Category Archives: Royal Navy

Postcard of HMT Rewa

This week’s postcard is a fine pre-World War One study of a troop ship, the HMT Rewa:skm_c30819010312060 - copy (3)HM Troopship Rewa was built by William Denny for the British India Steam Navigation Company, and launched in 1905, completed 1906. This postcard was sent in 1908 by a soldier setting off on board her for India. The postcard is franked on 16th December 1908 in Southampton, presumably just before she set sail:skm_c30819010312450The sender has written

This is the troopship Rewa which is taking us to India

In the days before telephones and instant communications, postcards were a quick and cheap way of sending short messages. This card, posted in Southampton on the 16th at 10pm could well have been delivered to the address in Nottingham the next day.

The ship, named after a region of India, was requisitioned by the Admiralty in 1914 and pressed into service as a hospital ship. She served in this role for a number of years until she was sunk by a German torpedo in the Bristol Channel in January 1918. The Daily Mail printed a letter from a Stoker on board the Rewa indicating the gallant rescue of the ship’s crew and patients:

Sir- At the request of several naval patients form the hospital ship Rewa, torpedoed and sunk in the Bristol Channel about midnight on January 4, I am writing this letter so that our thanks may reach the fleet surgeon and all the surgeons who acted in such a gallant manner towards the helpless.

As regards L lifeboat, we had a very eventful and serious experience. The lifeboat, which contained the black crew and also patients, had been lowered halfway to the water, when the after-fall jammed. The forward fall was let go, and the lifeboat swung upright, with her fore half under water and the after end hanging in the air.

The petty officer- himself a patient- who in boat drill was to take charge of the boat in the event of a disaster, climbed up on board Rewa, we think to clear the after-fall as the boat did not lower. I asked for a chopper, and, thank heaven, one of the coloured men found it. You can understand the awkward position when trying to chop three parts of rope. Being lowered with a bang, the lifeboat, which was already submerged forward, became three-parts filled. We saw no more of the petty officer and an army officer in the boat asked me to take charge and coxswain the boat.

One of the coloured men lost the tops of three fingers. Nobody else was hurt, though everybody was wet. Three patients were hard at work bailing the boat while we got along with four oars. I should like to thank the three Army officers and all the rest of the men, black and white, for carrying out the orders under trying circumstances. There are four men in particular I should like to shake hands with again, and one is a nigger [in the parlance of the time].

I think that during all this excitement I forgot I had a fractured knee till I was taken out of the boat after reaching the trawler three hours afterwards


The sinking could have been far worse and in the end just two men died. The ship sits today on the seabed, sadly now collapsed in on itself.10568898_442692619204656_4614221515875929475_n10494569_442692645871320_4758843788378380908_n10383898_442692562537995_225179446605090653_n

Action Working Dress Trousers

At the very end of the Second World War the Royal Navy introduced a new uniform for wear in combat called ‘Action Working Dress’. This uniform consisted of a mid-blue buttoned shirt and a pair of dark blue trousers. It was designed to offer far more protection in combat than the traditional sailor’s uniform and was heavily influenced by US practice of the time. It saw little service during World War Two, but was to become ubiquitous as the Navy’s working dress for the next seventy years and despite updates to fabric and cut would remain in service until replaced in 2015. Tonight we are looking at the trousers from the final pattern of Action Working dress. Although originally made of cotton to be somewhat fire resistant, these garments were later made of manmade fibres until in the Falklands when some sailors found their uniforms melted into their skin. Following this conflict there was an urgent review and new fire resistant fabrics were developed that saw service right through until the end of the uniform’s service. The trousers are made in dark blue and have a slightly shiny look to the fabric due to this fire resistant coating:imageThe trousers are secured with a button and drawstring. Although belt loops are sewn to the waist, belts were seldom if ever used with this rig:imageA button and tab is also fitted to offer some adjustment to the waist sizing:imageA pleated thigh pocket is fitted, the flap of which is secured with Velcro:imageAs is typical, a stores label is sewn to the inside of the trousers:imageOver the years this uniform has had a number of names, my father’s generation refer to them as ‘No8s’ whilst when I was issued them they were always ‘No4s’. The trousers always had to be ironed with a crease, even though they were for working dress and then folded down to A4 size- not always an easy task due to their shape and the number of tucks inwards to make them fit the size. We also wore them with elastic ‘twisties’ during basic training that allowed them to be bloused over our boots, again this was never done again once training was over!

Since being replaced by the new working dress, the older pattern has been cascaded down to many Sea Cadet units which still use the older pattern of uniform until funding permits it to be replaced entirely, but its days are now numbered and it will soon disappear into history.Sailor Holding Berthing Line on HMS Ednburgh

HMS Buzzard on the Embankment Postcard

This week’s postcard is a fine image of the Embankment in London, looking down the River Thames:skm_c30819010312060 - copy (8)The large stone walls of the Embankment can be seen on the left of the image:skm_c30819010312060 - copy (8) - copyOf rather more interest though is the sloop, HMS Buzzard, moored a short distance away:skm_c30819010312060 - copy (9) - copyHMS Buzzard was a Nymphe-class composite screw sloop and the fourth ship of the Royal Navy to bear the name. Developed and constructed for the Royal Navy on a design by William Henry White, Director of Naval Construction, she was launched at Sheerness Dockyard on 10 May 1887. The Nymphe-class sloops were ideal for service in the far distant outposts of the British Empire, and Buzzard was employed on the North America and West Indies Station. In early April 1902, under the command of Commander L. F. G. Tippinge, she left Bermuda for home waters, calling at Faial Island, before she arrived at Devonport on 20 April. She was paid off at Chatham on 13 May 1902. In 1904 she was converted to a drill ship for the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve at Blackfriars, London as reported in the Daily Mail:

HMS Buzzard arrived on the Thames yesterday and took up her new station at Blackfriars, there to form a training depot for the Metropolitan Division of the Royal Naval Volunteers, called by the irreverent the “Blackfriars Buccaneers.”

Large crowds lined the bridges to watch the passing of the warship, and thousands were on the Embankment during the mooring operations.

The Buzzard, which was launched in 1887, would in the ordinary course have been sold out of the Navy, but she has now been thoroughly modernised and equipped with quickfirers.

The Captain of the Buzzard described the training on the refitted ship:

In the training given on board the Buzzard each company in turn furnishes a ship’s crew, whose duty it is to carry out the routine of the ship for a fortnight at a time. During this period the men live on board, going ashore daily to their occupations in office or workshop. Thus some idea of life on the lower deck is gained and the men are familiarized with the different parts of a man-of-war. Coming on board after his day’s work, the amateur sailor is taught to man a boat over the lower boom; he becomes familiar with such commands as “Away starboard whaler,” or in the case of an imaginary fire, “Pipe fire quarters,” and last but not least “Stand by Hammocks,” “Clear lower deck,” and “Pipe down,” when your clerk or workshop hand has a chance of learning how to sling a hammock and, with a little practice, how to sleep in one. In the morning comes the least popular command, “All hands lash up and stow,” and the men turn out to “Scrub and wash decks” before going on shore.

In 1911 Buzzard relieved HMS President (formerly HMS Gannet of 1878) as headquarters ship, being renamed HMS President on 1 April 1911. As President she served until 23 January 1918, when she was lent to the Marine Society. She was sold to C A Beard for breaking on 6 September 1921, and was later re-sold to Dutch ship breakers.


Royal Navy Arctic Trousers

In the immediate post war period the British military started reviewing the extreme cold weather clothing it had available and introduced several new garments based on wartime experience. The Royal Navy had found itself gaining much experience of operating in sub-zero temperatures during the convoy runs to Murmansk and Archangel in the Soviet Union during the Second World War. Ironically the emerging threat was not the USSR and with this being the case there was the clear possibility that future combat might occur in the frozen wastes of the Arctic. New extreme cold weather clothing was rapidly developed for the RN including specially padded trousers:imageThese are made from a closely woven dark blue cotton and filled with a very thick layer of insulation for warmth. The insulation is indeed so thick that the trousers have special expansion cuts on the knees to allow the wearer to even bend his legs!imageA single large pocket is seen to the front of the left leg, secured with one black plastic button:imageThe flies fasten with further plastic buttons:imageThe waist is adjustable with cotton straps:imageAnd corresponding white metal buckles (as these trousers are unissued they are still wrapped in tissue from when they were made):imageThe end of each trouser leg has a tab and two buttons allowing the leg to be wrapped around the ankle and fastened tight before the wearer slips his feet into boots:imageThe label inside indicates that this pair was manufactured in 1952 and the term ‘Vocab’ shows they were naval issue, this being the RNs store’s code system:imageIt is hard to identify the use of these trousers from period photographs but I think I have found a couple of images where they are being worn. In 1949 the RN undertook Arctic trials on board HMS Vengeance and here we see sailors wearing heavily padded trousers which look to be the same pattern as the set above:



Salvaging a Warship Postcard

Raising a sunken warship, even in shallow water, has always been a very difficult affair. Even today this remains one of the most difficult tasks facing any navy, as witnessed by the difficulties the Norwegian navy are currently having raising the sunken frigate KMN Helge Ingstad which sank last year. Modern technology definitely helps in the salvage of sunken warships, but even a century ago there were commercial companies who specialised in salvaging ships and despite the work being dangerous, the rewards could be substantial. The Royal Navy did not really have any established salvage equipment or expertise until the First World War and so commercial companies were used when a ship needed salvaging. This image dates, I believe, from the Edwardian era and is printed on extremely heavy card stock. It shows a warship being raised by means of ‘camels’:SKM_C284e18121008500The camels appear to be a set of flotation bags. Divers would have placed cables under the keel of the ship attached to these bags. Compressed air would then be flooded into the camels which would rise and lift the ship with them:SKM_C284e18121008500 - Copy (3)This action appears to have been successful and tugs are waiting to pull the stricken vessel to safety:SKM_C284e18121008500 - Copy (4)Whilst the flotation bags have lifted the ship, the freeboard remains miniscule and water is washing over her decks:SKM_C284e18121008500 - Copy (5)A large gaggle of workers stand, watching the operations from the vessels upper deck:SKM_C284e18121008500 - Copy (6)Sadly I have no context on this image, I am pretty sure it is a British warship and the style suggests it is a late Victorian or early Edwardian warship of a decent size, but beyond that I have no information. Which vessel it is and where and when it was salvaged are a mystery and as ever if you can offer up more information please get in touch.

Royal Navy Foul Weather Trousers

Earlier this year we looked at the Royal Navy’s foul weather jacket here. This jacket is commonly issued to all sailors as a protective layer for inclement weather. Far less frequently seen is the accompanying pair of Gore-tex foul weather trousers and it is these that are the subject of the blog tonight:imageThese trousers are made of moisture vapour permeable of MVP fabric that keeps the larger drops of rain water out, but allows moisture from perspiration to escape from the inside. All the seams of these garments have been taped to prevent water from entering here:imageThese trousers are designed to be worn over the standard uniform, so the pockets are merely openings, secured with Velcro, that allow access to the uniform pockets beneath:imageAs it is probable that these trousers will get saturated, a loop is provided at the back of the waist so that they can be hung up to dry:imageThey are fastened with a zip fly and Velcro tab and a drawstring allows a degree of size adjustment:imageAs it is likely that these trousers will be put on and taken off whilst the sailor is still wearing his boots, the bottom of each leg has a zip and a Velcro tab allowing them to be opened right up to make donning and removing them easier:imageA standard label is sewn into the inside of the trousers with sizing and care instructions. The size of these trousers is small, however they are very generously cut to fit over uniform, so will fit someone who is normally a larger size:imageAs best as I can work out, foul weather coats are on general issue to all Royal Navy personnel either on land or sea, whilst the trousers are just issued to those aboard ship. This make sense when one considers how rough it can get at sea and that crew still need to perform duties outside in any weather:Capture

HMS Andromeda Christmas Card

Happy Christmas Eve! I hope everything is prepared and you are all ready for a merry Christmas tomorrow. As is traditional on this blog, over Christmas we look at a few items of militaria that fit in with the theme of the season. Christmas cards with a military theme are a perennial favourite for those serving away from home to send back to their loved ones. Although we have previously looked mainly at World War Two examples, this year we have a post war example sent from HMS Andromeda:SKM_C45817052313110The card depicts a line drawing of the ship, cutting through the water:SKM_C45817052313110 - Copy (3)The ship’s badge:SKM_C45817052313110 - Copy (2)And a map of her current voyage:SKM_C45817052313110 - CopyInside we can see that the card was sent from someone named ‘Julian’ to ‘Helen & Co’:SKM_C45817052313111HMS Andromeda was the last ship to be constructed at Portsmouth Dockyard in 1968 and was a Leander class frigate. She served throughout the Falklands and through until 1995 with the Royal Navy before being sold to India who continued to use her until 2012 when she was sunk as a target.

Christmas on board ship can be a difficult time for many who are away from loved ones, so every effort is made to make the day enjoyable for the ship’s crew. The following description is from the submarine HMS Vanguard, but is typical of many festivities across the navy:

Entertainment on board, although enhanced by modern technology (Kindles and hard drives being a God-send on a platform with limited space) remains broadly traditional.

Quiz nights and game nights all play a part, with the more traditional ‘Uckers’ now mixed with inter-mess Mario Kart.

A traditional service of carols was held on the Sunday before Christmas, with the choir of ‘King’s College Vanguard’ providing impressive harmony.

Christmas Eve was marked by a staging of ‘A Christmas Carol’ involving a spooky reappearance of the previous Executive Officer as the Ghost of Christmas Past.

Christmas day itself included the opening of presents around the tree, before the Commanding Officer and others helped serve up a sumptuous Christmas dinner for all.

The chefs on board deserve special credit for managing to create such a varied feast.

There was something for everybody on board from carols to Secret Santa, but just as importantly some space for quiet reflection and thoughts of loved-ones at home.

It may sound like all jokes and jollities, but there are good reasons for making an extra effort when on patrol.

Christmas is a sensitive time of the year and for many of the younger ship’s company who have struck-up relationships almost three years ago, couples have still not spent a Christmas together.

Those with young children up to three years of age have yet to have their father home for Christmas.

Every member of the ship’s company has sacrificed something which is emotionally important in order to serve with HMS Vanguard.