THE STORY OF COLOURED BANDS USED IN OFFICERS STRIPES

In my Warrant Officer series, I have covered much ground on the difference between the Executive branch {the Military Branch} and the other branches which were known as the Civil Branches of the navy. Basically, all who were involved with the fighting of the ship were the Executive Officers, and the fighting ratings were called bluejackets.  Those belonging to the Civil Branches were the engineers, the stokers, carpenters, purser, surgeon etc and the ratings of these branches were not bluejackets. They were treated as a separate navy and wore a separate uniform.

To start with there were three Civil Branches -the Master [who became the navigating officer], the surgeon and the purser and all warrant officers. They mixed and messed with the other three warrant officers who at that stage were of the Military Branch [executive warrant officers], the gunner, the boatswain and the carpenter. Each group wore a different uniform with the Military warrant officers all dressed the same. The other three warrant officers dressed differently in that they had different buttons, the Master showing three anchors side by side vertically; the Purser two anchors crossed in saltaire {the badge of the victualling office} and the Surgeon a plain anchor i.e., not fouled. In 1825 all that changed and the Civil Branch got new uniforms where the Branch badges were worn on each side of the collar as well as on their buttons and swords. The Surgeons badge was now a snake twined around an anchor. In 1832 the Civil Branch got the same uniforms as did the Military Branch but single breasted instead of double breasted. The distinctive buttons were abolished and each branch had their buttons arranged in different orders to distinguish between them. The Master wore buttons regularly spaced; the pursers had eight buttons arranged in pairs and the surgeon nine buttons arranged in threes. In 1841 the engineers, recently new joiners to the Civil Branch, got uniforms with buttons in fours on which was a crown above an engine. Engineers were immediately recognised for their order of importance because they wore a button  on the sides of their collar, a large button for 'top dog', a middle size button and a small button for the 'oily rag' as it were.

In 1843 the status of the Masters changed and they became commissioned instead of warranted wearing the double breasted Military Branch uniform. In 1856, stripes were introduced to distinguish between ranks. In 1891 the much hated single breasted jacket disappeared and with it the grouping of buttons.

In 1863, a new method of recognition was introduced.  The space between the stripes were filled with coloured velvet later changed to cloth. The colour scarlet for surgeons, white of the accountant branch and purple for engineers. At the same time, the navigating branch although no long a Civil Branch were given the colour light blue but kept if for less than four years. Instead their buttons were arranged in threes which was the case until 1891.

In 1874 it was considered appropriate to give naval instructors a uniform with a distinguishing colour of brown velvet/cloth. However, because the vast majority of instructors were also clergy men, it was considered that epaulettes [which all uniforms had] would hinder the wearing of their clerical gowns that the suggestion was dropped. It was raised again five years later and the issue was resolved by making the wearing of uniform for instructors optional. They were given the velvet/cloth colour of light blue and not brown.

In 1884 the colour silver-grey was given to naval architects but once qualified they seldom wore their uniform.

In 1911 the wardmaster was given the colour scarlet the same as for a surgeon. In 1918 the colour was changed to maroon and finally, in 1951, to salmon-pink.

In 1918 the old carpenter was renamed shipwright and given the same colour - silver-grey - as the naval architects. Also in 1918, Dentists chose the colour orange for their stripes, and the electrical branch was given green with the ordnance branch getting dark blue.

Warrant officers wore the same colours, branch on branch, as their commissioned officers did.

In 1923, officers of the Special Branch [RNVR] were given emerald green.  In 1951, the green shades of both this branch and the electrical branch were made much lighter.

In 1950 the ordnance branch officers merged with the the engineers and changed their colour to purple.

By 1955 all distinguishing colours were abolished except for the medical, dental, wardmaster and the RNVR special branch officers, the latter being abandoned in 1959.

The story about the executive 'curl' or 'loop on the top stripe and all the struggles between the two opposing officer groups is told in the warrant officer pages Part One. The North Americans [CF and USN] call this 'loop' an 'elliots eye' but you will not find the expression in the Oxford English Dictionary nor will you find any mention in a RN Victorian and Edwardian Seamanship Manual when referring to 'eye' in hemp or wire rope. It is NOT USED in the Royal Navy. The North American's claim the following story to their cause:-

"What is known as the executive curl, the ring above an officers' gold lace or braid, is said to date from the Crimean War when it was called 'Elliott's Eye' in commemoration of a Captain Elliot who carried his wounded arm in a sling under heroic circumstances. The term also refers to an eye in a hemp rope, said to be a memento of the Honourable William Elliot, a member of the Board of Admiralty 1800-1801. It is worthy of note that of almost all of the seagoing nations of the world the French and American are the only navies whose officers do not wear 'Elliott's Eye'"

Take care.