You can always read books, preferably in this case, reference; consult an internet search engine; read and understand the London Gazette or media conveying lists of Honours and Awards at the Queen Birthday Review, New Years Honours plus Prime Ministers Resignation List if issued by the outgoing PM [not always] to try and understand or even decrypt the "system", or you can look for somebody to teach you the inner meaning on what might appear obvious, but it isn't!


I first met a one-eye Scottish admiral back in the mid-1960's when he was a Flag Officer and I was one of his many senior rates, he a Leo-type of man and me knowing my place, at all times acting with diffidence showing spontaneous respect.

The place was Fort Blockhouse - HMS Dolphin - when the admiral was FOSM {Flag Officer Submarines} and I was a submariner petty officer - poles apart but both fighting on the same side. We rarely if ever spoke or even met, but in common with my peers, I knew well of him but he nothing of us! There was a short break in this stand offish behaviour, when due to sickness, I was temporarily elevated to be the admirals signals Yeoman, which did involve both meeting and speaking but only Service-speak and not social-speak. His name was Ian, Ian McGeoch, a Rear Admiral and he had lost an eye in WW2, when up-top on a surfaced submarine he was shot in the face and severely injured. His submarine was captured and he and his crew were taken into captivity as a prisoners of war [POW].  He spent long long periods banged-up behind barbed-wire and sentry gunposts, but he did his level best to escape and on more than one occasion. You can read all about this officer on this site We knew of his high honours and that he had become a Knight, but then again, lots of admirals were knighted and a knighthood is a knighthood - or is it? Thinking back, it must be a point of frustration for a senior officer so rewarded knowing that commissioned officers fully understand  post nominals [letters after your name] but by and large non-commissioned officers do not, and they should!

Fast forward and several years go by  to a time when we are together again, this time as boss and employee in civilian street working for his company called MIDAR Limited based in London with an office in the cabin-flat aft on 2 deck HMS Belfast, moored in the Pool of London. Now there is much time for social-speak especially when we took City meals [usually luncheon]  and in those moments I learnt a great deal.  I normally love to keep myself informed on these matters and yet, I had just completed 30 years in the navy but hadn't understood all that I should have done. If that applied to me I can say with great surety that it applied to the vast majority of the lower deck.

What follows cannot of course be put-about by the officers involved themselves and it must be done by others on their behalf, and I believe that the navy would do well to introduce this subject-matter into a little cameo, taught under the heading of General Naval Training - Saluting and Marks of Respect.

I am going to start with a fascinating story of a family whose members, all officers, under different circumstances would have all won the Victoria Cross and there were four of them!. Their name was Gough and of Irish Aristocracy. In two generations, the men won three VC's and the family is documented in British history as the bravest of all families. The fourth member of this family was also a hero both in the second Boer War and also in WW1, but at one stage in WW1 he was accused of making errors as a senior commander [an Acting General with the substantive rank of Lieutenant General] and because of it, over night as it were, lost much of his prestige and his friends, although Winston Churchill sent him a hand written letter saying that he was a supporter and admirer. It came too late for Acting General Gough, and instead of confirming his Rank as a General they fobbed him off with an important honour [GCMG]  the Most Distinguished  Order of St Michael and St George, which is one Order higher than a DSO [Distinguished Service Order] rightly given to thousands of WW1 officers, and a financial grant, a pile of money. As I said, the family were aristocrats and they were not interested in petty amounts of money nor with Orders however grand we think they are, but wanted recognition especially field-Rank earned on the battle field. Now at that time, second half of the 19th century up to the end of WW1, giving a money grant in lieu of a medals/honours or a substantive promotion was a common ploy for the War Office and the Admiralty.

Seeing General Gouch's case takes us to the top of the tree but it was common across the board. Here is a bottom of the tree story this time involving an Able Seaman. This is the open fold of his SC [Service Certificate] which is not easy to read, although the part I want you to read is legible using your zooming tool and a goodly amount of concentrated effort.

The man is Able Seaman William Charles WILLIAMS, born an Englishman but raised as a Welshman. He joined the navy as a boy in HMS Impregnable in 1895. As an Able Seaman some ten years down the line in 1910 he had left the RN to join the reserves and worked full time as a steel worker in South Wales. At the outbreak of WW1 in 1914 he rejoined the navy, and months later he found himself at Gallipoli, where for the second time he was seconded to fight as a soldier in the Royal Naval Brigade as an infantry or artillery man. In 1915, he died as a hero and was awarded a Victoria Cross posthumously. However, the part of the hidden story can be seen in the difficult to read text at the bottom left hand side of his record. During his early service as a boy through to able seaman, he was involved in the Second Boer War in South Africa and landed ashore with the Royal Naval Brigade at Natal. There he obviously carried out his duties with exceptional merit and was recognised for it. The text says "

Landed with Naval Brigade in Natal. Recommended by Officer in Charge South African Grant 1889-1902, Paid"

In this case you can conclude that his meritorious service did not warrant a special medal other than a campaign medal nor was he senior enough to be granted promotion, so the extra cash [in this case] would have been very welcome and might even have equaled his weekly or even monthly pay.

The grant was not a common occurrence for the men and had to be earned and witnessed just like his VC was.

A few days ago, we lost another of our heroes with the death of Admiral Sandy Woodward of Falklands fame. In that campaign, several Orders and Crosses were awarded to both men and officers, with two Victoria Crosses and several Military Crosses. Rear Admiral [at that time] Woodward was knighted, but note, not just knighted, for he received one of the top knighthoods, the KCB, Knight Commander of the Most Honourable Order of the Bath  being just below the two highest honours possible, namely The Most Ancient and Most Noble Honourable Order of The Thistle and the ultimate, The Most Nobel Order of The Garter. An admiral with a KCB is therefore better decorated than an admiral with a KBE [Knight Commander of the Most Honourable Order of the British Empire] an award much worn by our admirals. Out of the ten chivalric Orders, the KCB ranks as No3 and the KBE as No9. An admiral entering the chivalric Orders, can be further promoted, not in naval rank but in chivalric rank, to a Grand Cross of an Order and beyond that, elevated to the Peerage to become a Lord, or in times gone by, after years of Service in wars mainly, to a higher order of the Peerage to say a Viscount or an Earl, and those with royal connections {Lord Mountbatten's father and brother} to a Marquess and exceptionally to a non-Royal Duke. The last such person offered that status was not an admiral BUT during WW1 and WW2 had been the boss of the Admiralty, yes, Winston Churchill. He turned the offer down; the offer was for him to become the Duke of London. These Peerages can of course be Hereditary or Life. Remember that there are several Orders [in a pecking Order] and the near-highest of our admirals could conceivable hold at least three of them which would promote them to Grand Cross of the Orders of the Bath, the Victorian Order and the British Empire to namely a GCB, a GCVO and a GBE.

I say near-highest, for there is an elite, virtually all created in my time in my Service years which must be indicative of an age of splendour for the Royal Navy. These are the men and women who wear [or wore] the naval uniform with a very special symbol on their attire, and they are very very special people who warrant a pure golden carpet and not a mere red carpet treatment. They are:-

a. HRH Admiral of the Fleet The Prince Philip
b. HRH Admiral The Prince of Wales
c. HRH Admiral and Chief Commandant for Women The Princess Royal
c. HRH Rear Admiral The Prince Andrew
d. Admiral The Lord Boyce
e. Admiral of the Fleet Earl Mountbatten deceased
f. Admiral of the Fleet Terence Lewin deceased

all of whom are member of the Order of the Garter.

Lord Boyce therefore has to be considered our premier naval officer and it is good to see that he is so active within naval organisations. Well done Sir.

At this point, I have to say that Ian McGeoch used to say, with great commitment, two things. These remember were at the time of the Falklands War in 1982 when his Company, Midar Limited was really on a drawing board. Firstly he would remind me of the system for addressing his wife, a lady I met just the once when they were living in Essex. They moved to live in Suffolk where both of them died, Sir Ian when aged 93. That is where I met and "served" with him for a third time, when he was the President of the Bury St Edmunds RNA. Going back to our second time together, "remember", he would say, "It is Sir Ian and Lady McGeoch".....or "Sir Ian McGeoch" or "Lady McGeoch" and nothing else would he allow under threat of a good old fashioned bollocking. My wife does not use her Christian name in any application associated with my KCB [Knighthood] no matter what. This of course applies to all wives unless they were born as Lady Helen etc in their own right, or were themselves knighted [given damehoods] when it becomes Dame Patricia etc., or Lady Patricia etc.  Then, having previously instructed me in the true understanding of rank associated with post nominals, it was transparent that his KCB was more important than his rank, his title, or, and in his words, his track record, for time after time, he equated the admiral with a KCB as a warrior without saying what he thought about admirals with KBE's or KCVO's inter alia.  He was a devout "bridge-list" officer, and any ship or Flag which came anywhere near his without him knowing every detail, was an intrusion on his space. I have never yet met a Chief Yeoman of any of his ships [and I am thinking particularly about his pride and joy, the cruiser 'Lion'] but I would love to hear of the bridge conversations when leaving or entering harbour or when rendezvousing upon the high seas. His DSO and DSC were icing on the cake even though, in reality they 'built' the cake if you see what I mean?, well won and of great credit but nothing compared with his most coveted KCB. He ridiculed those who scoffed at the nuclear submarine 'Conqueror' sinking the 'General Belgrano' and calling Mrs Thatcher a war-monger and murderer for taking so many Argentine sailors to their deaths, and I can still see him these years on pointing to articles in the Times and agreeing with their journalism and empathy.  He was in favour of Sandy Woodward getting his knighthood and more importantly a KCB instead of say a KBE, but he also wanted a high reward for the skipper of the 'Conqueror' Commander Christopher Wreford-Brown R.N., for surely he deserved great credit for his skill in trapping, engaging and the dispatching of this adversary. Not that anyone did or attempted to do in our presence, but he would have nothing said against his dear friend [and my hero] Admiral of the Fleet John Fieldhouse, who having achieved the highest award [as previously mentioned] namely the GCB and the GBE, he went on to the Peerage appointed as Baron Fieldhouse of Gosport, with a bronze bust suitably mounted on the seawall of the Gosport Hard. Lord Fieldhouse and his outgoing red-headed wife know to us submariners attached to or involved with the 1st Squadron based on HMS 'Dolphin' as Midge, continued to grace the SOCA {Submariners Old Comrades Association} and thereafter the Gosport SA {Submariners Association} when SOCA was disbanded, with her presence, and was always the 'star' at our gala events, which, like so many other organisations and associations, was held in HMS 'Collingwood'. When she died, many years after Lord Fieldhouse, an era of excitement came to an end. Whilst Lord Fieldhouse could do no wrong in Ian McGeoch's eyes especially as the C-in-C in 1982, his boss, Sir John Nott, a merchant banker from the City and not at all suited as Tory MP for Cabinet let alone as the Minister of Defence, regularly referred to him as destroyer of the MOD for his draconian cuts which directly affected the ability of our Armed Forces to function correctly, could do no right. It was subsequently proved to be the case as far as defence was concerned, and almost immediately after the Falklands War, Sir John stepped down from politics and returned to his desk in the City driving the Lazard Merchant Bank, a position he was well suited for!  Mrs Thatcher appointed a very popular man, Francis Pym in his place, who later was elevated to a Peerage as a Baron. Sir Ian made the point about the KCB, originally a Military Honour back in history, stressing the point that as was the case for many Orders, there was a civil and a military divisions, and that Sir John Knott also had a KCB but from the civil division. He didn't berate it - it wasn't his style, but he didn't condone it either. I think it safe to say that virtually all senior members of the Services disliked Sir John Knott although all but a few, kept their disaffection to themselves.

The issue of Orders and Awards at the time of the Falklands War was a good pointer in understanding who gets what. I had a good friend who was awarded a Military MBE for his part in the War against Argentina, and yet, in the same conflict and at the front [the hot spot] ordinary military MBE's were awarded as of course were BEM's, the Medal to the Order of the British Empire, on the strength of peacetime recommendations.

There is a well known story about Lord Mountbatten and Honours. As you will know, Lord Louis had a chest full of medals and several of these were high UK Orders with a mixture of foreign [issued by allies in combat during WW2] Orders.

Necessary for you, this little drawing shows how his father, a foreign Prince, fitted into the British Royal Family.

Of little consequence or so it seems, for it is rarely mentioned, but Lord Louis Mountbatten was also distantly related to the Queen [in addition to being Prince Philips blood uncle].  He was the Queen's second cousin once removed!

His father was created an Admiral of the Fleet just as he was retiring as a thank you gift, bore the title of HSH, His Serene Highness Prince Louis of Battenberg until the House of Windsor was created by King George V late on in WW1 at which point his family name became Mountbatten and he ceased using the pre nominal of HSH. That pre nominal also applied to Prince Louis children, and so for the first seventeen years of his life Lord Louis was also known as HSH Prince Louis of Battenberg.  The King was gracious enough to create a new role for his same family/same generation and friend Prince Louis senior:

in simple lines for times order

Daughter ALICE Son Edward VII
Granddaughter Victoria, wife of Prince Louis Senior Grandson George V

 That title was Marquess of Milford Haven [a place in Wales]. If I show you the order of the British Peerage you will see that to be a Marquess was quite high up in the pecking order, in fact just below a Duke, the most senior of all Peers except for royal dukes.

The order is from bottom to top BARON, VISCOUNT, EARL, MARQUESS and DUKE.

The erstwhile Prince Louis would I am sure have been delighted with this position in British Society, but on reflection, it was quite a lowly title given that his wife was the granddaughter of Queen Victoria and social status mattered - very much. Note whilst we are here, that Mrs Thatcher 'engineered' her husband to become an Hereditary BARON  [she too took that title  and was known as Baroness Thatcher] so that upon his death, their son Mark would carry on the title. If you have that power then why not use it?

After the 1st Marquess's death, George, his second child and eldest son was created the 2nd Marquess. Upon his early death from bone marrow cancer, it was passed down his line and is currently held by the 4th Marquess, David Ivar {yes Ivar and not Ivor} Louis who is the head of the Mountbatten family. This of course is nothing to do with Lord Louis Mountbatten's titles, which having no male issue were passed down to his eldest daughter Patricia who is the Countess Mountbatten of Burma. Eventually, that title will be passed to his grandson the 8th Lord Brabourne upon his mothers death. His father, the Countess' husband was the 7th Lord Brabourne famous in the film industry as a producer/director.

With his eldest brother taking the family Titles, that left nothing for Louis until his own self-won fame came along, except the Title of Lord Louis which he took at the age of 17 in 1917.

For his contributions in the Second World War both in the navy and as Supreme Allied Commander Far East he was awarded the Title of Viscount Mountbatten of Burma and for his Services in India and Pakistan as the last Viceroy, the Title Earl Mountbatten of Burma, a  clear step-up, but still one step below the Marquess Rank, which some believe irked him, privately. Money and Rank is of crucial importance to a lot of people, but RANK will always be the most important of the two.

Meanwhile, down at the bottom end, the end most ordinary people have an interest in, we see even more strange things. Take for example two Orders, the Royal Victorian Order and the British Empire Order. The lower orders of the latter, namely MBE and OBE, are simple in that there is a civil and a military Order. The Order is  junior to the former, so that an MVO  out ranks an MBE. However, the Royal Victorian Order has the normal five Grades - Grades1 and 2 are knighthoods {GCVO - Knight Grand Cross and KCVO - Knight Commander} Grade 3 is a {CVO - Commander}, Grade 4 is an {LVO - Lieutenant} and Grade 5 an {MVO - Member]. It is the only Order to have a Lieutenant Grade but no Officer Grade [OVO - Officer].

GBE Grand Cross 2 GCVO 1 Grand Cross
KBE Knight Commander 4 KCVO 3 Knight Commander
CBE Commander 6 CVO 5 Commander
OBE Officer 8 LVO 7 Lieutenant
MBE Member 10 MVO 9 Member

Might add other things later!