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Remembered Today:

RNVR and RND - sorting them out


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I’m helping to analyse the Great War experience of the set of employees of a certain company where I once worked. About 20 of those who died served in the Royal Navy. I need to know whether I have a correct understanding of some basic points about the RNVR and RND. So, I ask, will somebody be kind enough to check out that I have the following points correct?

1 Each man who served in the RNVR was in one out of three possible categories:

A He was in the RNVR before the war and thus always expected to be called up if there was a war.

B He volunteered in the early years of the war (or volunteered in later years of the war, before he was old enough to be conscripted) specifically to serve in the Royal Navy.

C He was conscripted in the later years of the war and was assigned to the Royal Navy, with little or no choice in the matter.

Note 1: Men in categories B and C were said to be in the RNVR, but this is slightly misleading. They were not literally part of any ‘reserve’: that would imply that they were waiting just in case they were needed. By and large they were enlisted because they were already needed and they mostly started serving pretty soon.

Note 2: For simplicity this leaves out a minority of relatively complicated possibilities; eg a man joining the army and being transferred to the navy.

2 In principle, any man serving in the Royal Navy (whatever his status, RNVR or anything else) might be posted to the RND, and so serve as infantry on land rather than as a sailor. But in practice only a few regular sailors were assigned; the RND men were overwhelmingly RNVR and Royal Marines.

In general, a man had no choice in the matter of whether or not he was posted to the RND.

There was an exception to this rule. Early in the war recruitment posters encouraged men specifically to volunteer to join the Royal Navy (RNVR category B above) in order to serve with the RND. In theory, once he had signed up such a man could be compelled to go to a ship instead of the RND. However, in practice this hardly happened.

Please tell me if there is anything seriously wrong with the above. Assuming the above is essentially correct I have some follow-up questions:

(1) Am I right in thinking that RND men wore naval uniform in the trenches?

(2) Once a man was posted either to the RND or to the normal, ie non-RND, navy, would he normally stay that way for the rest of the war? Or were there many instances of men serving as infantry with RND for a while and then being transferred to a warship, or vice versa?

(3) In the time when recruiting posters encouraged men to join the Royal Navy specifically to become infantry in the RND, why would somebody want to do that rather than become infantry in the army? Were men led to believe that the RND would engage in more glamorous combat than the normal infantry: commando raids, amphibious invasions and such like?

(4) Suppose you were an RNVR Category-A man who’d spent your free time before 1914 in learning nautical skills, and you were assigned to the RND, ie to become an infantryman rather than a sailor; wouldn’t you feel resentful? I would. Is there any evidence, eg in books or letters, of feelings of that sort?

Any corrections and insights gratefully received.


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Hi Bart,

Do you have the service numbers of the men you are researching?

These should indicate how and when and what they joined.

Regards Charles

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Yes Charles, I have most of the service numbers.

Being a methodical bloke I am trying first to make a clear model of the various possibilities. Then I will go on to place each individual within that model. After that I will be able to make summarising statements such as, eg, ‘4 of the 20 men were already reservists in peacetime’.

Regards Bart

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Hi Bart,

They may fit into one of these categories,

Royal Naval Division

PZ 1-PZ 3000 and ZP 1 onwards

men entered at the Crystal Palace from civil life

KP 1 onwards

men entered at the Crystal Palace from Kitchener's army

ZW 1 onwards

men entered in 1st Brigade, RND, from civil life

KW 1 onwards

men entered in 1st Brigade, from Kitchener's army

ZX 1 onwards

men entered in 2nd Brigade, RND, from civil life

KX 1 onwards

men entered in 2nd Brigade, RND, from Kitchener's army

R 1 onwards, men entered from the Army for service in the RND from May 1916

Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve:-

AA Anti-Aircraft

B or BZ Bristol Division

C or CZ Clyde Division

E Birmingham Electrical Volunteers

KP, KW, KX Crystal Palace (entered from Kitchener's Army)

L or LZ London Division

M or MZ Mersey Division

MB Motor Boat Reserve

MC Mine Clearance Service

R Royal Naval Division

PZ Crystal Palace (entered from civil life or from the Royal Navy)

S or SZ Sussex Division

SWS Shore Wireless Service

T or TZ Tyne Division

W or WZ Wales Division

Regards Charles

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Hi. My grandfather, Lt L.J.Williams was commissioned into the RNVR and was master of HM(T) Warrior based at Haulbowline (Queenstown). I have researched his commission, (you can find his story on the 'Lives of the first World War' website), and although I have copies of his service and medal records but nowhere does it state his service number. Are you able to help me find out his service number ?

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  • 2 weeks later...

As to whether men would transfer from RND to sea service, this is exactly what my great-uncle did - he was RNVR (Clyde) before the war, was posted to Howe Battalion RND on the outbreak of war, sent to Gallipoli, and then on 27th March 1916 was sent back to the UK with 150 men of 'previous sea service' (my g-u was a former apprentice fitter in the shipyards of the Clyde so his engineering background presumably counted). On return he was given a new service number, new service record, and served as an ERA on destroyers and minesweepers for the rest of the war.

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Thanks, Munce. That's interesting.

Do the new service number and service record still have him as RNVR? Or do they perhaps have him as Royal Navy with some legend such as 'hostilities only'?

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He signed on again using an form S.-55 - Continuous Service Engagement or Reengagement, 'for the period of hostilities only'. The form notes his previous engagement with the RNVR but nothing on it (or on his new record of service) suggests that he was in anything other that the Royal Navy. And I suppose the fact that he was required to go through a bureaucratic new signing on suggests in itself that he left the RNVR and joined the RN.

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Thought so. I had a similar case.

Normally 'Royal Navy' (unqualified) means 'continuous service' which means 'for some agreed period', eg 12 years.

And, in war time, RNVR or RNR or RFR means 'hostilities only',

So 'Royal Navy' (unqualified) juxtaposed with 'continuous service' and 'hostilities only' seems self-contradictory.

Plainly there were such cases.

Perhaps somebody with more knowledge can define the general circumstances under which the apparently self-contradictory designation applied.

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Another document I've just come across (his RNVR service record, as opposed to his RND service card which generally has more information) says that he served in the RND, then went to HMS Pembroke with the RNVR for 2 months April- June 1916 (presumably training), before being transferred to RN on 16 June 1916.

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There were multitudes of exceptions to every 'rule' to ensure that the Navy got the right men into the right billets. The RNVR had many ERAs on its books, almost exclusively pre-war enrolments. Most were Tyneside and Clyde Division (shipyard) ratings, many of them seamen who became ERAs RNVR during the war. However, this man, presumably a pre-war able seaman RNVR, who had been mobilized for the duration of the war, was transferred to the RN ERA branch and carried his 'HO' enlistment terms with him, notwithstanding the use of a CS engagement form to effect the transfer.

Another example of the 'rules' being modified concerns early war entries into the RMLI. The RMLI did not start enlisting short service (duration of the war) men until mid-September 1914. Men who volunteered for the RMLI before then had no choice but to enlist for a 12-year RMLI CS engagement from which, by definition, they could not be demobilized. At the war's end, many of these men were transferred to a short service engagement and then demobilized, in recognition of the fact that they had not been able to enlist HO in the first place.

The 'general circumstances' sought by Bart can be summarized as "as required by the naval service" - which makes all things possible.

Edited by horatio2
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Horatio, I understand you to be saying that, (1) yes, it does seem odd Munce’s great-uncle was handled in this way, but (2) there was probably some rational explanation for it, but (3) that explanation is not visible to us now.

The kind of explanation that occurs to me - speculating wildly without any evidence - is that somebody in the Navy wanted to make sure this chap stayed an ERA and that he didnt get grabbed back by somebody else next time the RND needed to find some more RNVR men for the trenches.

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  • 1 month later...

Have just found a relative ; George Leo Green - RNVR , Z/ 7811 Division ; Bristol . It lists him as being at Victory VI ( Which I understand was at Crystal Palace ) . Any idea what he was doing in / at Bristol ? or was that just a division name . He later became a R>C priest and during WW2 was a Canadian Naval chaplain . After the war he got too class IV chaplain , which I understand was very senior ! Any sites that may be of interest ??

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His original RNVR enlistment papers are held at the Fleet Air Arm Museum - http://www.fleetairarm.com/royal-navy-royal-marines-services-records.aspx - they could tell you any connection to Bristol.

His ledger record is here:- http://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk/details/r/D7670612

He never served at sea or outside UK - British War Medal only (unclaimed).

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Back to your original question

It will probably help you to look at the actual history of the RND to understand how it worked. The original RND in 1914 was made up of both regulars and reserves both RNVR and RNR who did not have ships plus a number of early Kitchener Army enlistments who were transferred to make up numbers plus a RM Bde. The division then deployed to Antwerp. After their return the Division was reorganised and brought back to strength mainly with further RNVR sailors who were early wartime enlistments.

After Gallipoli all the Stokers were recalled together with most RN regulars.

In France the Division came under army control and gained an Army Bde. Future naval drafts were almost exclusively enlisted for land serve and had the number prefix R Most of these had originally joined the Army and were transferred to the RNVR for administrative purposes

This is an overview there will be plenty of exceptions


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And, in france or on land as infantry they wore khaki, (as did the RNAS) you can see a mix of cap styles in earlier pictures. Officers used Naval style rank but in khaki too, as did OR's and all adopted cap and collar devices in the style of the army. They also had some unique leather and webbing equipment not used by the army.

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  • 1 month later...

My Grandfather joined the Northumberland Fusiliers on 5 September 1914. He transferred to Hood Battalion RND on 9 September 1914. His 1914 Star would indicate that he served in Antwerp with Hood Bn before returning to UK for training. He was subsequently injured in Gallipoli in May 1915, hospitalised via an Australian Field Hospital, received treatment and convalescence in Egypt and eventually returning to duty. He was medically discharged in June 1916 through Cardiac Disease. My aunt who was born in July 1914 told the story of his embarkation leave being cancelled at short notice when Grandmother had taken her to for her father to see her before he set off to "France". He could only see his two month old daughter through the fence of the camp/ barracks. I have read that the RND took 50% of the Navy casualties of WW1.

Does anyone have any details of the movements of the Hood Battalion in September/ October 1914? It seems to me that they moved so quickly once Churchill has called them forward that their part in the early days of the war is described in general terms but I am struggling to find any details.

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I have the medals for a volunteer who also joined the Northumberland Fusiliers in Normanby, North Riding of Yorkshire, on 2 September 1914. He was discharged from the Northumberland Fusiliers on the 8 September 1914 and enlisted into the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve on the 9 September 1914. His Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve service number was prefixed KX indicating that he entered the 2nd Brigade, Royal Naval Division, from Kitchener's Army but I have been unable to trace the service number he was given when he first joined the Northumberland Fusiliers. He served at Antwerp and Gallipoli with Nelson Battalion and was severely wounded by gunshot circa 4 May 1915 after which he was evacuated first to Damanhour Hospital, Alexandria and then repatriated to the UK and admitted to Dreadnough Hospital, Greenwich. He spent the rest of the war in Reserve Battalions Cat B1 & B2 before being demobilised on 17 January 1919 and discharged from the Royal Naval Division on 14 February 1919.

Is it possible to find the original service numbers for those volunteers that joined Kitchener's Army before they subsequently were transferred to the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve?

Regarding Chris's comment about the movements of the Hood Battalion in September and October 1914, a good starting point is to obtain a copy of Len Seller's book The Hood Battalion (ISBN-13 978-1844680085).

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