Royal Navy Rating on Sentry Duty, 1941

It is late 1941 and this rating is standing guard at the gangway to his ship. As such he wears webbing and a steel helmet with his uniform and is armed with an SMLE Rifle, although it is unlikely he will have anything more onerous to do on his shift than check returning sailors identity cards. He wears the Seaman’s Class II serge jumper and trousers over a knitted dark wool jersey that was worn throughout the winter until April. The seaman’s collar is faded, as preferred by sailors at the time as a sign of an ‘old salt.’ He wears sailor’s boots without the toecaps seen on the army’s boots at this time and the first pattern of web leggings that have a strap and buckle at both the top and the bottom. The webbing worn is the 1908 pattern, still in widespread use with the RN at this point. It is a stripped back set with just belt, shoulder braces, ammunition pouches, water bottle and bayonet frog worn. He carries the Short Magazine Lee Enfield rifle with its bayonet attached and on his head is a Mk II steel helmet:

This sailor is originally from Newfoundland and wears his country’s title on each shoulder, one of 2,889 men from this tiny nation who would serve in the Royal Navy during the war. He wears two red long service and good conduct stripes on his sleeve, indicating eight years of service and an extra 6d a day on his pay.

Whilst sentry duty was a sign of sensible security in home ports, it took on greater significance when abroad. There was often felt to be a danger of spies or saboteurs in neutral ports, as well as the risk of unauthorised access from stowaways, peddlers and those wishing to steal items of value. In addition to this, a sentry prevented any disaffected member of the ship’s company trying to sneak down the gangway and desert and if sailors came back from shore leave drunk, a sentry helped ensure they were safely back on board ready for the Captain’s table the following day if required!

Although I have titled this reconstruction as a sentry, it could equally be a member of a landing party who were equipped in the same manner. The RN’s approach to using Naval forces as infantry was to leave them in their standard uniforms and just add webbing, helmet, rifle and leggings to change them into a force to land ashore or aboard another ship. Such a force can be seen here, identically equipped to the reconstruction save for the use of P14 rifles rather than the SMLE:

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