Royal Navy Calendar

Tonight we are looking at a 1940 calendar and class photograph for a group of young sailors. It has long been the tradition in the military to have a class photograph taken at the conclusion of training, the photographs being sold or given to participants as a souvenir of their time spent on the course. This particular photograph has been mounted on card, with a calendar hanging below:

F2ABD035-D2B4-4C62-9146-902B6C56C4FAThe calendar dates to 1940:2E019305-58B3-451D-BC78-33473C540BD8This would then date the photograph to late 1939 and so it dates from the very start of the war. The photograph itself shows a group of very young, possibly boy, sailors and their instructors:

SKMBT_C36415010808050_0001aThe trainees are mostly dressed in square rig, with dark blue jumpers worn rather than the white shirts, again dating the photograph to the latter quarter of 1939:

SKMBT_C36415010808050_0001fIt is interesting to note the many and varied angles that the ratings are wearing their caps:SKMBT_C36415010808050_0001bThe caps themselves were perfectly round, rather than oval to follow the shape of the head, they thus pinched uncomfortably at the front and back of the head if they were worn in the regulation manner. It therefore became fashionable to wear them at various jaunty angles both for comfort and to make the wearer appear like an ‘old salt’, needless to sa many officers took a dim view of this! Just one of the likely instructors wears square rig; an older man, he also wears the high webbing naval leggings:SKMBT_C36415010808050_0001dHe also appears to be wearing some sort of armband, but saddly its impossible to see what it is from the angle of the photograph. The rest of the instructors wear fore and aft rig, but the lack of rate badges on their sleeves suggests they are ratings rather than Petty Officers:

SKMBT_C36415010808050_0001eWhilst most seaman and stokers wore the standard square rig, a small number of mostly cooks and writers wore fore and aft rig. This was originally introduced to try and encourage more young men to go into these less popular branches, but was the source of some discontent on the lower deck and it was felt that all should be in square rig. The war delayed this transition though until the 1950s.

It is worth noting the glass in the building behind. This has been taped up to reduce the danger of flying glass in case of bomb damage:

SKMBT_C36415010808050_0001The large Royal Crest on the balcony behind the sailors would suggest that they are training at a long established naval base rather than one of the newly set up temporary wartime camps:SKMBT_C36415010808050_0001cThis calendar is a clever piece of design, once 1940 was completed, the calendar could be easily detached and the remaining photograph framed and kept for posterity. Happily for us this never happened and we are left with the combination as originally designed.


  1. I have a picture just like this one but taken at a different time and with a different group of people. My picture has the photographer company name and address embossed along the bottom edge “Medway Studio, 43 High Str, Chatham”. I am researching a deceased relation who appears in my photo and I am trying to find out exactly where and why the photo was taken. So any ideas would be welcome.

    • Hi Mark, from the address of the photographer I would guess your relative was at Chatham Royal Dockyard for some reason. Without seeing the photograph it’s hard to guess, but these photos do seem to fall into set patterns. If he is with a high proportion of officers and wrens then it’s likely he was part of the dockyard staff, if most of the sailors are young looking like my photo I would guess it’s some sort of training class, and if most of them are POs or CPOs then they are probably instructors. Saying that though it was not uncommon to have photographs taken of a ship’s company when it commissioned, however the forward gun of the ship is usually the background in that case. The dockyard is a museum now so contacting them might help shed some light on your photo.

      • I have now found out exactly where this photo and the photo I have was taken. It is in Chatham Dockyards and has been known by different names throughout the years. Fisgard Block in 1930, HMS Wildfire. HMS Collingwood (AKA Collingwood Triangle) and HMS Pembrook. If you are really interested you can enter ” 51.396017, 0.538491 ” or ” ME4 4TS ” into google maps for the exact location.

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