R.N. WARRANT OFFICERS AT BRNC DARTMOUTH!

 

When we say that the navy has changed a great deal since our time in it, that not only covers materiel changes but also the navy's approach to its men and women and the way they manage and train them.

Many of you will remember the many courses you undertook covering purely naval subjects but also subjects like fire fighting, first aid, civil aid, support services for when people like the fire brigade go on strike [and Green Goddess' are manned and driven by sailors] and several others too.

All of these courses had a 'management development feature' built into them, and depending upon your rank and seniority whilst a course member, you could develop those skills to the highest level. The navy in particular [simply because of its global mobility] is well known for its expertise in anything it turns its hand to, this, on top of its proven abilities to protect us from our enemies.

In our day those courses were recorded on naval records only and few, if any, were recognised by civilian organisations in an official manner.

Now the navy has what it calls the Royal Naval Leadership Academy [RNLA] based in HMS Collingwood, and several of the courses it runs there gain civilian recognition, which could help in the resettlement back into civilian life job interview. Some of these course you would readily recognise, like for example, a Leading Hands Leadership Course, a Petty Officers Leadership Course, and these can lead to meeting the requirements of organisations like the CMI [Chartered Management Institute] who run courses from the very basics right through to University Degrees courses including Masters and PhD level. This is their website presence and specifically their RN/MOD Course section - worth a read for anyone browsing this page, and not just for serving sailors. 
Royal Navy | Chartered Management Institute

The reason I am writing this page is because of the list of courses [as in the link above] now available to our men and women, and in particular the Staff Course for warrant officers at the BRNC Dartmouth. What an innovation and oh so different from my day in 1975!  It is good to see that the navy takes this rate seriously today, for in my day, a newly promoted FCPO [renamed well over ten years latter to WO]
was treated and employed as a super CPO, the rate he had just stepped up from.

Several years ago I wrote an official history of the RN Warrant Officer which has won much acclaim. It can be found by browsing to this page and selecting each of three parts in turn to read  Later on I wrote the website http://www.rnmuseumradarandcommunications2006.org.uk  If you read all of these information sources you will get a near perfect understanding of the Royal Navy from the start of the 20th century into the rank structure of the upper and lower decks juxtaposed with the "middle" deck.

It is a great sadness to me as I see and hear much about the lack of knowledge of the RN warrant officer, particularly his uniform, an important start in understanding what he was and did in the period 1900 to 1949.  Although the WO rank [note, not rate] was extant for many years prior to the turn of the century, keeping it "modern" might attract more readers and anyway, many of the 'modern' WO's joined the list post-1900 adding to the 'old' WO's associated with the Gunner, the Boatswain, the Carpenter and the Engineer.  After all, 1949 is not that many years ago in historic terms, and certainly this rank helped to make British naval history,  so it's worth an airing. Of course I am not going to do that here - I have already published the fully story - so I will concentrate on uniforms only.

From the start of my stated period [1900] until after WW1 in April 1919, there were three grades of warrant officer [three naval titles which included the words warrant officer] and they were:-
a.  a warrant officer
b.  a chief warrant officer
c.  a commissioned warrant officer

and all wore an officer style uniform [four buttons instead of three as on a ratings fore and after rig jacket] including a sword, and were mustered as wardroom officers, despite a and b being non-commissioned officers.

The warrant officer wore a cuff symbol of "rounded cuffs with three buttons and notched holes of blue twist thereon.  Two pictures follow to show a WO's uniform:

first one, WO with a mixture of 1st class PO's, 2nd class PO's and lots of two and three badgemen.

A bright young WO could, after just a few years holding the rank, be promoted to be a Chief Warrant Officer or be fast tracked to be a Commissioned Warrant Officer, and this was often the case for outstanding war service over and above being bright. However, if he was less bright [or unfortunate - personality clash and all that] he had to struggle on for ten long years before achieving the rank of Chief Warrant Officer. After ten year, he added a ¼" stripe above the button of the WO's uniform and became known as a Chief Warrant Officer {CWO} or just plain 'Chief'.

In my following picture, you will see members of the Warrant Officers Mess onboard HMS Renown.

 and this to show a close-up of his cuff : use your magnifier for a good close view.

 Note the officer on the rear rank right hand side. He is a Chief WO whereas the officer on the left hand side is a WO. Note that his stripe does not have a curl on the top and this is because he is not an executive CWO - executive being the like of the Gunner, the Boatswain, the Telegraphist and the Signalman. If you look to the right hand neck level of the officer sitting in the middle row second from right, you will see an executive CWO with a curl in his stripe.

A couple of pictures showing full frontal uniforms of the WO on the left and an executive Chief WO on the right.

     Interesting to note that at Shotley in 1913, the staff comprised as follows. 1913 was before Shotley trained telegraphist, taking only signalmen. Boy Telegraphists were trained in HMS Impregnable, and adults were trained in HMS Defiance both ships at Devonport. The training started in 1906 conducted by Instructor Officers and Torpedo Specialists who were the W/T equipment maintainers. This very interesting PDF File tells of the start and the course work involved 1906 two.pdf. Notice no gunnery training but PT everyday:  that if he failed as a Boy Telegraphist he was reverted to a Boy [meaning seaman] or a Boy Signalman and the telling comment in the last paragraph of Section 10. Then school all day long except for a ¾ hour break which was used for Morse Code! This 1910 PDF File shows on Page 3, in the last three short paragraphs, that the first Warrant Telegraphists Course had been completed and the qualifiers appointed, the Telegraphist training in general was going well, and that the very first officers course in W/T to qualify for Signal Lieutenant [S] had begun. A lieutenant completing the W/T course OR the V/S course was known as an [S] and the lieutenant who qualified in both V/S and W/T was called a "dagger S" shown as [S†]. Later, that lieutenant could take a more demanding course in V/S and W/T and he became a "double dagger S" shown as [S††]. A Mate, a wardroom general list officer who was selected, nurtured and commissioned direct from the range PO to WO including the CPO] at an early age, and was a sub lieutenant senior to the Commissioned from WO rank, was shown as a [W/T]' on completion of the W/T course.

     

Use your magnifier. Note the division between Ganges afloat and Shotley Training Establishment. There were two Lieutenant's [S] = Signal Officers almost certainly qualified only in V/S and not W/T <see paragraph above> {second table} and two Signal Bosuns for the training of signal boys {third table}. Note that the boys were taught mechanical subjects {second and third tables}, seamanship and gunnery and that the teaching staff was very small. The school master system worked as follows. The school masters were CPO's assisted by academically advanced and proven first class boys called Pupil Teachers, who later went off to teacher training colleges and returned to the navy as CPO's. After them came Warrant Schoolmasters, then the Senior Master who was a commissioned warrant officer followed by a Head Master who was a lieutenant and a promotion from the Senior Master.  Instructor Officers did not teach at HMS Ganges until after the Advanced Class Boy was introduced. Instructor Lieutenants were first appointed in 1914. Take note that the Dentist was a civilian.  Once the war had begun proper, names of ships and their staffs were no longer printed so we cannot know when the first Warrant Telegraphist or Commissioned Telegraphist joined HMS Ganges.

The following picture shows the ship' officers in WW1 - note, Midshipmen were not in this group.  The bottom line shows the ranks available to the lower deck via the warrant officer system. Here, I have claimed journalistic licence in that I have copied a 1937  table [to be shown later below] and then modified if for a WW1 theme. Nothing wrong with that if I can get my message over. Figure 12 is of course the WO and 11 is the Chief WO. 10 is the Sub Lieutenant or the Commissioned Officer from Warrant Rank.

 

Again, a bright young Chief WO could easily win a Commission to the wardroom at an early age [point in his career] but were he not able to do that, the ten year rule would apply before he could achieve the rank of Commissioned Warrant Officer.  On achieving that rank, he would leave the WO mess to join the wardroom, and at the same time, he would take down his buttons and replace the ¼" stripe with a single ½" stripe.  It became the practice [both spoken and written] to say that the officer was Commissioned from the warrant rank, rather than that he was a Commissioned Warrant Officer. At this point, he lost all social contact with his former colleagues whilst afloat, but, because he would have been paying into a Warrant Officers DBA [Death Benefit Account] for many years previously, he would have kept up his membership of the WO Club ashore. The DBA paid his widow a death benefit when he died, there being no pension scheme at the time of its start.

Rather confusingly, not every branch was configured that way with a WO and a CWO system in being.  Early on there had been an issue which involved the Chief Warrant Writer. He became very much a supply officer in the Paymaster Branch and he was of little use unless he had access to money. Cash could only be handled by commissioned officers, so the Admiralty decided that that branch would have only one WO and then a Commissioned officer missing out the Chief WO. It should be obvious that there was much envy in other branches and they too argued the importance of having the same structure as the Writer. The Admiralty looked upon these requests with some sympathy and were starting to resolve the situation when the political issues were obviously leading to war in Europe. WW1 put a stop on all related staff work. When the system did change [see a couple of paragraphs below starting with 'They got their wish....' this is how the structure looked well before that watershed:-

BRANCHES WITH 'CHIEFS' BRANCHES WITHOUT 'CHIEFS' BRANCHES WITH A 'WO GRADE'
Gunner -Boatswain - Signal Boatswain - Master-at-Arms - Artificer Engineer - Telegraphist - Shipwright - Mechanicians - Ordnance -Electrical - Schoolmaster - Wardmaster - Writer - Victualling - Instructor in Cookery - Keepers and Stewards of the Royal Cabins in HM Yachts.

Master-at-Arms

Looking at the Table above, the 'divide' is obvious! All the branches WITH chiefs are old and well established navy branches/titles - remember the first Iron Clad, HMS Warrior with steam engines of c.1860?  Those WITHOUT chiefs were new comers when compared with the old group even though the new shipwright had replaced the Carpenter, one of the oldest of all WO's who fell from grace when demoted from an executive to a non-executive WO. Note also the stand-off position of the Master-at-Arms. He was a CPO who, upon promotion, was elevated straight to the Chief WO rank, there to "stamp his authority" on all,  from boy seaman right up to and including the WO.  During this period, which was1900 to 1919, promotions were always available to go higher than a Commissioned Officer from Warrant Rank.  The normal path, which had break points and associated pay points, was from PO to CPO to WO to CWO [except Writers as stated] to Commissioned Officer.  As all of these titles had in them the branch/trade/skill associated with the substantive rate/rank i.e. CPO Telegraphist, so too did the next promotions up the ladder. If we were to use the Telegraphist Branch, after Commissioned Telegraphist came Telegraphist Lieutenant, then Telegraphist Lieutenant Commander and even Telegraphist Commander, but very few ever got that far. On the other side, the departmental general list officer used the word "Signal" officer or the suffix {S with or without dagger[s]}, or if a general list Mate, {W/T} after his name which was always Sub Lieutenant/Lieutenant so-and-so R.N., plain and simple.  A general list lieutenant/or Mate could of course do any job but the specialist was chained to his narrow profession by employment and by name.

Of interest, during this period there were two warrant officer grades in the Naval Air Service, which joined the Royal Flying Corps to become the RAF and the FAA. The NAS chose not to use the WO and CWO titles but instead chose WO1[A] and WO2[A].

In my series, 'The Royal Naval Warrant Officer', and in other pages, I have told of the great collapse of morale at the end of WW1 when conditions of service were bad, the more so for officers which included WO's and CWO's. The navy couldn't and didn't cope properly, and the dissent continued on and off in many ways leading eventually to the Invergordon Mutiny. However, one of the major complaints from the WO's/CWO's was lack of recognition and the need to get rid of the stigma that a naval warrant officer equated with a WO1 in the army, or so many thought. The wearing of buttons and the silly ¼" stripe were demeaning and they wanted full integration with the wardroom as recognised naval officers.

They got their wish in 1919 [after the first ideas were mooted before the WW1 started but put on hold] and gone were the buttons,  and the buttons with the silly ¼" stripe above [but not the stripe itself], the WO's Mess, although many were renamed Wardroom II until wardrooms were rebuilt or added to to accommodate all the ex WO/CWO's, and new pay structures were set. The WO was given that silly ¼" stripe [described that way by the WO's themselves and recorded as such in naval history] but on its own without additional symbols,  and the Chief WO was given a ½" stripe. The existing Commissioned Officer moved up to become a lieutenant, and the ranks above him also jockeyed for position.  There were many cuts to the officer corps and many officers were thrown onto the rubbish dump. The ending of the war had the most influence on these cuts, but it is obvious that bringing in a new level of officer at the bottom of the pile automatically meant that room further up would have to be made, even forcibly.

The 1919 pay scale  for officers who were former warrant officers, was as follows [NB. Two scales only, Mechanical on higher pay, and Non-Mechanical which this list shows:-

RANK PAY PER ANNUM DAILY RATE
Warrant Officer [WO] on promotion 255.10.0 0.14.0 [NB. 14 shillings = 70p, so a shilling = 5p
WO after 3 years [a] 273.15.0 0.15.0
WO after 6 years [b] 292.0.0. 0.16.0
WO after 9 years [c[ 310.5.0 0.17.0
Commissioned from Warrant Officer [CWO] on promotion 316.15.0 0.19.0
CWO [a] 383.5.0 1.1.0 [a guinea]
CWO [b] 419.15.0 1.3.0
CWO [c] 456.5.0 1.5.0
Lieutenant [Lt] on promotion 492.15.0 1.7.0.
Lt [a] 511.0.0 1.8.0
Lt [b] 529.5.0 1.9.0
Lieutenant Commander [Lt Cdr] on promotion 565.15.0 1.11.0
Lt Cdr [a] 638.15.0 1.15.0
Commander [Cdr] on promotion 730.0.0 2.0.0.
Cdr [a] 808.0.0 2.4.0
Cdr [b] 876.0.0 2.8.0
Cdr[c] 949.0.0 2.12.0

Through many trials and tribulations, when standards were high in the wardroom and much depended upon ones personal wealth; when mess bills were expected to have been generously expanded and paid; when civilians [and often neighbours] were making hay, financially at least, whether or not the recipient had been engaged or involved in total war, at a time when Service pay was being cut and redundancies wide spread;  the modest-means but diligent and long serving  Chief Warrant Officer, was out of his depth socially, but more than equal to most of them professionally.  In those day, catchment areas were the norm. By that, I mean that warrant officers were family men either from naval ports, married into naval port families or who had families local to naval ports, and they were by their origins, "dockyard class" property owners/renters. Have YOU ever wandered the roads of Portsmouth and Southsea, the back streets of Devonport and its environs [just for example] and wondered about the streets upon streets of lower working class accommodation  that were the homes of some of these ex-ratings and now wardroom officers.  All these men wanted, quite late on in their Service, was the financial security for the future, whilst shunning the aspirations [and expected] social graces of a wardroom officer. Such was their dilemma when accepting a commission in 1919.

Read my files to see the low morale of the Royal Navy in the period 1920 to 1935, but here we are discussing the uniforms of WO and ex WO's only.

We entered WW2 with the status quo, namely the ¼" warrant officer and the ½" senior commissioned officer. This plate, taken from the 1937 Coronation Review Programme, shows officers ranks and insignia,  and  out of keeping with the subject matter, CPO and PO hats/badges. For our purposes, take note on items 10,  11, 28 and 33.

This rather sad picture, one of my favourites in my data-base, was taken in the early WW2 years [you will recall that we lost the Hood in May of 1941]. It shows the warrant officers of that ship.

Notice the mixture of ½" and ¼" stripes some having coloured bands beneath the stripes denoting their specialty, but all now, irrespective of their branch, deemed "executive" namely the curl on the top of the stripe is present.

As for the rest of the story, it involves only name changes and not rank insignia. The war and its end, saw the same names and the same stripes as previously discussed. We had the WO Telegraphist, the Commissioned Telegraphist, the Telegrahist Lieutenant, the Telegraphist Lieutenat  and the Telegrahist Commander. In 1948 [to be fully effective in 1949] a change was made to the title of the WO's, and come the change, WO's became known as Branch Officers, specifically as Commissioned Communication Officer [CCO'S] for example, and the Senior Commissioned officer became a Senior Commissioned Communication Officer [SCCO] The next promotion for the CCO was to SCCO, and for the SSCO it was to lieutenant. This saw the end of the long standing naval warrant officer and the passing of its name/title was lamented.

Later, I remember well our four CCO's [one not photographed in the picture below] and our one SCCO [the middle officer of the five shown was the SCO, Lt Anthony Hugh DICKINS, a Long 'C' general list signal officer]  in HMS Tyne during the Suez Crisis. During our passage home to Portsmouth from Egypt arriving on the 7th January 1957, these men [five in number] were promoted from CCO's/SCCO to the newly created Special Duties [SD] list  - the latter becoming Lieutenant Scutt SD[C] RN. See this picture below.

 

Ted Scutt is on the middle row, 6th from the left.

The rank and insignia continued from the Branch Officer into the SD Officer, now calling them by their rank [Sub Lieutenant et al] first and foremost with an added specialisation  as a suffix: typically Lieutenant Joe Bloggs [the important part] followed by [SD][C] [the specialist part which could be either W/T or Buntings] and then the final important part, namely RN. As far as I remember, the highest attainable rank from the lower deck was a Commander [SD] unless of course the ex rating had become a General List officer in which case the sky was the limit. I don't recall there being a Captain [SD]!

That situation was ongoing right up to and including 1998, when finally, all officers were to become general list, and each, despite his or her origins, has a chance for the top job.  I wish them all well.

And, in between times, was a less important event, when in 1970, their Lordships decided to talk about a new warrant officer for the Royal Navy. They had been influenced by the USN list of Master CPO, the E-9 grade which NATO called the OR9 grade - see  http://www.godfreydykes.info/ROYAL_NAVY_COMPARISON_OF_RANK_AND_RATE_AND_PAY_WITH_THE_USN.htm -  and this rate was the top of the EM-deck [Enlisted Men or ratings/lower deck]. The USN had a wardroom Warrant Officer grade  which included a Chief Warrant Officer, and this was the equivalent of the Branch/SD Officer in the RN. So, from the very beginning of the staff work, the newly reintroduced title of Warrant Officer into the RN, was to be a rating and not a wardroom officer [as hitherto] with  NATO OR9 equivalent status. The USN Master Chief had long been established with strong terms of reference, but when they introduced a Master CPO into the Royal Navy, calling it a Fleet CPO, they got it badly wrong. In 1972, the Admiralty's ill thought out plan came into fruition when the first of the new FCPO [Fleet Chief Petty Officer] was promoted without any real terms of reference. If you are at all interested, have a look at the latter part of Part Three for details of that less than satisfactory event.

Since that time, the WO2 has been added, and the WO of the Navy, on the staff of the Second Sea Lord has been extended from my day, into an appointment for a WO with clout to address grievances from the Fleet.

The Warrant Officer is a very important rate [note, not rank] and it is pleasing to see that his training is commensurate with the ideals and progress of a modern fighting force. I only wish that the admirals of the 1970's had had the same foresight!

My very best wishes to you all, good cheer and good luck.

Yours aye, Godfrey [Jeff] Dykes, FCPO for eight years from 1975 until retirement in 1983.