- Hording, Chief Yeoman Sal
- History - general
- RAN Ships
- None noted.
- March 1984 edition of the Naval Historical Review (all rights reserved)
IN THE ROYAL NAVY at the turn of the century playing cards were not permitted in naval ships and establishments. However, when Winston Churchill became First Sea Lord the rule was rescinded and cards were issued to the lower deck. They were held by the Master at Arms and drawn under signature (or by the sailor’s sign if he could not write) by off duty seamen and returned after use.
Seamen, old and young (their ages often ranged from boys to men of 50) were all messed together.
Some of the older men were illiterate and as there were no amenities provided, boredom was rife. This led to many sadistic games aimed at causing pain to the loser. In the period seamen were issued with thick leather belts which had heavy brass buckles. One game played in the messes was to kneel in a circle and to recite in rotation a verse from a poem. If a seaman made a mistake or his memory failed him he was required to place his clenched fist on the deck and the other players hit it with the buckles of their belts.
Another game was called ‘Sell the Pig’. The loser turned his buttocks inwards and received a savage blow from the other players. There was no option – if a game was called all members of the mess were required to participate.
In this period in the Royal Navy No. 6 rig was worn on Fridays irrespective of the weather. On one particular Friday the First Sea Lord was aboard a cruiser in which the author was serving and asked why, when everyone was blue with cold, the seamen were in fair weather gear. Winston Churchill, however, did not look cold. The author replied that he had his No. 6’s made a size too large so that they could be worn over his thick blue serge suit.
Sailors had no pockets in their uniforms at this period. It was considered unseamanlike to have bulging pockets so everything carried on the person was wrapped in a large handkerchief and carried in the crown of the old straw hat. Carried in this manner was pipe, leaf tobacco and money, quite a load pressing down on one’s crown.
Regulations stated emphatically that the brims of the old sennet hats should be worn turned down, however, once ashore Jack-me- hearty wore his brim up to make him look smarter and catch the girls’ eyes.
It was a hard life but one with its compensations – ask any old sailor.