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Life of a Stoker


Hugh
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My grandfather served as a Stoker on HMS Leander between 1919 and 1920.

Could someone provide a brief decription of a Stoker's duties on a ship such as Leander, or point me in the direction of some literature more broadly identifying the role of a stoker on this sort of ship?

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He would have had a shovel and used it to shovel coal into the boiler.

He may also or instead have been a sort of junior mechanic - that would depend on his grade and just what the ship was fitted with.

The 'chief stoker' is today effectively the CPO in charge of the ships' engines.

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A Thankless; Filthy & Arduous Task;A photo of the HMS Shannon Stokers & Co;Of Mess No 26;Taken after "Coaling Up" Having a well earned "Brew"!;Taken Circa 1914~16;sadly unidentified apart from the addition of an Arrow & "My Chum" in the centre,& the Mess 26 @ the bottom,it came with a couple of other HMS Shannon PCs.

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HMS Leander was in "Care & Maintenance" from Sept '19 & then "for disposal" from 18 Dec '19. At that time she was a very old ship (orriginally a Cruiser of '82) so her boilers & furnaces were likely worn out by then.

Leander would have been in part of a group/flotilla of ships either slated to be salved, sold, or scrapped at the end of the war. At that time he was likely on the maintenence crew of these ships - ships in care & maintenance are not fully crewed - only a skeleton crew are retained on board to keep the ship in fairly decent shape.

Leander was sold in '20.

Bryan

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I have one of my Grandfathers Royal Navy instruction books - Stoker's Manual dated 1912. He was a leading Stoker on HMS Highflyer on which he spent the entire WW1 from start to finish. In the book he has written his name and rank - at the time he was a stoker.

The book is jammed with diagrams of boilers etc and is over 100 pages plus a further 50 or so blank pages for notes and his own drawings. It includes such topics as "Boiler Tube Leak Drill", "Pumping flooding and drainage" and "The steam engine". There are scores of cutaway drawings and pull out diagrams of boilers including pictures of "carbonic andhydride refrigerating machines". It looks and reads like an IT hardware engineers manual. All this goes to prove that a stokers life was a hell of a lot more involved than shovelling coal. They were also highly trained boiler mechanics.

Dave

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Although there were many aspects where great skill and knowledge were required, this was primarily the province of the petty officer stokers and engine room artificers. Many WW1 vessels were oil-fired, but in an older vessel such as Leander, constant shovelling was required. There were two classes of Stoker: Trimmers, who brought the coal from the bunkers to the boilers in wheelbarrows, and Firemen, who actually shovelled the coal into the fireboxes. The latter was considered the more skilled job: get it wrong and a blowback could incinerate you.

I don't know of any means of experiencing this first hand in this day and age, but if you are near Portsmouth, try going through the boiler rooms of HMS Warrior. And then imagine it at a temperature of 150 degrees, in an atmosphere full of coal dust, with the furnaces roaring, in a rolling and pitching vessel, knowing that you were under the water line and that [in a later vessel than Warrior] a torpedo would obliterate you at any moment.

Adrian

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My G-Grandfather was Stoker (pre-WW1) and Stoker 1st Class (WW1) until his death in 1915. His headstone states his rank as Chief Petty Officer Stoker.

Anyway, although he was a Stoker, he was also trained in small arms (as I assume most if not all crewmen would have been), but he was also trained as one of the ship's divers..... bit of a "Jack of all trades". Bit of a mixed bag!

Les.

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Trimmer & Firemen were Mercantile Marine ratings - that terminology was not used in the RN, altho RN Stokers certainly performed those jobs.

On the matter of conditions of work for Stokers I read not too long ago that in a pre Dreadnought Battleship steaming full out with all furnaces fired, would consume approx 1 ton of coal in less than a half an hour. One can only imagine the relays of Stokers involved in shifting that am't of coal from bunkers to firebox & the am't of heat & coaldust produced.

Think also of the Titanic on her last night - she was also a coal burner & was steaming at 21 knots - pretty fast - then consider the temperature of the seawater!

Bryan

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Stokers - and artisans such as blacksmiths - underwent firearms drill and field craft as a part of their basic training and had to demonstrate proficiency in these tasks prior to being promoted to Stoker 1st Class.

Presumably because they were the most likely to be on landing/boarding parties.

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Trimmer & Firemen were Mercantile Marine ratings - that terminology was not used in the RN, altho RN Stokers certainly performed those jobs.

Bryan

Bryan,

Please can you explain this man having the rank of Trimmer in the RN?

RYDER

Initials: W T

Rank: Trimmer

Regiment: Royal Naval Reserve

Unit Text: H.M.S. "Attentive III."

Date of Death: 06/11/1917

Service No: 6937/TS

Additional information: Son of James Ryder; husband of Sarah Jane Thompson (formerly Ryder), of 36, Mitre St., Stockton-on-Tees. Born at Crakehall, Bedale.

Casualty Type: Commonwealth War Dead

Grave/Memorial Reference: C. F. 43.

Cemetery: STOCKTON-ON-TEES (OXBRIDGE LANE) CEMETERY

I'm not doubting you at all, just curious :)

Roger.

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"Chief Stoker in charge of engines ? The Chief Stoker is in charge of the Stokers."

Well, the Chief ERA - Engine Room Artificer - usually known as the Chief Stoker is of course in charge of the men in the engine room (I have never heard them called stokers) , but is also responsible for keeping the engines going in a routine way. The Engineer Officer is of course responsible for seeing that all the maintenance routines etc are done and repairs made.

The Engineer and Chief Stoker, are by the way, by tradition also stores officers (or were) on submarines.

It is only since the advent of nuclear boats that they have a dedicated Stores rating (who often reports to the Engineer officer) and on the missile boats a Supply Officer, CPO Supply and Leading hand Supply.

In other words, the Chief ERA on a sub has quite a job, but stoking ain't one of them.

On a surface ship he usually only has responsibility in the engine room. The supply complexities these days require all but the very smallest ships to have a proper supply staff.

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Bryan,

Please can you explain this man having the rank of Trimmer in the RN?

RYDER

Initials: W T

Rank: Trimmer

Regiment: Royal Naval Reserve

Unit Text: H.M.S. "Attentive III."

Date of Death: 06/11/1917

Service No: 6937/TS

Additional information: Son of James Ryder; husband of Sarah Jane Thompson (formerly Ryder), of 36, Mitre St., Stockton-on-Tees. Born at Crakehall, Bedale.

Casualty Type: Commonwealth War Dead

Grave/Memorial Reference: C. F. 43.

Cemetery: STOCKTON-ON-TEES (OXBRIDGE LANE) CEMETERY

I'm not doubting you at all, just curious :)

Roger.

That is because this person did not serve in the Royal Navy, He was in the Royal Navy Reserve and they were recruited from the Mechant Navy.

The other 2 reserve were RFR royal fleet reserve recruited from serving royal navy personeel who were leaving the service and RNVR royal navy volunteer reserve from civilians (abit like the TA for the army).

You also had specialist branches of the reserves but the above 3 are the main ones.

I hope this helps

James

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James,

That makes perfect sense. I'm actually in the Royal Fleet Reserve myself having left the Navy last year.

We didn't have Trimmers during my time :D

Cheers,

Roger.

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As I mentioned in my previous post Trimmers & Firemen ratings were a Mercantile Marine & RNR terminology. They were the equivalent to Stokers in the RN & RNVR.

Adrian has mentioned also in his prior post what these ratings did on board any type ship they served on.

Basically trimmers shifted coal & Fireman fired it into the fireboxes/furnaces.

Not a very pleasant job at the best of times, however,

they also operated maintained engine room related machinery - ie: water condensors, any small (donkey) engine used on board ship, & any kind of machinery that required use of hydraulics.

Bryan

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As Dirty Dick mentioned in his prior post Stokers also participated in landing parties sent ashore for various reasons - Stokers made excellent hands to have on shore service - they were quite resourceful & had no problems at all in a shore scrap with natives or otherwise!

They are mentioned in a few books dealing with the activities of Naval Shore service parties. ie: "Field Gun Jack vs the Boers", being the story of the Naval Brigades that served in South Africa 1899-1900.

I have attached a (likley) pre WWarI photo of a 2nd class Stoker decked out in landing party rig. Its hard to make out his rate badge but its there on his right arm.

Bry

post-1536-1129732820.jpg

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"Chief Stoker in charge of engines ? The Chief Stoker is in charge of the Stokers."

Well, the Chief ERA - Engine Room Artificer - usually known as the Chief Stoker is of course in charge of the men in the engine room (I have never heard them called stokers) , but is also responsible for keeping the engines going in a routine way. The Engineer Officer is of course responsible for seeing that all the maintenance routines etc are done and repairs made.

The Engineer and Chief Stoker, are by the way, by tradition also stores officers (or were) on submarines.

It is only since the advent of nuclear boats that they have a dedicated Stores rating (who often reports to the Engineer officer) and on the missile boats a Supply Officer, CPO Supply and Leading hand Supply.

In other words, the Chief ERA on a sub has quite a job, but stoking ain't one of them.

On a surface ship he usually only has responsibility in the engine room. The supply complexities these days require all but the very smallest ships to have a proper supply staff.

Shame upon you Sir, The Chief ERA is NOT the Chief Stoker, the two are totally seperate entities. The Chief ERA is the Chief of the ERAs, the Chief Stoker is the Chief of the Stokers. ERAs were and are in their sucessors MEAs, time served tradesmen, their jobs as 1st Class are as heads of section i.e. Boiler rooms, Engine rooms, Outside machinery etc. Their staff includes the junior artificers and stokers. The function of the Chief Stoker is the welfare, discipline and organisation of the stokers watchbills.

The function of the Engineer Officer still remains a mystery :lol:

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Here is a Naval landing party fitted out for service in the Med or Aegean area late in WWI - The rating on the far left seated is a Stoker 1st class & there may be others in the photo as well,

Bryan

post-1536-1129736334.jpg

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in a pre Dreadnought Battleship steaming full out with all furnaces fired, would consume approx 1 ton of coal in less than a half an hour.  One can only imagine the relays of Stokers involved in shifting that am't of coal from bunkers to firebox & the am't of heat & coaldust produced.

Bryan

That equates to 75 lbs per minute. That doesn`t sound a lot for the men of those days, though probably beyond modern man! Phil B

PS Wouldn`t the men in HarryBetts` photo be a coaling party and didn`t all hands do that?

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While stokers are on the agenda, can anyone suggest what my great great uncle's role would have been?

Name: BEWERS, WILLIAM JOHN CORNELIUS

Initials: W J C

Nationality: United Kingdom

Rank: Chief Stoker

Regiment: Royal Navy

Unit Text: H.M. S/M. "E22."

He was an old hand with twelve years undiscovered crime by 1910, and was in and out of submarine service ships from about 1905 until his death in 1916 aboard E22.

I'm guessing perhaps a supervisory role in the engine room (in as far as WW1 subs had a seperayte engine room), but no doubt a Pal can give me chapter and verse.

Thanks,

Adrian

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EVERYONE on board a ship coaled with the exception of the Captain & the Band.

The Band was for moral support & to motivate the men to coal quicker as this was treated as a competition among ships of a squadron & to be the quickest ship at coaling was quite a compliment in those pre WWI days!

I dont know in which book I read about the coal consumption & the am't reqd per hour - but if I ever locate it I'll post. Manual labour was a normal & expected fact of life in those days especially on board ship - EVERYTHING was humped!!!

:(

It seemed when I was in the RCN in the 60's life was much the same - we humped everything! :lol:

Bry

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While stokers are on the agenda, can anyone suggest what my great great uncle's role would have been?

Name:  BEWERS, WILLIAM JOHN CORNELIUS

Initials:  W J C

Nationality:  United Kingdom

Rank:  Chief Stoker

Regiment:  Royal Navy

Unit Text:  H.M. S/M. "E22."

He was an old hand with twelve years undiscovered crime by 1910, and was in and out of submarine service ships from about 1905 until his death in 1916 aboard E22.

I'm guessing perhaps a supervisory role in the engine room (in as far as WW1 subs had a seperayte engine room), but no doubt a Pal can give me chapter and verse.

Thanks,

Adrian

Well Adrian he was on Sub E22 when she was sunk by UB18 in the North Sea on 25 Apl '16.

He would have been responsible for all engines - main & auxiliary as well as the condensors - on the sub, as well as the Stokers in the crew. He would have worked closely with the Chief ERA as well.

E class were diesel fueled subs.

I am sure Dirty Dick will give you more details when he picks up on this.

Bry

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Re. E22

These boats did not normally carry an engineer officer/warrant engineer so the Chief Stoker would have had to work closely with the CERA, who would have been in overall charge of everything in the engine and motor rooms.

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