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The Royal Naval Reserve

To meet any sudden emergency, the Navy must always have at its disposal a large number of high trained officers and men. The Royal Naval Reserve, founded in 1859, has a magnificent record of wartime service and a growing list of applicants for commissions


GUNNERY TRAINING is an important branch of the routine work of the Royal Naval Reserve

GUNNERY TRAINING is an important branch of the routine work of the Royal Naval Reserve. This photograph shows R.N.R. officers under instruction at the Royal Naval School of Gunnery, Devonport.

EVERY officer and man in the Royal Naval Reserve, except the accountant officers, earns his living at sea in peace time. The Navy has looked to the Merchant Service for its men from time immemorial, and since the days of Alfred the Great every English professional seaman has been liable to serve in the Navy when wanted.

During the war of 1914-18 the force was thoroughly appreciated. A number of R.N.R. officers were transferred to the regular Navy in the supplementary list, and many of them took the most scientific courses. Twelve months’ service in the wardroom of one of H.M. ships was necessary for full qualification, and was often voluntarily exceeded.

Shortly before the war a new section was founded which owed its inception to the enthusiastic advocacy of the late Lord Charles Beresford. That was the Trawler Section, which was carefully

organized to maintain the tradition of the fishing industry and to let the men serve in the conditions to which they were accustomed. It was believed that their trawling experience would prove useful in minesweeping.

When war broke out in 1914 there were enrolled in the Royal Naval Reserve nearly 20,000 officers and men, already trained to more than the elements of naval service and ready for mobilization as soon as their ships reached port. The older vessels of the reserve were permitted to put to sea, and there was immediately an unprecedented rush of every type of merchant officer and man to join the Reserve.

During the war every section of the R.N.R. acquitted itself with the greatest credit. The service provided the greater part of the crews of the old ships which had been kept in reserve, and it suffered a terrible mortality. Officers and men served in the regular ships of the Grand Fleet and in all the other naval formations, taking their full part with their brothers in the regular service.

When new sloops and patrol vessels were commissioned in dozens, it was to the R.N.R. that the Admiralty looked for their crews and, as their work was largely concerned with mercantile matters, their peace-time experience was extraordinarily useful. The older destroyers maintaining inshore patrols and protecting merchantmen were soon commanded and manned principally by the R.N.R.

Before the end of the war the force supplied navigating officers to nearly all submarines, and in Q-boats decoying German submarines the R.N.R. particularly distinguished itself and earned several Victoria Crosses.

The casualty list was heavy, but the Royal Naval Reserve earned for itself a reputation which will never be forgotten, either by the country or by the Navy. After the war one of the greatest tasks of the Admiralty was to consider the strength and weakness of the R.N.R. organization as proved by experience, and to mould a post-war force that should have all the virtues but none of the defects of the earlier force. There was naturally a reaction after the struggle, and economy was essential. The first problem was the demobilization of the men and the prevention of hardship. Fortunately, because of the war boom, there was employment for every seaman, so that the personnel of the R.N.R. soon slipped back into its peace-time vocations. Many, however, were to suffer great hardship when the slump caused hundreds of ships to be laid up.

In 1920 the Admiralty laid before Parliament the outline of a scheme and prefaced it with a generous tribute. The trust that had been reposed in the Reserve had been abundantly justified.

The proposal was to retain a sufficient number of officers and men to meet the needs of the fleet should war break out. At the same time, the authorities were careful to preserve the machinery which had been built up for the enrolment of the whole available force later on.

With the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve, the R.N.R. was to be organized in three classes — for fleet service, for patrol service, and for shore service. Fleet service was to include the ships of the regular Navy, auxiliary cruisers and other larger vessels, but the patrol service was to include only anti-submarine, coastal convoy and minesweeping work. All officers and men were to undergo training similar to that in force before the war, with certain modifications suggested by experience. Training was to include naval discipline, seamanship, signalling and gunnery.

Perhaps the most important step was to set up an R.N.R. Advisory Committee under the Presidency of the Admiral Commanding Reserves. This Committee, which had at its disposal the united knowledge and experience of the Navy, the merchant seaman and the ship-owner, was to advise the Admiral on all points concerning the R.N.R. and the judicious use of the Merchant Service.

The R.N.R. officer of to-day can rise to the rank of commodore, a high honour, but one which is not always sought after because its opportunities of active service are few.

Searching Tests

Below the commodore’s rank are those of captain, commander, lieutenant-commander, lieutenant, sub-lieutenant, midshipman and cadet. The rank of cadet is almost entirely confined to mercantile cadets in training ships such as the Worcester and the Conway, and at the Pangbourne Nautical College.

In each rank the officer works alongside his opposite number in the regular service. In all professional branches he is expected to have the same technical knowledge as the naval officer and he is given every opportunity of obtaining it, often at some sacrifice to himself.

Captains and commanders can take the highly technical war courses which are held regularly at the Royal Naval College at Greenwich. Each course lasts for some months and deals with strategy, tactics, command and similar subjects. The junior officers are entered either as midshipmen or as sub-lieutenants, according to age, but always on a probationary basis. They have to pass a medical test almost as strict as that of the regular naval officer, and must satisfy a selection board as to their fitness to hold a commission with credit.

They have to be British-born of British parents, and of pure European descent as far back as can be traced. All except those in the Trawler Section have to undertake to serve anywhere in the world, according to the discretion of the Admiralty, before they are accepted. Applicants for entry as sub-lieutenant must have gained at least one Board of Trade certificate of competency, the age limit of their entry varying with the class of certificate which they hold.

The R.N.R. officer has to go through his courses of gunnery, torpedo work and navigation training as does the regular officer, but normally he cannot specialize in any branch in the same way. Periodically he is appointed to one of the special naval training establishments for a training or refresher course in one or other of their subjects. Before being accepted as a fully qualified officer he has to serve twelve months in the Royal Navy.

Formerly this period was generally served in one ship, but nowadays the time is divided to give the officer the widest experience possible. It includes a spell in destroyers and submarines which have their own particular routine.

In return for his services, the R.N.R. officer receives a retaining fee of £25 a year, the ordinary pay of his naval rank while he is serving, and help in the purchase of his expensive uniform and equipment.

The Cunard liner Carmania

MANNED ALMOST ENTIRELY BY R.N.R. OFFICERS AND MEN, the Cunard liner Carmania, during the early stages of the war of 1914-18, sank the German ocean raider Cap Trafalgar. The Carmania had a gross tonnage of 19,524, a length of 650 ft. 5 in., a beam of 72 ft. 3 in. and a depth of 40 feet. She was built at Glasgow in 1905.

Although the Admiralty shows the utmost consideration in giving R.N.R. officers appointments which will not entail much personal expenditure, there is seldom much financial balance to tempt an officer to give up so much spare time to national service.

The large number of applicants for R.N.R. commissions can be accounted for only by patriotism and a fine sense of public duty, as well as an appreciation of the honour of the service. The senior R.N.R. captain who is selected each year to serve as Reserve A.D.C. to the King is the most envied man in the Merchant Service.

In much the same way as officers, the lower deck ratings are enrolled with due regard for their normal mercantile employment and with the idea of making the greatest naval use of their commercial experience. It is not possible, however, to provide the ratings with the same opportunities of promotion as the officers, because of the work which the routine of the Navy demands of the higher ratings.

All R.N.R. ratings are enlisted for a period of five years. At the end of their term they may be permitted, if they have proved themselves of value to the Navy, to re-enlist four times, making twenty-five years in all, with the proviso that the last period is for shore and harbour service only.

The recruit can choose whether he will enter the general or the patrol service, but in*practice all the deep-sea men go on to the general list. If a man enters the patrol service he is taught naval routine only during his first period of training. The rest of his time is devoted to perfecting his skill in his specialized job.

Before a man enters into the R.N.R. his qualifications are carefully scrutinized and a high standard is demanded. There must be no doubt about his skill as a seaman, an engine-room or boiler-room rating, whichever applies. No man is admitted whose seamanship has deteriorated. and with his application must go the proof that he has served the two previous years at sea without any important interruption.

Applicants wishing to become seamen or stokers have to be between eighteen and twenty-five years of age, with a minimum height of 5 ft. 4 in. in their socks. For service below deck the height standard is 5 ft. 3 in. The enginemen of the Trawler Section are accepted between twenty-two and thirty-five years of age, and for the engine-room artificers, who must have Board of Trade certificates, the age is between twenty-one and thirty.

As with the commissioned officer, the R.N.R. rating is first accepted on probation only, and is subject to careful scrutiny while “provisionally enrolled”. When he has completed his first year’s drill and training to the satisfaction of his seniors he is confirmed in his rating.

The first year’s training as a seaman begins with twenty-eight days’ training in a Royal Naval Barracks, the time being devoted largely to learning the elements of naval routine. This is followed by fourteen days afloat. In the second year he does no training, but in the third and fifth years he does seven days in the barracks, followed by twenty-one days afloat.

With stokers the routine is essentially the same. They do less time in barracks, however, and more time afloat, as naval boilers and methods of stoking generally differ radically from those in use in the Merchant Service.

In return for these- services and for always being available for naval service, seamen and stokers draw an annual retaining fee of £8, the leading ratings one of £10, and the petty officers and chief petty officers one of £12.

In addition, they receive naval pay while they are under training, or mobilized for war. They have the same uniform as naval ratings except that they carry the words “Royal Naval Reserve” on their cap tallies instead of the name of the ship.

When it is under training or mobilization the R.N.R. serves under the White Ensign. In peace time a

merchant ship commanded by an R.N.R. officer, with more than a certain number of R.N.R. officers and ratings in the crew, is permitted by the Admiralty to fly the Blue Ensign instead of the Red. It is a jealously guarded privilege and every care is taken that it shall not be abused.

The recent decision to increase the strength of the Royal Navy has made the Royal Naval Reserve more important than ever. The main reasons are, first, because it will probably be necessary to transfer some of the fully-trained lieutenants and sub-lieutenants to the regular line; secondly, because the ratings would certainly be wanted in war-time to man the older ships kept in reserve, and thirdly—and perhaps most important of all — because the merchant ships bringing food to the country will have to rely on the personnel of the Merchant Navy for their protection. Since its foundation in 1859, the Royal Naval Reserve has a magnificent record of service in war-time.

Navigational instruction iss given to cadets at the Nautical College at Pangbourne

NAVIGATIONAL INSTRUCTION is given to cadets by R.N.R. officers at the Nautical College at Pangbourne, Berks. The rank of cadet in the Royal Naval Reserve is confined almost entirely to mercantile cadets in training ships such as the Worcester and the Conway, and at the Pangbourne Nautical College.

You can

“In the Royal Navy”,

“The Navy Goes to Work” and

“The Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve”

on this website.