........the K I L R O Y


The word KILROY, meaning an abstract piece of fun [or is that childish?] art work, has been around for sometime now, and much conjecture has been employed as to its origin. The conjecture is still front and centre, and it has never been solved, despite many claims down the years.

If these many claims could be even half believed, the chances are that the US forces of WW2, way ahead of all other claimants, would win the day, but the win would be hollow, and not worthy of this site or page, and specifically it would be at the expense of the Royal Navy inter alia, whose reputation, traditions, folk law and language must always be preeminent, especially when there is a well founded doubt surrounding all these half-cocked ideas and suppositions!


It would appear that a KILROY is a name only, albeit without an obvious owner, almost certainly a persons surname I would guess instead of a product, man made or naturally produced.


But I know AN OBVIOUS OWNER, and no surprises, it is an English  man, in this case born to an Englishman Philip [birth place Plymouth Devon] with an Irish father, Alexander born in Cavan Ireland in 1806, who came to live in England, both marrying here and dying here.  Thus our man was English of Irish ancestry, in the past, and Alexander was our man's grandfather.!


British mariners, naval and mercantile, will be fully au fait with that name of Kilroy from the last years of the 19th century, coming to prominence as a registered piece of machinery in 1902, well before WW1 never mind WW2 when the name is claimed to have ballooned in the lower echelons of society.


It was the name given to a device which dominated the smooth running of the propulsion of steam ships, allowing the engine room to communicate with the stoke holes [boiler rooms/furnaces], in effect to regulate the amount of steam being made ready for the engines, many of which were of the  triple expansion type. The reason or need for the device according to the manufactures and shown in the accompanying pdf, was that the intelligence of stokers could not be relied upon to fire-up boilers to a fix plan agreed between the men with the shovels in the stoke-holes and the engineers in the engine rooms.


Perhaps the most famous ship fitted with the Kilroy systems  was the ill fated White Star Liner 'Titanic', although she was just one of many hundreds, including many fine British capital warships as well as smaller warships: in fact by 1902, many RN ships were retro fitted and all new builds had the system factored in on the drawing board stage.


It didn't depend on the makers [boiler system or engines fitted] but on the fact of economic use of coal versus the necessary 'punch' the engine room needed to immediately respond to the telegraphs from the bridge.  Titantic for example, burned 600 tons of best quality Welsh coal per day, so 'waste' was avoided at all cost by avoiding over-stoked boilers. Under-stoked boilers were just as important to be avoided, and economy "economical speed" became the by-word for merchant men, although for naval men it was "operational speed" which could alter on an hourly basis in war time.


It was a British invention manufactured by a London company with a famous name [in electrics at least] of Evershed & Vignoles, two eminent British electrical engineers who joined forces to design and manufacture a whole range of devices for testing electrical circuits as well as for controlling safety devices by electricity in propulsion and in turret gunnery!


There are many anecdotal and written [published] accounts of the workings of the Kilroy, but I'll wager none a personal, one to one account, like this performance of  a Royal Navy stoker relating his time as a trainee stoker in 1910 and subsequently fighting at Jutland, although, as you will see, I have captured the design principle of the full Kilroy System which follows.  He mentions the use of the Kilroy Clock/Regulator in great detail, talking through the procedure from an unseen engine room to his place of work in the stoke hole [boiler room] in the training environment of the old steam cruisers HMS Andromeda and HMS Amphitrite which formed the Devonport Stokers Training School as tenders to HMS Phateon, herself a tender to Devonport Depot Barracks HMS Vivid. Both ships had 30 French made Belleville boilers, each providing steam for 2 triple steam expansion engines.


Click on this link [the play button] first making sure your SPEAKERS are turned on. You will hear an old man called Lilley being interviewed about his time in the navy in 1910 as a trainee stoker in Devonport.  At the start of the audio clip he is telling us about a typical training day at the boilers of two ships the Andromeda and the Amphritate [both decommissioned steam cruisers whose boilers remained functional].  They were afloat in the Devonport dockyard and were looked after by the old HMS Phateon in which, at lunch times, they ate their midday meal. He tells of the cooks of the mess [his RNB mess] who collected the victuals for the training day from the barracks store to bring down to the Phateon to be cooked ready for lunch. The trainee stokers were accommodated in the new barracks at RNB Devonport [HMS Vivid and later HMS Drake].  For some [annoying] and inexplicable reason, the interviewer cuts Mr Lilley short on his tale, cutting to his stoker training.  Apologies' for that although completely out of my control. After a while of listening to interesting data, when the clock on the left is approximately on 2.10 time, Mr Lilley will start to tell us about the KILROY system. Phateon was a tender to Vivid, and the stokers training ships were tenders to the Phateon. Enjoy.


Now it's not my intention to bore you with great details but a battlecruiser [at Jutland,  and we lost several of them forcing the admiral in charge David Beatty to ask "what's wrong with our bloody ships?" meaning his ships, battlecruisers]. Each had over 400 stokers on board and no less that 31 chief stokers - statistics taken from the complement of HMS Queen Mary, a battlecruiser sunk at Jutland. You will not therefore be surprised when I tell you that between 1898 and 1917, we trained nearly 470 thousand stokers alone as new entries [no stoker boys, unlike seamen!]  It is inconceivable that with these numbers and over these many years, that the word KILROY didn't become a bye-word of the engine room branches viz Engineer officers, ERA's of many classes, mechanicians of several classes, and thousands upon thousands of stokers from 2nd class through to chief stoker.  Nick names, jargon, and jack-speak were well known expressions to flow throughout the ship eventually becoming pan-navy, even though it wasn't always universally understood by lay people, so very soon there would be a place for the word KILROY somewhere along the line, many years before the American's were made aware of it, UNLESS ships of US Lines had been fitted with the British device, always called the KILROY Stokers Firing Regulator, and remember made and marketed in and from the UK for all types of steam ships.


I ask you, knowing of 'Jacks' quick wit, and sense of fun, do you think it possible that the word would stay isolated in the engine room/stokers branches manuals, without its general knowledge not only to royal sailors, but to thousands of merchant mariners [engineers and firemen alike], sailing under the British flag, plus all other ships fitted with the British device?


I suggest not!


Returning to the use of the word KILROY. It is said that Kilroy was the Nova Gemeni {a commercial outlet for specialist goods} product previously  known as a 'A FAINT STAR' by a professor H. II,Tur?


The following pictures come from the site of Graces Guide of British Industrial History on this URL  <>  and are copyright. I have paid for them and their use. Do not copy these for your own use.



A regulator "For Kilroy's Patent" which can control all boilers [furnaces] to FIRE UP at preset timed intervals.  Below is a regulator which can indicate the firing up of specific boilers. The expression firing up means that the stokers [RN]/firemen[MN] are told when to shovel in certain amounts of coal from a heap dumped from the bunkers in front of each boiler door.



Evershed and Vignoles Ltd
1895 Company founded - makers of electrical equipment. Co-founded by Sydney Evershed (1858-1939) and Ernest Vignoles by purchasing the instrument section of Goolden and Trotter where they worked.

In WWI, they made steering and target equipment for the Royal Navy.


Willie Dickson KILROY was a civilian electrical engineer, without fame but with a reasonable living. He was already

 a prolific inventor/engineer having a hand in many pies [or, as they say] 'pokers in the fire'. He was to become recognised by the navy for his inventions and as WW1 loomed large he was invited to become a lieutenant in the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve [RNVR], a gift in the remit of the Admiralty. Others, aspiring to such an appointment, went through the mill of selection and started at the bottom unusually as a sub lieutenant, so he saw it for what it was, an honour and a reward for an outstanding mind! His service record spans 1894-1922, though not all of it in uniform.


The Royal Navy adopted several of his diverse contributions, including his Kilroy Danger Signal which inhibited the firing of a main armament turret when the outcome would have endangered the firing ship;
 Kilroy Stoking Indicator the subject of this my page, and the Mechanical Aid-to-Spotter, a device which ensured that the spotting officer [hIgh aloft in the ship] was watching the same target as was being fired upon by his own ship.  He was commissioned as a  temporary lieutenant in the Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve on 16 November, 1915, as an Assistant to the Director of Naval Ordnance in the Naval Ordnance Department {gunnery for short} from the same date.


Obviously his 'Firing-up Regulator' invention needed a Patent and a manufacturing source, so for the Stokers instruction to fire specific boilers to control steam output, he approached Evershed & Vignoles for that necessary expertise. All his other inventions which were accepted and subsequently used by the navy at sea in an operational environment, were done in-house by naval dockyards supervised and directed by Kilroy himself. There can be no doubt that he would have earned a good whack of money for his patent boiler firing device, but the RN boxed clever and considered a commission in the navy, albeit in the reserves and like all reserve officers temporary [for the duration of the war only] on full pay, a suitable quid pro quo for skills of a qualified and registered electrical engineer.  Evidently, he invented many things in his life time, the majority for civilian use in times of peace and tranquility, and for the enhancement of industry.


This then is the original and first marketed device which well before 1920 was recognised world wide in the steam business!



This is his entry in the 1918 NAVY LIST




By all accounts he was an unsung hero, given a modest reward/award for his efforts to increase the fighting efficiency of the fleet, an OBE, nor is there a record of his obituary in the traditional newspaper areas.


Also this from the National Archives


Ref T173/308 1919-1921 - Searchlight & gun control and sighting for the R.N. accredited to Lieutenant [Temp] Willie Dickson Kilroy RNVR.




Director of Naval Ordnance - Captain Frederic C. Dreyer, C.B.

Assistant-Director of Naval Ordnance - Captain Joseph C. W. Henley.

Assistants to Director of Naval Ordnance.
Commander - Charles A. Scott, Edward O. Cochrane, Isham W. Gibson, M.V.O., Bernard W. M. Fairbairn, Archibald Gilbert (act), Edward G. de S. Jukes-Hughes, (G) Stanley T. H. Wilton, (G) Gerald F. Longhurst, D.S.O. (temp)
Commr. R.N.V.R. - John G. Henderson (act).
Lieut. - Walter R. Gilbert, Willie D. Kilroy, R.N.V.R. (temp).
Sub-Lieut. - W. H. J. Elridge. R.N.V.R. (temp)
Chief Gunner - Herbert D. Jehan.
Commissioned Armourer - Ernest Addy.


On the 28th arch 1919 Lieutenant RNVR [Temp] Willie Dickson Kilroy was appointed to be an OBE for his services rendered to the efficiency of the navy.


These are published details of Willie,  born of Irish stock but see comment below alongside his fathers entry, who spent the whole of his life in England chiefly in the County of Hampshire, his birth and place of death. Read it as though it were an obituary!


Willie Dickson Kilroy

Birth: 1876, in Southampton Highfield, Hampshire, England

Father: Philip Le Feuvre Kilroy.  I have added this URL which tells of his ancestry <>. When opened, look in the black box alongside father underneath the name of his father Philip Le Feuvre Kilroy, to see details of his grandfather Alexander [click on F52 Group] who was born in Ireland. Other than that, they appear to be very much  a Hampshire English  family. 

Mother: Louisa Susan (Le Feuvre) Kilroy

Married: Edith Mary Maclaran in 1906 in Farnham district (Hampshire and Surrey), England. Edith was born on 10 August 1874 in the Bombay Presidency, India, and was baptised on 22 September 1874 in Tanna, Bombay, India, the daughter of Francis Blayney Maclaran and Mary Beckwith Armstrong. Edith died on 15 December 1954, at "Dolphins", Everton, near Lymington, Hampshire.
1881: 59 West St, Chichester St Peter The Great, Sussex
1891: West Pallant St., Chichester All Saints, West Sussex
1901: Frimley, Surrey: Edith M. Maclaran, daughter, is aged 26, born in India
1911: Harrow on the Hill, Middlesex: Edith Kilroy is aged 36, born in Bombay Presidency

Occupation: Electrical Engineer.
Willie was elected an Associate of the Institute of Electrical Engineers in January 1899.

Willie served during World War I in the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserves. He was made temporary Lieutenant on 16 November 1915 (London Gazette 23 November 1915 p11592) and appointed Assistant to the Director of Naval Ordnance. The Royal Navy adopted several of his inventions, including Kilroy's Danger Signal and the Mechanical Aid-to-Spotter

Willie was awarded an O.B.E. on 1 April 1919 "for valuable services in connection with the design and improvement of fire control instruments." (London Gazette 28 March 1919 p4197)

Willie was a prolific inventor, and secured numerous patents including, in 1907, a Means for Automatically Indicating Certain Relative Positions of Guns or the like to Each Other, in 1909 an application "For Improvements Relating to Electro-motors and to the Production of Sound Waves for Signalling to a Distance, in 1910, a patent "for Improvements in and Relating to Danger and Like Signal Devices, in 1916 a Sound Emitter with fellow inventor Sydney Evershard and, in 1928, one for "Improvements in or connected with lamps for vehicles". In 1934, Willie, his brother Lancelot and F. Wheatley received for a patent for "A new or improved device for holding fish hooks, artificial flies or baits" and in 1955  he patented "Improvements in and relating to blocks for yachts, boats and the like"

Death: 9 November 1956 at "Dolphins", Everton, near Lymington, Hampshire, England, aged 81

1881: Plymstock, Devon
1891: 72 Chaucer Road, Bedford St Paul, Bedfordshire
1901: Fulham, London: Willie Kilroy, visitor, is aged 25, born in Southampton, Hampshire. He is an Electrical Engineer
1911: Harrow On The Hill, Middlesex: Willie Kilroy is aged 35, born in Southampton, Hampshire
1934: Lane End, Everton, Lymington, Hampshire (patent application)
"Dolphins", Everton, near Lymington, Hampshire (London Gazette 7 January 1955 p207)
1956: "Dolphins", Everton, near Lymington, Hampshire (London Gazette 23 November 1956 p6693)




Now, I put it to you, my naval fraternal audience, forgetting civilians who have long had their say on this matter, that a man like 'our' Kilroy put himself around, fixing this and that, designing something much better and more efficient, and designing things no other person had thought about, going hither and thither to achieve his goals. That may well have translated into something like Kilroy -was here fixing that - and later, for another group, a similar call, that yes, he was here too fixing this!, so that accepting 'Kilroy was here' shouldn't be too difficult and certainly not too far fetched to grasp or adopt.  In fact, given his exuberance, it was rationale that something that was defective yesterday but works today after a visit from him, should be explained away as 'I see that Kilroy has been'.  Kilroy performed many visits to steam ships having temporary hitches with his brilliant engine room - boiler room regulator, that, the expression 'was here' could easily have been changed to  'get him here pronto'!  I am not for one minute suggesting that he left behind a silly image as his calling [or called] card, and it is more probable that there was no  associated chalk drawing as that used in WW2. In any event it was unnecessary, for a commanding officer knew he had been to sort out little problems if and when his telegraph orders where spontaneously repeated and the ship went where he had expected and planned for. Likewise, the gun busters on board knew that with Kilroy around their gunnery would be first and foremost safe for the ship itself, but deadly for the enemy. 


It is obvious  to me, that when there is only one man doing his rounds of the fleet to increase efficiency, which was the case, that he becomes well known, even popular, and certainly lends himself to a caricature but not a ridiculous cartoon.


Think about it lads!   The Yanks, three years late for combat [joining in 1917] had to have a focal point designed as a decoy to fend off the caustic remarks Tommy and Jack were making, and so they set about a mischievous plot to preoccupy British minds besotted by looking for their childish symbol, which regrettably had no 'no-go areas', even to the point of defacing some of our much loved and sacred places. Dear old Willie defaced nothing not even the side of a Sherman tank, which I suppose was fair game. 


I finish by sincerely suggesting that we, the Brits, had a KILROY forty years before the Americans, but unlike the stated American KILROY, ours was predictably low key [after all. it is a quintessential British trait] without pomp or circumstance, but REAL, SOPHISTICATED, and above all else, LEARNED, MERITORIOUS and DESIRABLE.


I've done the spade work, will one of you start the ball rolling by suggesting either a change to Jackspeak, or introducing this new one to this naval pandora!


Take care now and good hunting.


Oh! By the way. have a look at this file NAVAL_FORUMS_USED_BY_CIVILIANS_OR_EX_NAVAL_PERSONNEL - this file has important information of the period HULKS to RN Barracks at the beginning of the 20th century.