{don't forget the 'back button' top left}

Before I begin, let's just understand one thing. That warrant officers appointed by Admiralty departments [commissioned officers were appointed by the crown, by the monarch he or her themselves on advice ] were either of "wardroom rank" or not!  Warrant officers of "wardroom rank" were the purser, the surgeon and the master, appointed by warrants from the Victualling Office, the Hurt Office and from the Seamanship departments respectively, and whilst indisputable experts, they were not considered to be GENTLEMEN.  First and foremost commissioned officers HAD TO BE gentlemen, preferably with a patron, as Nelson had in his uncle Maurice Suckling .  The remainder of brother WOs were of "non wardroom rank" Gunner, Bosun, Carpenter etc because of their lowly social status, having a professionalism relevant only to the naval service.  For most of the time they were considered as a 'group' and messed together, until the break which in Part One, you will read about.

In the meantime consider just two of many instances where one's job/appointment defined what one's social position in society at large was [t'was ever thus], and if you were not classed as a gentleman, your options were limited, sometimes severely. Top of the list, and an indication that you had arrived socially, was the Levée. This was a moment when certain selected people could attend an  intimate access with those most high, where for example, one would be allowed into the King's bedroom [he, still being in bed] to listen to him explaining an issue of state importance or giving an opinion on issues not for the public domain, allowing some but limited inter-activeness from the assembled audience. All sorts of high ranking people held Levee's [arch bishops, admirals, ministers of state etc], and securing a personal invite to any of these was an achievement and a weekly 'must do' task.  Naval officers were invited to Levee's given by the First Lord of the Admiralty [1812-1827] 2nd Viscount Melville, when in the comfort and security of his abode, he kept the officers up to date about what was being discussed by Their Lordships at Admiralty Board meetings. Any officer could attend as long as he was a gentleman. That ruled out surgeons and pursers [amongst others].  Later on, when these two ranks had been "gentlemanised" they attended as invited.  Have a look at this cutting taken from The Times in 1832:-

An Asylum to the Orphan Daughters of Clergymen and Military and Naval Officers.

On good advice I am told that 'womanhood' [as described here] is the time when girls start their menstruations which on average is fourteen years of age, so the time frame mentioned is from ages nine or eight.

The orphaned daughters of Surgeons and Pursers, both wardroom officers,  were fully eligible for protection in the Asylum, until a by-law [not specified] took that protection away. However, the by-law would have come from the authorities owning/running the Asylum, obviously influenced by outside pressures geared no doubt to the social elite and how it interpreted the rules for admission. 

The paragraph starting with 'The plea for this invidious.....' is all telling. Note the claim that non-combatants "Civil Warrant Officers" [all alike warrant officers] rank with lieutenants in the navy, and as such, according to R. ROSE the letter writer, are gentlemen.  At no stage during this period [1832 and in William  IV reign] five years before Victoria came to the throne, was there an indication that combatants "Military Warrant Officers" [all alike warrant officers - the gunner, boatswain and carpenter] were other than non-gentlemen.


{warrant officer today are a refined bunch of guys and gals but in 1790 they were a bad bunch - men only in those days of course]             NOTE - where you see this sign there is a 'snippet' of information to read. Be warned that they are adhoc and do not always belong to the surrounding text subject being discussed.

Before I begin the story of the naval warrant officer, I want to spend a few minutes on one of the most ubiquitous symbols of the British naval uniform which has adorned the cuffs of jackets of naval men for nearly three hundred years irrespective of rank.  Now, the symbol suggests lowly rank, but in the 19th century, it adorned the uniform of officers including the very highest naval officers. The symbol is 'three buttons'. The art work on the  button changed with rank, but  the presence of the symbol and its placement upon the cuff was the foundation of rank to which other adornments were added.  If you have ever visited the National Maritime Museum at Greenwich, East London, you will have seen the actual uniform worn by Lord Nelson at the time of his death. The blood stained coat has the bullet hole {the actual bullet is on display in Windsor Castle in the Royal Apartments] high on the left front shoulder and the blood stained stockings are shown, plus a ringlet of his hair and other pieces of his uniform. To stand there in front of this exhibit is a great privilege and one I never tire of. After Trafalgar his blood-stained uniform was given to Lady Hamilton as a keep-sake [but she received precious little else]: she died penniless in Paris in 1815 just as Napoleon's Empire was collapsing with his defeat at Waterloo.  Then in 1845, some forty years after his death,  Lord Nelson's uniform was purchased by  HRH Prince Albert, husband of Queen Victoria, and he donated it to the Nation for all posterity. That is why it is at Greenwich, a fully certified artefact. Lord Nelson's uniform has, on each cuff, two simple rings or stripes, similar to those worn by a lieutenant today but without the top loop. Sewn across the two rings are three buttons each carrying an ornate patternation. There is nothing more splendid than that on his cuffs/sleeves - just two stripes and three buttons. October 1918 saw a major change in the way the symbol was used, and  from that year onwards, it has had only two uses.  The first was that it was the rate badge for all chief petty officers, which has continued through to this day. Then, for a short time only, a farce occurred at the introduction of the army-type, naval warrant officer in 1970 when the new warrant officer, known as a Fleet Chief Petty Officer [FCPO] had to continue wearing three buttons on both cuffs with a warrant officers badge placed on the left cuff above the buttons. That episode is mentioned within.  Here are a few pictures showing the use of three buttons on the cuff:  [Note: in certain circumstances, when you have opened a thumbnail, you may have to 'maximise' the picture, but this will be rare , if at all]


Notice the large gap between the admirals thick bottom stripe and the first of his ½" stripes. This accentuated the buttons to make them stand out, such are their importance. This officer is Vice Admiral Sir William Hewitt in the 1880 period.  Note the smaller gap between his bottom and first stripe when compared to the photograph to the left. A variation on a theme.  This captain is the commanding officer of an iron clad, sister ships to the well known HMS Warrior. Note his stripes and buttons, but note that they are not worn by his junior officers. The lieutenant leaning on the gun in front of the captain will be a lieutenant over 8 years seniority, almost certainly the executive officer and the first lieutenant.


A picture of thee types of naval warrant officers Whale Island 1899-1901 period. Of those seated 4 are executive warrant officers [loop or curl on their stripe] of 10 or more years seniority [¼ stripe, and 1 is an ordinary warrant officer [3-buttons] less than 10 years . It became fashionable to call the WO under 10 years a 2nd class WO and the WO over ten years, a 1st class WO. Neither of those titles were official. The officer standing to the right is a chief warrant officer or more properly a commissioned warrant officer , a CWO [½ stripe].  However his commission is non-wardroom status. [*] If in doubt all warrant officers wear four buttons on their tunic coat and have an officers cap and  badge. They also carry a sword.. A non executive officer from the mid Victorian period. This man is a Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve  [RNVR] officer. Note that he has no curl on his stripes meaning that he belongs the civil branch of officers 

With hair like that, who needs further curls anyway?


I have included this picture of a warrant officer [under 10] to show you a close-up of his officers hat badge and cap, his officers multi-buttoned frock coat and the fancy work done on his cuffs.  He wears just three buttons until he is either commissioned, in which case, he wear a single ½ stripe, or he has been a warrant officer for [over 10] years, in which case he adds a ¼ inch stripe above his buttons. At any point thereafter he can become commissioned  or bide his time to become a chief WO with a ½" stripe above his buttons..

Since it is not an easy thing to grasp first off, we start by describing the meaning of 'commissioned' in the Royal Navy. To make it more interesting and relevant, the date of 1853 will be used. This was the year in which a Royal Commission on Manning the Navy came up with three major changes for the lower deck. First they introduced the professional navy concept where ratings could sign on for CONTINUOUS SERVICE [CS] for pensions; then came the CPO rate and then the Chief Warrant Officer [CWO]. Since there were already two types of WO, the [under 10] years and [over 10] years, how would the new CWO fit in? Their Lordships decided to create a new commissioned officer but without wardroom status - that's the difficult part to grasp!  He would live with the other WO's but his status had to be obvious. They kept his basic WO badge [three cuff buttons] and placed a ½" stripe above them. Have you heard that story before?  Perhaps not, because it happened in 1972 [nearly half a century ago from the date of this page update, first written in 2004] when at that time the new rate of the fleet chief petty officer [FCPO] was introduced. They kept his same uniform style [a three buttoned double breasted tunic jacket with three buttons on each cuff, added a new small badge to be sewn on top of  the buttons on his left sleeve, a slightly bigger and different badge to that worn by his previous rate of a CPO, and kept him in his original mess/accommodation, altering the name of that mess from either the CPO Mess or, and more generally, the Senior Rates [SR] Mess, to the WO's & SR's Mess. The CWO gained a  ¼" on his stripe but everything else stayed exactly the same except that he got a pay rise: so also did the FCPO. The FCPO got a new small arm badge and a slightly larger cap badge, otherwise the status quo was maintained. Just as they did in 1972 [and as I did when I was promoted in 1975] and  CWO's did in 1853, we kept our heads down only to find that there were no new jobs and we were still acting as super-CPO's. Believe me, there was much complaining in those early days and it took a great deal of time before jobs and privileges were developed. It takes some believing that the concept of the FCPO was to match the rank of a WO1 in the Army and RAF which the Navy didn't have, but it took until 1986, twenty four years before FCPO's were called a WO. The navy believed that they were listening to us FCPO's and gave us carrots, albeit tiny ones, and one week they gave us a second badge to put above the buttons on our right sleeve, then we took down the buttons on our sleeves, then we bought new jackets to hide the button holes. If you need to see that story now, and why not, scroll to the bottom of this page, choose Part Three, and scroll down that page to see the 1970 WO Section.  When finish, scroll to the top of Part Three, choose Part One and scroll back here to continue the story.

Before we leave to do that very thing, ALSO remember that both the new CPO and the new CWO had to have an avenue to further promotion.  It was a hard treck especially for the CPO because he was really too old already, but if the CWO made it to the wardroom to become a commissioned officer, a sub lieutenant, he became known as a RANKER.

One other thing, if, simultaneously you create a Chief PO and a Chief Warrant officer, who gets called "chief" and who dosen't?  Well there was no issue here because all ratings of any permanency from leading hand upwards, were addressed not by their  substantive rate, but by their branch or by the name of the  job they did. There were fifteen CPO's in the period 1860 to approximately 1880 as follows:-  Bandmaster, Boatswains Mate, Gunners Mate, Carpenters Mate, Captain of Forecastle, Quartermaster, Stoker from 1873, Yeoman of Signals, ERA, Master-at-Arms, Naval Schoolmaster from 1863, Seamens Schoolmaster until 1863, Ship's Cook, Ships Stewards class 1-3, Writers class 1-3.

Oh, and the other part of the story is that the wardroom had commissioned officers, most of them gentlemen whereas the commissioned WO's were clearly not! In fact many of them were positively ungentlemanly.
In this picture a sub lieutenant gives an order to a warrant officer. Whilst they are shown in different dress and undress uniforms, the majority of their uniform articles were identical. Again, notice the three buttons on the cuffs of both men. Midshipmen wore three buttons.  They and cadets plus assistant clerks were considered to be subordinate officers and were therefore ranked below the basic warrant officer. Note the buttoned-slot for cadets and white-patch for midshipmen Then, just when three buttons worn horizontally were discarded, three button worn vertically were the fashion. Notice the odd way in which his medals are strung! The Victoria Cross should be the first medal [over the heart] with the remainder moving away towards the left shoulder. The rate badge of the chief petty officer. This symbol is displayed on each cuff, which is plain and free from any stitching design. The very first batch of post 1970 army style, naval warrant officers kept their chief petty officer buttons, and placed a royal coat of arms badge on the left sleeve only. Later on, the buttons were taken away leaving just the one coat of arms. A third attempt was made at getting it right, and a second coat of arms was added to the right cuff. Here we see two warrant officers, one executive [with the curl] of [over 10] years seniority, and one non exec or civil officer [the carpenter] also [with 10] or more years seniority. The other men is a commissioned officer, and I would guess, almost certainly commissioned from a chief gunner or a chief boatswain. In the latter case, he simply drops the three buttons because he is already wearing a ½" stripe and becomes a sub lieutenant. The date was 1902.

 In the mid 19th century, the navy had a well known rate/rank divider which appeared to put the then three well known decks into order - the navy today has but two decks, upper and lower but back then, it was generally accepted that there was a lower deck, a middle deck [always on the orlop deck, a busy management and accommodation deck for warrant officers,  which was also the surgeons quarter and his operating theatre] and an upper deck, and on each deck there was a group of rates/ranks, representing the three levels of management, junior, middle and senior

It looked like this:-

On the lower deck omitting the seaman rate, came:- Comment
Leading Seaman Could, exceptionally be selected for Warrant Officer or even a Mate, but rarely were there openings.
Petty officer 2nd class As above but several per year did circumvent the 1st class PO to become WO's [under 10]
Petty Officer 1st class Many very bright PO's got to be warrant officers without waiting for lengthy recommends and much paper work. This was not popular with "old and bold" [under 10] WO's who had to wait long periods before being promoted and then a further ten years before becoming a [over 10] WO. Until 1853 there was no chief warrant officer rank so the [over 10] WO was at their zenith
Chief Petty Officer     This rate was introduced in 1853 as a result of the Royal Commission on Manning. Men so rated were of course very experienced 1st class PO's, but for all but a few, there was no prospects of further promotion. The ranks/rates of 'chief warrant officer' and 'chief petty officer', were in contention. The 'chief' meaning CWO won the day and were always called "chiefs" by the navy and by their superiors, if and when not "Mr". Rating 'chiefs' were always called cpo's - as in see -pe - ooh's. No one would ever dream of calling his rate a "chief" as we do today and have done for years from the 1940s onwards. Chief's [WO's] ran the ship and were respected and feared  [if worthy of it?] by the CO and his wardroom officers, and by the ships company respectively.
On the orlop deck  
Warrant officer  with [less than  10] years seniority Thumbnail.
Three buttons on fluted cuffs [thumbnail] a rank [note not a rate] which could be acquired reasonably early on by bright and enthusiastic PO's. He would [or might have stayed in this rank of at least ten years]  although he could have circumvented the two WO's shown below to gain a commission as a wardroom officer. Throughout I call the cuffs attached to the sleeves on a warrant officer tunic "fluted" but the Admiralty describes them as "round cuffs, with three buttons  and notched  holes of blue twist thereon." 
Warrant officer with [10+ years] seniority [¼" stripe  above three buttons on fluted cuffs]
It took at the very least a full ten years to get this thin stripe but as in all cases of the WO rank, it was all 'dead men's shoes' promotion if one stayed as a warrant officer. There were opportunities to better oneself to get a commission. This WO wear a curl or a loop on his his stripe indicating that he is an executive WO i.e. a Gunner or a Boatswain. The orlop deck in the early days of these warrant officers was the deck on which the routine admin of ship was run, but it was where the WO's had their cabins and where the surgeon performed his duties in his operating theatre.
CWO [Chief Warrant officer] usually with 20 years seniority as a Warrant officer [thumbnail]. {½" stripe} above their three buttons.
Introduced in 1853 as a result of the Royal Commission on Manning. Those first promoted had already been WO's for nigh on twenty years and by 1860 had been retired, or commissioned to sub lieutenant, or given an honorary lieutenancy and then retired.  Many CWO's craved the honorary lieutenancy rather than being commissioned as a ranker because in retirement [and many were 'old and bold' and yearned for a rest] their pension was enhanced and their privileges increased. In 1880 the majority, now younger than their forebears of 1853, aspired a commission and the chances of becoming a lieutenant  [ranker] proper on the active list.  Much later on, and after much lobbying, it was mooted that the promotion to a chief, was done on a time served basis, as was the case of ten years from 2nd class WO to 1st class WO. This was recommended to be after eight years as an [over 10]  WO. This of course would increase the numbers of chiefs, demanding an increase in the naval vote from which to pay them. As this snippet [taken from the WO's Journal] shows, it took many years before the admiralty agreed.  CWO INTRODUCED.pdf

In the next snippet, if you don't want to read the whole piece [which is interesting in naval terms] read what is relevant to this section, namely the first page, right hand column starting at the paragraph "After the old and young the middle aged....." to the end of the file. It beggars belief that any man could serve in one rank for such a lengthy period without hope of further promotion. THE WOs LOT.pdf

In the file above you will see a mentioned of the 'Ernest Appeal.'  This is a revised version of that appeal EARNEST APPEAL.pdf

The extremely long wait for promotion lead to much frustration and resignation of their plight, and all too often this led to the bottle WOs DRINK PROBLEM.pdf.  Whilst senior officers were aware of this problem, it was more or less left to the WO's and their Journal which repeatedly warned their members of the perils of their ways and the need for either abstinence or better still moderation in their alcohol intake. Many were shamed into altering their ways. There have been several times when sailors drinking has become a worry to the navy, but only once to my knowledge, that's by research and experience, have I seen a concerted effort to resolve the problem.  That was called the Bristol [or HMS Bristol] System which I mention in this file ALCOHOL_WAS_A_SERIOUS_PROBLEM_IN_THE_NAVY_OF_THE_1970s.htm

On the upper deck [Cadets and Midshipmen -gun room] not counted or considered] n/a
Sub Lieutenant

This wardroom rank was acquired either by training [midshipman thence sub lieutenant] or by fast-track - WO to Mate, or by becoming a Ranker from the CWO rank.

Lieutenant [thumbnail].

 The next step-up from a Sub Lieutenant, although the rank  could be acquired through bravery in war or an an honorary rank

Lieutenant over 8 years seniority.

One's title of lieutenant didn't change although the pay and perks reflected the years served as a lieutenant. In those days, one went from a Lt to a Commander.  In 1914 the title Lieutenant Commander appeared. Before 1914 and from way back,  one will  find in documents, in particular the Navy List, the rank of Lt Cdr or Lieut Com.  This was an abbreviation of "lieutenant in command" and always of course a senior lieutenant, one with eight of more years seniority in that rank. Whilst many ex lower deckers promoted to the upper deck via the mate system, either Mate Executive or Mate Engineer, went on to be a commander and higher to flag rank,  rankers rarely achieved that status simply because they were too old at the time of their promotion to keep up [or catch up] with officers who had joined as cadets or midshipmen. Many rankers got to this rank and commanded vessels.

Commanders and above [all with brass hats]* were not middle management.

* Brass hats is and was an Army expression. In the navy we always refer to our headgear as caps.  In a tri-service environment [the British Legion pre remembrance service in the Royal Albert Hall  for example] when giving the order to cheer Her Majesty, the Garrison RSM will always say "remove or replace headgear.
But see above !

In summary to the table above is the little jpeg


Now that you know what a British naval warrant officer looked like in 1870, let's go back just forty years to 1830 to assess the situation at that time as a comparison.

Well,  the short story is that there wasn't one because in 1852 all the ills of the naval services were put into a melting pot to be resolved in The Royal Commission on Naval Manning. The outcome becomes more and more obvious as you wade your way through the rest of Part One, and into the two remaining parts, Two and Three.

So why was 1830 so very different from 1870, which in terms of years was only a tiny part of our history?  Well simply because the then Rulers of The Kings Navee [Gilbert and Sullivan style] were corrupt, inadequate, and so very different from those who ran the navy during the reign of King George III. George III was rather ungraciously dubbed the "mad King" but all Britain's great glories led by Lord Nelson and his brother officers, occurred during his reign and he was feted as a truly great British King given that his father and grandfather [George 1 and II] were quite the reverse. Regrettably our/my hero George III was the monarch who lost the Americas for us in  George Washington's War of Independence. As the glory years passed - George III died in 1820, fifteen years after his hero [let alone ours] Nelson had perished - his son took over from his now failing  dad as the Prince Regent, the King in existence for all intents and purposes, and the period called The Regency  was the executive. For the navy it was disastrous, and the Regent wasn't over concerned he having Court matters as his raison d'être [the language of the Court was French and this means the 'reason for living'] i.e. raucous party-going and vulgar merriment.   He passed the problem of a navy in flux down to his brother King William IV, after a short reign as King George IV. Although there were many protagonists on the stage of naval demise in 1830 ± five years, none more than Sir Robert Seppings, and all of that under the wing of the King, known, because of his previous naval service, as the 'Sailor King' - William IV also had a short reign and passed the naval problem down to Queen Victoria, his niece, in 1837.  Sir Robert Seppings had made two blunders each compounding the problems experienced by the navy. First off was his failure to recognise the status quo  of the 'standing three warrant officers'. These three officers, gunner, boatswain and carpenter were appointed to a ship, and stayed in her notwithstanding, commissioned or laid up, until being re-appointed to another vessel which was rare. During the non-commissioned time, the officers moved their wives and families into the ship, being victualled and paid by the navy, and also still drawing their rum ration, and it was their job to make sure that on re-commissioning, she was ready for service. This was appropriate for the sail navy, but inappropriate for the steam navy which required the expertise of technical warrant officers, and this, Sir Robert, had manifestly missed as a requirement. He oversaw the building of inappropriate ships, most still sail but otherwise small steam vessels, whilst the perceived foe, the French, were rushing ahead with steam ships of the line. Eventually, big steam ships were ordered, chiefly the iron-clads, and fortunately completed and commissioned before the French attempted to use their advantage of sea power, which never materialised: indeed total fraternisation took place with the French as our ally during the mid-19th century Crimean War. However, that the French [pre Crimean War] had not flexed their wings to use their technically superior navy was an accident of history, but it let Britain off the hook during the catch-up period.   Once commissioned as a class of ships, within a year, the iron clads were redundant and deployed to other duties - the Warrior to coast guard duties, then a small ships depot ship and finally as a signal school in Porchester Creek [Portsmouth harbour] attached to the HMS Vernon group. Sir Robert Seppings was a disaster, and many considered that his period of office had wasted many years. The manning was wrong - the ships were wrong - the powder and shot were  wrong - and personnel matters were null and void, resulting in almost total disaffection and demoralisation. The 1852, with just eight years to go before the Warrior came on-line, a  Royal Commission addressed all the problems of manning  and in the main, resolved all the shortcomings, resulting in a build-up eight years later into an efficient navy extant from 1870 onwards. If not you yourself, then there will be people in your family aware of Jane Austen, her books and her other writings. Jane had six brothers, and two of them joined the Regency Navy as midshipmen. She writes about those times with added sketches of the difficult times the family and these boys in particular experienced.

From such stories come the rather sad and melancholy sketches below

A romantic picture of Nelson as a midshipman in the year Jane was born  1775 A young boy goes off to sea in the 1830's. Mother to left sat weeping with her youngest clinging to her skirt holding a teddy bear. Father to left rear pondering upon the wisdom of it all. The cook offering the young boy his last home made pie. The sea chest marked with his name and HMS Hellfire West Indies Station, the young boy stabbing his sisters posterior with his sword in an act of bravado, and not forgetting Nelson in the picture above the fireplace!  The dreaded gun room in which young men learned hard and unnatural lessons 

The state of the navy/fleets/squadrons was first documented in the 1836 malaise,  by Captain William Nugent  Glasscock R.N. Seniority 8.6.1833, at the time of writing the volumes on a long half-pay absence from the navy, whose book [in two volume's]  "The naval service, an officers' manual, for every grade employed in His Majesty's ships" the very first book ever written as an instructional manual - he wrote several other books on the navy in its pax Britannic role/long periods of peace at sea. In brief he infers that possibly the 'rot' apparent in the naval service of his time as a relatively senior officer [he joined in January 1800 as a midshipman and fought in the French Revolution and Napoleonic Wars], started to set in during the Regency Navy period 1811-1820 and continued through both the short reigns of George IV [previously the Prince Regent] and William IV his brother. His stated start point  for the so-called 'rot'' was lamentably near to Nelson's death of six years previous, when the navy was at its very best in all ways possible as a fighting force, although of course all was not well in the manner in which personnel were treated whether upper or lower decks. This didn't affect the lot of the standing warrant officers unless they were unlucky enough to have their ship shot from underneath them, for if that were the case, they would have to vie with similar warrant officers for a new 'standing post' or be left out in the cold:  they qualified for half pay but the pittance hardly fed the house rats. Other warrant officers also qualified, they being the surgeon, the assistant surgeon, chaplain and purser. Only the second master was left out. See this list  half pay.pdf.  Also open this file which is called "Understanding half Pay".    All other officers could claim half pay but with rules attached! The regular ratings went into hulks to await a new ship, and what was left of the crew, was thrown to the wolves, to make their own way in life back in an uncertain civilian environment of dog eat dog, to survive at all costs which of course included criminality.  Just a little further down the page I show you one or two of Captain Glasscock's suggestions for a better navy.

Being an officer is this period centred on 1830 [pre and post] with most of them married, gave much comfort to families [officers as much as wives] because the admiralty had at least bothered to start and maintain a vote to pay pensions to families whose husband die in service or subsequent to service as the result of enemy action or when at action stations awaiting such engagements. There was no such provision for the ship's company at this point. See this advert from the Times of Monday 27th December 1830. This provision for officers did not come free of charge and a charge against the pay ledger was made to benefit from the admiralty scheme in which all officers were enrolled..

Within forty five years, 1875,  and after a major pruning of the warrant rank leaving only the gunner, the boatswain and the carpenter [2nd class, first class and chief's] from the original list but adding the new warrant officers from the steam-age and one or two others, the WO's had addressed their own additional needs  for looking after their families.  Their scheme, running in parallel with the Admiralty scheme and at an additional cost to the WO rank,  incorporated a death payment irrespective of how the officer died and when [active service or retirement] giving a much better return on their investment than was the case for the Admiralty system. To give you a glimpse of how the system worked, here is one of their published sheets from the year 1901.  WO Death Benefit.pdf  Interesting to see the ages of death and how young they were with the average age being a little bit above 60. Note the Rank Column. The letter 'R' = Retired and 11 out of 14 were, the others still serving. 'C' = Chief WO - 'G' = Gunner - 'B' = Boatswain. Note their dates of joining and in most cases, the NOK got back over twice what their husbands had paid in the first example the net gain is 186% to the nearest whole number. Having this WO system, which was in effect a private insurance, was a belts and braces approach, for if a WO died in action [under the various rules which included drowning] he received the Admiralty benefits in addition to the WO benefits.

As an integral part of the item above, I consulted the Lancet for details of naval surgeons. The Lancet is an age old Journal of the medical profession, still very much extant, and covers professional issues as well as social issues of surgeons and doctors. They naturally had a vested interest in all surgeons and doctors wherever employed or training. On the 9th April 1831 they published the following article:-

The levees in the 18th and 19th centuries were the height of the social calendar especially for gentlemen of breeding, culture and life style. Leeves could be held by those of the highest in the land starting with the King, and after him Dukes and Marquesses etc. They were conducted in the King's bedchamber with him still in bed in his night wear. These learned gentlemen were invited to the palace and to his room to listening to his majesty deliver on certain subjects of topical or deep national concern.  Leeve dates and times were advertised and appointments to attended greatly sought after. Anybody famous or well connected who had a point of view worth listening to would flock to a leeve with great anticipation of what would be said, admitted to, conceived or merely developed from other leeves which had passed. In some leeves, the invited audience sometimes were given a mouthpiece [or the floor] with which and from which they could offer an opinion, and even if they dared, guidance. The majority thought it wise to keep their own counsel and to show respect by listening only. As lowly warrant officers, surgeons were very unlikely to get an invite, even if they were chaperoned by senior naval officers, who in their own right, would ordinarily be invited. Now with this promotion, they became gentlemen and a gentleman with a skill, was much more important than a coarse and largely unschooled man born with a silver spoon in his mouth. The warrant rank was now very different without the majority of the members listed in  paragraph 3. Whilst all the remainers were true professionals in their own field, none could be said to have social graces, and for that reason, very few envisaged that these men would ever be accepted in the naval wardroom. This, as you will see as you read on, was not well accepted by warrant officers based on the status quo, but as time went by and newer types of warrant officers emerging from the new technology branches, the wardroom readily saw an opening for social minded warrant officers, well able to speak and write in an manner similar to that of their own, as well as having new wives in the mess who could hold their own in conversation, overtly displaying social graces becoming of a wardroom wife, and not as many were, who had  married their husbands when leading seamen, still holding the same values of their upbringing which were alien to a system which demanded knowing the difference between right and wrong in social behaviour.

Having shown you the 'new' WO scheme for death benefits and the financial protection of wives and children, to balance the story, here are details of the situation in 1919 in comprehensive fashion. I have taken them from the December 1919 Navy List. To best display them for magnifying small fonts, I needed to convert the List pages to pdf files.  I could have so easily put all the pdf's into one large pdf, but since I was in processing mode, I decided to keep each page separate and to group them in various sections eg, officers, ratings, administration rules and regulations, Admiralty naval and Greenwich naval, service and good service pensions.  The four digit numbers used are the pages of the Navy List

Rules applicable pre WW1 for officers,  commissioned and warrant ranks Pensions to relatives of officers Rules modified in the light of WW1 Good service pensions Naval & Greenwich pensions Rules for seamen
2356.pdf 2357.pdf 2358.pdf 2359.pdf 2360.pdf 2361.pdf 2362.pdf 2363.pdf 2364.pdf 2365.pdf 2366.pdf 2367a.pdf 2367b.pdf 2367c.pdf 2367d.pdf 2368.pdf 2369.pdf 2370.pdf 2371.pdf

This obituary notice tell us much about the attitude of the Admiralty towards promoting men from the lower deck to the wardroom. It tells us of the merits of a lieutenant ranker who seemingly had impressed all with his manners, decorum, when his professionalism was never in doubt so not necessary to comment on it.  The command he mentions, that of HMS Magnet which was an iron steam tug acting as a tender to HMS Victory, that is the Portsmouth Barracks in Queens Street and not the ship HMS Victory  sitting midstream in Portsmouth harbour.   Research done on this man reveals the following, for we only have the obituary to go on!  James John [JJ] Webber was promoted acting boatswain on the 19th July 1881and six months later on the 1st  January 1882 he was confirmed as a boatswain. At that time he was serving in HMS Monarch, an armoured plated turret ship of 8000 tons. She was commissioned for service "up the straits" = Mediterranean Station at Malta on the 27th January 1882. He spent one year only as a 2nd class WO before becoming a 1st class WO. Two more years were to pass when in June 1885 he was promoted to a Chief WO which by any measure was a rapid promotion at a time when many waited up to eleven or twelve years despite the published ten year seniority wait,  simply to get from  from a 2nd class to a 1st class boatswains never mind a chief which was an approximate wait time of twenty two years. I have searched nigh on one hundred and fifty men and nobody transcends that unique rapid rise through the warrant rank.   He must have been something very special! Thinking what I am thinking ? With such meritorious advancement and given commands of small vessels normally captained by sub lieutenants or very junior lieutenants one would expect his rise to continue on the upper deck and who knows to a flag rank, but no, promotion from the lower deck was not in vogue despite the occasional halo! So, we next trace him to the 1st April 1912, still a  chief boatswain [now 27 years as one]  serving in HMS Powerful III at Devonport, a boys training ship. Powerful III is ex Ganges and ex Caroline. By August 1914  he had been appointed as the commanding officer [as a chief boatswain] of HMS Traveller a 700 ton vessel, serving in Plymouth as the tender  to HMS Vivid [later HMS Drake the Devonport RN Barracks]. In the Navy List for September 1917, he is shown as a lieutenant [seniority 18th February 1917] meaning that he had been a WO for thirty six years, thirty two of them as a CWO. December 1917's Navy List he is not listed under the active list but is under the retired list. He had bypassed the the commissioned boatswain rank [sub lieutenant] and in all probability was awarded a field-commission to the lieutenant rank. Many chief warrant officers were commissioned during WW1, and although ships were not routinely shown in the navy list so we can't trace his steps, from his obituary he clearly did well and served with merit. However, he served at the wrong time when Their Lordships were blind [certainly blinkered] to the talent, albeit it rare, that could be found on the lower deck. One of the practices exercised by commissioned officers was voluntary retirement before retirement pay/pensions was due. That still goes on in the 21st century. Read this The_Times_1939-03-25 why do officers volunteer to retire early.jpg  The reference to stagnation for 70 years on promotion and the pride Mr Webber must have had in being the first WO to be promoted to the ranker rank after that stagnation,  will become obvious when you read the next few paragraphs.

The navy suffered poor to bad morale after WW1 [and to a lesser degrees at many periods before it] and at times, events reached very low points. It might seem trivial to us now [or is it?] that in the House of Commons an  MP, formerly an ordinary soldier who was a "ranker" [promoted from the troops] to a Captain and who had won the Victoria Cross and a MC fighting in the trenches in France. His name was Robert Gee, and he had joined the army when WW1 started at the age of 41 with territorial army service as a temporary officers from 1893. When speaking in the House and through the speaker to Winston Churchill, who was laying bare what a wonderful armed forces we had which was a happy family {?}, he asked Churchill whether or not he knew of the problems of getting to be a ranker and thereafter maintaining the standards expected of an officer. Churchill's answer was predictable, but he did admit that he was the boss of the Admiralty looking after naval rankers, although he thought the boys in the War Office were doing the same for army rankers. Gee told him that he was getting out of soldiering because of the mess in the top offices. Rather sad that a well decorated man such as he would say such a thing publically. Still, he must have been rather eccentric because as an MP of a constituency which he had abandoned for over a year, he secretively resigned and went off to live in Western Australia without really telling anybody, where he died, in Perth, aged 84. His VC is on show in the IWM in London. Reference The Times.

The whole system of lower deck promotions was being attacked from many sources and they produced massive piles of paper work on their deliberations. The sources I have visited come from Brassey, Army and Navy Magazine, WO's Journal, broadsheet archives, Hansards, inter alia, and would by themselves fill several volumes.  I'll leave you with just a few of the shorter ones to trawl through if you can pluck up enough courage. As you can see, they are all pre WW2 editions except for the lovely story of Vice Admiral Sir B.C.S. Martin ex boy first class, trained as such at the Royal Hospital School Greenwich which is now at Holbrook near Ipswich just up the road from the erstwhile HMS Ganges establishment site.

 The_Times_1931-05-21 from lower deck.jpg     The_Times_1939-03-18 all change for education and upperdeck promotion.jpg   The_Times_1936-08-07 bad and sad news aboard promotions.jpg    The_Times_1937-03-18 hard hitting comment on bad promotion prospects.jpg    The_Times_1919-01-11 claims of the lower deck.jpg   The_Times_1919-01-20 meeting of the lower deck.jpg     The_Times_1944-07-13 rear admiral bcs martin ex mate.jpg - On the 2nd September 1948 he retired and was promoted to vice admiral.   The_Times_1920-08-06 lower deck dissatisfaction.jpg.  To give you the best overall picture of the mayhem, I highly recommend that you read the 1937 'hard hitting comment' above. Today, we could well expect to have meetings with top brass about service conditions, and I well remember the introduction of the second sea lords [2SL] team and their visits to ships and establishment of the late 70's and very early 80's, but way back in 1919 it was unheard of, but it happened, and at the Admiralty's invite - read the 1919-01-11 file [claims of the lower deck]. My hope now is that you have got the gist on how the navy per se, but for the sake of my story, the warrant rank particularly, were well and truly hacked-off with their lot. Knowing that, will help you to understand what is written later and throughout the following pages.

Before I show you some of the text from the book of Captain Glasscock, let me shown you a snap shot of how the navy was formed for pay and administration in 1835. Note pay and admin for commodores 1st and 2nd class and all admirals was shown separately.

It involved eight groups under the headings of and in this order of importance:

1. Captains and Commanders.
2. First lieutenant of 8 years standing and all other lieutenants plus the Master - remember the film Master and Commander ?
3. Warrant officers - eight of them - viz, Chaplain - Surgeon - Purser - Second Master - Assistant Surgeons - Gunner - Boatswain and Carpenter.
4. Mates.  [sub lieutenants]
5. 1st class Petty Officers - twenty of them viz - Midshipmen - Masters Assistant - Clerk - School Master - Master at Arms - Admiral's Coxswain - Ship's Corporal - Captain's Coxswain - Quartermaster - Gunner's Mate - Bosun's Mate - Captain of the Forecastle - Captain of the Hold - Coxswain of the Launch - Ship's Cook - Sailmaker - Rope Maker - Carpenter's Mate - Caulker - Armourer.
6. 2nd class Petty Officers - eleven of them viz - Captain of the Mast - Captain of the Foretop - Captain of the Maintop - Captain of the Afterguard - Yeoman of Signals - Coxswain of the Pinnace - Sailmaker's Mate - Caulker's Mate - Armouer's Mate - Cooper's  Mate - Volunteer of the First Class.
7. Seamen classes - Gun's Crew - Sailmaker's Crew - Carpenter's Crew - Cooper's Crew - Able Seaman - Yeoman of Stores - Ordinary Seaman - Cook's Mate - Barber - Pursers Steward - Captain's Steward - Captain's Cook - Ward or Gun Room Steward - Ward or Gun Room Cook - Steward's Mate - Landman.
8. Boys, first and second class.

There was no rank/rate pay scales and money paid depended upon the size and type of ship one served in. The larger the vessel the more the pay. There were 10  rates of pay viz - for  First Rate to Sixth  Rate ships - for Sloops with more than 100 men - for Sloops with less than 100 men - for Bombs - for Gun Brigs, Schooners and Cutters.

Now for some of the words from the first ever instructional manual for a successful naval officer by Captain Glasscock c 1835.

Captain GLASSCOCK 1.pdf  and  Captain GLASSCOCK 2.pdf  In part 2 Captain Glasscock mentions 'St Stevens'  in the paragraph Politics Afloat referring to the House of Commons. Now called 'Queen Elizabeth Tower - was called 'Big Ben' and simultaneously St Stephen's Tower. At the other end of Parliament building, the Lord's end, is Victoria Tower, used for the House of Lord's Library.  He also mentions Somerset House which is the large building on the corner of the intersection of Waterloo Bridge and The Strand, a former, but still a very important Naval building. He also mentions 'Post Captains' R.N. saying that they are not even heard of when he wrote his books. Post Captains was used in reference to sea-going captains as follows:- In the Royal Navy, the officer in command of any warship of the rank of Commander and below is informally referred to as "the Captain" on board, even though holding a junior rank, but formally is titled "the Commanding Officer" (or CO). In former times Royal Navy officers who were Captains by rank and in command of a naval vessel were referred to as Post-Captains; this practice is long ago defunct, but when extant, a captain R.N., on joining his first ship as such,  took his POST, and that date he kept as his seniority as a post captain even though he might have had few sea going appointments and spend much time on half pay!  Once having a post, the captain moved up the list of seniority and he was almost guaranteed flag rank, even as a Yellow Admiral? *. Captain Hardy of the Victory got his post in 1802. 

* Patrick O'Brien wrote a book called the "Yellow Admiral" which tells the story of a post captain down on his luck financially, love life and naval career, whose career was blighted and in risk of "being yellowed", saved when Napoleon escaped from his first incarceration Elba, Italy,  when the Admiralty summoned him back to active service.

You may recognise one of the CARDINAL SINS to be avoided at all costs in the navy, that being "Politics Afloat", the others being "Religion", "Sex" and "Mail". Use the integral magnifier for an easy read.

The word 'RANKER' is used at some point in every publication of the Warrant Officers Journal even when posting an obituary.  Its meaning is simply ANYBODY who became a wardroom officer from the lower deck as a warrant officer.  Other wardroom officers from the lower deck  e.g. the Mate [that's a mate to a lieutenant] were commissioned in the accepted sense. and were considered to be 'gentlemen officers' - eventually!.    

Many  of you reading this page will be au fait with the Form CW 1A,  but are you aware that the form is called a CW because it recommends and thereafter follows the procedure of  recommending a person from the lower deck to either  Commissioned or Warrant Rank.  Whilst it's name has continued, the 'W' part ceased shortly after the second world war. At the introduction of the Fleet Chief Petty Officer in 1970, at that time in all but name, a warrant officer, the Form S264C was used for reporting on Chief Petty Officer candidates for promotion to a "Fleety": Form S264A was what most sailors called their 'comic cuts', when a mans divisional officer would write-up about a mans performance, his attributes, his shortcomings, recommendations [courses, promotions etc] his social inter-activeness and his ability to be a team-member.

Well my intro is now over as we start to put 'meat on the bone' of the subject, and now I formally welcome you to a bit [or should I say a massive part] of naval social history, rarely told, and certainly not well understood.

The documentation supporting this rank is a pot-mess, but I will do my very best to unravel the story.  It is a fact of life that if the navy story being told  is not about the wardroom and the upper deck, it is sidelined even totally ignored as a non-serious piece of research.  I have added piecemeal, snippets to the many research books I studied in my leisure periods at the Norriss Library in Portsmouth, as well as those I spent at the Public Records Office Kew in West London, the IWM and the British Library.  The Norriss library has an excellent naval reference section,  a treasure chest for the serious naval researcher. I am not that, although I could so easily become one were my wife to agree to becoming a research-widow, such is the 'pulling-power' within those many walls of books.

The subject is to say the least, vast, not necessarily the subject of the warrant officer per se, but because the warrant officer, just like any other officer, is inseparable from the evolving story of the Navy, taken from the days of Admiral Vernon and followed right up to 1949 when their Lordships terminated all warrants. Moreover, from the beginning, I knew that only the basic facts could be written into a web page, so, much of what I did learn, might be used for a small book or booklet in the future: who knows?   Above all else, remember that this whole web site is a hobby of mine, which is one of several, so please do not think of me as an 'anorak'.   Whilst I am keen to get things right, I am not trying to earn money [like an author or an historian might] from it.  My ulterior motive is to share knowledge and to get people interested in web sites, particularly naval web sites.

Overall, there is no set time period, although there is more detail relating to a period post 1860 than there is before this date.  I have chosen this year and the period in which it sits for three basic reasons.  The first is that it is well documented in naval archives and public records, so data is freely available from the public domain.  Secondly, because it was roughly half way through Queen Victoria's reign [1837-1901] and there was great social change  in Britain although at a snails-pace in the navy, and thirdly, because it was more or less half way between the end of the Crimean War and the beginning of the 1st World War, a period in which the navy's modus operandi was to change at a quicker pace. The following plates will give you a feeling for the rules and regulations in force at, or about, that time. After you have read and understood a little bit more about each of our warrant officers and their grades, you may like to return here to reassess the relevancy of these figures and data.  Talking about the Queen Victoria reign, did you know that she inherited impressment, which in plain language means 'press ganging'. See this file The_Courier_1834-03-06  impressment.jpg

Annual pay in 1860. The Gunner, Boatswain and Carpenter were the three ['standing officers']  warrant officers who did not have wardroom status. The classes refer to the type and size of vessel In 1880 there were only 12 Chief Gunners in the navy. Note the dates of their seniority as warrant officers dating back to 1851. By the time this was published Timothy Donohue would have been a warrant officers for 30 years. 1876 pay scales.  The years one had to serve in various appointments is quite staggering by our standards today. 1880's pay scales. Note that the wardroom servant is paid the same as the warrant officers servant £19.15.5d p.a., = £19.77 which in lot's of cases today is an hourly rate. Note also that both cooks are paid the same. From the monthly published Naval Memoranda. Year 1885.  Good news for seamen executive branches with an extra 48 warrants issued. These were fully pensionable positions, and at that time many officers were laid off on half pay. When WO numbers increased the CPO's [and outstanding 1st class PO's were smiling!
From the Naval Gazettes of June 1885. Note the warrant officer promoted for gallantry in Egypt. Although just a one rank higher promotion, his uniform could have changed from either just three cuff buttons meaning a warrant officer 2nd class  or from three cuff buttons over which was a quarter inch stripe,  a 1st class warrant officer  with a curl for executive.   The uniform of a Chief WO which was three cuff buttons over which was a half inch stripe with a curl. I wonder if Henry Hart Dykes was a part of the family of Captain Hart Dyke the CO of HMS Coventry sunk in the 1982 Falklands War, almost 100 years previously? This snippet is an excellent example of how promotions were effected direct from Lieutenant over 8 years seniority to Commander. Note Chief Boatswain James Webber the man mentioned in the obituary above. 1885 Admiralty appointments for the week commencing the 24th June.  This list compliments the plate to the left on appointments. It is a good presentation of the officers of the Royal Navy as it was in 1899. From the Navy Gazettes in 1885.

Text self evident. All warrant officers of whatever branch or seniority were listed.


1893 and a reward to some of the retired Chief Gunners, Boatswains and Carpenters.
Headgear worn in 1900 Other parts of uniform worn in 1900 The well dressed Chaplain of 1900

  My story is  about the ROYAL NAVAL WARRANT OFFICER

[I was one from September 1975 until July 1983 although a rating, not a rank] but it touches upon other naval matters and subjects too.

To start with there are few if any, comparisons between the warrant officer from the mid Victorian period to 1949 and those of today's navy, and from the beginning, it should be understood that warrant officers of long ago were [or could be] commissioned and all were listed in the Navy List, whereas today, warrant officers are promoted above chief petty officers, but remain fully tethered to the lower deck with no opportunity [because of age] of ever getting into the wardroom.  Having missed their chance of being commissioned, for whatever reason, promotion to warrant officer today is a 'second bite of the cherry.'  One of an almost continuous string of complaints by the warrant officers of those days [which believe it or not lasted until after the second world war] was that they were often confused with the army's system of warrants, and some, for their own ends, milked the confusion which existed, making the 'admin function of bi-service   [and later tri-service] co-operation difficult. You may recall from my picture gallery above, that the navy had three types of warrant officer by uniform styles, and rank. The first type, the 2nd class WO, was split by a ten-year rule whereby on being promoted, one wore three buttons on the flutted cuff, and then after ten years of being a warrant officer, the 'reward' of a ¼" stripe was added above the buttons: pay increased  and so did his uniform sleeve style wearing. He was called a 1st class WO,  but his status was only slightly better than for the 2nd class rank. The third type was a chief  warrant officer - CWO -  [title depended upon branch], wearing three buttons and a ½" stripe. The army had two warrant officers, 1st and 2nd class, and like the navy's,  neither were commissioned. Every year without fail, in Queens Regulations and Admiralty Instructions [QRAI], in the Navy List and in the Seamanship Manual, an equivalent ranks list was issued. These written and  graphics plates come from 1922.      . On the first plate, line 12 and 13 concern warrant officers, 12 being commissioned, the CWO  and 13 being non commissioned.  The commissioned naval warrant officer  is the equivalent of a 2nd lieutenant and the WO to a small list of army WO1's some with strange names, although note the caveat at the end of the army list....."but senior to the above ranks", unequivocally saying that the army schoolmaster is senior to those listed above him in that column on line 13.  The second plate confirms this graphically although all those ranks listed under navy at the bottom on the column are sub lieutenants. There is no naval equivalent to the army WO 2nd class.  Clearly then, at all times the navy WO outranked all army WO's notwithstanding. The last plate shows the warrant officer as the equivalent to a Pilot Officer in the RAF. By the 1930's, relative rank of officers looked like this   You can readily see that RN warrant officers outrank the other armed forces.

  x 4

The  snippet might require some interpretation.
In the first snippet = Abbreviations,  note the complications, nay, confusion wherever this list might be used!   First off, note that we have chief WO's, but only warrant officers, so, if needs be, how do we address or define a WO with just buttons and a WO with buttons an a ¼" stripe: are they saying that there is no professional difference between the two and that really it's just one is older than the other with more experience? Add to that the relatively new fleet air arm decided that they wanted a First Class [Air] WO and a Second Class [Air] WO.

b. In the second =  Abbreviations part two. Note the dagger sign alongside a gunners title. In the earliest of days of officers attending professional long course training, given to military officers [those with loops on their top stripe as opposed to civil officers  who had straight stripes] in gunnery, torpedo and navigation  in the standard schools in the naval ports of Portsmouth, Plymouth and Chatham, those who achieved top marks went on to continue their training on an "advanced course". Once established, these courses were part done in the Greenwich Naval College and part done in the candidates alma mater - look at Part Two to Snippet number 36C to see a course under instruction. When they had successfully completed that course, universally known as the 'dagger course' they were given the symbol of dagger placed behind their name in the navy list. Quite understandably they were seen as the "experts" in the navy and appointed accordingly to relevant school of expertise, research/experimental establishment and to the fine flagships of the fleets but rarely subordinate appointments. We had, and for many a long year, just a couple of fleets, the definition of which was that the group of ships had battleships; groups of ships without battleships/battlecruisers were known as squadrons whose chief combatant was a heavy cruiser. That followed down the line to light cruisers, then to flotillas with a light cruisers and plenty of destroyers/TBD's = torpedo boat destroyers. Eventually, the same happened on professional courses undertaken by WO's, when their best candidates went onto "advance courses" making them the acknowledge experts available for superior appointments. WO Dagger course were later extended to signalmen and telegraphists, known respectively as 'signal bosuns' and 'warrant telegraphists'.

c.  In the third, cognisant of para 'b' above, note the PN annotation and its related PN dagger symbol.

d. Nothing to offer on the fourth option, although, as a throw-away comment, I am of the age to remember well the ¼" stripe versus the ½" stripe officers if only for the first three years of my thirty year career. I joined in October 1953 and immediately witnessed their presence and their friendship as brother officers as, in my case the CGO = commissioned gunnery officer = second in command of Rodney Division HMS Ganges with his ¼ stripe , and just down the hill in Grenville  or Anson Division was a senior commissioned officer with a ½" stripe. All that changed three years later, almost to the day in the middle of the Suez War of October-December 1956, when the Admiralty changed the system, and the 'SD' officer was introduced. Out when the ¼" stripe and in came the ½" stripe for  the CGO and in came the two stripes for the SCGO. No buttons involved in those days except for ratings, and the proverbial CPO.

The new army style warrant officers of 1970, or the Master Rate as the MOD styled it, brought the navy into line with all other 1st class warrant officers in the British army, marines and air force, but not into line with other NATO forces with whom we regularly worked  and occasionally socialised. I well remember an embarrassing affair which involved me personally. It was 1977 whilst appointed to FOF2, a seagoing-admiral's staff job.  A  group of staff officers plus myself as a staff warrant officer had flown to Norfolk Virginia USA., to join a USN planning team, preparing for a major Atlantic exercise which was to see FOF2 [Rear Admiral Martin La Touche Wemyss] embarked in the guided missile destroyer HMS London [Captain D.N. O'Sullivan RN] for passage back to the UK against orange forces [the pretend enemy] using  aircraft, mines, submarines, guided missiles to stop our safe and uneventful passage across the pond.   Oh, and Oooops, the exercise planners forgot to factor in the weather and that crossing, which severely damaged the liner QE2 further north enroute to New York, rather spoiled the plot exposing us to a rare [so our 'Met officer said] North Atlantic storm.   On arrival Norfolk VA.,  we were met by USN personnel who took us by bus to the navy base, and during that short journey I enquired as to where my mess was and would this bus take me there? "What's your name sir?" He checked his list, asked me to confirm that I was a warrant officer, and told me that we were all going to the same place. The bus stopped at the wardroom, a large building divorced from other buildings. Quite obviously there was a misunderstanding, and I didn't need the telling facial signs of the staff officers to make me aware of that.  In the USN, {look at this page [which you will see later on in the story] and look at the RED cell in TABLE 3 - Click here}  a warrant officer is a wardroom rank, and I should have been listed as an enlisted man, namely as a master chief petty officer [MCPO].  As it happened, subsequent discussion revealed that I was the equivalent to an E9, a Master Chief in the USN [which of course I knew before I asked the bus driver my question], and for that reason [and being a foreigner] I was given the red-carpet treatment by the Mess President himself, and I later learned that my overall accommodation package was better than the staff officers had received from the base wardroom.  

Staying with words/titles and the way they can lead your mind down blind alleys, let's briefly look at the word 'master' as used in the royal navy and always referring to the warrant rank for this purpose, but of course it was better known for the Master at Arms rate [for a CPO] and rank for a WO/CWO Master at Arms. For the time being, I will ignore 'master' when talking about the master [as in Master and Commander - the recent 2003 Hollywood epic] of a ship, although he of course was once a warrant officer.   Master, like many English words has more than one meaning, but essentially, there are two meanings which everybody would recognise.  The first is master when applied to an old boy just before he is old enough to be considered a Mr, which differentiates him from a small and young boy. The second however, always means the boss man; a person in charge, the top of his grade, promoted by adding such words as 'head', 'senior', 'grand', 'great', 'old' etc. From the previous paragraph, a Master Chief is a boss man [at his level] but he can also be 'senior' or even [yes!] a 'fleet' although the USN tend to use the word at the back of the title, making it 'Master Chief of the Fleet' - a very influential position. Thus a Senior Master........presupposes something grand; the boss of bosses. The R.N., rank of "Senior Master Commissioned Warrant Officer" therefore took my fancy and intrigued me.      I had been searching through files on war time losses ostensibly looking for data relating to warrant officers, and this rather long and grand title came up every now and again, and always associated with big ship losses. It was some time before it dawned on me why there were so few of them: after all, there were many scores of commissioned warrant officers, and warrant officers were counted in the hundreds. The title referred to a teacher, a school master, where a school master [in full name] was a warrant officer, and a senior school master [abbreviated to master] was a commissioned warrant officer - a commissioned wardroom teacher was an Instructor Officer viz....Instructor Commander........So, masters and masters intra-RN;  warrant officers and warrant officers inter-services and pan-international armed forces, can be confusing and need to be explained and qualified.  Incidentally whilst on the subject, few officers listed as dead or missing in the second world war had university degrees, and I was rather surprised to see the number of "warrant officer school masters" who did have them.

The concept and idea of the post 1970 naval warrant officer is new and sets a precedent.  If the concept has any parallels in the military sense, they are to found in the history of the army warrant officers and not in the history of the pre 1950 naval warrant officer.  All naval warrant officers were officers first and foremost, wore officers uniforms, carried swords, were saluted and lived separately from the ships company, defined by QRAI, as petty officers {3 grades} and seamen. Today's SD officer is a direct descendant of the pre 1950 warrant rank, which as you will see, went from warrant to branch and then to SD.

Warrant officers from approximately 1794 [or thereabouts]  

First a song sheet [the tune is British Grenadiers] followed by a sound file * speakers required * [click here = lord nelson song.wav]

At the end of the Napoleonic wars in 1815, WO’s were established in two very obvious ways.  Firstly, they were the acknowledged but socially unacceptable experts in any ship, and got to their positions by sheer hard graft and hands-on experience [often referred to as empiric knowledge], unlike the majority of the lieutenants who usually got their lieutenancies  by ‘interest’,  rife among young gentlemen and their patrons of the day, when being a gentleman mattered more than being able.  Secondly, that unlike virtually all others in the navy including lieutenants, warrant officers were entitled to two pensions, one from the Admiralty and a private insurance death benefit from the shrewd planning of the of the WO Association.

WO's fell into two categories, those with wardroom rank and those without, although the reader should understand that all warrant officers notwithstanding whether they were or were not of wardroom rank, were officers and not ratings. Confusing? Yes, by our understanding of the upper and lower deck of today, but all will be revealed soon!      {Just one of scores of pages}

Wardroom ranked WO's lived aft with lieutenants, and were the master, the surgeon, the purser and the chaplain. As a group they were of differing social acceptances to the lieutenants who shared the same living space, and within the group of WO's, the master ‘ruled the roost,’ which in effect split the wardroom into three groups, with the master, despite his lowly social position as a WO,  the most important man after the senior lieutenant.  Naval historians have said that he, the master, belonged to a group having the senior lieutenant [the first lieutenant] the commander and the captain as its other members, but neither the first lieutenant, commander or the captain would dare to challenge or over-rule the commands given by the master  when it came to ship handling, the amount of sail-set aloft, the conning of the ship or ships safety.  The captain knew that should a ship be put in harms way, a board of inquiry would always hear the masters story first. Thus the master was a powerful WO rank.  The original masters were literally just that, masters of ships which in times of peace went about their business on merchant matters, but in times of war when the ships were requisitioned for naval service, the master stayed in sea-command, and the captain and first lieutenant/commander boarded for military-command.  The masters at the time of Nelson were from that school and they were expert seamen [salt-horses] but because they had been at sea since they were 8 years old as cabin boys, they had no formal education nor social graces, hence their appointment by warrant and not by commission. Every ship had this group of three/four men in charge and all three/four were respected, sometimes feared, and sailors put their trust in them.  It is clear that the master would have been privy to all orders and the rules of engagement and he would have enjoyed being in the confidence of the captain when other commissioned officers were not. The navy recognised his position vis-à-vis all other wardroom officers and a masters pay was roughly double that of a lieutenants. Warrant officers of wardroom rank wore special emblems on their collars and buttons as follows.

The Masters emblem, also worn by a Master-of-the-Fleet The Surgeon emblem. Also worn by the Physician. The emblem of the Purser. Notice the convoluted rope work. The emblem of a Secretary, a late joiner to the ranks of WO's

It is of interest to note that in 1984, HM The Queen presented the following flag to the RN Stores and Transport Department, which flies outside naval stores depots ...seen it before?  Additionally, this is the the flag of the Admiralty Board  - can you see any comparison with those above?

Today, we all understand that merchant ships have masters in command whereas in the royal navy we always call the commanding officer the captain whether he be a captain proper or a lieutenant.  In Nelsons time the ship had both master and captain [commander], and the latter became known as the ‘owner’ – today, we might call him ‘father.’ Both the master and the captain belonged to the executive branch.

In 1787 WO's had been issued with a blue uniformed coat comparable with that worn by the gentlemen lieutenants .  These plates are equally 'romantic' but nevertheless shown articles of clothing. The first   shows the hats of non-wardroom WO/CWO [gunner, boatswain and carpenter] at a time when the other warrant officer, master, surgeon, purser and chaplain worn the cocked hat like this officer . This series of plates is factual and shows the detail of the warrant officers uniform. 


The other three wardroom WO's - known as civil branch rather than executive branch, were not borne as combatants and were not trained in the art of fighting including close quarter combat. They were in a support role only and their pay reflected this. By and large, these three wardroom ranked WO's [purser, surgeon and chaplain] were academically better qualified than the master and often more socially accepted by the lieutenants.

Surgeon WO's were the first to wear a uniform which had distinctive gilt buttons and these were worn at the time of Trafalgar. Other WO's quickly followed.  Surgeons WO's and purser WO's were appointed to every sea-going ship, but WO chaplains were only found in large ships and then if there were enough to go around,  for this breed of man and his calling didn’t take kindly to the ways of the sea and to the navy.

The social line of division was from the start, between commissioned and WO's – note, not commissioned and non commissioned as we would say today: then, there was no equivalent to non commissioned officers, the divide being officers [which included all WO's] and ships company to which petty officers belonged, and petty officers came in three grades chief, first and second class – but collectively, just petty officers.  During the early part of the 19th century and after Trafalgar, all wardroom WO's [4 of them] were reappointed full wardroom commissioned officers to be integrated with and socially accepted by the wardroom lieutenants.  The masters, now commissioned,  continued in their duties until well after 1850 when the word was dropped as a rank, and they became executive lieutenants, which, in 1877, was split into the under or over eight year rule [under, two stripes; over two and half stripes, but a lieutenant in both cases, and not until 1914, a lieutenant commander]. Of the three other wardroom WO's now newly commissioned, the purser started the Paymaster Branch which became the Supply and Secretarial Branch; the surgeon the Medical Branch and the chaplain, the Chaplains Branch. 

      These two plates show the uniform dress code for warrant officer in 1862.  Thus, by the early 19th century, when all officers living in the wardroom were commissioned, just three warrant officer were left in each ship which from the beginning had always been called non-wardroom officers.  Their title was collectively ‘standing officers’ which meant that they were always employable and were warranted for many years continuous service culminating with a service pension, whereas all others could be, and were, regularly laid off onto half-pay with no pension to look forward to.  This group of warrant officers were the gunner, the boatswain and the carpenter and their ranks were to remain in the navy right up until the middle of the 20th century [1949] a span of hundreds of years going back to the 17th century. The change of status from warrant to commission for the former wardroom WO's  affected the standing officers little, if at all.  After the master, the first lieutenant and the captain, this group of officers were treated with respect as their expertise in their respective skills were second only to the first group mentioned and they held great sway over the ships routine at all times.  They were permanent residents, hence 'standing officers' and when the ship paid-off they remained onboard and moved their wife and children in with them. 

The standing officers lived on the orlop deck deep in the bowels of the ship, in cabins next to their part-of-ship stores. They had their own cooks and servants and they were well looked after. When necessary they assembled with the wardroom officers on deck, that group being joined occasionally by the gun room officers made up of midshipmen, cadets and assistance clerks. On a few rare occasions, standing officers would be invited to the gun room [a mess for subordinate officer junior to themselves] for a meal and a drink, but in the main, they were social lepers.  WO's were allowed their rum ration but not officers rations of liquor [whisky, brandy etc] so they would exchange bottles of rum for 'decent' stuff with the midshipmen who were allowed officers liquor.  It would have been unheard of for the gunner, boatswain and carpenter to visit the wardroom. Without these three men, the wardroom officers were rudderless, akin to headless chickens. The following plates come from the actual records of HMS Victory at the time of Trafalgar which are archived at the PRO Kew. The boy first class is of special interest. The difference between 3rd class and 2nd class was age. The boy 2nd class would go on to be a fully fledged seaman. The boy 1st class was being trained to become a officer as an upper yards man. [SEE ALSO BOYS TRAINING IN THE LAST HALF OF THE 19TH CENTURY AND BOYS TRAINING IN 1903]


There is a charming story about Trafalgar of a father and son relationship. The son, a midshipman had had his leg amputated by the surgeon.  The father, a boatswain, took his son from the surgeon's area to his cabin [both on the orlop deck] where he nursed him back to full health.  Quite often after surgery, men died through lack of post operative care.

  Late in the 17th century, captains had introduced men into their ships to teach midshipmen and seamen.  The captain paid his wages     and the students [midshipmen gentlemen] contributed. He was classed as a petty officer but later on was raised to the rank of midshipman a rank he maintained without further progress until the early 19th century. In 1812, the Admiralty put the school teaching business onto a formal footing and introduced a fourth civil branch to add to surgeon, purser and chaplain.  This new man was either the midshipman above, or a special petty officer paid extra pay for tuition services, or a down-on-his-luck academic recruited for teaching duties and they, with the chaplain  took it in turns to teach. The midshipman schoolmaster was not a wardroom officer and lived and messed in the gunroom. A quarter of a century later in 1836, the schoolie midshipman was promoted to a WO, given wardroom status and the title Naval Instructor and School Master. In 1842 he became established on a proper pay scale and renamed a Naval Instructor. A further quarter of a century past and in 1877 he was given commissioned status. 

 Trafalgar was to be the last great battle for the royal navy for over 110 years, but her ships and men fought a few other battles and skirmishes after Nelson's death, which included the war with America in 1812 and the Crimean War which had just finished when steam entered the navy, and heralded the start of much change. Within these changes came changes to uniform, to regulations covering all manner of naval subjects, and to rank structure bringing with it many new faces into the ranks of warrant officers.   The monopoly held by the three standing-officers was about to be broken.  Sadly, in a way, the changes brought to an end the triumvirate of gunner, boatswain and carpenter when the carpenter was relegated from being an executive warrant officer to a new life being a civil or non-executive warrant officer. After that, the gunner and the boatswain shared the power as the only two executive warrant officers, a state which lasted long after the advent of steam.  In the picture, which shows a ranker right a wardroom sub lieutenant commissioned from a CWO, the boatswain [over 10] and the carpenter, all with their smoking pipes.   The device on the top of his stripe was called a 'curl' or a 'loop' or an 'elliots eye' BUT  the latter expression in not normally used in the Royal Navy and is very much a North American thing: you will not find it in the Oxford English Dictionary. This what the North Americans claim

"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'"

 The officer in the centre is a WO with over 10 years seniority as a WO [often though unofficially referred to as a 1st class], and, although it is difficult to see, he too has a curl in his stripe, denoting his status as a boatswain. However, I am confused about the jacket of the carpenter, the man on the left.  He should be wearing three buttons on his sleeve at the very least and a ¼" stripe [like the boatswain] above his buttons if he had been a carpenter for 10 years or more, or a ½" stripe if he was a commissioned or chief carpenter, the difference being that since his relegation from executive to civil branch his stripe would not have a curl in it. I have no answer for you. This next plate is the text associated with the picture.   Very occasionally, when a gunner or a chief [CWO] gunner - ALL WARRANT RANKS -  was promoted to be a sub lieutenant or a  lieutenant he stayed on in the ship for the rest of that commission until paying-off, still doing the duties as 'gunner' as well as his newly inherited wardroom duties known as 'quarterdeck' duties.  This could be the case here!

A general snippet about ratings uniforms. 

Their Lordships spent much of their time on officers matters, including their uniforms, but virtually little or no time on the ships company uniforms. See THE NAVAL UNIFORM.  As the first of the iron-clads were being launched, officers uniforms and their swords looked like these in the table below.  

  Look to the left for an explanation     Look to the left for an explanation          
Ignoring the obvious differences of sleeve stripes, scrambled-egg on cap, and aiguillette worn by the flag lieutenant, this uniform is the same as that worn by all warrant officer

 The navy list and the Queens Regulations [Queen Victoria of course] and Admiralty Instructions [QRAI] went 'overboard' to get the message across that since there were no wars to fight and these damn engine room people and their baggage [coal] were spoiling the bright-work and scrubbed-white upper decks, better we executives occupy our minds with appearances.  Here are just a few of the regulations which flooded the fleet.

    These uniform 'regs come from 1900. I don't expect you to read them, but just to be aware at the amount of instruction. However, you can use your magnifier app . Note the difference twenty years can make. In 1880 [to the right] warrant officers, though fully part of officers dress regulations are grouped together and then treated separately as commissioned and warrant ranks. Here, in 1900, each dress code is  for all officers, with qualifying remarks when not relevant to WO's etc. 1880 dress regulations. The  right hand side of this page covers the dress for warrant officers. Chapter  XLII Chief Gunner and  Chief Boatswain. XLIII Chief Carpenter XLIV Gunner and Boatswain and XLV Carpenter.  By this date the Carpenter was no longer an executive but a civil branch officer. Some branches used different names for their WO's but the uniforms were standard for 2nd class, 1st class and Chiefs.
Above page 669, note the ¼" stripe for the WO over 10 years

Above page 670 note the rig for commissioned officers whether wardroom status or warrant and the ½" stripe for the Chiefs = commissioned warrant officers.

I have included these simply because of the date. This is 1904.  These are the details of uniforms officers wore in 1905, so that very first 'poor' boy who entered the confines of Shotley Gate would have seen his torturer, possibly a warrant officer, dressed for the 'kill'.



GO TO PART TWO    GO TO HOME PAGE  GO TO BEGINNING OF STORY   GO TO PART THREE   GO BACK TO START OF PART ONE and, as always, don't forget the 'back button' top left when relevant.