The Signal Branch [S]

Signal [or more properly signal and wireless officers] had a dual function. They were responsible for communicating a commander’s  orders and wishes to his subordinates. As historically this has been done by flag signals, their appointments were as, for example ‘Flag Lieutenant to……’.  Confusingly, the title of ‘Flag’ became attached to other officers on an admiral’s staff who did not have a signals role, e.g., the flag captain was the commanding officer the flagship, the reference being to the admiral as a ‘Flag Officer’, one entitled to fly his flag at sea to designate his command role. An important and officially subsidiary role of the flag lieutenant was as personal factotum to the flag officer carrying out largely social duties.  Unfortunately, at times these duties became seen as more important: Lieutenant Commander was Admiral Beatty’s flag lieutenant [but was not a signals specialist] and while he performed his social duties to Beatty’s entire satisfaction, Beatty later described him as having lost him three battles due to inept performance of his signalling duties.

Signals officers were seen as being close to the centre of affairs, but the social duties were not to everyone’s taste.  As a ‘tribal mark’, signals officers would sport a white handkerchief as required by dress regulations.  However, instead of it being carried/worn protruding from the top pocket of the uniform reefer jacket, it was carried ostentatiously dangling from within the left cuff of that jacket.   

My Comment.  I haven’t bothered to add [sic] to the expression ‘signals officer/officers’ but in keeping with the established naval custom, the expression is ‘signal officer/officers.’