Ask a royal navy man where the hub of naval ceremony was and he will tell you that it was in HMS Excellent on Whale Island in Portsmouth Harbour. I say was because today, in 2011, it is centred upon HMS Collingwood near Fareham.

HMS Excellent trained all Gunnery Instructor's [GI's] not just in gunnery but also in all aspects of naval ceremony, and these men were to be found in just about every ship and naval establishment.  They were responsible for training in-situ the ship's companies in their care both at home and abroad,  in all aspects of ceremony whether in basic training, small arms training, leadership courses, divisions [routine and ceremonial], guards [captain's and royal] and other events for "showing the flag" purposes. Many of these involved the general public and some, especially those abroad, which included Governor's General/Lieutenant's General etc, the VIP civilians, the likes of Prime Ministers and Civic Dignitaries. Royal naval ceremonial was also afforded the Heads of Armed Forces in the foreign country being visited or in which the RN ship was based. That applied equally to the UK for all ceremonial events except for national events which were events of State. When matters of State were being considered, the sailors involved left their parent ships/establishments and mustered in the Gunnery School [HMS Excellent] or in a Naval Depot [HMS Victory {now HMS Nelson}, HMS Drake and HMS Pembroke] and in those places they received their ceremonial training.

In modern times post WW2, there were no fewer that six major State occasions requiring the parading of the Royal Navy inter alia up to and including February 1952 and these do not include Remembrance Day parades at the Whitehall Cenotaph. Without exception, training for these events took place in Whale Island. The King's death in February 1952 would involve the use of two gun carriages, one for use in London and one for use in Windsor: see for full details. The carriages would come from Portsmouth and from Chatham, the latter to be used for the London Ceremonies and the former for the Windsor Ceremonies. Training for Windsor would be conducted in HMS Excellent and that for London in HMS Pembroke. Naturally, this put a great strain on the Whale Island resources [half in Portsmouth and half in Chatham] and necessitated the calling-in of GI's from many outlying UK bases [ships and establishments].

Having been at the very fore-front of naval ceremonial training for a State event, I know well just how difficult it is to put 'round pegs in round holes', and the frustration of doing the best with the manpower available. You may record seeing "tailor-made ceremonial" when viewing marching troops of the Nazi's [especially of the SS Regiments]: the Russians in Moscow on May day's; the Chinese army [men and women] of today; the North Korean's of today etc, whose robotic soldiers are all the same height, all nice and slim, all athletic looking, all drilled almost as zombies.  It is effective, but it takes enormous static amounts of personnel to perform these spectacles, and the nearest thing we have, which is regularly paraded, is the King's Squad of the RAF Regiment who perform many small arm functions without saying one word.  It is stunning to watch, but it cannot be performed to order by the majority of RAF Regiment airmen. Whilst I hate to mention this, have you ever had the privilege of sitting on Horse Guards Parade in London witnessing Trooping the Colour ? It is not as good as it looks on camera [on TV] !  The dressing is not good and the sizes of the guardsmen differ in height and girth. We cannot and should not comment though, because many of these boys were away in Iraq or Afghanistan a few weeks before training for the June ceremony started and are more 'fighting soldiers' than they are 'ceremonial soldiers'.  However, my comment is directed at something we are all familiar with in the armed forces and that refers to a phalanx of men fallen-in with "tallest on the flanks, shortest in the centre" - there is no room for such a statement in the Nazi, Russian, Chinese, North Korean ethos, because they are all cloned from the model of an ideal soldier. We do not [and cannot] have such an ethos, so we make do and we get the best [the very best,  for there is nowhere in the world that can emulate British pageantry/ceremonial and all are envious of our "showmanship"] from the personnel we have.

This making do with what we have or are given, does not only apply to our manpower/uniforms, but to our materiel also. Materiel usually refers to the 'equipment of war' so it is relevant to small arms and small arms play a major part in naval ceremony. In this case of course, the rating keeps his rifle but the officer picks up the sword which replaces his 9mm pistol.

1952/1953 was a very busy period for small arms and there were tens of thousands in circulations used by all three forces. We were busy fighting in Malaya, Korea, Palestine; we had a huge BAOR [British Army of the Rhine] and hundreds of warships/establishments home and abroad. The standard rifle was the Lee Enfield Number 4.

In 1952, in August, when the planning for the Queen's Coronation was well under way, a group of officers  led by Vice Admiral Sir Alec Madden [then Second Sea Lord] decided that the navy, being the senior service, would in effect push-the-boat-out leading the Coronation Parade.  It had already been decided by the Earl Marshal that marching contingents [our boys were called "the naval brigade"] would be ten abreast and those riding on horses six abreast: the overall length of the procession was approximately three miles long and the coronation route approximately eight miles long. At first one thousand marching sailors was mooted, but that was eventually trimmed back to six hundred and eighty men, an enormous phalanx with no blank space, and can be imagined as a platoon fallen in, right dressed, facing the platoon commander. You can hear the command "from the right...number" and each man in his turn calling out 1 through to 68, and then for inspection purposes "front rank one pace forward..march" followed by the other ranks until the rear of the rear rank [rank 10] was inspected. Whilst the size of the phalanx was important, the small arms they would carry had to be absolutely perfect in every detail and this posed a problem. This became a fetish for some staff officers ! Incidentally, when marching ten abreast, this is called "marching in REVIEW ORDER".

The man responsible for small arms was D.A.S., Director of Armament Supplies.  His task was to make sure that the arms were serviceable at issue, that they would shoot and accurately so, and that all parts of the rifle were complete and in working order. It wasn't that important that the woodwork or metalwork gleamed or that there were chips and abrasions caused when transporting the weapons, their stowage racks and their ability to be 'jack-proof', although clearly shoddy weapons would be 'tarted-up' for cosmetic reasons. He was, after all, handling rifles to be used for killing [Korea etc].

On previous State occasions, the white webbing [the carrying strap] was perfect and the the black paint work plus the wooden parts were checked and repainted and re stained/varnished. Despite this, rifles issued for State occasions came from D.A.S, stores and were not special.  

It was decided that on this occasion, the rifles carried by the naval brigade would be special. D.A.S, was therefore ordered to set aside seven hundred No 4 Service rifles for the navy.  They were to be stripped to constituents parts and the first rifle so prepared, was then painted and stained and reassembled. Each of the next 699 rifles would go through the same procedure so that each was a direct clone of the first. The stain would be lighter than a normal service rifle [and thus distinctive] and there could be no colouration difference weapon upon weapon. The expression coined for the set of seven hundred special rifles was "MATCHED RIFLES" and that group became unique. They were reserved for the big day only and for use by the naval brigade only.  Naval street liners got ordinary service rifles. This meant that they were transported from D.A.S, each wrapped individually in sacking and brown paper to Wellington Barracks in Birdcage Walk London and issued, one to one to the sailors in absolutely perfect condition.  Woe betide a sailor who dropped it. It is said that Sir Alec was ecstatic in his praise of D.A.S, and the naval brigade, and the navy, as always were number one in order of appearance and number one in order of smartness and excellence. There is very little to show you about this event in terms of files etc and a lot of this would have been by word of mouth, personal visits to D.A.S., telephone calls, and the odd loose minute which hasn't survived. However, after the Coronation, these "MATCHED RIFLES" were highly desirable weapons and there was much written about them which fortunately has survived.

The "matched rifles" were taken off the hands of D.A.S, [his job was done and it was back to the mundane for him] and he was given 700 ordinary rifles in return for normal issue. The story starts with the boss of the gunnery world, one, 'Director of Gunnery and Anti-Aircraft Warfare Division' abbreviated to D.G.D., within the Admiralty, writing a loose minute to other Admiralty Director's of....



All other correspondence in DATE order.pdf

The last four major funerals/events since WW2 have been King George VI's funeral in 1952, The Coronation 1953, Winston Churchill's funeral in 1965 and Lord Mountbatten's funeral in 1979. All other events have been small by comparison some even as small as personal funerals. The special rifle procedure was never repeated again simply because rifles at the Coronation were carried at the slope whereas for Churchill and Mountbatten, they were carried in reverse.