Well it's 2011 now, well into the 21st century, but also into a new navy, with new titles and branches. Today, the old bunting tossers job is done by the Seaman Branch and the sparkers job by the CIS Branch.
So all change and a sad farewell to the proud and trusted names.
But, how long had the term 'bunting tosser' been in use before its demise assuming that was in the year 2009?
Most, including myself, would have said approximately 225 years, back to the mid 1780's, and in the purest sense of the expression we would be right. Purest here, means that bunting was made from a worsted wool fabric and it was heavy material, especially when it was wet, and prone to soiling and discolouration. Like all woollen man made things, it was a 'slack weave' and easily stretched to shapes and sizes not intended or desirable - remember the woollen swimming trunks Granny made for you in the 40's?
Flags [and regalia] were in use in the 16th century [Spanish Armada for example in 1588] but the product used can hardly be compared with 19th century bunting, and anyway, such symbols of nationalism were the duty of young officers in particular of midshipmen, and not of the futuristic communications branch yet a couple of hundred years away!
The 'slack weave' and the associated problems of stretching, soiling and discolouring made the provision of bunting an expensive stores item and with a large navy, the problem was exacerbated. Something had to be done about providing an alternative to worsted wool bunting fabric which would be less expensive, and, as it were, would smarten-up the business of showing ones colours, and signalling ones intentions visually.
If one had joined the navy with me in 1953 and had chosen to become a signalman as I chose to become a telegraphist, that signalman would have know the inadequacies of 'bunting' as it applied to his endearing name of bunting tosser, tosser in those days being an acceptable word unlike today.
The handling of bunting was a cumbersome task and as everybody knows, woollen garments are more difficult to dry than say cotton or nylon, and damp or wet bunting could not be stowed in flag-lockers.
His dilemma was short lived however, because come 1956, at the time of the Suez War, the boffins had replaced bunting of the old style with bunting [wool] mixed with nylon which produced a tight weave, and in some cases, flags made wholly from nylon which was an ultra-tight weave but more expensive to produce. The tightness of the weave [or manufacturing process] ensured the tautness of the finished article stopping it from distorting in shape and from allowing dirt particles to gain access into the fibres which led to soiling and discolouring. The product was also much lighter, the colours more vibrant and an easy material to dry before stowing.
We could therefore say, but we won't, that our now erstwhile bunting tosser really dates from 1956 and as such, the non-purist answer as to how long his name 'flew from the yardarm' was only 53 years [1956-2009] and not the 225 years previously calculated. Only joking dear old bunts!
In 1967, under DCI[RN]1400/67, permission was given to wash White Ensign's and Union Flag's onboard ship, using either the ship's laundry or public laundries when service facilities are not available. Satisfactory results can be achieved providing that ample soap is used.
Now have a read of this file which amplifies the detail in this introduction and adds more buntings toy's to enjoy.
BUNTINGS THINGS OF 1955 ONWARDS.pdf