HMS Crystal Palace & elsewhere!

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Royal Naval Signal Schools are already well documented and it would be audacious of me to try and add further to what *Captain Barrie Kent Royal Navy*, in his book "SIGNAL !" has already published. I have that book in my library because I am part of that history and Captain Kent has been kind enough to mention my name top left of Plate VIII which faces page 101.  It is a wonderful book and I highly recommend it.  The publisher is Hyden House and the ISBN is 1 85623 025 2. This story was written in 2004.  Sad to say that Barrie Kent passed away on the 13th February 2007

In picking my words very carefully, Captain Kent's book is about the professional [or full time] navy, documenting Signal Schools from the late 19th century through to the happy days in what most of us considered to be our alma mater, namely Leydene and HMS Mercury. I say that because the navy had another side to it, a part time navy, who were every bit as professional as the Fleet and Service they served in, and sadly died for their country on the battlefields of WW1 fighting as soldiers.

Before I tell you about another RN SIGNAL SCHOOL, first I must give you a very brief history on the formation of the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve {RNVR} and the Royal Naval Division [{RND}.

This Force was raised in 1903, after ten years of hard work by a committee set-up by the Government of the day. The Naval Forces Act 1903, sanctioned the formation of a Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve and a Royal Marine Reserve. London started with a force of 800 men, and Clyde came next with 500.  These figures were quickly increased to 1000 in London, and Clyde, with its outlying companies, to nearly 1500 men. Sussex, Bristol and Mersey soon followed suit and raised 500 men each, and later, Tyneside started with men from the various works in the neighbourhood.

After many endeavours to get to sea, permission was at last granted, and members of the officers and men made use of the opportunities offered.  This eventually  took the form of a compulsory cruise for efficiency, and of course of drill which kept the RNVR busy all the year round.  Training on shore at Easter gave the officers and men a good insight into the mysteries of battalion drill, and what with competitions, summer and winter, the Force was always in good training.

When war broke out in 1914, the RNVR were mobilised at once, but as  the men of the RNR answered the "call to arms" so readily, the Naval Barracks could not hold the thousands of men who turned up. A Royal Naval Division {RND} was formed, comprising two Naval Brigades of four battalions each, and one Marine Brigade named after the depots.. {** SEE BELOW}   The Naval Brigades Battalions were named after well known admirals  - 1st Brigade Hawke Battalion, Benbow Battalion, Drake Battalion and Nelson Battalion - 2nd Brigade Anson Battalion, Hood Battalion, Collingwood Battalion and Howe Battalion. The Naval Battalions were formed of skeleton companies of RNVR ratings filled up with Royal Fleet Reserve and Royal Naval Reserve men who had not been drafted to the Fleet, but further details  [men] were required, and the RND recruiting stations were established all over the country. In the first week of October 1914 the camps at Walmer and Bettershanger were ordered to pack up and start out for Dunkirk, and two Brigades of RND and one of Marines were off by daybreak to the Front.  The Front meant Antwerp where many of the volunteer sailors [who saw Service before professional sailors did] were killed or captured by the Germans and taken as prisoners-of-war. As the Germans started to address the war more vigorously they subjugated the City of Antwerp and forced both naval brigades and one Belgian Division over the border into Holland, and Holland being neutral, interned them for the duration. I have prepared this PDF file from a book called 'The History Of The Great European War' VOL II pages 179 to 186, which covers the first actions of the RND: begin reading the first page of the PDF file at the start of the paragraph beginning " The bombardment which now commenced..." ANTWERP.pdf

 In 1914, the Navy took over the famous Crystal Palace site where men and boy's were trained to fight on land, although some of their numbers did end up afloat - oh, by the way, the "elsewhere" in the page title above, refers to where the RND actually fought in combat against the Germans and the Turks.  If you were to ask your search engine to find details of Crystal Palace, you might see this "3. H.M.S Crystal Palace: This timber structure and ship’s bell, originally sited on the lower terrace, became affectionately known as ‘HMS Crystal Palace’ when it was occupied by 125,000 men during the First World War. A tablet records its unveiling by the then Prince of Wales in 1931." However, there is more than a little confusion here.  Routinely, Crystal Palace was referred to, both spoken and written, as the RND Depôt Crystal Palace.  This [first picture] is the front cover of a Souvenir of the RND. Note that "Crystal Palace" is inside inverted commas.  In reality, it is probable that there was no such place as HMS Crystal Palace for it was a term of endearment only, as supported by the item marked with a figure 3 [5 lines above] and more specifically, by this [second picture]: in the latter case, only the first two sentences are relevant to my theme. I can only make a guess that there was once a proper ship called HMS Crystal Palace, but despite a thorough search of the period 1845 to 1915, I cannot find it. BUT, on the other hand, is the Editor saying that all NEW ENTRIES joined HMS Palace, and trained men/ships company of the RND were billeted in and drafted to/from a metaphoric ship they called HMS Crystal Palace?  This is further confused because on the internet there is a broker dealing in naval cap tallies, and HMS Crystal Palace is included in his catalogue.  Why can't it be straight forward like, for example, HMS Ganges was, where for all official reasons  HMS Ganges was an Establishment in Suffolk, sub divided locally into two Establishments, one called the 'Annexe' [first six weeks of training] and one called the 'Main' for everything else to do with boys' training?

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 The VAST MAJORITY of men who fought in WW1 were TERRITORIALS, VOLUNTEERS.  Hundreds of infantry and artillery Army regiments were raised, dressed in khaki and fought at the Front, but what is not as well known, sadly, is that many of those volunteers ended up wearing the uniform of the Royal Navy [the boys' in blue], who raised infantry and artillery battalions, and fought alongside the boys' in khaki in the trenches throughout the four long years of war. These were the men from the ROYAL NAVAL DIVISION [RND] and, remembering that "a picture is worth a thousand words", the following picture shows the Song of the RND whose words are all telling. Incidentally, many countries, including Germany used blue-jackets [sailors] for land fighting.


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 A Signal School was formed to train the RND.  This is the story told in the following four pictures.

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Note: on the bottom of the last picture, morse code has been added.  Assuming that the author intended the commas to be separation marks, the morse code says DEARR: was it I wonder just a random five letter group, or something more profound?

Now a change in approach.  What follows is in no way meant to be offensive, but for some time now I have been trying to express a 'thing I have' in a relevant and rational way.  For the first time, I have created an opportunity for myself which lends itself nicely to what follows. For two years now, or thereabouts, I have noticed that our sailors have become Americanized! By that I mean they seem to be wearing rather a lot of medals and just about every other WO appears to have an MBE on his chest:  indeed, it is the WO, and those at the HMS Ganges 100th Celebration in Ipswich this year as Parade Marshals in particular, to which I refer. Of course I am fully au fait with what is happening [and has happened recently] in the world today, but, for sailors, all those medals? I mention this at a time when the heroes of the Artic Convoys still do not have a medal, and theirs [if they get it] for an experience bordering on Armageddon. We have just witnessed in the earlier part of this year [2005] the farce over the pre 1954 Suez Canal Medal, and now a new crisis has arisen with the reluctance of the British Government to accept, on behalf of us, the kind offer from the Malaysian Government of the PJM to all those who served in Singapore, Malaya proper, the Malaya Peninsular, Borneo and other hot spots from the late 1950's until the mid 1960's, give or take!  And yet, our young sailors are awash with medals? I wonder how many of you know what medals the men from the RND were entitled to, and for them, read millions of soldiers too?  Before you even hazard a guess, think on, that many of them were involved, on and off, for four years on combatant duties and experienced such horrors that are inconceivable and unimaginable by any standard or in any time period or civilisation. If we hear correctly, [and remembering that I DO live in a glass-house] some of our young combatants today are invalided with severe battle-stress and that in its self is regrettable, and of course, unacceptable. However, by the RND standard, we wouldn't have any armed forces today because they would all be undergoing counselling and discharged with tax free medical pensions. So, back to the question of what, or how many medals, they were entitled to? The answer is quite disturbing, nay shocking, for in terms of medals, their sacrifices were rubbished by the Government.  What follows is relevant to those who fought the enemy on land, in close quarter combat, where tens of thousands could die in one morning for the gain of ten metres of ground, so it refers to sailors of the Royal Naval Division, and not necessarily to sailors of the Fleet. First some pictures.  The first is of the 1914 Star Obverse only, the second of the 1914/1915 Star Obverse only. The third is of the BWM [British War Medal] obverse and reverse and the last is the Victory Medal obverse only.


The rules for qualifying are in black type and my comment will be in red type.

To qualify for the 1914 Star (as opposed to the 1914-15 Star) the recipient had to be on active service in France or Belgium while the 1914-15 Star included all theatres of war.  Many naval personnel therefore only qualified for the 1914-15 Star unless they landed in France or Belgium before December 1914.  This Star is always accompanied by the War Service Medal 1914-20 and Victory Medal 1914-19.

No campaign medals were issued, so despite the total carnage of human frames and infrastructure, there is NO Somme Medal, NO Ypres Medal, NO Passchendaele Medal [third battle of Ypres], NO Marne Medal, and NO COMBATATIVE MEDAL AT ALL AFTER 1915 this despite that the war dragged on until November 1918.   Our sailor friend who fought as a soldier and suffered the fate of the PBI [poor bloody infantry] THROUGHOUT THE WAR , from beginning to end as a member of the RND, received at best JUST THREE HUMBLE MEDALS unless of course he won a Medal for his personal bravery.  Those Medals are either the 1914 Star or the 1914/1915 Star and the BWM plus the Victory Medal.

The 1914/1915 Star. Some 2,366,000 of these stars were awarded including 283,500 to the Royal Navy and 71,500 to Canadian troops.  Those who enlisted after the introduction of conscription (i.e. 1916) would not qualify for this medal hence the award was for those who had ‘volunteered’ for active service before conscription.  This Star is always accompanied by the War Service Medal 1914-20 and Victory Medal 1914-19.

Take as an example, a young man who becomes aged 18 in July 1916.  He sees over two years of total hell, deprivation, sub-human behaviour, and experiences which transcend even the very worst nightmare you can remember or will ever experience.  He cannot be awarded the 1914 star obviously nor equally the 1914/1915 Star, but for his two years of sheer hell, he can  be awarded the BWM and the Victory Medal, plus his own bravery Medals. TWO MEDALS!

The British War Medal [BWM]. Six and a half million were issued to British and empire troops with about 110,000 bronze to Chinese and Maltese Native Labour Corps personnel.  Although the war ended in 1918 the medal was issued up to 1920 to those involved in mine clearance at sea and service in North and South Russia, the Baltic, Siberia and in the Caspian and Black Seas.

My comment above for the 1914/1915 Star apply equally here. The BWM was so cheapened because of the laxed rules in acquiring the Medal, that bona fide claimants, many of whom were injured in action, saw the issue of the Medal as a "duck-out" for the Government.  The modern expression "nimby" [not in my back yard] crossed my mind, and, as we all know, it comes from Politicians who are eager to see their ill thought out and selfish plans imposed on the masses, as long as it doesn't affect their comfortable live styles.   NIMBY might have been reversed by the soldiers/sailors of the day, to YBMIN -  meaning  Yellow Bastards Manifestly Ignoring Need [where that need was for recognition of Service], or in short civilian cowards. Who other than a cowardly civilian politician would suppress the requests for campaign medals and oversee the award of a few piece of crap metal as the sole reward for a ruined life? 

The Reservists Medal. This medal was issued to members of the Territorial Force who served outside the United Kingdom between the outbreak of war and the armistice and who were ineligible for either the 1914 or 1914-15 Stars.  Some 33,944 medals were awarded.

So, by seeing through 1916 to 1918 as a member of the RND [volunteers from RNVR Divisions= Territorials] and engaging in the foulest of war scenes imaginable, the reward is THREE MEDALS, this plus the BWM and the Victory Medal - nothing more.

The Victory Medal. Some 5,725,000 issues were made and this medal was never awarded alone usually being found with at least the War Service Medal 1914-20.  Although the medal is dated 1914-19 the qualifying period ended in November 1918 but several issues are known to be made for those serving between 13-14th January 1919 in Hedjaz or the Aden Field Force.

As stated, this was usually the third medal awarded for a world war in which one could have been heavily and continuously involved over a four year period. So, from the battle fields of WW1, excepting personal heroic acts and the subsequent medals, no one person, irrespective of service and battles fought, could have gained more than THREE MEDALS.

The Silver War Badge.

Awards of the Silver War Badge [SWB]]

"For King and Empire * Services Rendered"

Many of the men and women who were invalided out of the army or navy after a wound or sickness that led to a medical down-grading were awarded this badge. It was authorised in September 1916, and applied to people in this category whether they were at a theatre of war or at home.

As stated this was a badge, which was worn when dressed in civilian clothing. It seems terrible that I should zoom in on the word "women" above {at a time when equality is all - and rightly so] full well knowing of their sterling efforts back in the UK at that time, and also the words "at home", also above. The long and the short of the WAR, quite understandably I think, was all about the FRONT*, the 'killing fields'.  The conditions at the FRONT* were so horrific that any correlation with it and an area/event away from it, immediately diluted the value of the award. Thus, the badge, although worn with personal pride if for injury or sickness at the FRONT*, was not popular with the huge phalanx of ex soldiers/sailors [who had been awarded the SWB whilst at the FRONT*] and most of the badges were discarded in bed side lockers.

* For FRONT read Battlefields - active troops - reserve troops - support troops - hospital troops, and please remember that I am covering the subject of the RND - sailors fighting alongside soldiers on land.


Tell me again why so many of our young sailors are bedecked with so many medals.

** A military force, say the British Army, is formed by Division, Brigade, Regiment and Battalion. In this case, the Royal Naval Division [RND] was formed but without the Regiment Level.  Later in the war, more Brigades and more Battalions were added to the RND. The Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve [RNVR] was based on the normal naval basis whereby Divisions were part of the ships company [in this case the RNVR]. They were the London, the Clyde, the Bristol, the Mersey, the Sussex and the Tyneside Divisions each with its own high profile civilian in Command, who, by and large, were from the Peerage.  For those readers who, unlike me, don't have to hand a copy of the book "Titles & Forms of Address", Peers are sorted into five separate Ranks, those being, Dukes, Marquesses, Earls, Viscounts and Barons, and from this we can see the 'pecking-order' of Earl Mountbatten and Baroness Thatcher! Incidentally, here also we can see the distinction between, say, Admiral of the Fleet The Lord Hill-Norton [a Baron] and Admiral of the Fleet A.B. Cunningham who was created a Viscount - both elevated to the Peerage. These then were the Peers: The Marquess of Graham, The Marquess of Ailsa, The Earl of Derby, Viscount Curzon, The Duke of Leeds, The Earl Brassey for example, and when not so regal a person, Members of Parliament or Captain's of Industry were appointed. The Commodore of the RND was Sir Richard Henry Williams-Bulkeley, Bt [picure 1 below]; a Battalion strength [typically] was as shown in picture 2 below; the Staff of the RND is as at picture 3 below ; the Officer Commanding of each Battalion was usually a career officer as shown in picture 4 below; and a battalion of the RND at the Front near Antwerp is at picture 5 below. Picture 6 below shows men of the RND charging 'over the top' at the Dardanelles. As Dame Agnes Weston was to sailors later on, then, at the Crystal Palace, the Young Mens' Christian Association [YMCA] supported the RND with the moral end of life.  They supplied everything from games [particularly billiards/snooker tables], entertainment, reading room and libraries, worshipping facilities, post office/mail facilities, fresh fruit stalls, writing rooms and the tools/materials for private correspondence, refreshment counters, and by so doing, supported the RND with the morale end of life also. Picture 7 is a letter written by the Commodore to the YMCA thanking them for their many kindnesses. Picture 8 is of HMS Palace [note, not HMS Crystal Palace].  Finally [picture 9], you have seen it for many years on a brown manila type envelope, but on a car [and in many places] ? I dont think so! This is the RND's run-about.


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Take note of the last picture above, and now you know where the OHMS comes from which was written on millions of letters sent from government departments to private letter boxes post WW1!

As you are aware, reservists in WW2 filled many of the necessary jobs particularly at sea, and God knows what the R.N., would have done without them. Today also, in places like Iraq etc., reservists play leading roles in our armed forces. In my time in the navy, I was ambivalent about reservists often side-lining them as a not too serious bunch of people, simply and obviously because I had no personal dealings with them - they didn't come anywhere near the submarine world for example. Now, I can clearly see their merit and I am humbled at what I have read in researching this little page.

Good bye and good sailing.