remark it may be inferred that
he subscribed to the generally accepted view concerning the small
importance of Midshipmen.
Midshipmen (and boys) with squeaky voices were made to jump with
straight legs from the capstan head on to the deck until the desired
gruffness had been attained. This was known as Capstan Drill .
The Lady of the Gunroom was the servant who washed up and
generally “did for” the members of the mess. In the old days
this rating was sometimes a negro and more often than not was led a
dog’s life by “The Young Gentlemen.” The term came to be applied
to the general utility member of the pantry staff of the Gunroom.
In a certain battleship in 1912 a Private of Royal Marines acted in
this capacity to the Gunroom Mess until eventually filed an official
request “To be relieved from
Lady of the Gunroom and return to the Detachment.” He was prevailed
upon to try again and, I believe, had no cause to regret his decision,
as the Midshipmen played the game by him, whereby he largely profited
and they obtained the services of an experienced guide, a willing
servant and an indefatigable, resourceful friend.
The old term for a Lieutenant was a Luff . The First Lieutenant
used to be known as the First Luff, but nowadays he is more usually
referred to as Jimmy the One or The Jimmy.
There are various surnames which have always bad an artificial tally
attached, and I will recount those which I know, together with the
reasons that I can trace.
Nobby Ewart, Hewitt or Clarke, Bandy Evans, Stinger Woods, Knocker
White, Dodger Lung, Spite Sullivan, Wiggy Bennett, Nosey Parker,
Pincher Martin, Dusty Miller, Ginger Casey, Cosher Hinds or Hynes,
Buck Taylor, Sharkey Ward, Jumper Collins or Short, Granny Henderson
or Anderson, Shiner Wright, Nigger Black, Hookey Walker, Tosh Gilbert,
Daisy Bell, Spud Murphy, Jerry Ring, Guy Vaughan, Chats Harris, Jimmy
Green, Johnny Bone, Kitty Wells, Harry Freeman, Harry Tate, Bogie
Knight, Rusty Steel. Tug was the nickname attached to Admiral of the
Fleet Sir Arthur Knyvet Wilson, V.C., and cannot be traced to any
older origin. Since its introduction it has become the tally for all
men named Wilson.
was a very alert officer who was C.-in-C., Med., 1860. His brother was
known as Fly Martin, after the name of a ship which he once commanded.
Charles Edward Ewart, Captain of the “MELPOMONE” in Mediterranean,
1859-62. Nobby Ewart was the famous Captain who was so keen at
spit and polish that he was displeased because his private stock of
poultry was not fallen in and cleaned for Sunday rounds. The
person in charge had been severely punished on one occasion for
neglecting this duty and on a future occasion hit on the expedient of
painting the birds and falling them in on a plank by means of a tin
tack through the webs of the ducks and a staple over the toes of the
is probably derived from Mr. John Walker, an outdoor clerk of Messrs.
Longman Clementini & Co., formerly of Cheapside. He was noted for his hook nose, and his
office was to keep the workmen up to their work. It is believed that
he frequently invented unfavourable reports in order to keep himself
in office. I cannot find out at exactly what date this worthy
flourished, but I think it somewhere about 1800.
is stated by Dr. Brewer possibly to have been connected with the
expression Drinking at Freeman’s Quay . Porters and carriers
calling at Freeman’s Quay, near London Bridge,
had a pot of beer given to them gratis. The eminent doctor casts
doubts upon the truth of this practice, but I have heard that a
certain drayman of the City of
London named Freeman used to provide part of
his wages in beer or on occasion distribute rewards in the shape of
liquor to his employees.
was, to use a latter day expression, an eminent Scrounger or
Rabbitter and was Boatswain to Admiral Cornwallis, who remarked to
Mr. Bone oil parting “I trust, Mr. Bone, you will leave me with my
anchors.” Hence possibly the expression To bone something.
Stores illicitly acquired are still sometimes referred to as
is possibly derived from the ferocious pirate and buccaneer who was
the terror of the West Indian and Caribbean waters and whose name,
with that of Teach and Blackbeard, was passed down to posterity in a
manner somewhat devoid of repute.
I conclude to be a person of somewhat unsavoury characteristics. The
old English word for a louse was a Chat and in this connection the
phrase Happy and Chatty may be stated to be of somewhat considerable
, I should say, was a gentleman highly skilled in the art of toshing,
which was an old term for stealing the copper off the bottoms of
sheathed ships. Ginger Casey , I think, explains itself. I have
known many Caseys, but only one have I met of that name who could be
described as anything but “Ginger.”
To spin a cuffer is the same as spinning a yarn, but the more
improbable the story, the more does the term Cuffer apply.
The term Bum boat is still with us and is probably an
abbreviated form of Bombard boat which was so called because
provisions and liquor used to be carried by these boats in large
receptacles, shaped like and called after the old‑fashioned bombard or
mortar. Receptacles so named are referred to by Shakespeare.
A Bombard was also the old name for a type of two-masted vessel in use
in the Mediterranean.
Concerning Mother Carey’s Chickens , better known as Stormy
Petrels, Captain Glasscock writing in 1826 concerning sailors’
superstitions, describes how the “TIGER” East Indiaman, eastward bound
for the Cape, was persistently followed by bad weather, and when off
the Cape nearly foundered. A passenger called Mother Carey appeared to
have a peculiar affinity to the birds, and was concluded by the ship’s
company to be a witch. The sailors were debating the question of
putting the good lady overboard, when she settled the matter by
springing over the side and going down in a blue flame! The birds,
which had assumed monstrous proportions, vanished in a moment and left
the “Titan” to pursue her voyage in peace. These birds it appears have
been known as Mother Carey’s Chickens ever since.
To marry the Gunner’s daughter was an expression which meant
being laid over a gun to receive a flogging.
To buy goose meant to receive a flogging, although when used in
the following sense “I see no reason to buy goose for you,” it means,
I see no reason why I should stand a rub for your misdemeanours.
Goose without gravy was a flogging of so light a nature that blood
was not drawn.
Up to quite recent times many old fashioned Captains referred to their
ship’s companies as “My People.” In many old logs we find the
expression in frequent use and see references such as The People
engaged in knotting and splicing the rigging. .
Captains still refer to my ship, my boats, my First Lieutenant, etc.,
but in the days when Masters were borne on the books of ships, no
Captain ever spoke of him as “My Master”! He was always referred
to as the Master.
A Stone Frigate is a term used for a shore appointment.
To Strike down is the correct term to use when lowering such
articles as ammunition, stores, provisions, etc., into their
respective magazines or store rooms in order that they may be stowed.
The word Starboard is derived from the old Saxon steeraboard
or steerboard, which was a paddle shipped on the starboard quarter to
act as a rudder.
was the opposite side, and corresponds with the term port. I have
heard it suggested that the term Larboard was a corruption of
Leeboard, but cannot vouch for this. The Italians derived the word
Starboard from Questa borda - meaning “This side,” and Larboard from
Quella borda ‑ that side, this being abbreviated to Starborda and
Larborda. The term Port is not of very modern origin, as it is
mentioned in Arthur Pitt’s voyage in 1580. I don’t know whether there
is any truth in the suggestion that the term Port was derived from the
custom of preferably placing this side toward the shore when going
alongside, owing to the fact that the leeboard could be easily
unrigged so as to avoid being damaged, while the steerboard would be
required to navigate the slip into the required position.
Flying the blue pigeon
is sometimes used as an expression for heaving the lead. With a good
swing the lead can be made to emit a cooing sound rather like a wood
To Splice the Main Brace . There are many different
explanations concerning the origin of this expression but it is
generally considered that this operation was one of such rarity that
it merited the serving out of an extra tot. The Main Brace, being one
of the heaviest pieces of running rigging in the ship, was probably
seldom spliced, but presumably renewed instead. While serving in
North Russia I have seen the main brace spliced by order
twice in one day, on the news of the declaration of Peace, on July
19th, 1919. The expression was certainly well known in 1750.
In 1917, H.M. ships Sir Thomas Picton and Earl of Peterborough
(Monitors) were lent to the Italians to carry out a bombardment and
were supplied with a large carboy of wine by the Italian
Commander‑in‑Chief, and Chief of Staff, and the main brace was spliced
during the evening. I do not know of any other occasion when H.M.
Ships have ever spliced the main brace with liquor supplied by a
Short Service Men were often referred to as Selborne’s Light Horse
. Short service, was introduced when LORD SELBORNE was First Lord.
To settle a matter with a loose foretopsail means, of course,
to end or evade an argument by departing.
To pay one’s debts with the topsail sheet means to depart
without settling one’s dues.
A rope is said to hang Judas when it is insecurely belayed or
False when taking any strain.
To Sway the main rather infers to swagger, or to assert oneself
in an aggressive manner, and probably derives its origin from the fact
that in former days everything appertaining to the mainmast, in sail
drill, was particularly the charge of the Executive Officer.
To trice your ears out on a bowline means to listen
attentively. The weather leeches used to be hauled out by bowlines to
enable a ship to sail closer to the wind. The bowline bridles were
secured to the cringles on the leech by the well‑known bowline knot.
As long as the maintop bowline
meant any long, drawn out affair, and was often used to describe an
interminably long glory. The main top bowline was generally regarded
as the longest rope in the ship.
To hoist a stocking to your jib , or a bonnet to your
topsail , means to expedite one’s movements in the same way as the
speed of a ship used to be increased by an additional spread of
canvas laced to a sail. Those for the jib were called Stockings, and
those for the topsails Bonnets.
A ship’s masts or funnels are said to Rake when they lean aft.
Should they lean forward, they are said to have Bos’un’s Pride
, or to tumble forward. This expression is due to the fact that the
Bos’un was the Officer who used to be (under tire Navigating Officer)
in charge of the ship’s rigging, and whose particular duty it was to
square yards and set up all rigging after the completion of any
evolution aloft. Thus any very conscientious Bos’un might be
over‑zealous in setting up or squaring off the rigging, with the
result that he might give Bos’un’s Pride to a mast or spar, due to an
excess of zeal.
To set up backstays for anyone, means to smooth over the
results of their faults, and again refers to the fact that the duty of
the Bos’un was, after an evolution aloft, to square off the yards and
rigging and see that all was left shipshape.
A black dog for a white monkey meant a quid pro quo.
A Banyan Party nowadays has come to mean a cheery party,
possibly in connection with a picnic. Banyan Days were formerly
Mondays. Wednesdays and Fridays, and were days on which no meat was
issued. This restriction was removed in 1884. The term is derived from
a religions sect in the East who believed it wicked to eat of any
creature endued with life. It would appear that the present meaning of
the term is derived from the fact that men were accustomed to save up
odds and ends of their rations in order to make delicacies to tide
them over the fast days.
Like a pusser’s shirt on a handspike describes any gross misfit
or any badly fitting suit of clothes or sail.
A King John’s man is a person of particularly small stature.
is skulking from any particular duty. Some say that the town of
is so called for the following reason, and I am indebted to the Town
Clerk of Portsmouth for this information. Some years ago, Miss Agnes
Weston, in the early days of her career, was talking to an assembly of
sailors and she told them the story of Pompey, the Roman General ‑ of
his battles and the success he won on the field of battle, and of his
subsequent decline in popularity when he entered the political arena,
and his ultimate murder, and thereupon somebody in the room exclaimed
Poor old Pompey . This seems to have amused the audience, the
exclamation caught on, and from that day it has been associated with
the name of Portsmouth
in the Services and locally.
Others consider that the nickname of Pompey it the drunkard’s
inarticulate method of pronouncing the words “Portsmouth Point,” which
was the neighbourhood at which the sailor in olden days spent his time
in hilarious conviviality. I am inclined to believe the latter
explanation as it is certainly of older origin.
Regarding the name of Guzzle for Devonport, the following is
the explanation rendered by the Town Clerk of Plymouth, who considers
that in the old days, after cruising about for long periods on
indifferent and insufficient rations, the Navy always looked forward
to good food in the shape of Devonshire cream and butter when they put
in at Plymouth.
A Tom Cox’s traverse is described by Admiral Smith, writing in
1867, as Up one hatch and down another, or three turns round the
longboat and a pull at the scuttle. I have also heard that it was the
name of a tyro in navigation who took three weeks beating round the
South Foreland. In any case, its meaning is the longest possible
method of getting on with a job of work.
It is better than two nibbies in a hook pot . A nibby is the
slang term for a ship’s biscuit, and a hook pot was an article which
only disappeared in recent years. A ship’s biscuit was placed in a
hook pot to soak in front of the fire, and was the least hospitality
which could be offered from one person to another.
Touching ship’s biscuits, it is very rare to hear broken ship’s
biscuits referred to as Midshipman’s nuts , and in present‑day
gun rooms among the customs which have died out is the ancient one of
making Midshipman’s goose or Crab , which consisted of
pickles, salt beef, salt pork, ground biscuit, and any other commodity
which came handy, including cheese.
Legs like a Torpoint ropemaker
is one of the many time‑honoured jests borrowed from the West Country,
and means a person who is bandy‑legged. It was described to me by an
old West Country boatswain as a person who is so bandy‑legged that he
carries his knees a‑burton , and his calves before‑all .
This affliction was presumably caused by the practice of straddling
the rope while working the Top at some West Country rope walk.
To pull one’s pound refers to the fact that a certain weight of
rations were issued in order that a man’s strength might be maintained
so as to enable him to do hard manual work. Thus, Lend us your pound
here was a request for a man to turn to and exert his utmost strength.
To Lend a hand is to assist in the operation in progress.
To Bear a hand is to be quick or smart in the
performance of any task.
means slowly or with caution, and Roundly as quick as possible.
Both orders are in common use for hoisting boats or working Tackles.
To be at Loggerheads with someone is a well‑known phrase which has
been borrowed from sea parlance. Loggerheads were balls of iron
connected together by an iron bar about three to four feet in length.
The balls when heated were used for melting pitch. The balls being so
immovably connected were somewhat similar to two persons between whom
no chance of a rapprochement existed; they were, moreover, when in use
kept at a very high temperature.
The expression Wash out , when used in the sense of to cancel
or in erase, came into the Service when slates were used instead of
the present‑day signal pad and message forms. Its use, alas, has grown
until the expression is so hackneyed and misused as to be offensive.
was a person who, according to nautical tradition, was kicked out of
hell for being a bigger liar than His Satanic Majesty. The term is
mentioned by J. A. Gardner in his “Recollections,” and appears to have
been in use in 1787.
A Rogue’s Yarn is a coloured strand laid up in a Dockyard‑made
rope, not only to identify its place of manufacture, but to prevent
its illicit sale. The following coloured yarns denoted the “Rope walk”
at which the rope was laid up: Portsmouth
‑ blue; Devonport ‑ red;
‑ yellow; and Haulbowline ‑ black.
is still a slang term for His Majesty’s Navy as a whole, and in my
manuscript which disappeared in 1914, it was stated that Andrew Miller
was believed to have been a particularly zealous Officer who worked
the Press Gang at one time. Officers zealous in these matters were not
popular along the waterside of the British Isles,
and in support of this I might mention a Tyneside song which I
collected some years ago, concerning Captain John Rover, who died on
20th May, 1782. and was buried in Newcastle Cathedral. He made a
considerable stir in the Tyneside district during his life, and his
funeral was largely attended, but whether as a matter of relief or
regret I am unable to state. I am indebted to the Senior Verger,
Newcastle Cathedral, for much information concerning him.
A Gobby was a Coastguard, when this force was under the
jurisdiction of the Admiralty, and open to Officers and men of the
Royal Navy, who were time expired or pensioners, but still fit for
coastguard duties. The Coastguard Force is at present under the order
of the Board of Trade, and is not so popular with the Naval Service
and in consequence the term is not us much in evidence.
A Gobby Ship was an old expression denoting a Soft number, and was a
harbour service ship to which “Reserve fleetmen” were drafted on
mobilisation. These ships only proceeded to sea on special occasions
such as test mobilisations and royal reviews, and we‑re regarded as
more or less time‑serving appointments, with no prospects whatever for
any Officer with ambition.
To Celebrate the Siege of Gibraltar is an excuse for a tot. The
various sieges of Gibraltar have covered such a period that one is certain
to be in order, in the matter of the date, should one care to
has withstood thirteen sieges. The SUFFOLK (late 12th Foot) was the
senior regiment during the last and most famous siege (from 11th
September, 1779, to 12th March, 1783) and was rewarded by the crest of
the Castle and Key and the motto “ Montis Insignia Calpe,” which
insignia was granted to the Rock by Henry IV of Castile in 1462 after
its capture from the Moorish King of Granada. The Suffolk Regiment
served as Marines under Sir George Byng and in the Channel Fleet about
. Often used to describe any useless and unwanted material of a small
nature. It is the correct description for the dust of unmanufactured
tobacco leaves and is a dutiable article.
A Killick is the most ancient form of anchor known, and I
personally have found it in what must have been almost its original
form in the Western Isles of Scotland, Newfoundland, North Russia,
A Leading Seaman is commonly called by this title.
A Raggie is a friend with whom one shares a rag bag for
polishing gear. To Part brass rags is a sign of the dissolution
of that friendship.
or Shyoake is a beverage well known to the merchant seaman both
on the “Barbary coast” in San Francisco and in Australian ports. It was
the accumulated heeltaps of all the glasses and was usually retailed
at about fourpence per gallon. Of course only the disreputable bars
dealt in this commodity.
Sucking the monkey
is the unlawful or illicit obtaining of liquor, and derives its origin
from the old pattern rum tub which was known as a Monkey.
Monkey is also a nautical diminution, e.g.: Monkey boom. Monkey gaff.
Monkey jacket, Monkey Axle., Monkey tail. etc.
. Those seamen who know the West Country, and I presume there are a
few who do not, will unhesitatingly agree: that a Wet shirt and no
fish is very typical of the luck of a Saltash fisherman.
A Smart Ticket is the old name for a Hurt Certificate which is
a document granted to an Officer or man who is injured or wounded in
the performance of his duty. He cannot be granted this certificate if
injured owing to his own negligence, and the Officer issuing the
document must certify as to the sobriety of the claimant at the time
the injury was received. Smart Money was the monetary compensation
awarded on the production at the Smart Ticket.
To have one’s boots chalked
. It used to be the practice for the Captain of a top or turret to try
and chalk the soles of one’s boots when going; aloft for the: first
time or an entering the turret, and if he succeeded the victim was
supposed to pay his footing.
A Gibby has been the: sailor’s name for many years for his
spoon. His knife is a Skinine ; the word, however,
is fast dying out. It may have been derived from the: Gaelic
word “skian,” meaning knife. His fork is a Port oar .
This, on the face, of it, is quaint, as it is presumed that he used
his fork with his heft hand, and. strictly speaking its should
therefore be a Starboard oar.
was an old term for a staff with a crook.
Mess traps of this nature are a comparatively recent article of supply
in the Service, and formerly were either dispensed with altogether or
bought as private property.
A receptacle which is empty is said let have a South wind in
it, and a mixture which is half spirit and half water is known, as a
Nor’Wester . The more northerly the wind stands, the more the
proportion of spirit. An East wind has never been popular,
whereas a wind to the South’ard of West in home Latitudes, although
wet, both meteorologically and according to this definition, contained
a lesser proportion of spirits, and lacked popularity for that reason.
The term White mice is an epithet applied to those deservedly
unpopular persons, happily rare, who at various times have been
employed by the Police: and others to spy on their shipmates.
They are also known as Narks , which, in thieves’ jargon, also
To walk round someone Like a cooper round a cask means, to
completely vanquish an opponent or to be able to deal with him at
one’s leisure and with little fear of retaliation.
is the residue remaining in any box or cask whose: contents save: been
taken into service. It is also an expression of contempt for a person
who is slow witted and of little use.
An Urk is a similar type of witless individual, but the term is
more forcible and is of modern origin.
A Winger is the general term to denote any boy or very young
seaman who is adopted as a particular friend by an old and staid
seaman. The term is far from being a complimentary one.
To Go to wind’ard of anybody derives its origin from the time
when the weather gauge was the all‑important thing in Naval tactics,
and is synonymous with the term to Lee bow somebody.
It was at the battle of the 12th April, 1782, that Rodney’s Flag
Captain, Sir Charles Douglas, burst unceremoniously into the Admiral’s
cabin, and in the excitement of the moment announced to the Admiral
that “God had given him his enemy on the lee bow.” (De Grasse off
Among the numerous Naval Stores carried in H.M. ships, we find
Shovel Navigator . These tools have nothing to do with the
Navigating Officer, but take their name from the time that the
canals were constructed about 1830, for inland navigation, and this
peculiar type of tool was used in the work, and the workmen came to be
known as Navvies (an abbreviation from Navigators). In H.M.S.
Queen Elizabeth, our first entirely oil‑fired battleship, a Shovel
Navigator, suitably mounted, used to be displayed, surmounting the
motto, “Lest we forget.” This motto of course referred to the
remembrance of the heavy manual work, and consequent dirt, entailed by
“Coaling ship,” which was always treated as an important evolution.
A Channel fleet dish‑up is the somewhat unhygienic method
adopted, due to shortage of water, of using the same water for washing
up all plates and mess utensils, and almost corresponds to the shore
term of a “lick and a promise.” During the long blockades oft
Brest, under Admiral Cornwallis, the shortage
of water was often severely felt, and it is possible that the term
originated at this time.
We talked just now of a Cooper , which most useful rating is
unfortunately dying out of the Service, owing to the prevalence of
tinned provisions. In fact, universally, coopering is no longer the
job it formerly was, but there are few Coopers now who know that the
small anvil that was part of a Cooper’s tools is properly called a
A clumsy, awkward person is described as being as handy as a cow in
a spitkid . Kid is the term for any small wooden tub.
Spitkid is the name given to the wooden tubs, of about two feet in
diameter, which are issued for use as spittoons in the men’s smoking
places. In the older ships, where the smoking places were always very
crowded, there was often great difficulty experienced in accurately
hitting off the interior of this receptacle, and in some ships it was
customary to allow a margin of 12 inches outside, this area being
bounded by a chalked circle. Woe betide the man who not only missed
the spitkid, but failed to register in the circle. His crime was
unforgivable. He was generally sentenced to carry a spitkid for so
many days or weeks, and his shipmates were expected not to neglect
their opportunities. I remember the case of one Able Seaman, a
Gunlayer First Class, whose appearances were so frequent at the
Captain’s defaulter’s table for the crime in question that eventually
the exasperated Captain reduced the man to the rating of Gunlayer
Second Class, “For being a damned bad shot.”
We frequently use the term W‑a‑i-s-t-e‑r (not
W‑a‑s‑t‑e‑r). It was formerly thought, “That he who was not good
enough for anything else was good enough for the waist.” In
other words, an unskilled rating who did the coolie work in the waist,
whereas the smartest of the older men were stationed on the fo’csle
and the smart young ones on the upper yards.
A Donkey , being the almost universal beast of burden, the term
is used to denote a Naval artisan’s tool chest, a sailmaker’s or
tailor’s sewing machine, or any mechanical contrivance which saves
A straw‑filled mattress is known as a Donkey’s breakfast.
While speaking of Upper Yardmen , I will refer to an expression
which is almost dead, namely, to be‑ able to do something
Because you wear the tuck . I learnt this from a very old
sea officer, whose explanation was as follows: The Royal Yardmen of a
ship considered themselves, very naturally, as the salt of the earth,
and in consequence, before the Uniform Regulations were unforced, they
used to wear a tuck or pleat in the backs of their jumpers or coats,
which was fastened in the centre with a little bow. They had exclusive
use of certain public houses ashore, and took care that folk who, in
their opinion, were less worthy, did not intrude. They were
particularly careful when onshore to dress themselves in the height of
nautical fashion so that everyone should know exactly what they
themselves thought of their own prowess. Cmdr. Robinson, who is one of
the greatest authorities on old customs connected with the Navy, tells
me that he can find no trace of this in the many hundreds of prints in
his possession, nor, as a Midshipman, does he remember seeing a jacket
of this nature or hearing the expression. Nevertheless I am certain
that the custom was in vogue at one period, although it may not have
been universal. The expression finally came to mean that unless you
are particularly smart you need not expect any extra privileges.
The term Fanny Adams came into use in the Navy about the year
1867, when tinned mutton was introduced as a part of the ration. The
nickname is ascribed to the fact that a somewhat notorious murder took
place on April 24th. 1867, at Alton, Hants. The murderer was Frederick
Baker, aged 29, a solicitor’s clerk, and the victim was Fanny Adams, a
child aged 9. Baker subsequently cut up the body and tried to conceal
his crime, but was tried at Winchester Assizes on December 5th, 1867,
and in due course hanged. In private life he was Secretary to a
Debating Society and a Sunday School Teacher. Prior to the issue of
the present‑day Mess Traps, the men were accustomed to use the empty
Fanny Adams tins, and the name “Fanny” thus came to be applied to the
present receptacle which is now officially issued. Tinned mutton is no
longer issued as a ration, but the nickname is still applied to a
corned beef which is in general use today.
In the Merchant Service the nickname of “Harriet
Lane” is more usually heard. She was
murdered by one Henry Wainwright, a brush maker, of 215,
Whitechapel Road, who buried the body
September, 1874. H. Wainwright and Alice Day, his accomplice,
were tried by Lord Chief Justice Cockburn., 22nd Nov. ‑ 1st Dec. 1874,
also Thomas Wainwright. Day was discharged for lack of evidence.
Thomas Wainwright received 7 years for being an accessory. Henry
Wainwright hanged at Newgate, December 21st. 1875.
The arrest of the criminals was largely due to the efforts of one
Alfred Philip Stokes.
In 1866, a plant for preparing tinned beef and mutton was installed at
Deptford under the direction of a representative of Messrs. Hogarth’s
of Aberdeen and issues to the Fleet commenced
from this source in 1867.
Salt Beef was not issued after 1904, although existing stocks were
used until exhausted, and lasted till about 1913. Salt Pork was
withdrawn in 1926.
, Jack-a-lift (abbreviated from Jack outside the lift) is a
devil-may-care, reckless individual, sometimes described as “One who
would spit to windward and call the cat a long‑tailed ‑‑‑‑‑‑d.”
Of course, to spit in any way promiscuously entailed the direst
penalties, and to abuse the ship’s cat or cast reflections on its
parentage was a method of ensuring a run of ill luck.
A Fork in the beam, most of us have suffered from and has been
handed down from the time when in the same Mess, i.e., the
Midshipman’s berth, were men over 40 years of age and boys of 11 and
12. When the grog had circulated of an evening, and the talk became
neither prudish or refined, it was considered high time that the
“Youngsters”, as they were termed, should leave the “Oldsters” to
themselves. A fork was put in the beam, and the last youngster to
leave the mess was generally hauled back and Firked or
Cobbed for his slackness in obeying.
There is an old saying that if one goes to sea and meets with bad
weather someone has neglected to pay for his amusement when on
shore. As late as 1913, when coming home in a certain ship from
Vigo, we encountered heavy weather in the Bay.
In accordance with the Gunroom custom, we decided to hold a sing‑song
on rounding Ushant, but owing to the
weather, the Gunroom piano would not remain upright, while the water
was up to the coamings of the mess. Lots were ordered to be drawn by
the junior members of the mess so as to discover who had contravened
the ancient custom and made himself a Jonah by perpetrating the
aforementioned crime. Strangely enough, the lot fell on the Assistant
Clerk, who was tried by Gunroom Court Martial, and although ably
defended by his confrère the Captain’s Clerk, was universally found
“Guilty.” He duly received a dozen with a dirk scabbard, and by eight
o’clock that night the weather had sufficiently calmed to allow the
sing‑song to take place. This is a fact, but I do not know whether
there is any connection between the justice meted out to the Assistant
Clerk (who ultimately confessed to the charge being true) and the
change for the better in the meteorological conditions.
was the order to junior members of the Gunroom to stop their ears.
Fishbones , to shut their eyes. Match Boxes , to shut their
mouths and maintain strict silence. The order Match Boxes cannot be of
very ancient origin, as “Friction Matches “ of any sort were not
invented until 1829.
A Spithead Pheasant , or a deep‑sea or one‑eyed steak ,
is a kipper. In the days before the use of the pipe degenerated,
Boatswain’s Mates have also been known as Spithead Nightingales
The Cook of the mess is still entitled by custom to what are known as
Plushers which is a term undoubtedly derived from the French
word “Plus,” and generally means the residue of any rum apportioned to
the mess after each man has had his share. The term is generally used
When passing a dish at the table, and a person helps himself, leaving
the person passing it to hold the dish, is at sea considered so
inexcusable as to warrant the person passing the dish to drop it, the
charge for breakage being made against the one who helps himself from
the dish with out holding; it. The latter may, however, claim
exemption should he make use of the expression Excuse the Marine
. The reason for this; is that when the ship is rolling it is often
necessary to hold your food with one hand and feed yourself with the
other. If one spends one’s lime holding dishes for others, one is apt
to lose one’s own share. Owing to the fact that a Marine in former
times was looked upon very much as a soldier and not versed its sea
manners and customs, he was held excused.
A Dead Marine , of course. is well known as an empty bottle
that has done its duty and is ready to do it again; but some have been
known to suggest that the term is derived from the fact that an empty
bottle always floats head up, and it leas been rumoured that a Marine
will do this even when dead, owing to the traditional size of his
feet. I think the former explanation is certainly the most just and
decidedly the most apt. It is supposed that the Duke of Clarence made
use of this term on one occasion and the event is commemmorated in
verse by Colonel W. Drury, R.M.
A Soldier’s Wind is a breeze which enables a boat to reach its
objective without wearing or tacking. Another old term for sailing
with the wind abeam or on the quarter was Lasking .
A Smart Nipper means, nowadays. a boy with his wits about him,
but we can trace it back to the time when the anchor was weighed by
means of a messenger which was nippered to the cable. It was the
duty of the boy’s to pass and cast off the nippers as necessary.
The Devil to pay and no pitch hot . The “Devil” is one of the
hardest seams to paint, being the upper outboard strake. If the
pitch was not hot, the job was rendered even more difficult.
Between the Devil and the Deep Sea
does not refer to His Satanic Majesty, but to the aforementioned
plank, meaning a person who was in this position had nothing between
him and a watery grave.
To Go through the Hoop was formerly a method of gauging
hammocks so that they should have a uniform appearance when stowed in
the nettings. If any doubt existed as to the size of a lashed up
hammock, it was put through a hoop, and if it failed to pass, the
owner was punished. A hammock that went through too easily and
presented a skimpy appearance was, and is still, known as a
Greyhound lash‑up .
The Sun is over the fore Yard-arm meant that the sun had
attained sufficient altitude and the day was sufficiently far
advanced, to take what is known as a Nooner .
In this connection, I might refer to the expression a Long Ship
, which means that the hospitality of the mess is somewhat meagre, and
presumably originated with the idea that it was a far cry from the
Wardroom pantry to the Mess.
To take the can back for anyone means to take the blame for
someone’s faults, and at the same time to gain no advantage by so
A Shifting Backstay is the expression used to denote a person
who is made the tool of another. It is sometimes used to
describe a fair-weather friend. ‘
Two hands for the King
. In the Merchant Service the expression is One hand for the ship
and one hand for yourself , but in the Royal Navy the expression
has long been current. Two hands for the King - in other words, to get
on with the job, no matter what the consequences to yourself may be.
Cutting a Dido
is an expression of comparatively recent date, and dates from the time
when the “Dido,” which was a particularly clean ship serving on the
Mediterranean Station about 30 years ago, had, on certain occasions,
paraded round the Fleet before coming to an anchor, in order to
display her extraordinarily smart appearance.
To Sham Abraham means to malinger, and derives its name from a
ward in Bedlam which was appropriated for the reception of idiots.
This ward was named “Abraham,” and is cited by a writer named
in the “Anatomy of Melancholia,” written in the year 1621.
In everybody’s mess, but nobody’s watch , is an expression
which describes a workshy, fair-weather friend
One of My Lord Mayor’s men is synonymous with the term a
King’s hard bargain and dates from the time when the Lord Mayor,
who, as Chief Magistrate of the City of
London. frequently gave the option to
delinquents appearing at his Court of serving in His Majesty’s Navy or
being committed to gaol. It is worthy of remark that the two
were considered similar punishments. Even Dr. Johnson once remarked,
although he knew nothing of nautical affairs, that he “Could not
understand why people’ should go to sea when there were plenty of
gaols on shore.”
, different long splices, is the nautical equivalent of “Autres temps,
A Rat in the forechains . To tell this to a Thames Bargee is to
bring down on one’s head a storm of invective which there is no
stopping and is due to the fact that rats are commonly believed to
leave a sinking ship; there is another and less polite cause. If,
however, one wishes to get the better of a bargee one has only to ask
him, “Who ate the puppy pie near Marlow Bridge?”
The story is this: At Marlow Bridge there formerly stood an inn noted
for its pies, and the pantry window was so placed that bargees passing
through the bridge used frequently to steal the pies. Mine Host
discovered this and one day made a pie from a litter of drowned
puppies and left it in a tempting position near the window. The bait
was taken by a passing bargee, who ate the pie with relish, until
subsequently informed by the innkeeper of the nature of its contents.
This remark has been known to leave a Thames
bargee speechless .
A Dover Court
was all talkers and no hearers, and I have heard it suggested that it
originated from the maritime Courts held at Dover in which even to-day
one hears English, French, Dutch and Flemish spoken by foreigners who
are sometimes forced to attend for crimes committed in connection with
the North Sea Fishery Act.
A Scarborough Warning is to let something go by the run and
without seeing that everyone was clear, i.e., with no warning at all.
The expression is of very ancient origin, as is also Jedburgh
Justice , which in the old moss trooping days meant to hang first
and try the case afterwards.
A Parliament heel
was the name given by sailors to the method of inspecting, cleaning
and ascertaining the rottenness of the ship’s under water timbers by
heeling her over whilst still afloat, and shows that even in former
days that august institution was not held in particularly high esteem
by the men of His Majesty’s Navy.
It was during an operation of this nature that the “ROYAL GEORGE’
foundered with the loss of Admiral Kempenfelt and most of her ship’s
To Do Something for Toni Collins, or Tom Collins
, whether or no (i.e., is agreeable or not). Tom Collins was a man of
peculiar character who, I think, flourished about the middle of the
18th Century. He, apparently served as Captain of the Heads and to‑day
a ‘Job for Tom Collins’ or “To see Tom Collins” amounts to the same as
Hobson’s Choice, i.e., a matter of necessity and that there is no way
of getting out of it.
A Galley packet
is nowadays known as any “Buzz” started by the Cook’s mate. The galley
was formerly the only place where smoking was permitted and was the
spot where the men foregathered to yarn and smoke.
is the warning cry of any man carrying a hot dish from the galley, or
any liquid which is liable to burn a person if spilled over them.
A Purser’s name
is a fictitious name given, for instance, when a man is arrested by
the civil police, and certainly traces its origin to the fictitious
names placed on the list by unscrupulous Pursers in order that they
might draw the pay end allowances.
To Risk the run
is an old term which was in use with the old sailing convoys and meant
that if a ship Risked the run she proceeded without escort. In sailing
orders issued to me at
during the war I remember on one occasion that I was most strictly
enjoined to allow no ships to Risk the run, and it is the only time
that I have even seen this phrase used in present day documents.
To Swallow the anchor
is a thing that comes to every body sooner or later on leaving the sea
for good. It implies that you will have no further use for one
of the most trusty implements used in connection with the sea.
A Full Due
is an expression meaning for ever or for a very long period, e.g.,
anything lost overboard and irrecoverable, is said to have gone for a
full due. Likewise a rope which will not be used for a long time may
be belayed for a full due.
To be Gazetted
. This term is derived from the word “Gazette,” a small coin used in
the Adriatic and Levant and formerly
the price of the first Venetian newspaper.
The Dutch, being a seafaring nation, it is only natural that some of
our nautical expressions should be described as Dutch.
A Dutchman’s log
is a crude method of computing the speed of a ship through the water.
It consists of dropping a floating object overboard at the stem and
noting the interval of time taken for it to pass the stern. Thus by a
simple calculation the speed of the ship through the water is arrived
at providing the length of the ship is known.
A Dutchman’s tackle
(or purchase) is a means of expediting the work done by a purchase (or
Tackle) by reversing its “Mechanical advantage” and making; it do the
work required while: it is being “Overhauled.” A good example of
this was the “Gun-loading cage purchase” of the old twelve-inch
The term is also used to describe a purchase (or tackle) whose
efficiency is reduced to a minimum owing to friction, e.g., the
hauling part of a tackle being lead round a cleat instead of through a
block in a seamanlike manner.
A Dutchman’s Breeches
denotes a patch of blue sky to leeward during a storm. Being to
leeward its presence is of no material benefit at the moment, but is a
hopeful sign of better times to come, in the same way that the patches
in a Dutchman’s breeches are a sign that the owner thereof has
observed their state of disrepair and is dealing with the situation
even though his sartorial efforts do not materially assist in
benefiting his personal appearance.
A Dutchman’s pendant is the term used to describe any stray
yarn or rope’s end flying loose aloft. This is sometimes wrongly
described as an Irish pendant , which ought only to be used
when referring; to the frayed “Fly” or end of an ensign, pendant or
The same rule applies to the term a dead man , which strictly
speaking refers to any yarn or other untidiness lying about on a level
with the deck.
A segment of the full arc of a rainbow is known as a Windog and
by many it is supposed to be a sign of the approach of gusty, squally
A flat calm is sometimes referred to by the expression the wind is
up and down the mast .
To Hog out (say a boat or mess) is derived from the old Hog,
which was a stiff brush made of birch twigs and used to scrub a ship’s
To bear up , as is well known, means to keep further off the
wind, the tiller being borne up to windward. The helmsman in ancient
days also had to walk up hill to do this when the ship was heeling
over. Merchant Service Officers s have informed me that with
them the order refers to the ship’s head and is equivalent to Luffing.
To Warm the Bell or Flog the Glass is to advance the
clock or to be previous over a job. Generally used in calling; one’s
relief to take over the watch. An illegal and unpopular practice
which is of little real use, as it is apt to be returned.
Room to swing a cat
. This expression is certainly of nautical origin and referred to the
cat o’ nine tails.
The cat is out of the bag , which is a term in common use on
shore, may also have been derived from the fact that the Naval cat o’
nine tails was kept in a red baize bag or cover. The usual practice
was for the weapon to be produced from the bag while the culprit was
being seized up to the gratings and when no chance remained of him
The: Bitter (or Better ) end was the inboard end of the
hemp cable which was secured to the Bites. It was also the better part
of the cable, as it was least subjected to wear and tear.
To be sick of the lay is best described in modern parlance as
bring “fed up” and a probably derived from the old term “Lay days,”
which were a specified period allowed for the uncongenial task of
loading and discharging cargo or stores. In the Merchant
Service: if the lay days were exceeded without excuse demurrage could
Touch and go
. When a slip touches ground and goes clear.
means a strict disciplinarian and takes its name from the French
Marquis de Martinet, which still is the nickname in the French Navy
for the cat o’ nine tails.
is the receptacle in which a sailor keeps his private small effects
and used formerly to be a bag made of “Dittis” or “Manchester Stuff,”
in which needles, thread, etc., were kept. Much ink has been spilt
over the origin of this term and by many it is believed to be derived
from the word “Dight “ (to clean, repair or make good) still in common
use in Scotland.
A Snob in Naval parlance means a shoemaker, and a Jew a
tailor, while the Indian word Dhobey is used both for men who
do laundry work and also for washed clothes.
A Goffer is a non-alcoholic drink such as lemon squash, etc.
Men who privately combine to work at shoe‑making, laundry, tailoring,
etc., or manage a bar for soft drinks are said to run a snobbing,
dobhey, Jewing or Goffer firm , as the case may be.
The present-day sailor seldom makes his own clothes, but refers to his
repairing gear as his Jewing bag or, more usually, as his
To be Yellowed or on the Yellow list was the old phrase whereby
an Officer announced that the Board of Admiralty had intimated that he
would receive no further employment. Nowadays the expression is To
get a blue ticket .
is a Naval argument and its origin is a mystery. More often than not a
Kagg fulfils the well-known definition of “a positive assertion, a
flat contradiction and personal abuse.”
To Lurk has its shore-going equivalent of “to sting,” and the
expression may be used in many ways, e.g., “To lurk someone for a
glass of port,” “To be lurked to take a patrol,” “To lurk someone to
keep a middle watch,” etc.
. It is an old tradition of the East End of London and of many seamen
that all children born at sea belong to Stepney parish. The old rhyme
runs “He who sails on the wide sea is a parishioner of Stepney.” This
rather wide claim to the parochial funds has often been made by
paupers who have been born at sea and who used gravely to he sent to
Stepney from all parts of the country; but various decisions of the
superior Courts have at different times decided against the
traditional law cited in “ Thornbury: Old and New London.” vol. 2,
From time to time the Rector of Stepney has been notified of births
and baptisms which have taken place at sea so that they might be
included in the parish registers. Such cases, however, are
becoming more infrequent than formerly, and it is customary now to
note these events in the ship’s log and in due course to inform
A good dressing down is described in nautical language as A dose
from the foretopman’s bottle .
The clock of life is wound but once,
And no man has the power
To tell just when the hands will stop
At late or early hour.
To lose one's wealth is sad indeed,
To lose one's health is
To lose one's soul is such a loss
That no man can
The present only is our own,
So Live, Love, toil with a will --
Place no faith in 'Tomorrow' --
For the clock may then be
EXPLOSION IN HMS MERCURY in 1893 WHILST SERVING ON THE
correspondent, writing from Singapore, under date September 26th,
says:_ “A singular accident, resulting in the death of a first class
petty officer and injuries to six other men, occurred on board the
Mercury, cruiser, on the 21st inst.
spirit room, which opens into a narrow and ill-ventilated space on the
starboard side of the main magazine, was being opened by the captain
of the hold, in the presence of the ship’s steward and several other
men who were close by.
One cask had been lifted out, and Charles Over, a first class petty
officer, was in the act of lifting another cask out of the hatch, when
a violent explosion occurred, throwing the men down in all directions,
and harming seven of them, two severely .
The paint-work was scorched, and some screens covering the
as well as the woodwork
of the hatch were set on fire.
The gangway leading to the upper deck being in flames, escape
in that direction was completely cut off, and the men were obliged to
make their way down a hatch to a lower deck.
At the same time they raised the alarm, and the whole crew were
at once summoned.
Captain Balfour, seeing that the woodwork around the magazine was on
fire, gave orders for the magazine to be flooded, and this was
immediately done, so that in a very few minutes all danger from that
cause was removed.
precaution, however, was taken to signal to the Plover, which was just
then returning to harbour from firing practice, and the vessel steamed
alongside ready to render any assistance in extinguishing the flames.
Over, the petty officer, and another man were both severely burnt, and
after they had been attended to on board the ship they were sent
ashore to the Singapore Civil Hospital.
Over died there on the same
evening, and was buried on the following day with naval honours.
All the other cases are doing well.
The explosion formed the subject of an enquiry by the captains
of the Egeria and the Plover, and the conclusion came to was that the
spirituous vapour or gas had come in contact with the flame of a lamp
with which the spirit-room was lighted and thus caused the explosion.”
of the story….. Naval neat rum
is a volatile
flammable substance and such substances should never come into contact
with a naked flame.
Surely, a boy scout, indeed a girl guide, nay, cubs and brownies, know
that? Add an infusion of oxygen by opening hatches, and pop goes the
The Times on 16th March 1933
From 13th October 1905
From 18th October 1923
FUEL IN OUR WARSHIPS.
In the second half of the 19th
century, the then British Navy [it ceased being that and became the UK
Navy, better known as the Royal Navy on the 9th January 1922] were 60%
sail and 40% sail and steam approximately. As the
years piled on, changing from the 1860's onwards, those figures
changed dramatically in favour of steam, eventually relegating aging
and small vessels to sail only. By the early 20th century all major
fleet units were steam vessels. Steam was produced by heating the
water content of a boiler sited in the boiler room, which was then
passed through reducing and control valves into the engine room to
propel the vessel. There were two types of fuel used to heat the
boilers, coal, shoveled into the base of the boilers from the
base of the bunkers by stokers and then burnt at a high temperature in
an enclosed fire , or oil, fed to the boilers from oil tanks and burnt
in a controlled manner befitting the required speed of the vessel. The
oil, by far the better fuel for overwhelming reasons [manpower
constraints and boiler burn efficiency and cleanliness] soon
supplanted coal, but some vessels were still burning coal in the early
1950's - HMS Fetlar for one from personal contact! With oil came
the cessation of "coal-ship" which was an onerous and much hated task
affecting the the whole ships company and many officers also. At the
time of the Russo-Japanese war of 1905 there was much interest in the
efficiency of producing steam, and up to that point Welsh coal was
king - the best possible, easily acquired, but certainly not the
cheapest. It was pure coal i.e., no impurities especially still
decaying matter and soil, which pleased boiler room crews
because the boilers were not fouled-up with clinkers as they
were when using other inferior coals. At this time, there
were two types of coals used internationally, The most common was
LIGNITE used by vast
areas of the globe, the chief European user being Germany. It was
inefficient [had a high level of impurities in it] but cheap and
readily available: it was a very soft coal and brown in color.
The other type was ANTHRACITE,
a very hard coal of high quality composed of almost 100% carbon. It
was found in mountainous areas and areas with deep valley's. Wales had
more than its fair share of it with copious amount ready to be mined,
but because of the difficulty at the coal-face and the excellent burn
factor it was expensive, costing the Royal Navy dearly.
1902, the navy had conducted a few small experiments with a new source
of coal, this time from the Durham and Yorkshire fields. This was
jet black in colour and of soft structure. The results looked
favourable. To ascertain its true potential it was necessary to
conduct real-time fleet trials. This introduced a dual-fuel concept
into just two capital ships, whereby the ships had both coal bunkers
and oil fuel [FFO = Furnace Fuel Oil] tanks. The article below
from December 1905 tells all. The oil, irrespective of the coal used
was a much better fuel than coal though probably more expensive , and
the north country coal much cheaper than Welsh coal. Using the two
fuels together meant the compromise they sought could be achieved and
possibly at an overall cost saving.
25th April 1923
I wonder what that would equate to in 2017 prices.
GBP would be worth in excess of £4M GBP statistically today, although
in reality, perhaps nothing for by now it would have rusted away to