- Book reviewer
- History - general, Book reviews, Royal Navy
- None noted.
- RAN Ships
- None noted.
- September 2004 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
The Royal Navy – An illustrated Social History 1870 – 1982
By Captain John Wells
ISBN 0-905-778-308. Sutton
Publishing Ltd. rrp $49.95 or GBP19.99
Reviewed by A. M. Downes
When I first encountered this book, I thought that it would be another boring textbook. How wrong I was. Certainly this is a very well researched and annotated book but boring it is not. It traces the social history of the Navy starting with a full description of the Victorian Navy from the Admiralty down to the recruiting of officers and men. From there it leads us, decade by decade, through the training, discipline, food and drink, pay, clothing and behaviour in battle from those times up to and including the Falkland War. Captain Wells describes how the Navy has reflected the social attitudes of the day in the character and behaviour of its people.
The book is well illustrated but what makes it so interesting is the insertion of excerpts from letters, speeches and the like from recruits to First Sea Lords, from journalists to politicians, from Petty Officers to Lieutenants, all well rounding out the topic being discussed. One subject, the training of midshipmen, becomes a history in itself – from being sent straight to sea at the age of 13½ in Victorian times, to RNC Portsmouth, to Britannia, Osborne, Dartmouth and now recruiting from school leavers, universities, etc., in the 17 to 23 age group. Other sections deal with the Engineering, Electrical, Aviation branches, with WRNS, Schoolies, Medical, Supply and all the other parts of ship. Subjects such as the Invergordon Mutiny, ‘Aggie’ Weston and all the various Wars and actions form parts of the broad spectrum covered by this book.
Unfortunately, the book is about the Royal Navy and the RAN hardly rates a mention. But I found the book very hard to put down and would recommend it to anyone interested in our Naval background.