Help required with a naval urban myth

AlienFTM

MIA
Book Reviewer
#1
I have been in an exchange with a retired Cdr USN friend of my brother today. I was putting him right about Hussars and mentioned this website. Here is his reply verbatim:

Great website. I encountered it only once before. Back at BRNC
Dartmouth in 81-83, I recall each new class of midshipmen receiving the
standard "Welcome to the RN" tidbits of information, one of which was
the reason that Royal Naval Officers carry their sword on the chains
only, the hook only being permitted to carry sword when carrying colours
occupies hands.

I am certain that the lesson plan stated that this was a mark of shame
springing from the Spithead Mutiny (1797 or so?). The account ran that
dishonourable pussers were skimming funds and delivering the honorable
tars in the Fleet rancid beef, infested bread, and adulterated spirits.
The honest tars, finding their grievances being dismissed out of hand,
were then pretty much crowded into a mutiny in the harbor, putting their
officers and Marines ashore without violence, until they were granted
audience with the Port Captain (or some other non-specific RN authority
figure).

The French fleet was at sea, the threat was there, and under that
pressure, this dastardly RN character of non-specificity (the account
continued) invited the ringleaders from the ships ashore, guaranteeing
their safety on his status as one of the King's officers of the Royal
Navy. But sure enough, once ashore, like something out of a Mel Gibson
movie, the cads and bounders seized upon the ringleaders as they exited
the whaleboats, hustled them to gallows on the quay in full sight of the
ships, and hanged them all.

The British fleet went to sea thereafter, kicked the stuffing out of the
frogs, as usual, and on return to port, found that the whole episode had
been investigated strictly on the QT by the Kings Own Agents in the
interval, who found that good English tars had indeed been mistreated,
their complaints were valid, their conduct was honourable, and that a
mass murder had been executed in the King's name, with the King's name
itself being the lure that got the victims ashore.

At that point (the lesson plan concluded) the Royal Navy was instructed
by the King himself to carry sword by the chains only henceforth and
forevermore as a black mark in memory of the episode. And if this was
being taught at Royal Naval College itself, certainly not as a golden
day in naval history, it had to be true, to my mind.

However, a young American officer asked me why RN officers don't use the
belt-hooks, and I thought to pull down the full account from somesuch
internet website and forward it to him. My research took me to ARSSE,
among others, without any mention of this alleged account whatsoever,
except for one brief mention in an RN website, in which it described the
Spithead Mutiny, noting that there were no mass-hangings, no promises
made as "an officer of the King" and no Royal Decree forevermore
requiring RN officers to trip over their swords on parade. All Urban
Myth.

However, having assured me of that, it did NOT tell me what the reason
for this might be?

I know that Terrestrial-centricity is an unavoidable affliction of
wearing green cammies, great black boots, and slogging or tracking
through quagmires and bogs for weeks on end. But in your other
extensive travels, have you encountered the true story on this point
with your brethren of the maritime persuasion?
So, any naval types care to comment on this urban myth or otherwise? All help gratefully received.
 
#2
Not one to stir things but maybe I can add to this naval myth?

When I served in Gibralter I was within earshot of a converstation where a young Naval officer was quizzed as to why in the mess formal greetings to functions were "ladies, gentlemen and officers of the Royal Navy"

Apparently there are no gentlemen in the Navy becuase of their actions on a ship where they feared mutiny, so they stood down the ship of all duties and in the dead of night the officers cut the throats of all the sailors. On return to shore their treachary was discovered.

Could be utter bollox but who knows/cares??
 
#3
this is why naval officers are known throughout the RN/RM as pigs. the wardroom being the pigsty.
Naval officers also don't carry thiew swords on parade in the same way like pongo and booty officers.they have it on the draw as a a mark of disgrace.

can't trust em, Pigs .it's true
 
#4
What do crabair offrs do then? Carry them like the Army does?

Or don't they trust them with anything sharper than a Crayola? :p
 
#5
hiaphongharry said:
this is why naval officers are known throughout the RN/RM as pigs. the wardroom being the pigsty.
can't trust em, Pigs .it's true
I have to say that is the biggest load of horse manure I've ever heard......

The Spithead Mutiny came about due to many things. Yes, the white mafia seeing off the rest of the RN was part of it (a tradition they still uphold to this day :evil: ) but probably the main incident which caused the whole incident was when a ships company returned to the UK after two years away, were told that they had to load up with supplies and then set sail again. Understandably, they were not very happy about this.

The CO of HMS Hermione was basically the biggest cnut around. He always pressurised his crew to do everything. He had ordered sail to be shortened and basically informed the crew, last ones down were to be flogged. In the ensuing panic to not be the last ones down, 2 crewmembers fell to their death. Being a nice CO, Captain Pigot ordered the bodies to be chucked over the side. The crew were so p1ssed at this that they killed the captain and 8 other officers, captured the ship and then proceeded to surrender it to the enemy. The Admiralty had a stroke over this

The Spithead mutiny in April 1797 did lead to general improvements in the conditions. The Channel Fleet under Lord Bridport mutinied and refused to weigh anchor. There was no violence and no-one was hurt but sixteen battleships, the main defence of the kingdom, remained at anchor until a list of grievances were examined by the Admiralty who, within a week, granted the first pay-rise since 1658 and agreed to better food and provisions. All the mutineers were pardoned. But, the mutiny spread to The Nore where it appeared to some to be a more sinister, politically motivated affair. Here, the mutineers demanded more shore-leave, regular payment of wages, fairer distribution of prize money, removal of unpopular officers and changes in the Articles of War but, this time, they went too far. On the face of it, such demands seemed reasonable enough but the mutineers attempted to blockade the London merchant trade and this provoked both the Admiralty and the government to act against them. For a while it looked as though other British warships were going to engage them and the mutineers soon realised that they were in trouble and, one by one, the ships surrendered including the flagship HMS Sandwich where the mutiny had started. The mutiny achieved nothing and Richard Parker, the leader, was hanged along with others who were seen as activists. Many more were flogged or imprisoned.
 
#6
Its a popular belief within the RN that officers are known as Pig/Grunters because an admiralty report on the Spithead Mutinies refered to them as "a herd of swine"
 
T

trojan

Guest
#7
the_matelot said:
hiaphongharry said:
this is why naval officers are known throughout the RN/RM as pigs. the wardroom being the pigsty.
can't trust em, Pigs .it's true
I have to say that is the biggest load of horse manure I've ever heard......

The Spithead Mutiny came about due to many things. Yes, the white mafia seeing off the rest of the RN was part of it (a tradition they still uphold to this day :evil: ) but probably the main incident which caused the whole incident was when a ships company returned to the UK after two years away, were told that they had to load up with supplies and then set sail again. Understandably, they were not very happy about this.

The CO of HMS Hermione was basically the biggest cnut around. He always pressurised his crew to do everything. He had ordered sail to be shortened and basically informed the crew, last ones down were to be flogged. In the ensuing panic to not be the last ones down, 2 crewmembers fell to their death. Being a nice CO, Captain Pigot ordered the bodies to be chucked over the side. The crew were so p1ssed at this that they killed the captain and 8 other officers, captured the ship and then proceeded to surrender it to the enemy. The Admiralty had a stroke over this

The Spithead mutiny in April 1797 did lead to general improvements in the conditions. The Channel Fleet under Lord Bridport mutinied and refused to weigh anchor. There was no violence and no-one was hurt but sixteen battleships, the main defence of the kingdom, remained at anchor until a list of grievances were examined by the Admiralty who, within a week, granted the first pay-rise since 1658 and agreed to better food and provisions. All the mutineers were pardoned. But, the mutiny spread to The Nore where it appeared to some to be a more sinister, politically motivated affair. Here, the mutineers demanded more shore-leave, regular payment of wages, fairer distribution of prize money, removal of unpopular officers and changes in the Articles of War but, this time, they went too far. On the face of it, such demands seemed reasonable enough but the mutineers attempted to blockade the London merchant trade and this provoked both the Admiralty and the government to act against them. For a while it looked as though other British warships were going to engage them and the mutineers soon realised that they were in trouble and, one by one, the ships surrendered including the flagship HMS Sandwich where the mutiny had started. The mutiny achieved nothing and Richard Parker, the leader, was hanged along with others who were seen as activists. Many more were flogged or imprisoned.
so why are the officers known as Pigs and why don't naval officers carry thier swords ?
 
#9
Because the Officers drew their swords to try and force the end of the mutiny. The swords are now hung at the trail so that no Naval Officer can draw his sword as a natural reaction, not without lifting the scabbard and sword to a position of readiness. It's a mark of disgrace, and always gives us a laugh because some junior officer normally manages to sit on/fall on/trip over the sword at some point during a really important event.

According to "official sources" - There is no official reason why RN officers wear their swords lower than in other services - it is dictated by Dress Regulations which have undergone many variations but which contain nothing to substantiate any links between the swords and mutiny (a folklore tale). The present arrangement dates from 1856 and a full account is given in The Naval Officer's Sword by H.T.A. Bosanquet (London:HMSO, 1955) and even more exhaustive details in the 2-volume Swords for sea service by W.E. May & P.G.W. Annis (London: HMSO, 1970). (Taken from the RN website, but then again you would expect them to lie, wouldn't you!)
 
#10
The tale about the swords is complete rubbish, and it is a matter of disgrace that it is still taught as fact at BRNC. The Covey-Crump section of the official RN website says:

"There is no official reason why RN officers wear their swords lower than in other services - it is dictated by Dress Regulations which have undergone many variations but which contain nothing to substantiate any links between the swords and mutiny (a folklore tale). The present arrangement dates from 1856 and a full account is given in The Naval Officer's Sword by H.T.A. Bosanquet (London:HMSO, 1955) and even more exhaustive details in the 2-volume Swords for sea service by W.E. May & P.G.W. Annis (London: HMSO, 1970)."

An article on the subject can be found at the RAN's Navy News site

Here is a portrait of the Commander-in-Chief of the West Indies Station painted 1792, five years before the Nore and Spithead mutinies. Note the sword slings.

But the most compelling reason to believe that this story is a load of cack is the fact that other services do exactly or almost exactly the same thing. As can be seen from this thread, most mounted regiments in the British army wear their sword-belts under their tunics, from which the scabbards is suspended by slings, just like in the RN. Whereas RN scabbards are hooked up when the sword is drawn, cavalry units even have to carry their scabbards in the left hand when the sword is drawn.

In the US Navy the sword-belt is exactly the same as the RN pattern and is also worn under the jacket - the only difference is that they cut a slit in the hip pocket lining, pass the hook through the slit and hook the sword up. RN officers only resort to making holes in their jackets if they have to carry the Queen's Colour on parade. There is no reason why the USN would follow such a cumbersome practice if it was supposed to indicate a disgrace which had nothing to do with them.

The reason why in no. 5 dress we can hook up the scabbard when the sword is drawn but not when the sword is in the scabbard (unless a hole is made in the jacket) is that with the sword-belt worn under the jacket the hilt would be too bulky. This also means that the slings have to be longer, as they have to pass under the hem of the jacket. In the old no. 1 dress (full dress coat) and the no. 3 and 4 dress (frock coat), the sword-belt was worn over the coat and the slings could be shorter. It would have also been possible then to hook up the sword when necessary, although it seems that the sword was usually carried even then. I haven't ever seen a portrait of a naval officer of any era with the sword 'hooked' up - in earlier times it was quite common for the sword to be worn in a frog attached to a diagonal shoulder-belt, but when as now they were attached to slings they invariably just hung from them.

According to Debrett, officers of and above the rank of Lieutenant RN (and equivalent) are esquires, and commissioned officers below that rank are gentlemen. It is inconceivable that the Duke of Clarence, King George VI, King Edward VIII, King George VI, the Duke of Edinburgh, the Prince of Wales and the Duke of York would have become naval officers if naval officers were not gentlemen.
 
#11
I believed both myths as well (dragging of swords, Officers not being gentlemen) as they were taught to us at BRNC Dartmouth, but have since discovered it to be a total load of cack.

A good history is here at the BBC .

Making History
Dragging swords and "officers but not gentlemen"
Lt-Commander (Retd) Nick Bradshaw, who lectures at HMS Drake and is a fellow of Exeter University, discussed two naval traditions: the wearing of ceremonial swords low - dragging on the ground - and the description of naval officers as officers and not gentlemen. He writes:

Army officers (and RAF officers who copied the Army arrangement) wear their swords close-buckled to the belt, so that the scabbard is fixed in a position. Naval officers have a sword scabbard which is attached to the sword belt by two leashes, one about nine inches long and one about two feet long. Officers of the Day wear a sword belt, but no sword, as a mark of their duty status.

Naval officers could not handle a sword and scabbard in battle when boarding enemy ships or climbing. Army soldiers fought in prepared positions. Naval officers wanted to draw their sword and throw the scabbard out of the way, and have it completely unattached. (It was for the same reason that the Navy was the first to cut the tails from the tailcoat leaving them with the jacket which now survives as the mess kit jacket.)

As for naval officers not being gentlemen, this is often taken as an indication of inferiority, but in fact the Navy made it an edict that gentlemen officers should be discouraged. In peacetime, the British Navy needed about 4,000 men, but in time of war this number expanded to 20,000 and these had to be trained men, taken up from the whole naval community, merchantmen, colliers, fishing vessels, and barges - and as the enemy was the Continent, those interested in military service congregated in areas facing the enemy, the east coast and especially London. These were the pools of seamen, a term still used today. Other pools were found in trade ports such as Bristol and Liverpool.

By the late 1600s, the Navy had declared itself to be against the idea of gentlemen and had come very close to discouraging recruitment of officers on the basis of social status, reaffirming its desire to appoint based on skill. The Army continued to appoint on the basis of patronage. In the Navy, the worth of an officer was not regarded as automatic if he were a gentleman, but the accolade 'Naval officer' carried its own stamp of quality. It was not considered second best to be a naval officer; it was not better; it was unique.

Equality of opportunity at point of entry, a modern discovery, has always been a naval axiom and still is, as witnessed by the work of the Admiralty Interview Board. As a result, social mobility was better in the Navy than the Army, where it was rare to have a junior commission without paying for it. The Army was very much the preserve of junior sons of the nobility, and their organisation was presided over, especially in the time of George III, by the commander-in-chief at Horse Guards.

A naval officer joined as a teenager, learned his trade, took his examinations, and was promoted through skill. It was an unhealthy, dangerous job; ratings often were offered service in the Navy as an alternative to being hanged. Many died, many were killed, and few made the highest positions and were recognised by being invited to a Royal levee and earning social status. Famous aristocrats joined, of course; Cochrane, for example. But they did so on merit, and worked hard to earn it.


Further reading
R.J. MacDonald, History of the Dress of the Royal Navy (Crecy Publishing, 1986)
William Laird Clowes, The Royal Navy: A History: from the Earliest Times to 1900 (Chatham Publishing, 1996)
 
#12
Sounds like the RN was ahead of the Army in selecting its young gentlemen - or not, as the case may be then.
How does the mess dress jacket survive the old tailcoat/frockcoat though, it looks nothing like what you'd see for example in Master and Commander?! There were big turn-back gold-and-white facings on the lapels and the cuffs, weren't there?

And how can anyone use the term "pools of seamen" with a straight face?!!

Gook
 
#14
I was once told the tale that, after a visit by Queen Victoria to a naval officers mess where she found them drunk and debauched. she exclaimed,"These officers are not gentlemen!" hence the term "ladies, Gentlemen and naval officers," I may not have all my facts correct so if someone does have the correct story please share it.
 
#15
Now hows about the tale from WW II where Mountbattens ship, a Destroyer, was a Devenport, Plymouth based ship.
The ship retuns to base one morning following a very heavy Luffwaffa attack night before on dockyard.
Ship is ordered to sea by 'The Admiral' for operational resons and crew refuses, mutines, untill they have checked on their familes. 99% true I understand.
At this point tale varies depending on who's telling
Mountbatten speaks to men and ship sails, but ALL crew are posted on return.
Ship refuses orders and crew are forcably arrested.
In both cases NONE of the MEN are ever seen again.
john
Local tale in boozers in Plymouth when I was a lad. For what it's worth the above was raised in the Daily Mail 'Question & Answers' coloum many years ago. It was only question that never recieved a reply from the "editor".
 
#16
I remember reading the Q&A section of the Daily Express about 4ish years ago. Some lad wrote in and asked a question about where onboard the golden rivet was found 8O . Seemingly his grandfather used to mention it alot. That made me chuckle and it never was answered...Maybe the Express only realised what it meant after they had published the question!
 
#17
jonwilly said:
Now hows about the tale from WW II where Mountbattens ship, a Destroyer, was a Devenport, Plymouth based ship.
The ship retuns to base one morning following a very heavy Luffwaffa attack night before on dockyard.
Ship is ordered to sea by 'The Admiral' for operational resons and crew refuses, mutines, untill they have checked on their familes. 99% true I understand.
At this point tale varies depending on who's telling
Mountbatten speaks to men and ship sails, but ALL crew are posted on return.
Ship refuses orders and crew are forcably arrested.
In both cases NONE of the MEN are ever seen again.
john
Local tale in boozers in Plymouth when I was a lad. For what it's worth the above was raised in the Daily Mail 'Question & Answers' coloum many years ago. It was only question that never recieved a reply from the "editor".
There is a story of similar vein about the 51st Highland Division in WW2 and when some of their wounded soldiers were dragooned into the Italy campaign after their Brigade set sail for the UK. Some Soldiers were upset about this and mutineed near Anzio I believe. The main reason being they refused to be parted from their comrades in battle. They wanted to fibght with their clansman.

The point being here I think is this.

Even the most beaten dog will eventually bite it's master.
 
#18
Not sure about the monkey jacket point - cadets and midshipmen definitely wore them until around the 1920s, but the official dress for lieutenants and above always had tails.

As for naval meritocracy, this tended to vary from time to time. In Anson's day and during the Napoleonic wars it was very meritocratic, but after that for a while one needed to 'pass for gentleman' as well as 'pass for lieutenant' to get commissioned. Though it was never as bad as the army - there was never a substitute for serving your time as as midshipman aboard as ship of war, and commissions were never for sale.
 
#19
Gook said:
Sounds like the RN was ahead of the Army in selecting its young gentlemen - or not, as the case may be then.
How does the mess dress jacket survive the old tailcoat/frockcoat though, it looks nothing like what you'd see for example in Master and Commander?! There were big turn-back gold-and-white facings on the lapels and the cuffs, weren't there?

And how can anyone use the term "pools of seamen" with a straight face?!!

Gook
The only 'tails' you'll ever see these days on No 1s and on Mess Dress/Undress are for Captains and above, and even for Captains it's optional - they have to pay for it themselves.
 
#20
gundog said:
jonwilly said:
Now hows about the tale from WW II where Mountbattens ship, a Destroyer, was a Devenport, Plymouth based ship.
The ship retuns to base one morning following a very heavy Luffwaffa attack night before on dockyard.
Ship is ordered to sea by 'The Admiral' for operational resons and crew refuses, mutines, untill they have checked on their familes. 99% true I understand.
At this point tale varies depending on who's telling
Mountbatten speaks to men and ship sails, but ALL crew are posted on return.
Ship refuses orders and crew are forcably arrested.
In both cases NONE of the MEN are ever seen again.
john
Local tale in boozers in Plymouth when I was a lad. For what it's worth the above was raised in the Daily Mail 'Question & Answers' coloum many years ago. It was only question that never recieved a reply from the "editor".
There is a story of similar vein about the 51st Highland Division in WW2 and when some of their wounded soldiers were dragooned into the Italy campaign after their Brigade set sail for the UK. Some Soldiers were upset about this and mutineed near Anzio I believe. The main reason being they refused to be parted from their comrades in battle. They wanted to fibght with their clansman.

The point being here I think is this.

Even the most beaten dog will eventually bite it's master.
That one is true. Recent divulgences from the 'secret' depository confirms the actions of the men who refused to soldier and the disciplinary measures taken against them. Some are still alive and were interviewed.
 
Thread starter Similar threads Forum Replies Date
Bad CO ARRSE: Site Issues 46
General_Layabout Sappers 4
General_Layabout The Intelligence Cell 21

Similar threads

Latest Threads