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Remembered Today:

The Navy


stuartd
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Forgive the fact that this posting is largely copied and pasted from the RFC section, but I am seeking information on both the RFC and the Navy.

This is my first posting in this section of the forum and I am looking to find out more information about how the Navy actually recruited during the First World War. My questions would be:

1. As as a keen young man eager to volunteer to do his duty in 1914 or 1915 could I just turn up at a naval recruitment centre (were there any?) and join up?

2. When conscription comes in from 1916, could I say no, I don't want to be conscripted into the army, I want to join the Navy?

3. Was there a type of man that the Navy looked for? Fishermen for example?

4. I assume (maybe wrongly) that the Navy actively recruited the army in its quest to find the kind of men that it was looking for?

5. I have a vague understanding of the Naval Reserve which existed before 1914 and which lots of Cornish fishermen were members of. How did this work?

Any help would be much appreciated!

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1. Yes, they had had recruitment offices for decades. Britain was a naval power, NOT a military power, before the war the Navy had a higher profile than the army and considerable positive publicity. They also had their own associated soldiers: the Royal Marines, both Artillery and Light Infantry.

2. Yes, the Navy was even more vital to the British war effort than the army (no soldier marched to France). You could also request to join the Royal Naval Air Service!

3. The Navy took a wide variety of people, from errand boys (JT Cornwell VC) to the Royal Family (George V and George VI). Fishermen joined the Royal Naval Reserve, Trawler Sections.

4. There was some cross over of personnel, but the Navy had considerable skilled pools of men to draw upon. Many conscripts went into the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve, where they could end up fighting on land with the Royal Naval Division.

5. There were several Naval Reserves. The one you’re referring to is probably the Royal Naval Reserve, Trawler Section. Men volunteer to serve and received training and payments to be available in war. Search this sub forum for ‘Reserve’ and you’ll find all sorts of threads.

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Thanks for that. In answer to number 2. wasn't there the chance of the Navy saying no, we have too many already? Also couldn't many men already know about the 'horror' of the trenches and plum for the Navy (not that that would be a bag of laughs either!)

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The Royal Navy had been preparing for war with Germany since 1910. Naval mobilisation was far more faceted and complex than contemporary army recruitment. It would perhaps be judicious to examine recruitment into the seaman branch as distinct from engine room staff patterns of entry and the selection and training of ERAs.

There was no shortage of seaman/stoker entrants to the Royal Navy in 1914-1918 (and the Navy being an elite, could afford to be choosy) but there were shortages of skilled rates in terms of torpedomen, ERAs, signallers and telegraphists by March 1918 - not because of casualties but because of demands posed by a vastly expanded naval force. Men with requisite skills were much prized. Although Chatham, Portsmouth and Plymouth were the traditional focus of recruitment, in reality these men were drawn from all corners of Britain.

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As the evidence we have is anecdotal it is not possible to say for sure, but I think both would be about equal. Don't forget they were not turned down by the army, but by a regiment or corps. They could go down the road to the next recruitment office and be signed up. Also there were different branches of the navy to apply to.

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If by 1915 it had become clear that trench warfare was as appalling as it was, why weren't the Navy swamped by those looking to avoid the army but keen to do their bit?

Do I assume then that if I got my papers in 1916 saying that I was to be called up, I could have a dig at trying to get into the Navy instead?

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Emphatically so. Though as you will be aware, the army was a lot more selective 1914-1916 than it was later in the war. Joining the Royal Navy was considered prestigious in a society in which, as John Keegan famously observed, 'everyone belonged to something'

The Royal Navy had always been perceived as an elite, an image both propagated and confirmed by popular culture. The army was small, tough and highly professional but the Andrew was regarded as the war winner via some Mahanesque North Sea encounter (As far as the Army was concerned, the implications of the Boer War setbacks and the dire warnings of the 'Yellow Press' re the deterioration of national physical character, had permeated mass culture. Few in 1914 thought the Army would bear the brunt of a forthcoming war). The Army was respected prior to 1914 but the Royal Navy was revered and feared. The Army needed men but the Royal Navy required specialists because of it pronounced technological orientation. The Navy simply demanded sailors not conscripts, the emphasis being on quality rather than quantity. Between 1914 and 1917 traditional RN recruitment patterns did not alter but in 1918 you do find key rates and some officers being pressed from within the service to join destroyers and submarines as well as units of the Auxiliary Patrol.

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I can see that at the start of the war the army would require more men if it were to win a land war involving mass armies, but did the navy also require more men considering that it was already the biggest in the world? Would not the regular navy and the calling up of the reserve have been enough?

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Jutland apart, the real challenge at sea came from submarine warfare. Between 1914-1917 Britain had lots of capital units but relatively few modern destroyers capable of escorting convoys or attacking U-boats with depth-charges. The great wartime naval expansion was in terms of smaller craft - destroyers, submarines, A/S units. Operating these craft required skilled men on deck, gun and engine room.

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So I guess a fisherman would stand an excellent chance of getting in the Navy, whilst someone keen to avoid serving in the Army, but keen to do their bit, could apply to the Navy and hope for the best!

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Stuart,

A fishermans talents and expertise would not be wasted in the Royal Navy, he would join the Royal Naval Reserve (Trawler Section). The Royal Navy were over subscribed, hence the Royal Naval Divisions. A short Course would turn an engineer or electrician into a usefull member of a ships company.

Regards Charles

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And what duties would the RNR(T) undertake that the RN wouldn't? Would a man in the RNR(T) remain on active service throughout the war, or would he spend period at sea with the RNR(T) and then resume his normal job at other times?

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Fishermen were ideal material for the Auxiliary Patrol but the odd landlubber might be snapped up if he had an engineering background or a familiarity with ship engines. The main duties were minesweeping, inshore A/S patrols and from the Spring of 1917, in coastal convoy escort duties. Between 1914 and 1917 only limited training was provided for the Auxiliary Patrol. Imagine the problems inherent in allowing unseamanlike civilians loose on the deck of a trawler engaged in hunting for U-boats. If someone turned up at say North Shields and claimed to be a seaman experienced in the east coast herring trade, he might stand a chance of gaining admittance to the AP but his shortcomings would soon be exposed The Merchant Navy might be a better bet.

The regular RN certainly were certainly also involved in coastal patrols but in the main they were delegated to the Auxiliary Patrol (which developed into an efficient and formidable force by 1918 thanks to the combination of new technology and Jellicoe's reforms)

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To join the RNR and RNR(T) you had to be a professional seaman with Board of Trade certificates and more than two years experience. Otherwise you would join the RNVR or RN who addmitted without qualification.

Everywhere the Royal Navy served the RNR(T) had a presence, at Jutland they manned the Aircraft Carrying Trawlers and followed with minesweepers to cover the Fleets return to Scapa and the Forth. In Gallipoli they landed troops,landed stores and acted as minesweepers also manning the Otranto Barrage. The local areas especially the east coast and southern Irish sea had tight coverage, the channel had drifters and trawlers giving total coverage within sight of each other sweeping and manning the barrage nets being very succesful providing support and protection for the movement of men and stores. The task list is endless.

Regards Charles

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In 1917 RNR(T) emergancy reserve was set up to bring all the remaining fishermen under naval disciplne. It was suddenly discovered that fish were a good supply of food and as many trawlers ahd been lost and fishermen taken up into the RNR(T), they needed to keep some trawlers actually catching fish!

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Yachtsmen, Barge and lightermen if the Royal Engineers Inland waterways didnt get them. Motormen and engineers to the RNVR motorboats. Anybody without formal seagoing qualifications.

Regards Charles

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I don't think I appreciated how tricky the whole naval recruitment issue was!

Did the Navy find a lot of men volunteering their services in a bid to avoid joining the army - both before conscription and during?

With vast numbers of reserves available through the RNR, RNVR and the RNR(T), did the Navy actually need any more recruits?

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The Royal Navy wasnt really in as much need of recruits as the army, its peacetime reserve wasnt too bad but still took a long while and a disaster or two to integrate the RNR with the RN, the RFR was up to speed. The requirement for smaller vessels did put an initial strain early on and as Per tar says the RN nearly took the whole fishing fleet as Auxilliary vessels, they also took all the Steam Yachts and Small Steamers. Still not having enough the ordered motor boats by the hundred.

Anyone with sea experience was taken up to serve, as a for instance the RNR(T) at the start of the war had 1000 men and 94 ships at the end 39000 men of which some 10000 were employed in the Minesweepers which included 762 ships stationed at 26 home ports and 35 foreign bases. I dont have a figure for the Auxiliary Patrol.

A potted answer but hopefully of some help.

Regards Charles

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...With vast numbers of reserves available through the RNR, RNVR ...

With the vast amount of surplus reserves in 1914 The First Lord of the Admiralty (Winston Churchill) formed the Royal Naval Division. In addition to manning the fleet there was the Royal Naval Air Service eager to take men and suitable people were also recruited for the Royal Naval Air Service Armoured Car Division. London bus drivers were recruited for land transport. The Navy and units operated by the Admiralty had no problem in operating By Sea, By Land or in the air!

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