History - general
In the State Library of Victoria we have an amazing photographic collection of ship photo thanks to Allan Green.
He was born in Daylesford, in the Central Victorian goldfields on Dec. 23, 1878. His father was a miner. There is a photograph of a sister, Florence, and there were an unknown number of brothers.
Our knowledge of this man’s life – if not the published indications of a gentle and kindly soul – are at best fragmentary. We do know that as a young man Allan Green and his brothers set out for the goldfields of Western Australia, in the roaring days of Kalgoorlie and Coolgardie, but – not striking it rich – eventually opened a grocery store in the remote mining settlement of Day Dawn well north of Perth, inland from Geraldton [it is now a ghost town]. Allan Green was never a miner: he had originally worked as helping hand to a blacksmith, and after the store was opened, finding himself left for long periods alone, he started a corresponmdence course in Fine Art, the basis of his water colour painting that followed.
Clearly Green was a man of finer instincts than his environment of remote boom and bust mine towns suggest. A photograph of wheat wagon out in WA also suggests he was already working with a camera. Information about his introduction to photography, however, is completely lacking, but everything about the stunning clarity of Green’s plate glass images, and his care in composition, compellingly suggests that he also had some formal training in this art.
He is seen in the photo here as a young man, in a typical early 20th Century Edwardian portrait, perhaps taken around the time of his marriage to Elizabeth May Cowie, a beauty of Scottish heritage, whom he married at the Town Hall in South Melbourne.
Returning to Victoria in the early years of the 20th Century Green opened a photo studio on Williamstown’s Front Esplanade, which he lived above. While Green no doubt did commercial portrait photography, his own fascination and focus seems to have been was almost entirely maritime, and he clearly spent an enormous amount of time on it.
Of the 10,000 or so images Green donated to the State Library of Victoria in 1940 [the number, nominally 8025, is much understated as a result of by multiple images under single subject listings], there are just a few family portraits and few general scenes. The rest is entirely of ships, one of the great collections of its kind.
His first love had been sailing ships, billowing under full sheets out at sea, and there are thousands of such images in the SLV’s Green Collection, augmented by his highly regarded colour paintings from the 19th-early 20th Century’s end of sail era, many of them published in the Melbourne ‘Punch,’ and later the maritime ‘Port Phillip Quarterly.’
The photograph collection largely consists of Green’s own work, but he also gathered in photos of ships from all around the world, and he sold reproductions of these these from his Front Terrace studios. In truth, the business failed to flourish, and the 1930s found Green working as a newsagent in Melbourne’s tough inner suburb of Richmond, a business that eventually failed during the Depression.
Green’s grandson, Mr David Thiessen of Oak Park, Victoria, who passed on this information, tells us that while his grandfather – artist at heart – was never a successful businessman, nor was he much concerned with money. Apart from his time in Western Australia, Green’s only trips outside the State of Victoria were two trips to Sydney, at least one of them accompanied by his grandson. Although only a boy, David Thiessen recalls him photographing warships at Garden Island during this visit.
In a tribute published after his death on April 25, 1954, the Port Phillip Quarterly, the author Captain Hartley Watson said that along with sailing ships Green had an early interest in the ships of the Royal Navy’s Australia Station squadron, which preceded the formation of the RAN. This interest continued throughout his life, and just as Sydney’s Sam Hood [1872-1956] is said to have photographed every ship that came into Sydney Harbour over a 60 year period, so too Allan Green captured just about every ship, and certainly all the warships of all nations, that ever appeared in Port Phillip Bay.
Australia has had other great maritime photographers: Searcy in South Australia, Izzy Orloff [1891-1983] and Saxon Fogarty in Fremantle, Albert Perrier [1870-1963] in Sydney, and others [not forgetting the newspaper photographers], but in terms of preserved work and significance, Sam Hood and Allan Green seem to stand head and shoulders above the rest. Their styles were very different: Hood, topical, with human interest settings and Sydney scenery; Green, ignoring almost everything but meticulously lucid detail of the ships – the only outside influence to intrude on Green’s images was Melbourne’s notorious weather.
The above story is from https://www.flickr.com/photos/41311545@N05/7691401602
The State Library of Victoria collection available at http://search.slv.vic.gov.au/primo_library/libweb/action/search.do;jsessionid=BF9685547D67BC59BB7292EC3EE8B1FF?fn=search&vl(freeText0)=Green%2c+Allan+C&tab=default_tab&mode=Basic&scp.scps=scope%3a(ROSETTA_OAI)%2cscope%3a(SLV_VOYAGER)%2cscope%3a(SLV_DIGITOOL)%2cscope%3a(SLVPRIMO)&vid=MAIN&ct=suggestedSearch&vl(34473804UI1)=all_items&vl(1UIStartWith0)=exact&vl(10247183UI0)=creator
Allan C Green 1878-1954, photographer.
by Lieutenant Commander Terry Feltham RAN Ret’d
“Just because something ends doesn’t mean it never should’ve been. Remember, you lived, you learned, you grew and you moved on”. Anon.
Why this topic?
The recent discovery within the Society’s archives of an undated letter from Signalman Donald Fraser, commissioning member of HMAS Toowoomba1 led to my researching the reasons for the resignation in March 1942 of her Commanding Officer, LCDR Paul Hirst and the eventual dispersal of her entire crew.
Part of undated letter from Don Fraser: after suffering heavy damage on the passage. Soon thereafter we were ordered back to sea. Our captain ‘Digger Hirst’ was loath to take Toowoomba to sea until major repairs were affected. Apparently Senior Naval Officer Western Australia, Commodore Collins, directed the skipper – ‘Take your ship to sea or resign’. ‘Digger’ advised the ship’s company, “I’ve resigned and I will be happy to get back to the spuds in Tasmania”. Under a new skipper we sailed to Adelaide for repairs. There, the entire crew received ‘individual draft notes’ sending them to all corners of the globe! Toowoomba then decommissioned, affected repairs and recommissioned. Did ‘Digger’ resign for nothing? Don Fraser.[i]
My First Impressions.
Initially, there seemed little to this research task. Paul Hirst was a member of the Pioneer Class[ii] at The Naval College and HMAS Toowoomba 1 was Paul’s third command (following Tasmania and Success). Clearly Commodore John Collins and The Naval Board held Paul in high regard. So, in my opinion all that was required was for me to obtain copies of Toowoomba’s Reports of Proceedings from commissioning date in October 1941 to March 1942, seek out the Naval Board paperwork on the incident, the notes by Commodore Collins immediately before and after his decisions on the incident and access Paul Hirst’s personal reports and then write the story. ‘Wrong’. Despite considerable help from many people (most notably Vice Admiral Peter Jones) many cupboards were bare. However, sufficient veteran’s recollections are recorded to allow us the essentials of the story.
So I chose to go back to the early part of the 20th Century, research the history behind The Royal Australian Naval College and its Pioneer Class and build the story from that point.
The Royal Australian Navy and its Naval College
By the middle of the first decade of the 20th Century Vice Admiral Sir William Rooke Creswell, KCMG, KBE (‘The Father Of The Royal Australian Navy) along with Rear Admiral Frederick Tickell MID CMG RN and two very supportive Prime Ministers, Alfred Deakin and Andrew Fisher, had begun a concerted push to have our Navy (more a Colonial Force at the time) breakaway from The Admiralty. By late 1905 the Australian Commonwealth Naval Board was constituted in Melbourne, and it was clear that ‘The Royal Australian Navy’ (RAN) was close at hand.[iii]
|VICE ADMIRAL WILLAM ROOKE CRESWELL, KCMG, KBE, RAN (Chief of Staff, RAN)||REAR ADMIRAL FREDERICK TICKEL CMG RAN (AS A CAPTAIN RAN) Australian War Memorial|
|Prime Minister of Australia Andrew Fisher, By T. Humphrey & Co, NLA image||Prime Minister of Australia Alfred Deakin, NLA image|
By 1911 many of Creswell’s capital initiatives for the RAN had been agreed and the Australian Government had also signed off on a major recruitment scheme for Australian Naval Officers, specifically:
An Australian Naval College (to be named HMAS Creswell on commissioning in January 1958) would be established at Jervis Bay by 1915. In the interim, young boys from all Australian states, and whose 13th birthday fell in the calendar year 1 January 1913 to 31 December 1913, would be invited to sit an exemplar exam in 1912 for entry to the Temporary Australian Naval College at Geelong in Victoria in 1913. Twenty eight Officer Cadets would be chosen to undergo a rigorous four year education, leadership, sporting and management program taking them to University entrance equivalent. On completion the successful graduates would join the Royal Australian Naval Officer Ranks as Midshipmen.[iv]
Creswell also made it clear to the Australian Government that he expected significant numbers of RN officers (including several of Flag Rank) would be required to fill positions in Australia’s naval command structure for the foreseeable future; probably until the early 1930s. He went further:
‘this fact does not worry me one iota as I am confident the Naval College structure agreed by the Australian Government, with its fine Executive, Educational, Engineering and Electrical training staff, would soon begin commissioning superb Australian Naval Officers’.[v]
Vice Admiral Peter Jones AO DSC RAN (Ret’d) in his book Australia’s Argonauts expresses best the sentiment of the time:
“For the nation, the calling for the first intake of Australia’s naval college was an important step in forging its own Navy. Yet, for twenty eight 13-year-old boys their decision would forever change their lives. Their careers would decisively shape the course of the Royal Australian Navy”.[vi]
Members of the Pioneer Class[vii] 
|Otto Edmund Albert;
George William Thomas Armitage;
Joseph Burnett (later KIA when Commanding Officer [Captain RAN], HMAS Sydney);
Norman Keith Calder;
John Augustine Collins (later Vice Admiral Sir John, KBE CB, Chief of Naval Staff 1948-1955);
Alfred Denis Conder;
Ernest Semple ‘Dick’ Cunningham (lost in HM K17 in 1917);
James Claude Durie Esdaile (the last surviving member of The Pioneer Class);
Harold Bruce (Fearless Frank) Farncomb (later Rear Admiral – CB, DSO, MVO, MID (3) Navy Cross [US] and Commander of the Legion of Merit [US]);
Eric Augustus Feldt (later OBE and Commander RAN – our greatest Coastwatcher);
Frank Edmond Getting (later Captain RAN – KIA 1942 when in Command HMAS Canberra);
|Lloyd Falconer Gilling;
Paul Hugill Hirst (later Commander – 3 Commands – Tasmania, Success and Toowoomba);
Elmer Benjamin Howells;
Peyton James Kimlin;
Frank Lockwood Larkins;
John Valentine Stuart ‘Jack’ Lecky;
Rupert Basil Michel Long;
Hugh Alexander MacKenzie DSC;
Jack Bolton Newman;
Edwin Scott Nurse;
Win Locker Reilly;
Cyril Arthur Roy Sadlier;
Henry ‘Harry’ Arthur Showers (later Rear Admiral, CBE);
Horace John Harold Thompson;
Harry Bertram Vallentine;
Adrian Joseph Beachleigh Watts;
Llewellyn Leigh Watkins.
Captain Bertram Chambers RAN was the initial Master at the College and to anyone interested he would say:
– ‘these young boys were selected on their perceived ability alone; social standing was paid no mind. I guarantee that by the passing of six months it will be impossible to tell the difference between the Cadet who knew the meaning of ‘a silver spoon’ and the Cadet who could handle a stump jump plough’.[viii]
Several of the class proved notable talents and will be well known to many of us: Vice Admiral Sir John Collins, Rear Admiral Farncomb, Rear Admiral Showers, Captain Burnett and Commander Feldt. Commander Paul Hirst proved to be a first-class naval officer and commanding officer, however he will not be as well-known as those named above.
Boys to Men
The selection process sought to ensure that only the fittest and the physically strong formed the 1913 Entry.
Sadly though, several originals lost their life while serving their initial engagement 1913-1930 and three Cadet Midshipmen were discharged before graduation returning to civil life and uncertain futures. The first to give his life was Otto Albert through meningitis in May 1914. Dick Cunningham, along with 47 other crew members in the RN submarine K17 were KIA following a collision in what was to become known as the Battle of May Island on 31 January 1918; and after the war ended, Frank Larkins accidentally lost his life when swept overboard from the casing of the RAN submarine J2 on the night of 19/20 June 1919 while transiting past Sumatra on his return to Australia.
World War 1 ends
Several of The Pioneer Class saw service during WWI, but by 1920 their lives had returned to a form of normality. A Return of Service obligation tied them to the RAN until 1930 and by then the seafarers blood flowed in the veins of quite a few, many going on to give absolutely outstanding Naval service until retirement; most notable being Vice Admiral Sir John Collins and Rear Admiral Harold Farncomb. The honour and legacy of those two men was settled for all time when the Australian Government gave the names Collins and Farncomb to two of our Collins Class Submarines.
Vice Admiral Collins was not only a name to be remembered by the Australian Government and the RAN; the people of Sydney (maybe even wider Australia) silently offered their thanks to him at his funeral. One woman was heard praising him in this way, ‘You have to understand what John Collins meant to us. When we were losing everywhere in the war he gave us our finest victory. He gave us hope’.[ix]
Paul Hirst proved also to be an outstanding naval officer. During the 1920s he was recognised as such on two occasions by The Naval Board, when given command of HMAS Tasmania and later HMAS Success. The following was written of Paul Hirst during his period In Command of HMAS Success.
“Paul Hirst is a capable, keen and zealous Commanding Officer of HMAS Success”. RAN.[x]
During that decade Paul was also appointed as The First Lieutenant at HMAS Cerberus a tough assignment for any Naval Officer
In 1931, with the world at peace, Paul decided to resign his commission and return to the family home in Carrick, Tasmania. When War raised its ugly head again late in the 1930s, he offered to re-join in July 1939 as a member of the Emergency List and was accepted with the rank of Lieutenant Commander. Following service at Cerberus, then Warrego and Brisbane, Paul was appointed to commission HMAS Toowoomba in October 1941. This appointment being further recognition of the esteem in which he was held by his superiors.
Toowoomba at War 1941/1942
Soon after her commissioning late 1941, Toowoomba entered operational service. She was based in Sydney initially, tasked with convoy escort duties along the east coast of Australia until January 1942, when she was ordered to Batavia. Toowoomba was in constant action over the next two months and on 14 February was one of the last ships to enter Singapore Harbour before the Island was captured by the Japanese. Toowoomba’s sailing orders for each of her assignments in 1942 were issued under the hand of Commodore Collins RAN.
Following the outbreak of war with Japan, Captain John Collins was appointed Commodore Commanding China Force, based in Batavia, Dutch East Indies. HMAS Toowoomba under the command of Paul Hirst was stationed in the Dutch East India area early 1942, so throughout that period, Commodore Collins was Paul’s senior officer and as such his reporting officer
During what must have been a quite insane period in the Dutch East Indies early in 1942, Toowoomba was ‘dive bombed’ many times, surviving, it seems, only by the magnificent seamanship of her Captain. Toowoomba’s crew paid tribute to Paul with Signalman Fraser remembering Paul as a ‘Bonzer bloke and a terrific skipper’.[xi]
Toowoomba’s assignments in the Tanjong Priok and Tjilatjap areas kept her extremely busy and Tjilatjap became a regular stop off for refuelling. Hirst decided it would be prudent always to track close inshore when escorting convoys and when leading his corvettes.
Early 1942 the RAN decided that as Collins and his staff could not be well protected in Batavia, the office was to be moved to Fremantle,
Early on the morning of 2 March Collins, stationed at the time at Tjilatjap was doing his utmost to find shipboard accommodation for as many as possible in the transfer of his quarters and staff to Fremantle to take up the position as Commodore Commanding Fremantle and Senior Naval Officer, Western Australia
To his delight, over the horizon came Paul Hirst in Toowoomba and the other corvettes he was leading. Collins would have found them a god-send; as they made possible the evacuation of all personnel.
Soon after that evacuation, Toowoomba was ordered back to Fremantle and then commenced routine patrols off the Western Australian Coast. During her last patrol, she encountered heavy seas and suffered major damage to her upper deck structures and sonar and was forced to return to Fremantle. Shortly before arrival, a signal was received in Toowoomba informing Paul that he was to be promoted Commander and that he was to take four corvettes, including Toowoomba to join the British Eastern Fleet. The whole crew were delighted in the announcement.
Damaged Toowoomba arrived in Fremantle on Saturday 19th July 1942.
The Fremantle Meeting
Paul’s naval career ended effectively one week after Toowoomba’s return to Fremantle on Saturday 19 July 1942.
On arrival in Fremantle, I think it fair to assume that Commodore John Collins inspected the damage to Toowoomba[xii] and that Paul paid a visit to Senior Officer Western Australia Commodore Collins to further explain the structural damages to Toowoomba and to seek time to affect the required repairs. There are no written records extant of either Paul’s visit to John Collins or John Collin’s visit to Toowoomba. The Naval Board were in Melbourne and would not have visited the ship.
I do not say that Collins suggested to Hirst, ‘resign’, as there is no corroborating evidence such an exchange occurred. What we do know is that Hirst told his ship’s company he had resigned.
What I am suggesting is that there may well be several other parts to this section of the story. In particular I have little doubt that Commodore Collins took in Paul’s explanation of the repairs considered essential before Toowoomba could return to War Time duty anywhere, I think it is fair to assume, Commodore Collins, at this time, was (nearly) out on his feet following those hectic days in Singapore, Tanjong Priok and Tjilatjap when all that he was concerned about was the safety of his staff and the prosecution of Australia’s wartime commitments in the region.
There could be only one winner in the apparent disagreement between Paul and Commodore Collins over Toowoomba’s seaworthiness.
Vice Admiral Jones makes a most salient point. “The date was 1942, however Paul’s principled stand then resonates today where there is much greater appreciation on ensuring the material condition of ships ‘ship safe’ regime”.[xiii] So I remain bemused that Collins and the Naval Board (apparently) dismissed Hirst’s caution out of hand.
Despite Collins having been closely associated with Hirst’s promotion to Commander and Hirst’s exemplary wartime record in the Dutch East Indies in 1942, Paul would no doubt have given serious consideration to all Collins had to say before he (Hirst) decided ‘Resignation it must be’.
Both men were true gentlemen, outstanding Naval Officers and leaders (particularly in the case of Commodore Collins) and each would have known what the outcome of their disagreement had to be. First and foremost though was that Australia’s Naval Activities in the Dutch East Indies and also in Australian waters would take precedence over personal friendships. Paul would have understood this clearly.
Paul then returned to Toowoomba keeping much to himself until the following day. At an appropriate time, he assembled the ship’s company on Fremantle wharf, advised them of his meeting with The Senior Officer Western Australia, Commodore Collins, and told the crew (words to the effect) – “I’ve decided to resign my Commission. I will be returning to my family in Tasmania. You have been an amazing crew. I wish you well for the future”.[xiv] On Paul’s departure a period of considerable gloom settled over Toowoomba.
Repairs to Toowoomba were not affected until November 1942. Yes, a new Commanding Officer was appointed shortly after Hirst’s resignation, but the original crew remained aboard until Toowoomba arrived in Adelaide for docking and repair.
The obvious question as far as I am concerned: ‘Why did Paul Hirst feel compelled to resign IF the repairs to Toowoomba were essential and arranged to be completed in Adelaide soon after his resignation’?
On arrival Adelaide, Toowoomba was docked for repairs and her original crew (including all officers) were reassigned (posting notes and appointments) far and wide within the RAN.
Clearly, the Naval Board wanted a lid put on the whole incident. On 22 November 1942 Toowoomba was assigned to duty to the British Eastern Fleet involved in escort and patrol duties across the Indian Ocean reaching as far west as the Persian Gulf operating with the fleet until returning to Fremantle on 3 December 1944 for refit. That refit was completed in March 1945, and Toowoomba joined the British Pacific Fleet, assigned to escort and patrol duties between Australia and New Guinea until the end of hostilities.
Following the end of World War II, Toowoomba spent time in Hong Kong, performing minesweeping and hydrological survey duties; returning to Australia in December 1945. The corvette earned two battle honours for her wartime service, “Pacific 1942” and “Indian Ocean 1942–44”.
Following his resignation, Paul returned to his beloved Tasmania. However, he was not done with service in our Armed Forces. In September 1945 he volunteered for duty as a Captain with the Australian Army and was appointed Master of Craft with the Army’s water transport corps. Paul’s appointment in the Army was terminated (at his request) in January 1947. He then returned to farming in Tasmania. His wife Evelyn passed away in 1963 and Paul was laid to rest in Carrick Church Cemetery, Tasmania, in 1973.
Shipmates attending Paul’s funeral in 1973 at Low Head, Tasmania, recalled: ‘Digger had an uncanny ability to avoid the bombs from Japanese aircraft’. Norm Smith, another shipmate, wrote, Paul Hirst ‘had brought the ship through several close encounters with the enemy of the time so I and 80 or so others revere his memory in perpetuity’.[xv] Vale
HMAS Toowoomba During Pre-Commissioning Trials 1941
|Namesake:||City of Toowoomba, Queensland
|Builder:||Walkers Limited in Maryborough, Queensland
|Laid down:||6 August 1940
|Launched:||26 March 1941
|Commissioned:||9 October 1941
|HMAS Toowoomba at Fremantle on return from Active Duty in Singapore and Dutch East Indies
|Decommissioned:||5 July 1946
|Honours and awards:||Battle honours:
• Pacific 1942
• Indian Ocean 1942–44
|Fate:||Transferred to Royal Netherlands Navy|
Vice Admiral Peter Jones AO DSC RAN (Ret’d); Mr John Perryman Sea Power Centre, Canberra ACT; National Archives of Australia; Signalman Donald Fraser and his family; The Australian War Memorial; The Hirst Family (Tasmania and Toowoomba QLD); Historical Societies of Hobart Tasmania and Carrick Tasmania; Dr Ian Pfennigwerth [Captain RAN Ret’d] and The Royal Australian Navy.
[i] Undated letter from Able Seaman Donald Fraser – commissioning signalman HMAS Toowoomba.
[ii] Australia’s Argonauts, Vice Admiral Peter Jones AO DSC RAN (Ret’d), Echo Books, West Geelong 2016. Pp428.
[iii] Vice Admiral Sir William Rooke Creswell RAN.
[iv] Royal Australian Navy papers 1911.
[v] Vice Admiral Sir William Rooke Creswell RAN.
[vi] Australia’s Argonauts, Vice Admiral Peter Jones AO DSC RAN (Ret’d), Echo Books, West Geeelong 2016. Pp. 17.
[vii] Australia’s Argonauts, Vice Admiral Peter Jones AO DSC RAN (Ret’d), Echo Books, West Geeelong 2016. Preface.
[viii] Australia’s Argonauts, Vice Admiral Peter Jones AO DSC RAN (Ret’d), Echo Books, West Geeelong 2016. Pp19
[ix] Royal Australian Navy papers 1911.
[x] Australia’s Argonauts, Vice Admiral Peter Jones AO DSC RAN (Ret’d), Echo Books, West Geeelong 2016. Pp. 640.
[xi] Paul Hirst’s personal papers.
[xii] Australia’s Argonauts, Vice Admiral Peter Jones AO DSC RAN (Ret’d), Echo Books, West Geeelong 2016. Pp. 428.
[xiii] Personal communication Vice Admiral Peter Jones AO DSC RAN (Ret’d).
[xiv] Signalman Fraser interview by Vice Admiral Peter Jones AO DSC RAN (Ret’d) for Australia’s Argonauts).
[xv] Australia’s Argonauts, Vice Admiral Peter Jones AO DSC RAN (Ret’d), Echo Books, West Geeelong 2016. Pp. 636.
By John McGrath
This article is a complement to that on officers’ swords which appeared in the March 2018 issue of the Naval Historical Review. Like that article, it does not pretend to give an exhaustive coverage of the subject but to offer an introduction to the types of cutlasses that have been used. Perhaps it is as well to dispel some popular misconceptions over the origin of the name. You may hear that it comes from ‘cut lash’ or ‘cut lace’ but it is far simpler. It is related to those familiar words ‘cutler’ and ‘cutlery’ and derives from the Latin ‘cultellus’ meaning knife.
One aspect of the cutlassthat is often overlooked is its dual function; not only was it a weapon but it also served as a damage control tool useful for cutting away cordage, etc. This accounts for the substantial weight of cutlasses. In this respect it complemented the naval tomahawk or boarding axe with its primary role of damage control and its secondary purpose as a useful weapon.
In the early years of the eighteenth century, officers are often illustrated with one or other of two types of swords. Now distinguished by collectors as hangers and hunting swords, the only real difference was that the former had curved blades and in the latter they were straight, Fig. 1. Some collectors theorise that the cutlass derived from the hanger and the dirk from the hunting sword but there is little evidence in support of that theory and quite a bit to refute it. As the century progressed, a cutlass with either a straight or a curved blade and a figure-of-eight (double-disc) guard developed. Early specimens had handles made from antler but this would have been expensive and later this was replaced by a simple iron tube, Fig. 2. Although cheap, this would have afforded a very poor grip making it difficult to direct the point and edge of the weapon accurately. The quality of these swords, produced by many different suppliers without quality assurance supervision was very variable, with the worst being very poor indeed.
The 1804 Pattern Cutlass
This state of affairs could not be allowed to continue so, in 1804, the first official pattern cutlass was introduced. This had a straight, flat blade that was about 28¼ in (730 mm) long; it retained the figure-of-eight guard with a vestigial quillon but the unsatisfactory cylindrical grip was replaced with one of cast iron, shaped to the hand and provided with 17 circumferential and 6 longitudinal groves, Fig. 3.
The blade was engraved with the Royal Cypher; a crown above the letters GR. It was carried in a brown leather scabbard with a frog hook but no top locket, and a brass chape. There was no pommel; the guard being riveted in place on the grip by peening over the tang of the blade. In common with all official patterns it was provided with a slot in the guard for a sword knot. This is curious as the RN never issued a sword knot with its cutlasses. This slot may reflect the fact that naval weapons were supplied by Army, until 1854 by the Board of Ordnance and thereafter by the War Office. The Army issued sword knots to cavalry troopers. Although sometimes referred to as the Trafalgar Pattern, it is uncertain how many would have been on board ships at that action and many were produced under later contracts.
The 1845 Pattern
The end of the wars with France and the USA and the subsequent reduction in the size of the RN meant that there was no imperative to seek a better weapon. Despite this, experimental designs continued to be evaluated and in 1842 the RN accepted a new pattern. A major fire at the Tower of London delayed its introduction and bulk supplies seem to have become available around 1845. This is why this date has been chosen rather than the more usual 1842; it is all rather irrelevant except to anoraks. The new sword, Fig. 4, differed in many respects from its predecessor.
This new pattern had the longest blade of all the uniform cutlasses, 29½ in (750 mm), was slightly curved with a flat back and an acute spear point well suited to thrusting. It is the first cutlass to reflect trends in cavalry swords and this influence on the design of cutlasses was to remain right up to the final pattern. The bowl guard, which lacked any form of quillon, tapered towards the pommel close to which there was a slot for a sword knot. This weak area of the guard was reinforced by being turned downwards, away from the grip. The grip remained cast iron but only had 12 circumferential grooves. A small pommel, technically described as a burr, was fitted.
The Enfield cutlass/sword bayonet, Pattern 1859
In the years following the 1845 Pattern, the RN made the transition from muzzle loading smooth bore muskets to breech loading rifles. This started with the muzzle loading Enfield rifle of 1859 which was converted to breech loading using the Snider mechanism in 1867. The concept of a bayonet, which could also serve as a cutlass, gained traction. The Enfield cutlass/sword bayonet of 1859, Fig. 5.
This weapon had a flat, slightly curved blade which was 27 in (686 mm) long, 1½ in (38 mm) wide at the shoulder and terminated in a double edged spear point. The hilt assembly consisted of a sheet steel guard with a slot for a sword knot close to the pommel where it is reinforced by folding outwards. Inside the guard there is a muzzle ring/quillon with an internal diameter of 13/16 in (21 mm). On the opposite side is a reinforcing plate. A mortise to attach this weapon to the rifle runs the length of the grip. The pommel has a catch operated by a leaf spring on the right hand side and a stud on the other. The tang is riveted over a small burr. There are two types of grip. The earlier, sealed on 18 April 1859, is leather covered wood with six circumferential grooves. This grip must have been too slippery because on 1 May it was replaced by a knurled leather grip. The scabbard was black leather and fitted with a top locket carrying a frog hook, and a chape; both these fittings were made of steel.
The Martini-Henry cutlass/sword bayonet, Pattern 1871
Introduction of the Martini-Henry rifle started in 1869 and two years later came its version of the cutlass/sword bayonet, Fig 6. This new weapon had a straight blade, 25½ in (650 mm) long and 1¼ in (32 mm) wide at the shoulder. The muzzle ring had an internal diameter of 0.71 in (18 mm). Many of these were provided by straightening and shortening the 1859 Pattern and bushing the muzzle ring. The new blade profile could not be produced directly by grinding down the blades of earlier weapons; hot forging was required. Following this, an expensive quenching and tempering heat treatment was needed to restore the properties. Contractors avoided this and supplied blades which had not been heat treated with the result that they bent when used in anger. This was one of a number of such ‘sword scandals’ during the nineteenth century which affected both the cavalry and the RN. The specimen illustrated is one such, bearing ‘S’ stamps for manufacture at Solingen and ‘E’ stamps dating from its conversion at Enfield in 1878. It is not stamped ‘R’ and therefore was not heat treated after conversion. Like its predecessor, the scabbard was black leather with two steel mounts.
The 1887 Pattern
Meanwhile, many modified versions of the 1845 Pattern were tested, usually in small batches and with blades which could not be formed from the original without hot forging. These variations are too numerous and too badly documented to cover in detail but one is described later. In 1887, a blade was finally designed which could be produced from the 1845 Pattern by grinding alone. The resulting weapon had a blade that was 26½ in (680 mm) long and 17/16 in (37 mm) wide at the shoulder. It is compared with the earlier pattern in Fig. 7.
Pressure from multiple sources forced the authorities to act and introduce proper tests for edged weapons taken into Government service. This development was reported in The Engineerof 8 March 1889. This coincided with the appearance of a completely new pattern of cutlass.
The 1889 Pattern.
This represented a step change in design and closely mirrored developments in the swords of cavalry troopers that had started in 1882. The new cutlass, Fig. 8, was a complete break from earlier designs. It had a straight, flat blade which was 28 in (711 mm) long and 13/16 in (30 mm) wide at the shoulder. It had a double edged spear point. The sheet steel guard was innovative with an everted rim to the bowl. As well as providing added strength to the guard, it would have acted as a stop rib, a common feature in the design of armour that was intended to catch the point of a weapon glancing off a curved surface and guide it harmlessly away. The cast iron grip looks to be rather too cylindrical in cross section to afford a really secure grip. This sword was carried in a black leather scabbard with two steel mounts, the locket being fitted with a stud for use with a belt frog.
The 1900 Pattern
Yet another pattern of cutlass was introduced in 1900, Fig. 9. This differed from its predecessor because a shallow fuller ran along each face of the blade for about one third of its length. The bowl guard from the 1889 Pattern was retained but the grip was different. Perhaps the smooth grip had generatedcriticismandit was replacedbya much more rectangular cross section faced with black leather cheeks. An innovation was the small concave insert between the heel of the grip and the guard adjacent to the pommel. This finger rest which was intended to cushion the little finger of the sword hand was copied from the 1890 Pattern sword for cavalry troopers. The scabbard was the same as for the previous pattern.
This was to be the last pattern of cutlass in the RN. The order withdrawing the cutlass from service was issued on 22 October 1936.
May and Annis state that these last two patterns were issued with bright steel guards. However, many examples of both these patterns are to be found with blackened mounts. ‘Shiny cutlery’ was certainly being used for ceremonial purposes as late as the start of the 21st century, so it is possible that both blackened and bright mounts were issued or that cutlasses were blackened on board to reduce the amount of cleaning necessary.
Some other cutlasses
A few other cutlasses that are outside the direct line of evolution of the naval weapon are worth mentioning. Three of these will be examined here.
The ex-Army saw-backed cutlass
Towards the end of the nineteenth century some of the stocks of the Army’s 1856 Pattern saw-backed pioneer swords were taken into naval service, see Fig. 10.
It had a blade which was 22½ in (571 mm) long by 1⅜ in (35 mm) wide at the shoulder. The back of the blade had a double saw edge commencing ¾ in (20 mm) from the guard and terminating 7¼ in (184mm) from the point. The blade was two edged for the final 6¾ in (172 mm) and ended in a spear point. The all brass hilt had a stirrup hilt with a quillon and an oval slot for a sword knot close to the pommel. The grip consisted of a pair of brass scales, each with 12 transverse grooves. The black leather scabbard had two brass mounts, the top locket being fitted with a frog stud.
Examples of this weapon with Army markings are quite common but those taken into naval service and marked to indicate this transition are scarcer. Fig. 11 illustrates the naval ownership mark, N, while there is another example (not shown) with the date on which it was transferred to the RN, 4’ 92, for April 1892.
According to May and Annis (see Bibliography), some of these swords were transferred to the Navy because in the organisation of Naval Brigades each rifle company had attached to it a pioneer armed with this weapon. They mention a report of one being seen in use ashore during the Boxer Campaign of 1900. Withdrawn from Army use in 1903, this sword remained in naval use for a few more years.
The Coastguard cutlass
Following the passing of the Coastguard Act of 1856, that organisation came under Admiralty control. It remained so until after WWI when was civilianised. It was, again, placed under the Admiralty during WWII. Its uniforms and weapons usually closely followed RN patterns but there were exceptions, one of which was a cutlass, Fig. 12.
It had a curved blade 25 in (635 mm) long measured in a straight line from the shoulder to the point of the back edge which curved by 1⅜ in (35 mm) from the straight. It was 17/16in (36 mm) wide at the shoulder and terminated in a very acute point. A single, narrow fuller ran along each side of the blade from the shoulder to within 7½ in (190 mm) of the point. The brass guard was a stirrup hilt with a quillon with additional protection afforded to the hand by a loop on the outer side. The cast iron grip was shaped to fit the hand and had 19 grooves cast into its surface. (The countersunk hole was probably made to mount the sword in a wall display). The sword was carried in a brown leather scabbard which had a brass frog hook but no top locket and a brass chape.
A combination of scientific curiosity and the profit motive meant that efforts were always being made to design better weapons and then persuade the authorities to accept them. From time-to-time examples of these experimental weapons turn up. The specimen illustrated, Fig. 13, is one such, combining features of the 1845 Pattern with novel elements such as an ergonomic grip and a bowl guard where the weak point associated with the redundant slot for the sword knot has been removed.
The blade for this sword was made by F&W Deakin and it carries no Government markings suggesting that this was a private venture by Francis S. Deakin, who traded in Birmingham from 1840–1850, and an unrecorded member of the same family. These dates would fit the blade, bowl guard and burr that have been used. A very similar weapon but with a cast iron grip is illustrated by Comfort, EW171 (see Bibliography).
What does the dictionary say?
The most authoritative definition might well be that in the Oxford English Dictionary:
A short sword with a flat wide slightly curved blade, adapted more for cutting than for thrusting; now esp.the sword with which sailors are armed.
This probably agrees with the general public’s ideas about this weapon but how accurate are the descriptors: short, flat, slightly curved, and adapted more for cutting? In fairness, it does state that this entry, first published in 1893, has not yet been fully updated.
One feature common to all the uniform cutlasses of the Royal Navy seems to have been overlooked. All the blades were single edged, with the back of the blade being flat. Ideally, any definition would mention this design feature. Although the term cutlass is correctly applied to the swords that were worn by members of the customs and police services, it is accepted that this is a specialised use of the term and that, nowadays, it is generally reserved for the swords of naval ratings.
Retaining the structure of the current entry, it is suggested that a more accurate definition would be:
A short sword with a wide, single-edged, flat-backed blade that may be either straight or slightly curved, flat or grooved; now esp. the sword with which sailors are armed.
1.A Manual of Gunnery for Her Majesty’s Fleet, London, Printed for Her Majesty’s Stationery Office, by Harrison and Sons, St. Martin’s Lane, 1873.
- Comfort, Sim, Naval Swords & Dirks, London: Sim Comfort Associates, 2008.
- Gilkerson, William, Boarders Away with Steel – Edged Weapons & Polearms, Lincoln, Rhode Island: Andrew Mowbray, 1991.
- Instruction for the Exercise of Small Arms and Field Pieces, etc, for the use of Her Majesty’s Ships,London, Harrison and Sons, 1859. A modern facsimile version is available: Uckfield, The Naval & Military Press Ltd, n.d..
- May, W.E., Commander RN and Annis P.G.W., Swords for Sea Service,London: Her Majesty’s Stationery Office, 1970.
- May, WE, and Kennard, AN, Naval Swords and Firearms, London: HM Stationery Office, 1962.
- McGrath, John and Barton, Mark, British Naval Swords & Swordsmanship, Barnsley, Seaforth Publications, 2013.
- Oxford English Dictionary, on-line version.
- Verity, Liza, Naval Weapons,London: National Maritime Museum, 1992.
- Wolfe, Sarah C, Naval Edged Weapons, London: Chatham Publishing and Pennsylvania: Stackpole Books, 2005*-
By Dr J. K. Haken
The Women’s Emergency Signalling Corps (WESC) was formed by Mrs. Florence Violet McKenzie in March 1939 at 9 Clarence Street, Sydney, months before WWII was declared. They later moved to bigger premises in an old wool store at 10 Clarence Street. Fees were not charged but the trainees contributed a shilling a week towards the rent.
Mrs. McKenzie (28 September 1890 – 23 May 1982) was an electrical engineer who for more than a decade, from 1921 until about 1934, had operated a wireless sales and repair shop in the Royal Arcade, Sydney assisted from 1925 by her husband, also an electrical engineer. She was the first woman in Australia to obtain an Amateur Radio Operator’s Licence, an ardent advocate for women and Director of the Women’s Electrical Association.
Mrs. McKenzie had great difficulty in convincing the authorities to accept WESC graduates, although the need was obvious. For instance, post offices employed hundreds of female telegraphers to operate Morse Code units. Eventually, after prolonged discussion, the Royal Australian Navy accepted women telegraphers and on 28 April 1941 Mrs. McKenzie accompanied 14 women (12 telegraphers and 2 domestic helpers) to the RAN Wireless Telegraph Station at Canberra where they became civilian employees. These were shortly joined by 9 others and by August the amazing figure of 1000 female telegraphers were in the workplace.
The RAN Wireless Telegraph Station Canberra commenced operations on 20 April 1939. It comprised the Belconnen Transmitting Station and the Harman Receiving Station. It was not until 01 July 1943 that HMAS Harman became a commissioned establishment.
Female trainees were received from the RAN, Royal Indian Navy, RAAF and the Police. In appreciation, in May 1941 the RAAF made Mrs. McKenzie an Honorary Flight Officer in the Women’s Auxiliary Air Force.
The uniform of the WESC was designed by Mrs. McKenzie and consisted of a forest green jacket,skirt and cap, brown leather belt, brown flannel tie, brown gloves, brown shoes, light stockings and a white shirt or blouse with a collar. The WESC women paid approximately £2/5/0 ($5.00) for their winter uniform and most made their own summer uniform for around five shillings (50c).
A Women’s Naval Service finally eventuated and the Women’s Royal Australian Naval Service (WRANS) was formed on 24 July 1942. The members of the WESC employed by the RAN became the first enlistees of the WRANS. The names and details of these employees are shown below. It took many months to design and manufacture a female naval uniform, and during 1942 the forest green uniform of the WESC continued to be worn.
While the WRANS was disbanded in 1948 after WWII and subsequently re-formed on 1 January 1951, the WESC continued operation in the post war years. At the end of the war, the WESC School had trained twelve thousand persons as Morse Code Operatives.
On 8 June 1950, Mrs. McKenzie was created an Officer of the Order of the British Empire for her service to WESC.
In post war years, by 1952 the School had trained 2450 civil airline employees and 1500 merchant navy seamen. The Department of CivilAviationprovidedtheaircraftradio
equipment. The WESC School was discontinued in 1954 after fifteen years of service, during which many thousands of telegraphers were trained.
WESC Graduates employed at Harman, who became the first members of the WRANS.
|Proven, Frances||Enlisted||WR 1|
|Furley, Joan||“||WR 2|
|Ross, Pat||“||WR 3|
|Owen, Denise||“||WR 4|
|Stevens, Marion||“||WR 5|
|McLeod, June||“||WR 6|
|Wright, Daphne||“||WR 7|
|Prain, Jess||“||WR 8|
|Cade, Joan||“||WR 9|
|Hodges, Joan||“||WR 10|
|Thompson, Billie||“||WR 11|
|Alley, Judy||“||WR 12|
|Drew, Shirley||“||WR 13|
|Colless, Elsie||*||WR 14|
*Did not enlist, but took her discharge