The lighter side of the Royal and Royal Australian Navies

G'day Mac,

Back in the early 1900's, when the Royal Navy was at its Imperialistic Zenith and was stationed around the world in places like Hong Kong, the West Indies Station, Malta and Gibralter, the Service had imbedded traditions and always lay moored with tight, white awnings over the quaterdeck, the decks were holystoned, officers and men manned the
gangway in immaculate Whites. Vessels would race their gigs against one another with the utmost competitiveness.

There were certain duties that had to be carried out continuously at sea or in harbour. Those consigned to duties in harbour were called Duty Men with, in today's climate, strange names such as

Corporal of the Watch... usually a marine checking stores and personnel ashore and aboard...

Side Boys.... kept the gangways clear and carried messages and manned the side...

Call Boys... who were stationed to repeat all pipes (calls), ensuring that they are heard all over the ship (in 1938 was being superseded by "broadcasting loud speakers"

But there was a lighter element to Naval ships and many carried ships mascots, and not just parrots.

On the Malta Station in 1902 HMS Aboukir had a Bear mascot, HMS Bachante had a Donkey; HMS Diana had a Nanny-goat and HMS Venus had a Gazelle.

Readers of the Newspaper Daily Mirror wrote that each animal used to take it in turn to lead the band at Admiral's Inspection parades, though they had to be kept apart for they were always ready for a scrap. Bruno finally blotted his copybook by escaping his chain tether and boarding the Russian Battleship Nicholas III which was dry-docked in Malta.

Before you could say Man Overboard, he climbed to the Russians' afterbridge, scrambled along the awning and tore down their ensign....apparently this was taken in good humour by the Russians. Bruno had to be, eventually, left ashore in captivity, however he escaped one day and was shot.

It was reported that one day Bruno escaped from the Aboukir and swam to the Bachante and clambered up the port aftergangway.

The sideboy rebuked him for not saluting the quarter-deck and was bitten on the forearm as Bruno strolled forward looking for the fo'c'sle. Instead, Bruno was met by the pet donkey, named Scruncher, who, after they had sniffed one another playfully reversed and brought his back heels up in salute- a common trick of his. Bruno fled back to the gangway and dived back into the sea.

It is recorded that Scruncher met King EdwardVIII, the Kaiser Wilhelm and several other Heads of State in his time!

Even more unbelievable accounts were recorded by HMS Glasgow who after sinking the German cruiser Dresden at anchor at Juan Fernandez -Robinson Cruseo's Island in the Pacific - a tiny figure was seen swimming towards them. This turned out to be a pig, who was thereafter christened Dennis and given the run of the deck. When Glasgow paid off in 1916, Dennis was sent to the Whale Island Gunnery School. Regulations then in force against swine flu fever
were waived so that Dennis now renamed Tirpitz, could be disembarked.

This was done on receipt of a certificate from the Glasgow's Captain that the pig had not been in contact with other pigs the previous year.

After being posted to Whale Island, Tirpitz was detached to Cranwell, when it was decided that he had better be auctioned for the British Red Cross. Messrs Knight, Frank and Rutley put him up for sale at the Grosvenor Hotal, Chester, where Tirpitz was knocked down to the Duke of Portland on December 11, 1917. for a round £440.

In February, 1918, he was re-auctioned, in Ayrshire, for another £840, again for the Red Cross and The Agricultural Relief Fund for the Allies. Having been bought back again by the Duke of Portland he was auctioned for a third time at the Nottingham Patriotic Fair, again raising £505. The toatal sales realised; £1,785. Tirpitz died in 1919 and his head was stuffed by a Piccadilly firm, and at the Duke's request it was accepted by The Imperial War Museum, where
it still remains.

In these modern times when the Royal Navy apparently consists of two harbour tugs, no I tell a lie, yesterday the Nuclear Attack Submarine HMS Astute came into Southampton for a visit, and seeing that the Royal Australian Navy was born in 1911 there must be some anecdotes from matelots Down Under who read and correspond with your web-site. There are many tales of bravery and battles........but the lighter side is short of history.

I do not know where you would place this...there must be a tiny space somewhere for what, I am sure, would be a raft of stories.

Best wishes...Glyn Howell


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