Prince Alfred

Prince Alfred and Australia’s first Royal Tour

by Mackenzie J. Gregory
DukeEdinPrince Alfred, the Duke of Edinburgh (left), was noted for two significant events in the history of Australia. He was the first member of the Royal family to tour the colonies that became the Commonwealth of Australia and he was the first assassination target in Australia.

The second son and fourth child of Queen Victoria and Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, Prince Alfred joined the  Royal Navy and passed his midshipman’s examination in 1856. Appointed to HMS Euryalus, he was promoted to Lieutenant in 1863 and advanced rapidly to Captain by 1866, when he was also created the Duke of Edinburgh and Earl of Ulster and of Kent in the Queen’s Birthday Honours of May that year. In the same year he was appointed in command of the wooden steam frigate HMS Galatea, to prepare for a world tour in January 1867.

He departed Plymouth on 24 January 1867, calling in at Gibraltar and the Cape of Good Hope before crossing the Indian Ocean. He landed at Glenelg, South Australia, on 31 October, the first Australian port of call for a planned five-month visit that included Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, and Tasmania. In Victoria, a special royal train was made up for the occasion and the Duke travelled in it to provincial towns, such as Bendigo, Geelong, and Ballarat.

OFarrellOn 12 March 1868, while visiting Sydney for the second time, the Duke was enjoying an Australian picnic on the beachfront at Clontarf, when he was attacked by an Irishman, Henry James O’Farrell (right), flourishing a revolver. Shot in his back to the right of his spine, the Prince swiftly recovered, returned to his ship, and departed for the UK in early April.

It was alleged that O’Farrell, who had a history of hospitalisations for mental illness, first claimed that he acted on instructions from a band of Melbourne Fenians. He later disputed that and, in a deathbed confession that Colonial Secretary Sir Henry Parkes initially attempted to suppress, wrote:

“I was never connected with any man or body of men who had for their object the taking of the life of the Duke of Edinburgh.
“Never was I in any other than an indirect manner connected with that organisation in Ireland and elsewhere which is known by the name of the Fenian organisation.
“I wish moreover distinctly to assert that there was not a human being in existence who had the slightest idea of the object I had in view when carrying into effect the death of the Duke of Edinburgh.
“I had no foundation for saying there was a Fenian association in NSW. From continually thinking and talking of what I may still be allowed to call the wrongs of Ireland, I became excited and filled with enthusiasm on the subject.
“And it was when under the influence of those feelings that I attempted to perpetrate the deed for which I am most justly called upon to suffer.
Found guilty of attempted murder, and despite the Prince’s recommendation that the sentence be reviewed by the Queen, O’Farrell was hanged at Darlinghurst gaol on 21 April, less than six weeks after the shooting. He was buried in the Catholic section of Rookwood cemetery.

Galatea 1867Galatea 1870
HMS Galatea carrying the Duke of Edinburgh, enters Sydney Heads (left) in 1867. (O.W.B. Brierly watercolour 1868.) In a later visit, in 1870, Galatea docks for routine maintenance in the new Fitzroy drydock, Cockatoo Island. (Frederick Garling watercolour 1870.)

Influential citizens of Sydney met on the evening of 23 March 1868, 11 days after the assassination attempt, to vote for a memorial to be built “to raise a permanent and substantial monument in testimony of the heartfelt gratitude of the community at the recovery of HRH.” This led to a public subscription that paid for the Royal Prince Alfred Hospital’s construction. A similar movement contributed to the building of the Melbourne Alfred Hospital.

However, sectarianism and bigotry were never far from the political surface in Australia in those days. What followed became an example of how an astute politician could manipulate public hysteria and xenophobia for his own political benefit. Henry Parkes used the shooting to advance public support for his personal prejudice against the Irish and the Catholics. Anticipating obstruction from Irish elements in the police force, he swore in a small army of private detectives, including ex-convicts, to track down “Fenian conspirators”. None were ever found.

Queensland visit

In 1868, before the shooting, the western railway line reached Jondaryan in Queensland, one of the greatest achievements of the government of the time. Prince Alfred was taken there to open the new extension.

The visit was reported to be a disaster right from the start. The special train carrying the Prince and his retinue of dignitaries ran hours late, arriving at Jondaryan after dark, upsetting all the arrangements for the official welcome and opening celebrations.

According to John Eggleston, of the Jondaryan Woolshed Historical Museum, the following is attributed to a Reverend John Milner, who accompanied Prince Alfred on his Australian tour:

Because of the lateness of the arrival of the train, all the welcoming arrangements had to be reorganised, causing some two hours further delay.
The Duke was confined to a small room at the railway station with his attending staff, while the squatters and other gentlemen who had assembled to welcome the Duke, took possession of the vacant carriages and settled down to their pipes and conversation, it being unclear what the next move was to be. The Duke was highly amused by the oddness of the whole affair and asked, “What came we out to see?”
The Commodore went to see what was going on and found that preparations were being made for a dinner, as it was so late.
About 10 o’clock in the evening, dinner was announced, by which time everyone was afflicted with considerable hunger pains. Some 50 guests sat down with the Duke’s party in a large tent decorated with flags and flowers.
After the Governor had made the Royal toast, the manager of Jondaryan station, Mr Graham, made a very amusing speech, presenting the Duke with a very large damper that had been especially made on the station for him, as a gift from the station people.
The Duke, in accepting the damper, said that he could not possibly eat it all himself and received it as eaten.
At this point another gentleman proposed the health of His Excellency, the acting Governor. He took the opportunity of saying how desirous the squatters were that he should be confirmed in the appointment, appealing to the Duke to use his influence with the Queen for that purpose. At that point a voice desired him to sit down, but this request made him persevere the more, as he saw that the majority was definitely with him.
After the dinner was concluded, Mr Graham invited the Duke and his party to accompany him to the Jondaryan homestead, some two miles distant, where he offered to put the party up for the night.
However, an over-zealous government official insisted that the Duke should spend the night in the accommodation that had been arranged for him at the railway station.
So the remainder of the Duke’s party departed with Mr Graham for Jondaryan, leaving the Duke to the enjoyment of his dreary quarters.
The following morning, Mr Graham invited the Duke and his party to spend the day hunting, as there were plenty of kangaroos, emus and plain turkeys to be had on the Downs. The Duke being a keen sportsman, expressed his delight at the invitation, adding that it would help to loosen up his cramped muscles from the past night’s sleep.
However, the official organising the tour said the Duke’s schedule could not allow him the time to do that, as so much time had been lost on the previous day.

Prince Alfred was not impressed with his visit to Jondaryan, for on his return to England, he is reported as having told his mother, Queen Victoria, “In New South Wales they shot at me, in Victoria they mobbed me, but in Queensland they sent me to Jondaryan and inflicted me with over-zealous officials.”


On 23 January 1874, Prince Alfred married Grand Duchess Marie Alexandrovna of Russia, second daughter of Tsar Alexander. They had four daughters and one son, Prince Alfred Alexander.

Prince Albert
Prince Alfred in later life.

Prince Alfred senior remained an active and highly successful naval officer. He served with distinction in many appointments, promoted RADM in 1878 and ultimately FADM 1893.

When the Prince’s uncle Ernst died in August 1893, Alfred succeeded to the Duchy of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha. At first he was regarded with a degree of coldness as a foreigner, but by the time of his death he had essentially won over his subjects.

Prince Alfred Alexander, the much indulged only son and heir to the Duchy, became entangled in a scandal involving his mistress and shot himself in a suicide attempt in January 1889, during his parents’ 25th wedding anniversary celebrations. He briefly survived the shooting, but was banished to Meran, a spa in the Italian South Tyrol, ostensibly to recover. He died two weeks later on 6 February.

Prince Alfred senior died on 30 July 1900. He was buried in the ducal cemetery outside Coburg, Germany. A nephew, Prince Charles, succeeded him to the Duchy of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha.

Superstition: Friday

Superstition and Silliness — the tale of the so-called HMS Friday

By Tom Lewis
Although sailors of the past, and perhaps the present, have been seen as superstitious, they are generally sensible, realistic people, as indeed dealing with the perils of the deep dictates. However, one story of a naval attempt to combat superstition goes a little too far. It goes something like this:

One hundred years ago, the British government sought to quell once and for all the widespread superstition among seamen that setting sail on Fridays was unlucky. A special ship was commissioned, named “HMS Friday“. They laid her keel on a Friday, launched her on a Friday, selected her crew on a Friday and hired a man named Jim Friday to be her captain. To top it off, HMS Friday embarked on her maiden voyage on a Friday, and was never seen or heard from again.1

Lloyds of London began refusing insurance to any ship launched on Friday 13th.2

On logical grounds alone this might well be dismissed. We might argue that navy high commands are not known for spending thousands of taxpayer dollars or pounds to combat superstitions, even in the somewhat more religious days of a few centuries back. Additionally, naval captains are not “hired”. They are appointed, and only after a lengthy winnowing process that sees them spend many years climbing the ladder of promotion. In any navy there are no boxes of spare naval commanders or captains stored on shelves. To casually find one with the “right” surname is doubtful indeed.

The surname “Friday” is not a common one. Robinson Crusoe’s “Man Friday” was found by the shipwrecked castaway on a Friday — that was not his surname. Indeed, a search of the State of NSW — a State of around six million people, returned a total of six people in its telephone directory3 with that name. The population of Britain in 1811 was around 18 million people, in 1850 around 27 million, and by 1911 about 45 million.4

Knights TemplarGrand Master
The mystical warrior-monks, the Knights Templar (left), amassed a fortune looting Muslim
castles during the Crusades, but were arrested en-masse by the debt-laden King
Philip IV of France on Friday 13 October 1307. Their Grand Master, Jacques de Molay (right)
was tortured and slowly burned at the stake. As he died, he cursed the young King and
older Pope, both of whom coincidentally were dead within a year.

The story does not suggest when the momentous event of “HMS Friday” being commissioned took place, but we might suppose it would not have occurred in recent history, or it would be very well known, given the rise of newspapers and the printed word. So we presume the launch of the ship took place back in the Nelsonian era or before that. But to suppose that out of the small populations of that time that there would exist a naval person named Friday who was also a ship commander is more than a little doubtful.

Web search

Lloyds of London have an extensive website5 with a search engine. Nowhere is there any mention of insurance being refused for such a reason.

Finally, we might suppose that if the Royal Navy built such a ship, it would be well-recorded. A search of the Royal Navy’s rather magnificent website6 returned 42 hits for the term “Friday”, but a ship or captain of that name was not one of them. There are a number of other compiled lists of RN vessels. One of the best, J.J. Colledge’s Ships of the Royal Navy, in two volumes, gives us thousands of ship names for the hundreds of years of this institution, together with names from Commonwealth navies as well. HMS Friday is not listed anywhere.

So, not even a good story. But should we really launch a ship on a Friday?


Colledge, J. J. Ships of the Royal Navy: an historical index. (Volume 1: Major ships.) David & Charles: Newton Abbot, 1969.

Colledge, J. J. Ships of the Royal Navy: an historical index. (Volume 2: Navy-built trawlers, drifters, tugs and requisitioned ships.) David & Charles: Newton Abbot, 1970.

Wood, A. Nineteenth Century Britain. London: Longman,1970.


1 Urban Legends and Folklore with David Emery. cs/historical/a/friday_the_13th_ 3.htm. 16 June 2003.
2 Superstitious City website. /feature1.asp?feature_ID=80
3 wp/
4 Wood, A. (1970) Nineteenth Century Britain. Longman: London. p. 449.
5 /index. asp.

Naval Swords

Swords “to carry” or not

By Tom Lewis

Naval sword
The naval sword and scabbard.

There seems to be an oft-repeated story about our navy, and perhaps the Royal Navy too, that following some disgrace within the RN, perhaps a mutiny, an order was once given that naval officers could not wear their swords, as they were not gentlemen. Instead, they would have to carry them.

This at first seems a little strange, as there doesn’t seem to have been too many mutinies within the RN where officers disgraced themselves. The Spithead mutiny on 1797 was confined to sailors, not officers, although it might be said that officers’ mismanagement led to that situation. The rumour also suggests that this was a Victorian decision, perhaps made by Queen Victoria herself, which sounds strange coming so long after the famous RN mutiny.

Carried on slings

Officers’ swords within the RAN are “carried” to an extent in that they hang from two material supports or slings. They can be hooked up to a small eyelet on the sword belt, but on parade they are carried. Sailors’ cutlasses, when carried on parade, always are hooked up to a belt.

I also thought there were plenty of regiments within the British Army where officers “carried” swords rather than “wore” them on a belt attachment. Nevertheless a few sailors have told me that they were told in their training that it is especially Navy officers who carry their swords, and for that ancient reason.

The licentious soldiery, here in the uniform of the Fourth Hussars,
hang their bigger and heavier swords from shorter lanyards
attached to their Sam Browne belts.

Swords seemed to have begun their time on board ships since the invention of the weapon. Naturally the higher in status a mariner was, the better weapon he would be expected to possess. In particular, the “mark of a gentleman” for many hundreds of years in British society was the sword, probably dating from the days of knightly vows where the knight’s sword was his most prized and revered weapon. It was the sword that made him a knight, after all, in the ceremony in which he was “dubbed” by tapping him on both shoulders with the naked blade. His honour, therefore was attached to the sword.

Courts martial

Even today at the commencement of a court martial an officer’s sword is taken from the accused, and at the end of the trial it signifies whether the officer is guilty or not, by being presented on a table when the person is brought back into court after the presiding board’s deliberations. If found not guilty, the sword hilt is towards the officer, signifying that one’s honour and duty can be taken up again. If guilty, the point is presented.

The sword in Anglo-Saxon England gives some background to how the weapon is carried, with interesting comments about wearing swords on the back and shoulder and several references to wearing them on the belt, but not hanging.

The wearing of a sword back in days when it was more than a badge, but also a weapon, is fairly well documented. Scabbards can be seen from the days of the Greek hoplite, worn suspended at the waist. Sometimes the weight of a heavy sword was helped by a frog, a leather belt worn over the opposing shoulder from which the belt was supported. Figures in the Bayeux tapestry dating from the 11th century show swords being worn in scabbards on belts around the waist, with a hanging strap preventing the chape, the metal cap at the bottom of the scabbard, from dragging on the ground. Swords, or even a second sword, were sometimes worn over the shoulder down the back, ready for a high-handed draw.1 This is after the fashion of the Roman cavalryman’s weapon, the spatha.

For many hundreds of years then, swords were used for defence, and anyone who could own one would carry it, especially on the road, as a measure to be used against highwaymen and the like. However, a sword needed some training to use, and it was expensive, and so it was the mark of someone better-off than the norm, a “gentleman” by this measure.

Incidentally, we may note that a sword was indeed the preferred method of close-quarter defence, as it is most versatile in the way it can be used for both defence and attack, and is extremely manoeuvrable as well, in the way an axe or spear is not. The early versions of firearms were both expensive and unreliable, and so right up until the days of mass-production of guns, the sword was preferred.


By the 19th century it had evolved into the smallsword, a smaller version of the long pointed blade of the rapier. For those who were lesser fencers, an edged weapon was preferred, and indeed in close quarter fighting the cut-and-slash was the norm.

ornate guard

Some rapiers, such as this swept-hilt model, had exotic hilts.

So the sabre was therefore the weapon of choice for naval officers, with the less decorated and less well-made cutlass the sailors’ weapon.

It may be noted in several illustrations of the time in David Howarth’s The Nelson touch, that officers are wearing their swords in a hanging fashion from slings, but also, significantly, officers are wearing swords suspended from belts. There are further such examples in Dudley Jarrett’s British naval dress.

This perhaps puts paid to suggestions that Victoria ordered naval officers not to wear swords via a casual remark, as one of my oral sources suggests: “they are not gentlemen”, simply because Victoria came to the throne well after Nelson’s day. In summary, there are a variety of illustrations showing officers in all sorts of poses: carrying their swords, or seated with the sword obviously detached from slings or belt, perhaps so they can be shown with their hand on the sword-hilt “a particularly martial posture.”

Unequal slings

In The wearing of swords the authoritative P.G.W. Annis makes no reference to officers being made to “carry” swords. He does make some detailed references to sword belt slings, and notes that after 1780 “unequal slings became the rule—the rear sling being longer (often much longer) than the other,” (Annis p. 80).

Graeme Arbuckle, in Customs and traditions of the Canadian navy, refers to the rumour, giving some idea that it is widespread. He thinks:

…it is doubtful that the Admiralty would recommend any change in uniform that would bring ridicule on the Royal Navy. It is most improbable that trailing one’s sword was a mark of disgrace. It was the great discovery of the seventeenth century that the ‘esprit de corps’ and fighting spirit of a body of troops could be greatly increased by drilling them together and clothing them alike. Any mark of disgrace worn under order would contravene this principle. Moreover, the history of uniform shows that any item of clothing not approved of by those who wear it doesn’t survive.

In discussions on the Maritime Historians’ Internet Mailing List, Bill Schleihauf makes what I think is the right judgement in the question:

The trailing sword was, unquestionably, a sign of pride. In fact, the sword would have been no mark of distinction at all unless it was trailed, for all arms wore the same pattern belt. The cavalry regiments have always been splendidly dressed, with the light horse being the most dashing. To draw attention to themselves while on foot, troopers and officers alike let their spurs jangle and their steel-shod scabbards rattle over the cobblestones. This is the origin of the phrase “sabre rattling”, which denotes a swaggering, bullying attitude.

So the argument goes that everyone wore trailing swords, which had to be carried. So it is the case, perhaps, that all military personnel once wore their swords in a hanging fashion, with the slings as long as possible, so as to draw attention to the wearer. The army personnel of the world have now lifted their swords to their belts, as no doubt soldiers often had to do for practicality’s sake, with their practice of drill, but the navy still carries theirs, perhaps because they rarely wore swords, and therefore never saw a need to change. The air forces, following army traditions, generally copied the soldier’s model. CDRE James Goldrick RAN has also pointed out that having a “detached” sword makes it a lot easier to carry while being transported in a small boat.

King Edward VIIIUSN sword
Not all swords are worn with external sword belts and scabbards in naval dress.
King Edward VIII (left) hows how swords are worn with the belt and most of the
hooked-up scabbard hidden under the greatcoat. The sword hilt and perhaps a
centimetre of scabbard protrudes hrough a slit in the coat, allowing the sword to
be drawn. Another reason for the long lanyards on naval swords is apparent in this
photo of a USN officer in formal tropical rig. In this dress, black swordbelts are worn
under white jackets and long slings permit looking up scabbards to swordbelt hooks
that protrude through the jackets, thus maintaining the jacket’s skirt in an even line

According to Boasanquet’s The naval officer’s sword, there seems to have been a little effort to regulate the trailing of the weapons:

…in 1856 the blade returned to its former width of 1? inches and the scabbard to two lockets, each with a ring. This made necessary a return to the two long belt-slings of different lengths, so that the sword would hang at a slight forward angle. This has continued ever since.

Certainly there were variations made in sword belts throughout the time the Royal Navy has regulated naval uniforms, as they did reasonably firmly from 1748 onwards. After 1856 it seems that officers wore two different types, which evolved to become a full-dress and a “plain” version.2 The former, now confined to Admirals, has gold embroidered acorns and oak leaves, with the usual sword belt for an officer having three gold embroidered stripes. Incidentally, this pattern was worn by captains and commanders from 1832-1939.

If anyone can throw some doubt on the reasoning given above, I would be most interested to hear from them.


1. Davidson, HR Ellis. pp. 88-95.
2. Jarrett, Dudley p.144-145.


Annis, P.G.W. The wearing of swords: Naval swords. Harrisburg: Stackpole Books, 1970.
Arbuckle, Graeme. Customs and traditions of the Canadian navy. Canada: Nimbus Publishing Ltd, 1984.
Boasanquet, Captain Henry T.A. The naval officer’s sword. London: Her Majesty’s Stationery Office, 1955.
Davidson, H.R. Ellis. The sword in Anglo-Saxon England. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1962.
Goldrick, James. Email of 30 November 2000, on the wearing of swords in boats.
Howarth, David. The Nelson touch. Collins: London, 1969.
Jarrett, Dudley. British naval dress. London: J.M. Dent and Sons Ltd, 1960.
Rodger, N.A.M. The wooden world.  New York: Norton, 1986.
Royal Australian Naval College. Guide to Parade and Ceremonial Procedures. In ABR 1834A. Canberra.
Winton, John. Hurrah for the life of a sailor. London: Michael Joseph, 1977.

RNEC Manadon

The rise and fall of the Royal Naval Engineering College 

by John Ellis

 RNECManadon House
The Royal Naval Engineering College complex (left) trained thousands of engineers. Historic Manadon
House (right), purchased in 1938, became an extension of the college.

Steam brought painful change to the training of Royal Navy officers. Finding a place for the engineers in traditional RN ranks demanded considerable time and effort. The first RN vessel to have a steam-powered propulsion system was the 1819 tug Comet. In 1828 the Navy List included its first steam-powered ship, HMS Lightning, built in 1823. HMS Dee, completed in 1832, was the first steam-powered fighting ship. By 1840, the Navy List named 70 steam-powered vessels. They were all paddle-wheelers and were mostly employed towing ships of the line in and out of harbour.

Izambard Kingdom Brunel

In 1840 I.K. Brunel concluded that a screw would propel Great Britain, then building in Bristol. The Admiralty accepted Brunel’s wisdom and fitted HMS Rattler with a screw in 1842. Rattler, in trials in 1845 with HMS Alecto, a paddlewheeler sloop, demonstrated the superiority of screw propulsion. With the dawning of this new technology came the requirement for technical support to operate and maintain the machinery. Machinery suppliers provided civilian “engine-men” to operate and maintain the new equipment until 1837, when the RN gave warrant rank to ships’ engineers.

The year 1837 was a milestone for the engineers in the navy. The Admiralty first established the Steam Department and followed up with the Engineering Branch Afloat. Ships’ engineers were warranted and equated with other civil officers, such as masters, surgeons, pursers and chaplains.

In 1843 the Royal Dockyards established schools for the education of dockyard apprentices and some of these “engineer boys” entered the Navy on completion of training. Some engineers were commissioned from 1847 and all were commissioned after 1862. From 1863 the “engineer boys” became “engineer students” with examinations for all ranks to chief engineer, a rank equivalent to lieutenant commander today.

That year also saw engineer students educated separately at the new Royal School of Naval Architecture and Marine Engineers in Kensington. Engineer students joined at the age of 14 for the four-year course. It was also 1863 when civil officers introduced distinctive colours between their gold stripes, although only “real” officers had the curl in the upper stripe. The four colours introduced in 1863 were blue for navigators, red for surgeons, white for paymasters and purple for engineers.

Main entranceKeyham College
The main building entrance (left) and the dockyard-facing facade of historic Keyham College.

In 1873 the RN transformed the 18th century Royal Naval Hospital buildings at Greenwich to accommodate the old Royal Naval Academy in Portsmouth and the Kensington engineer students. Between 1876 and 1886 the students had yet another home, HMS Marlborough, an old wooden screw-driven battleship in Portsmouth, while the navy built a permanent naval engineering college near Devonport Dockyard. The Devonport Training School for Engineer Students opened in 1880, but it soon became known as Keyham College.

Dating from the introduction of heavy machinery in ships, engineering personnel were regarded with disdain from the bridge. Many naval officers viewed the new steam engines as a menace, not only to their ships but their way of life. “Their Lordships feel it is their bounden duty to discourage to the utmost of their ability the employment of steam vessels, as they consider the introduction of steam is calculated to strike a fatal blow at the naval supremacy of the empire,” wrote Lord Melville, First Lord of the Admiralty in 1828.

The pride of the Royal Navy was the sparkling appearance of warships that were cleaned and scrubbed from morning till night. Showers of sparks and soot blew out of the engineer’s funnels and settled everywhere, entailing much extra cleaning and scrubbing to keep ships sparkling. An Admiralty Fleet Order of the 1860s directed that the practice of firing muskets up the funnels to dislodge the offending soot be discontinued.

Sunday DivisionsEngine test
Young naval engineers in their Sunday Divisions best uniforms (left) also work in the Engine Test Shop (right).

By the 1860s there was an increasing gulf between the status of engineers and military officers of supposedly similar rank. Not only were the engineers seen as workmen in uniform, they were not accorded wardroom status.

Uniforms of this period for non-military officers were less elaborate than those on the bridge. While the military officer wore double-breasted coats, the civil officers wore theirs single-breasted with buttons in distinctive groupings. Engineers, for instance, had eight buttons in two groups of four and all non-military uniforms lacked the curled upper stripe. Even the introduction of engine-room artificers in 1868 as skilled tradesmen and the abandonment of separate wardrooms in 1875 did not eradicate the disparities. In the 1890s, when 50 per cent of the complement of a warship might be the engineering department, military officers continued to view engineers as lascars with oilcans. Until 1910 engineers trained quite separately from their anchor-clanking colleagues.

During the 1890s recruitment of engineer students fell markedly and in 1903 the First Lord of the Admiralty and the First Sea Lord, the Earl of Selbourne and Admiral Fisher, introduced the Fisher-Selbourne scheme to see the complete coalescence of officers. Cadet midshipmen aged 13 would enter the new Royal Naval College at Osborne then progress to Britannia Royal Naval College at Dartmouth for common training until promoted to lieutenant at age 22 when they would specialise in navigation, gunnery, torpedo or engineering. Engineer officers were no longer known as Engineer Lieutenants, but Lieutenants (E) and were deemed military officers. The purple stripe disappeared but they could wear the executive curl. Engineering became a major part of basic training and the two colleges incorporated big laboratories and workshops.

Few volunteers

The first engineering specialists entered the Royal Naval College, Keyham, in 1913. Special entry cadets, aged 18, supplemented the dangerously thinned ranks of engineer officers. The Fisher-Selbourne scheme ended in failure. The average officer could not cover the scope of the training and in any event only six per cent volunteered for engineering.

Even at the time of introduction of the Fisher-Selbourne scheme, engineers were advising that the study and practice of engineering demanded the lifetime devotion of an officer. The scheme was abandoned in 1921 and the following year the Long Engineering Course of four years started. In addition to meeting naval requirements, this course conferred full exemption from the corporate membership examinations of the Institute of Mechanical Engineers. The course was taken by officers who had been selected for engineering when promoted to midshipman after a year as a cadet in the training ship. It was concerned almost entirely with the theoretical and practical aspects of marine engineering. The course evolved into one of the longest-running courses in modern naval history. Apart from some modification in detail and a slight reduction in time in 1935, it continued running until early 1951.

In 1925 the question of non-executive officers was reviewed in some detail and from this came 12 categories of officer that saw, at last, the abandonment of the 18th and 19th century concept of civil officer. With this, the distinguishing colours were reintroduced and all officers wore the curl. Engineers continued to be classified as Lieutenant (E); nevertheless they claimed betrayal, alleging the new purple to be more maroon than the former purple.

Boiler cleaning
Young Midshipmen learn how to refit a boiler.

 During the 1920s and -30s Keyham developed a formidable reputation as an engineering college. Space limitations kept student numbers to about 120 but by 1936 it was clear that Keyham was far too cramped for the increases envisaged as war loomed. In 1938 Manadon House and 43 ha of the estate were purchased and in May 1940 Manadon was opened as the extension of the college.

In 1937 there were 112 officers under instruction. By 1941 there were 322 and in 1945 there were 771. Every available piece of property was put to use accommodating these extra students. For much of WW II and afterwards they lived mostly at Manadon in dormitory huts and messed in four converted tin-roofed Nissen huts.

The transfer from Keyham to Manadon progressed slowly but was virtually completed during the 1950s. It was not, however, finished until 1962 when the electrical laboratory and the Jock Russell were finally closed down. The Keyham buildings stayed unused until the Devonport Dockyard Technical College moved in about 1959, but all the remaining buildings were finally demolished in 1985.

In 1956 ADML Mountbatten introduced the General List of officers that coincidentally saw the disappearance of distinguishing colours for non-seaman officers. He also laid the foundation stone for the new wardroom at Manadon and the Duke of Edinburgh opened the buildings two years later.

Major changes

This new RNEC saw major changes to engineering courses. The Long Engineering Course continued in various forms through the 1960s; however in 1962 some students started a BSc course from London University. RNEC was granted the right to award its own BSc degrees in 1966 and in 1971 the Advanced Marine Engineering Course, or Dagger Course, moved to RNEC from Greenwich. In 1976 the College gained approval to award Masters degrees and this replaced the Dagger Course. In addition to these basically theoretical courses there were several application courses for RNEC graduates and direct entry engineer officers.

The first RAN officer at Keyham was the late CAPT E.S. Nurse, RAN, who graduated from RANC in 1916 and attended RNEC in 1920-4. The last RAN officers to complete the full engineering courses at RNEC graduated in 1973 and some RAN officers continued with the application courses until 1978.

Last RAN students, 1991The last RAN students at RNEC were LCDR T.N. Jones, RAN, and LEUT I.A. Rawlings, RAN, who graduated with MSc in May 1991. The number of RAN officers to train at RNEC is not known, but it is believed to exceed 270. By the mid-1970s the RAN had markedly reduced the numbers of all personnel training abroad. Before the opening of the Australian Defence Force Academy in 1982, selected RAN midshipmen studied at the University of NSW for a BE. Nevertheless, as early as 1970 the clouds were darkening over the long-term future of RNEC as less costly options of officer training and alternatives for the provision of various services for Defence were being investigated. RNEC constraints on the RN’s budgets in the late 1980s and early 1990s were aggravated by marked reductions in authorised manpower.

When the new RNEC opened at Manadon in 1958 the strength of the RN was 121,000 and the RAN was one tenth of that. By 1995 the RN had fewer than 60,000 men and women and the RAN and other Commonwealth navies were not training engineers abroad. The CO of RNEC put forward proposals in 1992 to keep RNEC in commission but the college was closed in August 1995. Coincidentally, the OOD on that day was LCDR G.J. Irwin, RAN. He was on the staff even though there were no RAN students while he was there. Those still under training completed their degrees at Plymouth University. These days, RN engineer officers attend classes at Southampton University to obtain their degrees.

Formal celebrations

The RNEC’s centenary was celebrated with a series of dinners in 1980. Broadly, there was a dinner for pre-WWII graduates followed by a dinner for graduates from each decade to 1981 thereafter. Another final year series of dinners attracted over a thousand former mess members. Their years of attendance ranged from the 1920s to 1994 with the old Commonwealth nations represented. The final graduation of 72 students in July 1995 went with a bang, not a whimper. Both the First and Second Sea Lords attended cermonial divisions. Their presence was recognised with a 17-gun salute and a fly past of modern naval aircraft and a WWII-era Swordfish.

The closure was celebrated in Sydney with a cocktail party at the Australian Maritime Museum attended by 150 former mess members and their partners. The organisers, CDRE C.J. Elsmore and CAPT D.H. Blazey, presented a commemorative medallion to all who attended.

Following Manadon’s closure the facility was offered to Plymouth University but they could find no use for it and the establishment was put up for sale. Manadon House and the Chapel had long term heritage classification so they were excluded from the contract. Manadon House was built about 1680 and the Chapel, built as a tithe barn, was listed in the Doomsday Book. Those who were at RNEC in 1962 will remember the magnificent copper font made for the Chapel by Frank Chew. That, thankfully, is now in the Chapel at BRNC, Dartmouth.

A developer purchased the establishment, erected a cyclone wire fence around Manadon House and the Chapel and demolished the rest to turn it into suburbia. When visited in May 2000 the only recognisable structures remaining were the flag mast and the sports pavilion that had been torched by vandals. Curiously, the spire had been removed and was in some “come in handy” pile. The spire and the imposing stone figureheads of Marlborough and Thunderer will be used to decorate the estate’s entrance. It was indeed a sad return to one’s alma mater.

Manadon web site

Manadon’s slow but comprehensive web site is at Log on with “guest” and “hms”. The site contains photographs and loads of other interesting data.

An RAN MIDN in HMS Vanguard

An RAN midshipman in HMS Vanguard

by John Jobson

CDRE John Jobson describes his nine months aboard the last of the RN battleships, HMS Vanguard. These recollections are based on his Midshipman’s Journal notes.

It was December 1939: England was at war. Sir Stanley Goodall, the Royal Navy Director of Naval Construction, proposed that the 15-inch gun turrets that had been removed from the two RN battleships, Glorious and Courageous, now aircraft carriers, be utilised for a further battleship in advance of the Lion class that was well downstream.

The rationale for this suggestion was that gun turrets had the longest lead time in battleship construction. Churchill gave his consent, so the project began. The ship was to be named Vanguard, the ninth of that proud name in the history of RN ships. Vanguard was launched in November 1944, completed in April 1946 and sold to the ship breakers in 1960, but she never fired a shot in anger.

HMS Vanguard

HMS Vanguard, dressed overall for Empire Day 1952 at Portland. (RN photo)

Improved King George V

The ship was considerably modified as the experience of WW II fed back into the design office. The bow form gave it a far superior seaworthy performance over the USN Iowa class. Continuous vertical bulkheads improved her surviveability, but this was sometimes at the expense of the crew who had to climb up to the main deck and then down again to get from one watertight compartment to the next. Humidity controls in the boiler and engine rooms were claimed to provide adequate operating conditions in the extremes of the tropics or the arctic.

HMS Vanguard, at 52,000 tons, was capable of 30 knots and she had a complement of 2000. She was the longest, broadest, and heaviest battleship ever to serve in the RN. She was probably the most graceful, but sadly she was fated to be the last.  Accepted into service in August, 1946, Vanguard was not tested in war. Instead she played host for the Royal Tour of South Africa between February and May 1947 with the Admiral’s suite refitted for royal use. A further Royal Tour was planned for Vanguard in 1949, this time to Australia.

Vanguard schematic

HMS Vanguard was commissioned 9 August 1946 and displaced 51,440 tons from a 814.5 x 107.6 x 30. 5 feet (249.0m x 32.8 x 9.3 metres) hull. Her armaent included  8 x 15 inch (381mm), 16 x 5.25 inch (133mm), 73 x 40mm Bofors and 4 x 3 pdr guns. Her machinery included eight Admiralty three drum boilers with superheaters and four Parsons single reduction geared turbines that delivered 130,000 shp and drove the ship at 29.75 knots. She was manned by 1500 crew.

Three Australian midshipmen, late of the training cruiser HMS Devonshire, joined Vanguard on the 26th August 1948. Jobson, Stacey and Woolrych had, and still have not, any idea why they were so chosen.

Mids on focsleVanguard gunroom

Three RAN MIDNs (left), with three RCN shipmates in Vanguard. The Australians are, from top left, MIDNs Stacey, Woolrych and Jobson. At right is the gunroom.

The size of Vanguard alongside Devonport Dockyard was, to say the least, daunting. She radiated the feeling of power. We joined the night of the ship’s company ball, so the quarterdeck was decorated with flags and coloured lights. We were quickly conveyed to the gunroom; our luggage would follow.

There were three chief levels of living and eating arrangements for officers. The wardroom was used by those of lieutenant rank and above for eating and relaxation. The next was the Commissioned Warrant Officers (CWO) mess. There were many CWOs in those times since promotion from the lower deck to wardroom status was not that common. Finally we had the gunroom, home for the midshipmen and sub lieutenants. The Captain, Fred Parham, by name, had his own quarters.

The gunroom was quite large; it had to be to accommodate its 24 members. The Sub of the gunroom was Neil Anderson, a New Zealander who went on to become the Chief of his Navy. There were three Australians, three Canadians, a NZ pay midshipman and the rest were RN.

Slinging hammocks

Sleeping arrangements were rather primitive. Midshipmen slept in hammocks, which was nothing new, since that had been usual for the past six months in the training cruiser. The space allocated to sling our hammocks in Vanguard was the tiller flat, right aft on the main deck over the mechanisms that moved the rudders. It was very noisy at sea. The trick with sleeping in a hammock is to have it taut; otherwise one wakes up with a very sore back. But a taut hammock is over three feet (one metre) off the ground and, when lying like a sardine next to your neighbour, it is very difficult to get in and out. I gave up and settled for sleeping on the wooden gratings that covered the metal casing over the rudder crosshead.

In those days the RN had boys at sea, lads of about 16. They set up, then lashed and stowed the hammocks in the morning. They were very poorly paid so it was not surprising that there were some thefts. It was our fault. We had locked cupboards allocated, so if we did not take proper care of our possessions, then bad luck.

Vanguard 1798

There were ten big Vanguards in the RN. This is the fifth, “Nelson’s Vanguard“, his Battle of the Nile flagship. A third rate of 1609 tons, she carried 589 crew and 74 guns. After brilliant service between 1787 and 1821 she ended her life as a prison ship and powder hulk.

Ablutions are what makes the navy such a great service, we are told. The poor soldiers in the field rarely have such facilities. Our bathroom, or rather shower room, was some five minutes from our sleeping quarters. To reach it wrapped in a towel and bare feet one had to traverse five watertight doors, opening and closing each in turn. The bathroom was usually awash with water and filled with steam, like a Turkish bath. It made seeing difficult. Service ablution facilities are not the place for the inhibited; one just lets it all hang out. The real problem was to remember to bring back your soap or it would not be there next day.

The meals were generally very good, especially if we had a formal dinner. All three meals were served by stewards, many of whom had friendly banter with most of us, but they never became too familiar. Excellent lads. We generally drank beer because wine was too expensive and we were not allowed spirits. Our “wine bill”, as it was called, was restricted and examined closely every month. Laundry on board was cheap, so the limited money stretched out. Unlike many of our RN contemporaries, the three Australians had no financial support from parents.

Boat handling

Boat handling had been difficult to learn in the training cruiser because there were too many cadets and too few boats. It was therefore a joy to be designated Coxswain of Number One Picket Boat as the first of my series of duties. This twin-screw, 45-foot boat was virtually a miniature destroyer with a Petty Officer on the throttles and three crew. After two hours’ instruction I was cleared to cause as much havoc as I could.

Portland was a work-up venue for RN ships, as well as home to HMS Osprey, an anti-submarine school where I would spend some time as a sub lieutenant. Many officers had homes close by, so it was a rush to man my boat to take them ashore when Vanguard anchored a mile or so off the breakwaters.

Outside the breakwaters there were several large and unlit buoys, unfortunately in direct line with the anchored Vanguard. I had the last boat from shore one night. It must have been about midnight that I collected about 20 well-oiled officers. I knew they wanted to get to bed and the 20-minute trip seemed forever. I made a wrong decision. At full throttle, the Aldis lamp held by the bowman was too weak to give warning of a buoy. I clipped one and lost a propeller. It could have been worse. I could have sunk. My passengers were remarkably calm as I continued on one shaft and discharged them safely aboard.  There were no repercussions and after quick repairs I was back in business in a couple of days.

Treacherous sea

Portland can be a treacherous place, in that seas can suddenly roll in. It was some days later that one of our large, tub-like launches, that carried some 60 persons, was smashed to kindling under the boom before it could be hoisted.

It was early September when the sea suddenly got up so much that the picket boat could not be hoisted. Instead, I was ordered to make for harbour and seek shelter. I chose the minesweeper Welfare as my refuge and was well received and fed, as were my crew. Surprise! One of Vanguard‘s Medical Officers who had been escorting a sick sailor ashore chose the same refuge. They had two extra for dinner. Sometime after dinner I received my recall. Off we went, but there were two more trips inshore for me before I could go to bed. We were worked solidly.

Not long after my mishap with the buoy I was having a busy day with visits to Maidstone, Duke of York, Cleopatra and Jutland. Dusk was approaching as I turned for Vanguard, only to find a flotilla of destroyers coming into their night anchorage. It was a hairy time weaving through that lot.

“Clear Lower Deck” for payment was sounded by bugle. All except those on watch assembled on the quarterdeck in long lines. Stepping forward to the paying table the sailor would proffer his cap, announce his name and number and normally receive an envelope with his pay enclosed on the top of his cap. He would take the envelope, replace his cap and salute. Occasionally the paying officer would say “not entitled”, what is called a North Easter. Such a poor man might have been guilty of some offence and fined. Quite offsetting I would imagine.

Bofors firing

But it was time to leave UK shores and seek warmer climes. The multiple Bofors had a shoot. All midshipmen had a turn firing a burst, but the noise was deafening and in those times we had no ear protectors.

Vanguard did not berth at Gibraltar but anchored off. It was ceremonial rehearsal time. The Royal Marine Guard and Band paraded, all officers and sailors dressed in their full whites and Captain’s Rounds started, the first of many. The Rock towered in the distance as the twinkling lights of Gibraltar town slept. Tomorrow was another day.

The 2000 persons on board generated a lot of rubbish. The vegetable matter (and quite probably a lot else) was guided overboard by large and very substantial gash chutes strapped to the ship’s side. Someone must have known the route of the Royal Tour since we were told the ship could not get through the Panama Canal with these attached. So there was an exercise. First take them off, then put them back.

Easing into Malta

Resolution, Malta

There is little room to spare for a battleship in tiny Malta Harbour, as HMS Resolution demonstrates as she eases her way in.

Approaching Malta either by air or sea is an exciting experience. Additionally, there is a mystic thrill that goes with a first time experience. From the foc’s’le I could see Malta so well, its bright yellow sandstone erupting from the blue of the sea. The Grand Harbour is a difficult entry for a battleship, but the weather was kind and we crept in to our buoy in Bighi Bay, just inside the breakwater.

RN Base, Malta

Malta was still an RN base. Evidence of damage from WW II was not great when viewed from our location. There were flotillas of destroyers up Sliema Creek, a carrier in dock and several cruisers in view.


A Maltese dghaisa, with the rower characteristically facing forward.

The hundreds of dghaisas gave the place a busy look. Sadly the dghaisa, the transport used to get ashore for a generation of RN officers, has died. There was not a sign of one when I visited in 1994.

For promotion, being a Gunnery Officer seemed a good choice. It was the “in thing”, especially in a battleship where the guns were the gods. It was therefore a great thrill, as part of my general naval education, to be taken to the bowels of the ship to the Transmitting Station (TS). It was really down deep. Forget escape if the ship was torpedoed.

Here in a sort of nightclub gloom, figures (often Marines) huddled over their dimly lit tables. They seemed as though they wanted to hit the jackpot as they turned the handles. This was all too much for me, but in simple terms they were transmitting information to the guns: where to train, elevate and what fuse to use. The system required others in the turret to match pointers to apply the information sent by the TS.

Main armament

I was fortunate to be on the bridge during some 15-inch firings. One could actually see the shell leave the barrel.

While on the matters of the bridge, the Midshipman of the Watch (MOW) had three duties. The first was to observe, the second to run errands, and the third to make Ki at night. This beverage was a cruel imitation of highly sweetened thick cocoa. I must emphasise that after several months one felt quite capable of assuming the duties of Officer of the Watch.


USS Iowa, BB61, a sturdy and durable WW II Vanguard contemporary, fired many an angry shot and saw extensive service until she paid off finally 26 October 1990. Here, she fires her 16-inch main armament. (USN photo by PMA J.F. Elliot.)

In order to understand the enormity of large calibre weapons one has to experience the daily ritual of magazine rounds, a rather pathetic practice in view of the non-event of a disaster from lack of such. But such was the case that every day one had to go to the depths of the ship to check magazines and shell rooms for inflammable matter.

My turn came on a Saturday. The hatch leading to the magazine was steel, one foot thick with a chain hoist to raise and lower it. It was near lunchtime and I was really at the bottom of the ship, eerie but fascinating to be among all this cold metal. There was a clang, and I knew what that meant, I was trapped. There was a telephone but it had no call-up system, it had to be manned at each end. My luck held. I could hear voices in the turret to which the telephone was connected; bless them for working overtime. I attracted attention by a shell type order lever that indicated to the shell room crew what type of shell was wanted. Each time it was moved, it gave a clang. I gave this device a hell of a workout.

Thankfully, Ordnance Artificers are an intelligent bunch and they let me out. I would not have died but I would have been very hungry and cold by next day. Lesson: if you go down a hole, leave your cap at the top to indicate that someone is below. Notice how lessons are being learned for the future?

Vanguard 1910

The WW I Dreadnought battleship HMS Vanguard was destroyed by a mysterious magazine explosion at Scapa Flow 9 July 1917. Only two of her 700 crew aboard survived.

Vanguard‘s quarterdeck was an immense space, the wooden deck gleamed. It just seemed to go on forever. The Officer of the Watch (OOW) and his Midshipman (MOW) were in charge of this magical place. It was the site for receiving top officials, sometimes together with Guard and Band. It was also the site for receptions, assemblies of ship’s company, cinema shows, even for boxing matches; yes it was Vanguard‘s reception room.

This immense space sometimes had a roof, called an awning. Can you imagine the size and weight of this huge piece of canvas? Well, it had to be handled and with techniques and sufficient men it was manageable. Once set, it was the responsibility of the MOW to manage it. “Sloping” is a process used when the wind strengthens. Every second downhaul is taken to the deck, to restrict the wind from getting underneath the awning and blowing it off. I never lost a quarterdeck awning.

The MOW, dressed in full whites with a telescope as his badge of office, virtually ran the ship’s routine in harbour, supervised by the OOW. Routines were listed, but one tricky part was watching to salute passing Flag Officers and foreign ships, return salutes from junior ships and return the dipping of the ensign to merchant ships. Boat routines were sometimes difficult to plan when a special call was made for a boat for a senior officer.

Marsa Social Club

There was little purpose in going ashore in Malta. There was nothing to buy, no shows and the beer tasted salty. One never suffered from constipation in Malta. Small horse-drawn carriages, called Gharries, complete with tinkling bells, were the principal source of transport. Only the tennis courts of the Marsa Social Club provided any entertainment that could not be had onboard.

The workup continued while the Royal Marines Band entertained by playing numbers from the latest London shows. The Captain reviewed the ceremonial of manning ship where the whole of the crew in best dress lined the edges of all above-water decks.

Leaving the buoy in Bighi Bay was quite a manoeuvre. From the foc’s’le I had a grandstand view of the 13th October departure. To start with, the buoy with a blacksmith astride was hauled out of the water before the cable was broken. Then the attendant motor cutter snagged a rope around its propeller and finally the tug snapped its towing wire. The captain was relieved when we finally cleared the breakwater and Vanguard was at sea.

More gunnery trials followed, this time with the anti-aircraft armament. What an impressive cavalcade of noise, but as the aircraft and towed target calmly flew past, the Gunnery Officer’s remarked, “Please, a few tattered wings at least on the next run.”

The only time midshipmen were allowed spirits was when they were entertained or when they were entertaining the gunroom members of another ship. The favourite tipple was gin and orange. This often had disastrous consequences. Once, when Vanguard was in Malta, a splendidly attired midshipman rushed into the gunroom en route to a party ashore after one such entertainment had just finished. One over-imbiber rose from his horizontal position and decided the gin and orange was no longer welcome in his stomach. The splendidly attired MIDN collected the lot. Yes, he was late for the party.

The workup off Malta completed, Vanguard turned for her Devonport home for Christmas. Truman was re-elected and Prince Charles was born. “Splice the Mainbrace”.

Back to blue winter uniforms and the chill that only Devonport can provide. Storing continued, including all those special stocks of souvenirs for sale during the Royal Tour. This included hundreds of dozens of specially brewed beer, complete with distinctive labels and the special wines we embarked at Gibraltar.

At dawn on the 23rd of November, “Clear Lower Deck” was sounded. With all the ship’s company assembled, the Captain made the following announcement: “The King is ill. The Royal Tour has been postponed.” We know now that this was a cancellation, not a postponement.

Christmas leave

It was time for Christmas leave. I had been away from Australia for over a year. After a really good Christmas with my foster-parents, who lived near Chichester, I returned to Vanguard on the 2nd January 1949. Vanguard had been designated as the flagship of Admiral Power, Commander-in-Chief, Mediterranean. A golden year was about to begin for the good ship Vanguard. The Admiral arrived and reoccupied his quarters vacated for the royals.

The MIDNs were shown over various shore establishments and supply depots, they engaged in damage control and first aid courses and started their acquaint times of the engineering, gunnery and communications departments. Watch duties continued, so did the nightly signal exercises.

On the 3rd February 1949, HMS Vanguard sailed for the Mediterranean. At sea, a midshipman’s main duty was as Assistant Divisional Officer, inspecting mess decks, etc. The journal had to be written up, acquaint courses with other ship departments continued and, of course, duty as MOW.



Gibraltar Harbour groaned with the ships of many navies. The narrow streets were alive with service personnel, much to the delight of the predominantly Indian shopkeepers. The “girlie shows” were packed with often a thousand randy sailors. Only officers were allowed to go ashore in plain clothes and only officers were allowed across the border into Spain.

The town of La Linea was a walk across the airstrip and the border-controlled area. It was a Saturday when three members of the gunroom ventured across. We consumed a bottle of excellent Tio Pepe sherry and a plate of roasted almonds before purchasing our threepenny bottle into which was put our threepenny purchase of red wine. Armed with our threepenny cushion we paid our one shilling entrance to the bull ring. A most uninspiring display of butchery followed. It must have been beginner’s day. Cushions were hurled into the ring and boos rang out. I have never been or wished to see another bullfight. That week the Snotty’s Nurse (the supervisor of my journal diary) noted, “You must comment more on the detail of onboard life as you do about your shore side activities.” However I knew what made for the best reading. I was totally absorbed observing the different modes of life of different cultures.


Young men about town

Jobson Woolrych

MIDNs Jobson (left) and Woolrych step ashore to terrorise (or be terrorised by) the local Spanish fleshpots.

Another day ashore, Woolrych and I ventured a walk further into Spain to the village of San Roque. It looked dusty and poor with soldiers playing soccer in their overcoats. We wondered if perhaps they had little on underneath. It was quite hot. At least the eucalyptus trees reminded us of home.

Editor Vanguard Daily News

A new duty was thrust my way: Editor of the Vanguard Daily News. In the absence of newspapers it was read at breakfast by most officers and many of the crew. My office was ten levels up in the superstructure. There, at night, I collected a six-foot length of intercepts that the communicators had copied from the various news agencies. My task was to select suitable topics, condense them as required, add local ship news and, hopefully, a cartoon.

I had to type my selected news to fill at least two sides of a foolscap sheet. With two-finger typing this task was rarely finished by midnight before returning the master copies to the communicators for reproduction and distribution. This was quite an enjoyable task and good training.

Vanguard sailed for Algiers on one of many goodwill visits. She dropped her two bower anchors and then backed her stern to a finger wharf where wire hawsers held her in position. She looked like a praying mantis with legs stretched out.

Ashore, there was a cocktail party where short French stewards tottered around with huge magnums of champagne. The US guests stuck to their scotch on the rocks. A bunch of midshipmen, thinking there was safety in numbers, ventured into the famed Kasbah to view the girls. All escaped unhurt, with the only casualty a stolen watch.

I should not have accepted an invitation to the local University Ball. With no host, no partners and having to buy our own drinks, it was a long dry night.

About 0300 some kind soul drove me back to the ship. The wind had sprung up and the pontoons connecting the ship to shore had been removed. Once onboard I was told that I had the 0400 to 0800 anchor watch. This was quite a responsibility. I was on the bridge by myself taking fixes every ten minutes to check if the ship had dragged her anchor. It was a long night. Fortunately, lack of money had left me sober from the Ball.

Algiers to Toulon was but a short haul. Apart from the almost constant parading of Guard and Band for one VIP after another, it was forgettable. Naples, the next port of call was another matter. The use of the local bus to reach a beach for a swim put me off garlic for some 20 years. But I was one of the lucky ones to go to Capri and the Blue Grotto, using the ship’s picket boat.

Another day we had a bus excursion to Sorrento by the cliff road. This was quite hair-raising when the coach lost a tyre. Fortunately it was an inside tyre, so the bus veered into rather than over the cliff.

Barter system

Souvenirs were bought on the barter system; I used cigarettes for my meagre purchases. But it was too long a day. I fell asleep at the opera that night.

The dress for midshipmen in charge of boats was long white jacket and blue trousers, smart and sensible, since to gain access to your boat meant climbing over a boom (an enormous wooden pole that projects horizontally from the ship’s side) and then descending by a rope ladder. We had a deal of experience at that exercise at Naval College, but with a sea running it is not quite so easy.

Returning to our familiar berth in Malta, the admiral and his staff moved ashore and we started some weeks of recreation and sport. I had made my way into the ship’s first eleven. Mind you it was not a crash hot team. The Royal Marine Major, who loved his cricket, told me that unless he had had a bag with bat and pads he would never have made the team. He was right. He was always marginal.

Vanguard 1st eleven

The Vanguard First Eleven. MIDN Stacey is second from right, top row. MIDN Jobson is second from right, front row.

Stacey and I became permanent members. Strangely, we always relied on sailors for fast bowling. One lad in particular had the fire in his belly to frighten the opposition. A difficult task with a mainly officer team, but he was a good big lad and fitted in well. I slotted into the opening combination of MIDN Jobson and Engineer LEUT Steve Sharrock. Over the next six months we steered our team to more wins than losses. It is amazing how sport success brings one to the notice of the higher ranks. Of 18 games played, we won 10, drew 2 and lost 6; not too bad.

While most of this text seems to be related to port visits, a midshipman was never allowed to be idle. Take navigation time for example. I recorded that it took until 0100 to complete my navigational task book, with three hours’ sleep before my next watch. As it should be. The onboard cinema was a proper cinema and was a great source of entertainment. The RN had an arrangement with the UK film distributors such that quite recent films were available. There were separate sessions for ship’s company, chief and petty officers and officers.

Red infuriator

The wardroom wine caterer made a bad mistake. He purchased copious bottles of Algerian red. To the qualified opinion of the wardroom it was “cat’s piss”. The gunroom taste was less subtle so we inherited a cache of wine at a shilling (ten cents) a bottle. Despite the taste, the alcoholic content was there. Put together, Sunday cinema and Algerian red, you had a hoot of a time.

My Action Station was Gun Direction Officer Visual (Port). For this task I was given charge of a huge set of binoculars mounted on a trainable stand. The idea was that young eyes would spot an approaching enemy aircraft, get it in the cross wires of the binoculars and then press a bell to alert the radar where to look and lock on. The trouble was that the aircraft were fast and our process slow; but I did enjoy the fresh air.

Out we went again, this time for a short trip to Tripoli. For reasons unknown to me, we had another game of cricket.

We had another week in Malta and then it was off to Venice, where Vanguard anchored many miles off shore. A cocktail party bringing oh so well-dressed members of the Venetian community very nearly ended in multiple divorces. I was in charge of the picket boat bringing the guests aboard. The boat heaved some ten feet in the swell alongside the accommodation ladder. It was a situation when, one at a time, a guest leaped, or more particularly was lifted, from the boat to the lower platform. I must admit it was scary but I did not mind the screams because my job was to keep the boat in position. We did not lose or damage a guest but it is my guess that some of those visitors will remember that occasion for the rest of their lives.

Prs Margaret

Princess Margaret inspects the ship’s company at Venice.

While at Venice, Princess Margaret visited and inspected the ship with the ship’s company at Divisions. One thinks that this was part of the Royals effort to say sorry to the ship’s company for the cancellation of the Royal Tour. Whatever, I obtained an invitation to her official lunch. In fact I sat nearly opposite her. But at 19 years of age I was devoid of conversation and, I suppose wisely, kept my mouth closed during a really superb lunch.

My engineering acquaintance time had started. Rounds were totally exhausting, as one climbed down three levels by ladder, up again and then down. Luckily, my cricket opener partner was my allocated engineering minder, so we inspected the whole ship, exploring bilges and all miscellaneous compartments that contained mechanical equipment. It was interesting. Who would have thought that many years later I would be an engineer? The entrance to the boiler rooms was through double doors, since the boilers had to maintain a positive pressure. Whatever the words were in the specification for comfort, I can assure you that the temperature and humidity of all the spaces were uncomfortable. Coming out of the boiler rooms one was a lather of sweat.

Vanguard boiler

Preparing to flash up Vanguard‘s B2 boiler.

A jubilant midshipman, not to be named, raced into the gunroom with water pistol one day and gave me a full serve. Not impressed, I rewarded him with a bunch of fives. It was on, the Colonials against the Brits. Without too much blood, we let off steam and thereafter the new and the old became a team of one in the gunroom.

The admiral and staff rejoined for exercises with the Mediterranean Fleet.

A Blue Force was based on Spain and Portugal. Red Force held the North African coast. Scenarios were put together. Red Force, returning from raids in the Atlantic, was to be prevented from entering the Mediterranean by Blue. Submarine lines were set, spies were lodged on the Rock and destroyers were disguised as cruisers to confuse the pilots. What a grand show. MIDNs were not told a lot. There were two battleships, three carriers, five submarines, seven cruisers and sixteen destroyers; proof that the RN was still a maritime power. But in the end airpower won the day. There was a big wash-up at Gibraltar.

The Med. fleet dispersed but Vanguard headed east to Port Said. What a Gilbert and Sullivan comedy was played out here, as every sort of dignitary paid a call, the Guard and Band were exhausted; the bugler all blown out. During the cruise there were 35 Guards and Band and three Royal Guards of 100 strong. Vanguard berthed on the Port Fouad side of the canal, so the MOW had a busy time with boats and visitors, plus a grandstand view of all the Suez traffic. This had its problems because it was a custom that all merchant vessels dipped their ensign when passing an RN Warship. This had to be recognised by the dipping of our own ensign. Even the gracious white liner RMS Strathaird dipped as she passed by.

Two days of cricket

Two days of cricket against the Army and a grand invitation to dinner and show by a General and his wife was my social bit. Thereafter I was duty. But what fun it was when the local magician, called a Gully-Gully man, performed on the quarterdeck with his traditional tricks and finale of producing a dozen or so chirping yellow chickens from everywhere. I must say that I liked the Egyptians.

The next port of call was Beirut, still in its heyday. English staff of the Iraq Petroleum Company, most without wives, were keen for a cricket game. The Vanguard XI was coached to a place called Tripoli. En route we noted that a number of the bridges had a rising sun emblem on them. They had been constructed by Australian Army Engineers. The cricket was followed by a really top class buffet dinner. The oil companies knew how to look after their staff.

Next day the ship weighed anchor in a hurry and worked up to full speed after a quartermaster reported seeing a diver in the water. We did not have an explosion so we either loosened any limpet mine or it was a false alarm. But even in those early days a threat existed; the area was dangerous.


The Eastern Med.


Vanguard in the placid Mediterranean.

Away we went again, this time to Athens via Rhodes and Salonika. By good fortune it was time for my pilotage training so I had a top view of the hundreds of islands cluttering the ocean. When the sea is calm, the Mediterranean is a glorious place in which to travel.

Salonika. Here the gunroom socialised with a young group of English Army officers from the Ocks and Bucks. They were quite mad. At the local Macedonia Club they insisted at practising parachute jumps off the balcony using the table umbrellas. Luckily there were no breakages. We played more cricket against the local expats.

Then it was on to Athens and one particular magical evening organised by a General Downes. Everyone, including the eight invited MIDNs, had a partner. The dinner, served on a balcony on a balmy night, was followed by dancing. Those long years at Naval College were rewarded by one memorable night. Remember it was still an era of “Dance but don’t touch”. Next day for some reason I was presented to King Paul. But that was it. Duty called for the rest of our stay in Greece.

Taranto was the next on the list of ports to visit. Considering what the RN did to the Italian Fleet not so many years before, one was surprised at the charming Italian officers. My first XI opener and I decided to forgo the local dance that had been arranged and play night tennis at the officers club. Whatever the faults of Mussolini, he was a great provider for his officer corps. The club was a palace of marble and it came with impeccable service. Unfortunately, the tennis court lights interfered with the outside cinema show. We were requested to stop. We did and retired to the bar.

Fleet regatta

Vanguard met the Fleet at Navarino on the west coast of Greece for the Fleet Regatta and for the C-in-C’s finale. Back to Malta and a short trip to Tripoli to collect Amir Sennusi of Cyrenaica for passage to Marseilles; the Foreign Office must have had some reason.

Before Vanguard went home it had one more duty to perform: to drink out the thousands of cans of beer, especially brewed and labelled for the Royal Tour. Enormous baskets on Vanguard‘s quarterdeck gave evidence supporting that aim, all full to the brim with empties.

Gibraltar. Duty free shopping day. This was the end of a remarkable tour of the Mediterranean.

The time in the Mediterranean was without doubt more than adequate compensation for the loss of the Royal Cruise. The ship steamed 14,350 miles, burnt 13,213 tons of oil, made 33,130 tons of water, baked 20,000 doughnuts, used 4903 tins of brass polish, sold 124,572 ice creams, fired 727 rounds from the saluting guns and 75,844 rounds from the real guns; replaced 12,430 light globes and finally the ship’s company were paid 73,605 pounds six shillings and one penny.

Monday 25th July 1949. Place Devonport. The Ball. I provided a future Admiral RN with his date. Mine was her friend, but I forgot her surname when it was time to introduce her to the Captain who was receiving guests.

It was a great evening, a fitting farewell to some nine months serving in Vanguard. I was still only 19 years of age but after a very lacklustre start I was growing more mature with every year. The aircraft carrier HMS Vengeance, a new challenge, lay ahead. Vanguard IX just faded into history as the last of an illustrious line of Royal Navy battleships.

HMS Vanguard X

HMS Vanguard X is a nuclear submarine of 15,900 tons. Her 135 crew operate 16 Trident II and two D2 missiles, plus four 21-inch torpedo tubes.

Albert Medal

Albert Medal

Queen Victoria instituted the Albert Medal in 1866 to recognise those civilians who had attempted to prevent the loss of life at sea. A year later the warrant was amended to create two levels of the award, with the very Victorian wording:

Whereas We, taking into Our Royal consideration that great loss of life is sustained by reason of shipwrecks and other perils of the sea; and taking also into consideration the many daring and heroic actions performed by mariners and others to prevent such loss and to save the lives of those who are in danger of perishing by reason of wrecks and perils of the sea; and taking also into consideration the expediency of distinguishing such efforts by some mark of Our Royal favour.

Albert Medal First Class, Second Class

Several clauses followed describing the two medals and ribbons. The Albert Medal of the First Class was of oval form made of gold and bronze and was suspended by a dark blue and white striped ribbon 35 mm wide. The V and A monogram, interlaced with an anchor, was on a dark blue enamelled background surrounded with a garter inscribed with “For Gallantry in Saving Life at Sea”.

The Albert Medal of the Second Class was in bronze with a ribbon 16 mm wide. Ten years later the warrant was amended to create the Albert Medal in two classes for saving life on land. The ribbons were crimson and white, the monogram was without the anchor on a crimson background and the wording was for saving life on land. Those serving in the Royal Navy and Royal Marines became eligible in 1891, and in 1904 ribbons for all medals became 35 mm wide. In 1917 the medals were restyled the Albert Medal in Gold and the Albert Medal. The standard of gallantry qualifying for an award has always been very high and it seems that the criterion adopted has been that the recipient’s risk of death had to be greater than his chances of survival and, in the case of the gold medal, the risk had to be altogether exceptional.

The George Cross, George Medal and Albert Medal.
The institution of the George Cross and the George Medal in 1940 added two further awards to those already available, making it difficult to decide which was the most appropriate. In 1949 the King gave approval that awards of the gold medal should cease in favour of the George Cross and that in future the medal in bronze should only be awarded posthumously. In 1971 the award of the medal was ceased and all living recipients were permitted to exchange their medals for the George Cross. The Albert Medal was a very rare award. In 105 years only 69 medals in gold and 491 medals in bronze were awarded. Of these, three medals in gold and five in bronze went to Australians.
HMAS Voyager
Two posthumous awards were made following the 1964 Voyager tragedy. One was awarded to Electrical Mechanic W.J. Condon and the other to MIDN K.F. Marien. William Condon’s citation was:

In recognition of his outstanding gallantry and devotion to duty in saving life at sea when HMAS Voyager was sunk after collision, in remaining at his post to the end in the sinking ship, holding an emergency lantern to show others the path to the escape scuttle and losing his life thereby.

Kerry Marien’s citation was:

In recognition of his gallantry in attempting to save life at sea when HMAS Voyager was sunk after collision. In leaving the safety of a life raft to attempt a rescue, he thereby lost his life.
Early in 2006 the former NOC secretary, Peter Churchill, found a polished aluminium plate in his souvenirs. It had been given to him some years ago by an ex-senior partner of a prominent legal firm. Peter wondered if MIDN Marien’s parents could be traced.


albert medal plate
The aluminium plate.
I contacted Kerry Marien’s mother, Mrs Yvonne Marien, now widowed and living in retirement in Kiama. Her son, Michael, was visiting from Wagga Wagga at the time and both were intrigued with the plate that apparently was made to accompany the medal. She now has the plate from Peter Churchill displayed on a small stand on an occasional table. Mrs Marien worked with a Sydney legal firm years ago and recalled the name of the senior partner, but she could not understand how he might have come by the plate. Unfortunately, the solicitor concerned can no longer be contacted.

Creswell visit

Visiting HMAS Creswell I viewed MIDN Marien’s Albert Medal. It is in a glass-topped wooden display case above a polished aluminium plate engraved with the same wording as that forwarded by Peter Churchill.

The citation inscribed on the reverse of the Albert Medal held in the display case in HMAS Creswell reads:

Awarded by the Queen (Posthumously) to the late Midshipman Kerry Francis Marien, Royal Australian Navy, in recognition of his gallantry in attempting to save life when H.M.A.S. Voyager was sunk on 10th February, 1964.

The display case also has prominent brass plates commemorating the loss of the lives of MIDNs Cunningham and Larkins. Both were in the first entry into the RANC.

Ernest Cunningham was drowned in 1918 when the submarine in which he was serving was rammed. Frank Larkins was lost overboard from HMS J2 in 1919.

Commemorative medals struck by the Australia and New Zealand Medal Society that record the Voyager tragedy complete the display. Two plates were evidently made to explain this Albert Medal. At this distance it is unlikely that the story of the second plate will surface.

The Queen made another ten awards for gallantry to members of Voyager’s company:

The (posthumous) George Cross to CPO J. Rogers. Coxswain “Buck” Rogers, won the DSM in 1944 for courage and skill in MTB 698 in several actions in Dover Straits. His group of medals is on display in the Hall of Valour in the Australian War Memorial.The George Medal to PO D. Moore. “Pony” Moore was also awarded the BEM for a deep dive in Lake Eucumbene in 1961.
The Queen’s Commendation for Brave Conduct to POM(E) E.J. McDermott, LM(E) H.F. Gilvarry and EA2 A. Page.
The British Empire Medal to PO G.P. Worth, LS R.E. Rich, LSBA J.R. Wilson, LEM B.V. Longbotham and AB E.N. Robson.

Harry Gilvarry and I served in HMAS Perth during her first two deployments to Vietnam.

Bantry Bay Gigs

Bantry Bay gigs

As a followup to Bantry, the unknown invasion (Newsletter 65, June 2006 pp 24-27) Tom de Voil learned “quite by accident” at a local Rotary Club meeting about an exciting modern twist to the original story. Two apprentice Gippsland Lakes shipwrights participated in the 2006 Atlantic Challenge, sailing Bantry Bay gigs, last July in Genoa, Italy.

The apprentices addressed Tom’s Rotary Club and they aim to build a Bantry Bay gig in Australia for the 2008 Atlantic Challenge. The local Bairnsdale Advertiser also featured an article, on 16 June 2006, about the apprentices and the pulling/sailing boats that are enjoying increasing worldwide popularity.

Bantry Bay gig
A Bantry Bay Gig under sail, with the crew on the rail.

The gigs have become popular with boating enthusiasts in recent years, since one from France and another from the USA engaged in a contest near the Statue of Liberty in 1986, during the statue’s refurbishment celebrations. The contest has grown and is repeated every two years in varying countries, under the auspices of the Atlantic Challenge.The gig fleet has grown rapidly to about 55 in 12 countries, including Canada, Russia and Indonesia. The Challenge accent is on youth training, with participation concentrated on those between 16 and 22 years of age.

French 1796 invasion

The French built the first Bantry Bay gig in Brest over 200 years ago as an admiral’s barge and it is probably the oldest surviving French Navy vessel. The British captured it during their aborted 1796 invasion. After conservation work in Liverpool that boat now rests in the National Maritime Museum in Dun Laoghaire, near Dublin. Its carvel-planked hull is 11.6 x 2 x 0.35 metres (38.17 x 6.75 x 1.17 feet) and it is designed to mount up to ten oars and three masts.

Fleet scattered, commanders return

During the attempted 1796 Bantry Bay invasion, a series of storms scattered the French fleet of 44 ships during their passage from Brest to Ireland. The nominated Army and Navy commanders, in the storm-damaged 74-gun frigate Fraternitê, never caught up. Then, just before the subordinate commanders were due to execute a reduced force landing, another severe storm drove many invasion fleet ships miles out to sea and severely damaged others. The French La Surveillante, was so badly damaged that she was scuttled in Bantry Bay before the storm-battered invasion fleet limped back to Brest.

The captured gig came from a ship called La Resolue, damaged after a collision with Redoutable during the evening of 22 December 1796. Standing off Bantry Bay, La Resolue despatched her longboat, commanded by a Lieutenant Proteau, to locate the Immortalite and request a tow. Instead, the storm drove the longboat ashore on Bere Island near the Bay’s mouth and its crew surrendered to the British.

Pulling into wind, sails stowed.

Like the shorter, beamier and heavier RN/RAN 32-foot cutter, the Bantry Bay gig can be propelled by oars or sail and the gig has pulling thwarts for ten of its normal full crew of 13. Its three comparatively light masts and small sails allow the vessel to be rigged and de-rigged under way. The 38-foot hull has fine lines and is claimed to be capable of six knots under oars in calm water and 10 knots under sail. However, without a proper sailing keel like modern yachts, considerable leeway is made when tacking into the wind. Generally, it is better to drop the masts and use the oars to make ground upwind.

No original sailing rig exists, but modern gigs have standardised on three masts and three dipping lug sails, very similar to those of that historic era. The dipping lug rig means that the yards must be lowered and dipped to the other side when tacking, an evolution that requires considerable teamwork and training, especially in an open boat like the gig. The halyard is then secured to the weather rail to act as a shroud but it is never cleated. Instead, it is dory-hitched with a bight held taut by a crew member. The sheets of the loose-footed sails are always in hand, ready to be eased in a gust.

Sailing the gigs requires skill and fine teamwork. The narrow beam and low freeboard requires constant awareness. When trimmed for maximum speed, any decent gust quickly dips the lee rail under water.


When tacking, the entire crew must work together swiftly and without error. As they dip the main and mizzen yards, the foresail might be backed and the crew might rig a tacking oar to help turn the boat against the resistance of its long keel. Sailing a triangular course, the crew might alternate between rowing and sailing a number of times. All this teamwork makes the Bantry Bay gig a valuable training vessel for young people. It nurtures responsibility and leadership. In two countries at least, the craft has been used as an expedition vessel, with crew members eating and sleeping aboard.

In recent Atlantic Challenges marks have been awarded for skills in pulling, recovering a man overboard, negotiating a slalom, combined sailing and pulling, executing a jackstay transfer, performing a practical challenge, handling as a captain’s gig, ropework, towing and an esprit phase.

Two-mile course

The pulling race typically runs over a two mile course. In the man overboard competition, the craft are under sail then, at a signal, the helmsman jumps overboard. The remaining crew recover this person and finish the race. In the slalom, rudderless boats negotiate a 10-buoy course, leaving them alternately to port and starboard. Penalties accrue if an oar blade or other part of the boat touches a buoy. In the sail and oar race, boats sail twice around a triangular course, with crews rowing upwind and sailing the other legs.

In the jackstay transfer, the boat anchors off a lee shore, veering cable until about 10 metres from the shore. Crewmembers set up a jackstay through a block on the main mast and pass a line ashore. They aim to transfer a heavy bag aboard without it getting wet. The crew then unrig the mast, weigh anchor and race to the finish line.

In the practical challenge, the crew might be tasked with anything to test their problem solving skills. In the towing race, boats are paired as each crew in turn tows the other boat under both oars upwind and sail downwind.

A captain’s gig comes alongside.

Other parts of the competition include evaluating the crew’s performance when handling the boat as a captain’s gig and testing the crew’s ropework skills. Finally, there is an esprit phase when the coxswain and two mast captains are retained, but the rest of a 14-man crew is made up of a mix of crew members of other boats and nations.

Clearly, something positive has arisen from the 1796 Bantry Bay invasion shambles. The Atlantic Challenge group has been highly successful in encouraging the building of Bantry Bay gigs across the world. Its biennial competition in different countries fosters seamanship and other skills of the highest order.