Life in the Royal Navy Cigarette Cards (Part 1)

The cigarette card set “Life in the Royal Navy” was published in the late 1930s and over the next few weeks we are going to look at the cards and the descriptions on them:

Bridge of HMS Warspite

The picture shows the section of the bridge known as the compass platform of HMS Warspite, a battleship of 30,000 tons. In the centre is the brass binnacle containing the standard compass, with two iron globes on either side of it. In the right hand corner of the compass platform the captain is seen talking to an engineer officer, who is wearing a boiler suit. Behind him are the navigating officer, the officer of the watch, the midshipman of the watch and a couple of ratings. All around are indicator dials, voice pipes, telephones and other instruments, which together enable the captain to control all the activities of the ship from this spot.

Flag Signal

Hoisted Signalling by flags is of very ancient origin, dating back to Athenian times. Originally it was confined to the simplest messages, but with the development of naval warfare, codes were devised calling for the employment of a large number of flags, the variety of meanings being extended by altering the positions in which they were arrange. Nelson’s famous signal at Trafalgar, “England expects that every man will do his duty” was made by means of flags. In the signal illustrated, the words “Navy Week” are expressed. Navy Week is the annual festival held at the beginning of August, when the Royal Dockyards at Portsmouth, Chatham and Devonport are thrown open to the public.

Semaphore Signalling

The Admiralty adopted the semaphore devised by Sir Home far back as 1816. It was subsequently employed in HM ships, as well as for passing messages between London and the naval ports. In1827, however, it was superseded at sea by the Palsey system of signalling, which remained unaltered until the eighties of the last century. For a time a type of semaphore with three arms was in use, but it had practically become obsolete by the end of the century. The standard pattern now in use is shown in our picture; it can be used for transmitting messages with great rapidity in the hands of an expert operator.

Signalling with Hand Flags

In spite of wireless telegraphy, the visual signalman (shown in our picture signalling with hand flags), remains a most important factor in naval organisation. Flags, semaphores, searchlights and flashing lamps are all employed by visual signalmen, who must be ratings of high intelligence. A smart signalman knows the signal book by heart, while the more senior ratings are familiar with every detail of the most complicated manoeuvres. No landing or other party leaving a ship is complete without a signalman for maintaining communication. Starting as an ordinary signalman, promotion leads through the grades of signalman, leading signalman, yeoman of signals and chief yeoman of signals to signal boatswain, a warrant rank.

Marine Signalling with Searchlight (HMS Courageous)

Searchlights of 10 inch and 20 inch diameter are used extensively for signalling purposes in modern warships, winking away shutter is worked across the beam by the operator. The Royal Marine signaller shown in our picture is using a 20 inch searchlight projector to send a message to another ship, the telescope enabling hi to read the reply. By similar means. When training men in the use of these powerful lights, care has to be taken not to receive the full glare in the eyes, which may be injured thereby. The torpedo party is responsible for the care and maintenance of all searchlights in a warship.

Hoisting the Ensign (HMS Warspite)

From 8am in summer, and 9am in winter, until sunset, His Majesty’s ships fly a large White Ensign at the ensign staff aft and a small Union Flag (or in the common parlance the “Union Jack” ) at the jackstaff in the bows. As the bell is struck by the Marine corporal of the watch, buglers sound “attention”, everybody on deck faces aft and salutes, and the colours are slowly hoisted as the ship’s band plays the National Anthem. When a ship is in a foreign port, this is followed by the national. Anthem of the country concerned.

Marine Guard of Honour

A guard of honour of Royal Marines, in full dress uniform, is here seen drawn up on the quarterdeck of a capital ship for inspection by a flag officer, in this instance evidently a Commander-in-Chief, since his rank appears to be that of a full admiral. Walking alongside the admiral is the captain of the ship. Two marine officers with drawn swords are standing in front of their men, while the colour-sergeant of the detachment is in the front rank, nearest the camera. This picture was taken at Gibraltar, probably at the conclusion of combined exercises, when both the Home and Mediterranean Fleets are invariably assembled at that port before returning to their normal stations.

Weighing Anchor

In this picture the cable officer is seen in the background, leaning over the rail and signalling to the captain on the bridge, while further to the right a signalman is indicating by means of small numerical flags the numbers of shackles of the cable as they come in. When the cable is upright for the anchor to the hawse-pipe, it is reported as “up and down.” This is usually done by showing a small “U” flag. When the anchor is broke out of the ground, it is reported as being “aweigh,” by displaying a small “A” flag. As soon as the anchor is sighted, it is reported as being either “clear” or “foul.” This is usually done by displaying a small “affirmative” or “negative” flag.

Piping the Side

The ceremony of piping the side is a survival from the days of sail, when flag officers and captains were hoisted in for a boat alongside by means of a boatswain’s chair. Now it is a salute given to admirals and captains of HM ships, as they come up the accommodation ladder. It comprises two series of trills of a boatswain’s call (or in shore going parlance, whistle), the first as the officer’s boat comes alongside, the second as he mounts the steps of the ladder. In the picture, a captain has just reached the top of the ladder, while the two boatswain’s mates in the foreground are seen in the act of piping. The boatswain’s call is a silver whistle of a special shape that has been used at sea from the earliest times.

Manning Cutter from Lower Boom

Cutters are boats 30, 32 or 34 feet in length, pulling 12 or 14 oars. When a boat is called away for lowering, the stroke and bow oarsmen go into the boat, see the plug is in and everything clear for lowering; then, standing between the falls, they lay hold of the lifelines and are lowered by the rest of the crew. When the boat is in the water, the falls are unhooked and the boat pulled out to the boom seen in the picture. The remainder of the crew, having coiled down the falls in a seaman like manner, then proceed to man the boat by walking out over the boom and down the rope ladder as depicted.

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