You might find the title of my page "The Royal Navy when a Christian Navy" a little disturbing, even shocking by 21st century standards, but when all is said and done, all wars, right up to and including the Falklands War of 1982, were fought by a Navy having just three basic religions, CofE, CofS and RC, in short a Christian Navy. That can no longer be said, regrettably, and in keeping with the theme of my story, I noted that after the 2010 General Election, there was a small increase in the numbers of women MP's but a large increase in the numbers of MP's from ethnic backgrounds - as a nation, equally disturbing I would say.
Here on this page we look at Naval Chaplains, and in our case, very much Christian Chaplains and how they evolved in the twentieth century Royal Navy.
It had always been traditional in the Royal Navy that Chaplains should not wear uniform, but any suitable dress which should clearly indicate their calling. It was thought that any uniform might too clearly identify them with the 'officers' and that this would inhibit their freedom in carrying on their parochial work on the lower deck.
During WW1 this custom led to difficulties. Chaplains were apt to become involved with sentries and the younger ones when on leave disliked the fact that they could not be clearly identified as men serving their country. Some even appeared in fancy rigs of their own devising which looked something like a uniform. Finally, in February 1918 they were issued with a bronze badge about 2" [50.8mm] across, to be worn on the right lapel, or on the right-hand side of the jacket if it had no collar. The badge showed a cross encircled by the words CHAPLAIN ROYAL NAVY and surmounted by a naval crown. It was abolished in 1923
If in a hot climate a chaplain liked to wear a white tunic which had a stand-up collar the lack of his clerical collar meant that he had nothing to show his cloth. In 1925 he was given a black Maltese cross 1" [25.4mm] square, to wear on each side of his collar.
During WW2 the inconvenience of the lack of a uniform for chaplains again became apparent. In 1940 the chaplain was given a uniform cap to wear with his ordinary clothes. This cap was of the usual officer's pattern but had a black cloth peak and a special cap badge with the usual silver anchor and gold and silver embroidered crown, but with the laurel leaves which surrounded the anchor in black silk veined with gold.
The wearing of the cap was optional and in 1942 a complete optional uniform appeared. This was like that of the naval officer but had no stripes and was worn with its own cap and a clerical collar. In white clothing a chaplain now had the choice of wearing a tunic with a black Maltese cross on each side of the collar or a jacket with black shoulder straps, each of which exhibited a gilt Maltese cross.
When the War was over the problem of whether a uniform should be made compulsory came under discussion, and this was decided upon in 1949. The uniform adopted was the same as that of 1942 except that the wearing of black shoulder straps with gilt Maltese crosses was extended to the white tunic and to the greatcoat. Thus the black Maltese crosses passed out of use.
In 1961 the gilt Maltese crosses themselves disappeared being replaced by a new badge consisting of a gilt foul anchor superimposed upon a cross of plain seeded silver with a raised burnished edge.
The mind boggles at what might now be the uniforms of religious leaders in the Royal Navy of the twenty first century, and how many there might be!