Many of my readers will remember with horror 1977. In this year the then Second Sea Lord Admiral Sir Gordon Tait KCB DSC signed off the trial of a new Class II ratings uniform and the day's of the proud and tidily sailor were doomed to history - see these two files for pictures of the tidily suit of old ROYAL SAILOR coming.pdf and ROYAL SAILOR going.pdf.  See this file for pictures of the trial uniforms JUNIOR RATES UNIFORM DESIGNS.pdf  It was at a time when the navy was steadily losing its manpower strength which in 1970 had been 87,500 and in 1980 had become 72,000.  I was a warrant officer at the time on the staff of Rear Admiral Martin La Touche Wemyss Flag Officer Flotillas Two {FOF2} embarked in the cruiser HMS Tiger and remember well the controversy this dreadful change caused. The trial was started in 1975 and the result was a fait accompli for the junior ratings of those years. The traditional suit of a tight fitting jumper and bell bottom trousers went and in their place came a loose fitting jumper with jacket-type sleeves and a zip front, with flared trousers, zipped at the fly and with a single north-south crease instead of the traditional five or seven horizontal creases.  It was argued that it was a more comfortable rig to wear and that we cannot doubt, but as to the rig's appearance, well I will leave you to your own opinion.

However, the idea of such a Class II rig had been mooted before in 1949, and trials took place in certain geographical areas and in specific command areas. In terms of morale, 1949 [and pre/post] was not a good year and their Lordships used every opportunity to improve welfare, pay, conditions of service, adding in that a change of uniform would be a good thing too.

In those days ratings had three rigs which were known as Class I, II and III. Classes I and III were fore and aft rigs with peaked caps and Class II rig was square rig with bell bottom trousers and round caps.  Class I was worn by senior rates {Chief Petty Officers and confirmed Petty Officers - acting Petty Officers in the non Class III branches wore Class II rig whilst under probation} and Class III was worn by all Supply and Secretariat junior rates {cooks, stewards, writers, stores}, Sick Bay junior rates and by Coders whether Educational or Special.

The six years of war caused many privations for Britain and no one or organisation was outside the suffering that the severe rationing of all goods, caused. Whilst it affected just about everything imaginable, the two main 'hurt' areas were food and clothing.

The material used to make all Classes of the ratings uniform was serge, and poor quality serge at that. Sailors complained that the rough and hairy serge irritated their skin and that their uniforms were difficult to maintain in good order. These complaints were the catalyst of change which the admirals intended to force through to help in the battle against poor morale in the fleet, and whilst introducing the desired new material they thought it would be a good opportunity to alter the designed of the uniforms. This worked well for the Class I and III uniforms but back-fired on them on the Class II uniform.

Much was written about this 1949 uniform change and is filed for posterity, but I will select just a few papers to give you a feel for the reaction of the men in the fleet, the outcome of which was far from being a fait accompli for those dressed in Class II rig as it was twenty eight years later in 1977.  Note. Class III uniforms were phased out in 1956 when Admiral Sir Charles Lambe was Second Sea Lord, and thereafter, these ratings were dressed in Class II rig.

My story opens with a lose minute from the Director of Victualling

DofV Loose Minute 10th March 1949.pdf

The Nore Command you will recall, were given the trial of Class I and III rigs, the peaked cap rigs.  In the Home Fleet two carriers, the Implacable and the Theseus plus the destroyer Agincourt took part each reporting upon all three Classes of rig.

This is the report of COMBRAX Chatham dated 31st March 1950. On a light hearted note, reading just the first Cloth Pattern Trial No 4-5 Suits report, makes me think of my childhood in the 1940's and the almost sacrosanct Friday night bath whether you needed one or not. In our day and certainly in the Guzz Division, the early evening ritual of a dhoby session followed by a shower were an integral part of the daily naval routine afloat and ashore, but seemingly not so back in 1949, or at least, not so for a Chatham rating !  I particularly like the Commodore's paragraph 14.....was the protruding handkerchief for officers only ? All those involved in the trial were well pleased with the outcome. 


Next comes the combined report from the Commander in Chief Home Fleet summarising the reports submitted to him by his participating ships and forwarding their reports in full. However, I will show them separately. First from Admiral Sir Philip Vian KCB DSO** who went on to be Admiral of the Fleet Sir Philip Vian GCB KCB DSO**, C-in-C Home Fleet.  He clearly did not like the proposed new Class II jumper and although the trousers with a zip [still bell bottoms] as opposed to a flap were comfortable, he says, in his para 3.b., that the flap is preferable. So, overall a plus for Class I and III but a big no to changes to the Class II rig. The C-in-C's comments at para 5 are interesting.  The last sentence in particular packed one hell of a punch, that very soon afterwards and despite the rationing, No1 suits were back and pre-war pride restored. 


The report submitted by the C.O. of HMS Implacable shows pleasing criticism on Classes I and III uniforms.  On Class II uniforms [paragraph 8 onwards] the new jumper was a no no but many liked the zip rather than the flap on the bell bottom trousers.


HMS Theseus' report was succinct, even curt, and I rather suspect that from it alone, the case for 'tampering' with the design of the sailors suit was doomed to failure, all except that is for the supply and use of better material. Look at his paragraph 2.a., - bang on Sir !


Finally, to the report of HMS Agincourt. In paragraph 5 we are told that the report on Class II uniforms is incomplete.  That aside, the report, like all others, takes a dislike to the proposed jumper.


As it was, all sides won their corner. The Admiralty were able to supply a better quality material [and the re-introduction of the No1 suit]; the men in Class I and III rigs were pleased with their redesigned jackets and trousers [and eventually for Class I the better style gilt buttons] and the sailors were allowed to keep their coveted, tight-fitting, smart and VERY TIDILY suits.  Did it do anything for morale ? Yes of course it did, but.................

..................................Now Sir, what about my pay, my conditions of service, my leave, my duties, my sea-time, my this and that and every other bloody thing ?

Take care. Yours aye.