Where you a boy at HMS Ganges i.e. you were born before June 1941 ?

If you were, you would have been recruited and would have served from 1866 until the watershed of June 1956 which saw the title of BOY supplanted by the rate of JUNIOR.  Of course, it wasn't just Ganges, for BOYS served in many training ships, and after them, in several shore establishments chief of which were St Vincent, Caledonia and the RN College at Dartmouth.  Boys are boys separated in this case only by social standing and age !

As boys, we [for I was one joining in 1953] were called many different things over the years, which differed as much from the boys of the 18th century navy [cabin boys and powder monkeys] as we do from the young recruit sailor of the 21st century, but not of course from the JUNIORS of post 1956, who, for all intents and purposes, were boys but not called so.

In the second half of the 19th century there were many types of boys categorised mainly by their joining age.  Britannia boys [for officer training] joined their training ship between aged 11 and 13: rating boys joined their ships between the ages of 14 and 16, and direct entry boys joined their ship, the Northampton, when they were aged 18.  Officer cadet training [Britannia boys] was, as always, the toughest possible followed some way behind by boys who entered the ratings training ships, and bringing up the rear, were 18 year old BOYS who didn't go to stationary training ship, but to a seagoing training ship. They entered as First CLASS BOYS which I will define in a moment, but in the meantime, if you visit the Shotley naval graveyard in St Mary Church, you will see the simple word 'YOUTH' on some of the graves dating from 1900.  In March 1884, the future British Prime Minister, Mr Campbell-Bannerman, then a back bencher, proposed a remedy to increase the efficiency on nursing the naval sick and wounded in both sick bays afloat and also in naval hospitals. It was accepted and this is what came into being.  Boys were specially recruited from the Greenwich Hospital School [whose education was on a par with that of a Dartmouth cadet and infinitely better than any boys in the training ships] and sent to the training ships as normal to learn seamanship.  On completion of their training, they didn't go to sea but went instead to Haslar Hospital at Gosport to be taught by female civilian nurses before being sent off as sick bay attendants/nurses.  Their subsequent promotion alongside men who had also been trained was to be in the medical branch and they would take their turn at sea and then in harbour, and whilst at sea, either in the Channel Squadron or abroad in one of the many naval foreign seagoing stations. Running parallel with naval boys were lots of training ships, training boys for the mercantile marine, or training boys in the reformatory ships [sent there by the magistrates] to learn how to behave themselves, and abandoned, unloved boys, in the industrial training ships.    From these mercantile training ships [but banned from the reformatory ships and incomprehensibly, from the industrial training ships] many boys entered the navy either completely trained in the ways of the sea at their own choice, or part trained, in which case the navy would pay the owner of the training establishment £25 for each boy to circumvent the need to train them fully from scratch which would have cost them £50 and much more: a great saving for the Admiralty because they came in their droves. Add to this count, the thousands of boys who were employed in the fishing industries around the full length of the UK coastline, and in all there were in excess of 120,000 boys with sea air in their lungs.

Leaving now the vast majority of those 120,000 boys, and concentrating only on the naval rating boys measured in their low thousands, we come to the point of my question, which was 'were you a Ganges BOY ?'.  At this point, if you were not, you can either click on your back button and continue browsing elsewhere or hang in and learn what the introduction of the rate JUNIOR did to naval tradition.

Despite age [and I have mentioned that 18 year olds entered as BOY 1ST CLASS rates] boys were categorised as either 1st class or 2nd class. These rates, date only from 1860, or more correctly from the Royal Commission on Manning the Navy of February 1859. To understand why there were introduced, one has to look back to the navy of pre 1820.

Before 1820, and from the days of Nelson himself [who wasn't as caring about his men as is supposed,  turning a blind eye {pardon the pun} to cruel and unnecessary punishment in the fleet] many of the sailors in the navy were hardened men lacking all the social attributes and graces, and a difficult phalanx of men to handle.  We might today call them 'endearing' and in our liberal times of today, we might come down on their side against the officer classes of their day.  Punishments were hard, nay darn right cruel, and quite often stories of 500 lashes were not uncommon neither were they engineered.  Naval officers and the Admiralty were as cruel as the men were hard. From 1820 and for about 25 years, punishment were moderated and punishment up to 100 lashes became the norm.  About the year 1844, when that distinguished commander, Sir George Cockburn, was the First Lord of the Admiralty, the first great blow was struck at this infinity of brutality. He first limited the number of lashes to be given to 48, and then decided that they could only be enforced by court martial, or be given upon summary order only by warrant of the captain, and it required that 12 hours should elapse after the signing of the warrant before the punishment should be inflicted. Sir George Cockburn was known to be a great disciplinarian; but I need not say that the upholders of that discipline looked upon his conduct as destructive to the Service, and as altogether ruinous.

In 1860 there was a great watershed when the Admiralty introduced the CLASS SYSTEM for the LOWER DECK. REMEMBER, THAT IS BUT SIX YEARS BEFORE HMS GANGES AT MYLOR.

The naval class system, not to be confused with the naval class social system of Dartmouth officer versus ratings, was a well thought out plan to divide the lower deck into two separate and distinctive groups, one to be for the good and diligent ratings and the other for the fair, mediocre or bad rating, who, by their daily actions, brought the ratings as a group into disrepute and fed the officers dislike and detestation for the men below. It was designed to reward good and sober men of proven professional ability hoping that most men would aspire to becoming first class seamen, by increasing their pay and their privileges and it was a popular move because the vast majority of the men saw the merits in being registered FIRST CLASS.  Their greatest privilege was that they could not be flogged except for gross crimes like mutiny. If they committed a severe crime, then their punishment might be to be reduced to the second class, and when back there, their first crime thereafter might be subjected to a flogging.  Alternatively, the first class boy could be discharged shore, to be left as a penniless and destitute ragamuffin which few reputable employers would employ. Moreover, any serious crime committed whilst a first class man was dealt with by a court martial. The second greatest privilege of being a 'First Classer' was that when leave [liberty] became more and more available to the lower deck, it was granted only to this group.  There were two reasons for this which were that sailors would behave themselves whilst ashore and that they would return to the ship at the required time and sober.  Liberty boats were crewed by coxswains of the highest calibre who ruled over the often second class oarsmen [or steam boat crews] with an iron hand.  For those deemed to be second class, the summary punishment was all that they could expect [the punishment of the officer of the watch [OOW], the officer of the day [OOD], the first lieutenant [Jimmies], Commanders Report and Captains Defaulters, leading to the Captains application of a warrant to the local flag officer asking for a harsh punishment.  Their pay too plus other privileges were reduced, and altogether, being second class was not an easy life. Being a SECOND CLASS RATING told the world that you were below an accepted level required by society and by the navy - you were in fact, a second class person in the normally accepted sense but much needed gun-fodder when war came. The Admiralty needed all these men and boys, first and second class, but their intention was to 'tame' them into becoming a navy of first class only sailors.

However, the class system, as so many naval officers predicted, was not a success as these figures of 15 years after the systems introduction show  "The number of convictions by court martial in 1862 was 141; in 1863, 140; in 1864 it was 97, and in 1875 there were 235 convictions by court martial." In effect, the first class men and boys continued offending so that there were more and more courts martial and in 1875 an observer said "I find the floggings last year under court martial were 7; they were all from 36 to 48 lashes; and they were all accompanied with severe sentences besides—18 months or two years' hard labour."  Whilst the behaviour of the the first class personnel augured badly for discipline, so too did two other aspects.  Firstly that the summary punishments also went up with the Captain being judge and jury for all offences committed by men and boys of the second class and for the non serious offences committed by the those of the first class, and, but only occasionally though once was enough as far as the Admiralty was concerned, this, taken from a speech in the House of Commons "While flogging is permitted at all at sea there must always be irregularity, always causes of discontentment going on, which are beyond the limits of the law. I need not give the right hon. Gentleman the First Lord chapter and verse for these statements—he does not need it from me, because he knows the facts himself. A man was illegally flogged on the Pacific Station for assaulting a Consul in a row on shore, another man was illegally flogged by the lieutenant of a training brig for disobedience, and I can even tell him of cases in the West Indies where two boys were flogged with the cat. These two lads were too young to enjoy the advantage of being flogged, the cat was too dignified a weapon, they should only have been birched, and so the commander raised them to the rank of seamen, in order to entitle them to be flogged with the cat."  These rogue officers were in the minority and soon 'brought to book' as much by other officers as by the Admiralty and both Houses of Parliament.

To many of those far off days including MP's, naval punishments were unjust and ran contrary to the law of the land for comparable crimes. The summary punishment was one man, the Captain, acting as judge and jury, seeking and getting his decision sanctioned and endorsed by a second and remote man, the local flag officer, who was guided [blinkered] by a set of rules without compassion or a sufficient enough knowledge of the case to guide him in his decision. The court martial was not much better, although more were involved in the decision taking and all were au fait with the case and the offender. This speech [much reduced for this story] of an MP sums up the feeling.  In the 19th century a murderer was often referred to as a garrotter, a person who strangles someone with a wire or a rope usually approaching the victim unseen from the rear.  Mr Hopwood addressing the House where the Debate is the Naval Discipline Act presented by the First Lord of the Admiralty.  "But the clients for whom he spoke now were not the infamous men of the British Navy, but the true men enrolled in its ranks, who at the bidding of a wrong-headed, rash, presumptuous, perhaps cruel or vindictive man, might be put on their trial before three or four young officers and subjected to physical punishment. The garrotter, on the other hand, was secured a calm trial in a Court of Justice before a Judge and 12 of his countrymen, and the evidence against him was sifted by men of the greatest skill and experience in such matters. The sailor who was tried by court martial had no such means afforded him of proving his innocence. He thought they could not better consider the system of flogging than by asking each Member of the House to imagine his own feelings under it. It would be well that the regulation cat should be placed alongside the mace; but perhaps the First Lord would state how many knots it had, and what was the effect of a blow.

The division between first and second class took into account two specific functions of naval life: firstly the conduct and secondly the proficiency.

To be graded first class meant that you were of good character and that you were proficient in your training to do a specific job - boy, able seaman, petty officer.

Being second class as a boy,  was slightly different in that as a new recruit, your character was acceptable as being good [you wouldn't have been recruited were it otherwise and certainly not from reformatory or industrial training ships] but your proficiency is not yet judged or ascertained.] To be a boy second class carried no stigma except if for disciplinary reasons, whilst undergoing basic [or probationary service] one fell foul of the naval discipline act, and that was not normally possible given the taught discipline exercised in the boys training ships. No second class boy could be sent to sea [but see below], but they could be discharged to shore, and, like first class boys, they could be birched or caned [cuts].  Each of the classes had their own rates, petty officer downwards.  A second class PO would have been well capable to do his duties in and around the ship on a par with a first class PO, but his status as a well rounded man leading by example with high morals and propriety, would have de-rated him in the eyes of the naval officers both afloat and on shore.

As far as boys were concerned, measured from the introduction of the 1859 Royal Commission on Manning the Navy, First class boys were those who, either by age had entered the navy when young [14-16] and went to stationary training ships through the Boy 2nd Class and then the Boy 1st Class stages, or were boys aged 18, who entered as Boy 1st Class, and immediately went to sea in the training ship Northampton for a six months induction period, bypassing altogether the training ships.

By entering boys into the navy as BOYS 2ND CLASS, merely meant that the boy was untried.  An able seaman of the second class [AB 2ND CLASS] was a proven case of either incompetence or of bad conduct, and of course he could have once been a Boy.  A boy who left his training ship to join a man-of-war vessel as a first class boy, could be reduced to the second class, and thus become a Boy 2nd class once again, and yet he would remain as a crew member.

So, from 1860 until 1956, boys were entered into the navy as SECOND CLASS, meaning probationary, untested, unproven, and by time, ability, and resolve, they would be proved to be able students in their training ships and as importantly, boys of good character.  The graves of HMS Ganges boys at Shotley from 1900 onwards, each highlight the name of the boy, his death date, and whether he was a Boy 1ST Class or a Boy 2ND Class.  All boys started their naval careers at sea in the first class where, as the Admiralty intended, the vast majority stayed right throughout their time in the navy, taking those good qualities into civilian life where they were maintained for the rest of their lives.

As the quality of the sailor [Jack Tar] improved and the needs for harsh discipline and with it harsh punishments became less and less, the class system was toned-down, tweaked and eventually moderated without abolishing it altogether. The idea that seniority was as much as a reward for a sailor as was the promise of shore leave and more liberal punishment, for it could be used to stimulate the man to higher achievements, better pay and privileges, pensions eventually, medals for long service with bounties, and distinctive uniforms and badges.  As Queen Victoria lay dying [who had overseen sixty four years of growth in the nations prosperity but certainly not in its welfare system and fair play for all, where class consciousness separated and put man against man akin in many ways to the hatred brought about by civil wars, and where the rich got richer and the poor poorer far more so than is the case today] the lower deck had at last something to thank her for.  It took a long and hard battle, but by the time the Victorian navy became the Edwardian navy things had changed for the better especially for the common sailor.

Throughout all these improvements,  the naval class system continued, often ticking over in the background and occasionally brought full view into the foreground when an individual committed a serious offence. The Edwardian navy reaped the benefit of all the struggles of the Victorian navy, and the quality of its recruits was enough to allow the Admiralty to shelf the class system but they didn't.  It continued and was still fully extant when I left the navy in 1983.  The normal recorded assessment of a man was VG SAT, meaning that his character was very good and that his competence in the rate held, was satisfactory. A man, "2nd class for conduct" might well have been assessed as Fair or Good for character but still satisfactory for his competence. However, such a man was never far away from being discharged from the service, usually marked down as SNLR [Services No Longer Required].

In the early days of the 20th century, the Admiralty thought it wise to give something back to the new navy of quality men, and so they decided promotion [and all the nice things that come with that] would have as the number one criterion in those criteria for promotion, that any man who is to be recommended must be of the first class, namely that he must be of Very Good [VG] character, and a man's character was a product of his morals, his behaviour, his abstinence or moderate drinking habits and propriety.  His efficiency, which had never really been an issue in the Victorian 1860 class system, would continue to be assessed on his ability and his merit, and clearly both would be scored highly when the recommendation was made. Therefore the character assessment of VG equates directly to the 1860 first class group and anything lower was the equivalent of second class.  However, there were several times when ambiguous signals were sent out by the Admiralty and this is just one of them, coming from the First Lord when speaking in the House of Commons in July 1883. 

"There was no more grave question for the Committee or the country at large—and certainly for the Admiralty—to consider than the maintenance of discipline, and the mode by which discipline should be maintained in the British Navy. The Returns which had been presented were certainly Returns of a very grave character. If hon. Gentlemen would look through the list they would see that, in the great majority of cases of those who had been sent into penal servitude, the character beforehand had been "good," "very good," "fair," "very good," "good "—in other words, that the general character of the men who had been, for breaches of discipline, sentenced to various terms of penal servitude, averaging from five to ten years, had been  "good"—that was to say, there had been no marks against them. [My comment - it would appear that the First Lord is averaging out a man's conduct which is not possible - the nursery rhyme .....and when he was good he was very very good, but when he was bad he was evil.....comes to mind.  Good, on a continuity basis would have been acceptable as was Very Good from the 1920's onwards, but not so great a fluctuation as these].  Their conduct had been good on board ship; indeed, had been such as would entitle them to be considered good members of society. There was another very sad circumstance connected with the Return, and that was that in almost every case—no; he noticed there were cases in which men of 25 years, and 37 years, and 31 years, had been sentenced to penal servitude—but, in the majority of cases, the men who had been so sentenced had only just emerged from boyhood—were, in fact, 20 and 22 years of age, and, in some cases, only 17 and 18 years of age. He thought it was a most unfortunate circumstance that, in order to maintain discipline in the British Navy, for acts which certainly would not involve punishment for anything more than a few days' detention under any other case, and in any other employment, it had been necessary to inflict penal servitude upon the men, and to attach to them for life the character of felons. That was a very grave fact indeed. He was one of those who could not undertake the responsibility of abolishing corporal punishment, and he could not do that because he felt that it was necessary there should be some powerful deterrent against the crime of insubordination. Everybody knew that corporal punishment was inflicted with the greatest possible care on board ship; the average of cases, he believed, was less than one a-year.

The saying "second class for conduct and leave" was regularly heard in my time, and in such cases a mans character would have been marked down to 'Good' or 'Fair'.  Leave was, from the very beginning of regulated leave in the third quarter of the 19th century, always a privilege, even when it was predictable, regularly given and in generous amounts for it came second to the requirements of the service.  Since becoming something less than VG for conduct, the privilege was rightly withdrawn, and only on proven compassionate grounds, would a rating under 'second class for conduct and leave' be granted shore leave.  The modern second class sailor had the opportunity of being reinstated to first class [for conduct and leave] by proving that he could meet the discipline requirements of the service.  Being second class in the second half of the 20th century was a terrible punishment in itself and I can well remember, as a divisional officer, having talks with some of my men about promotion, which, no matter how good at their job they were, and having all the other prerequisites like being able to swim, passed this and that course and highly recommended professionally, they could not be put forward for promotion.  Worst still, I doubt if any commanding officer would endorsed a recommendation until the man had been VG for at least one full year. 

From the 1920's onwards, except for boys, the use of the word 'class' started to change in the everyday functioning of the navy. Instead of the 'class' being used in rates, pay bands were used, but increased.  Originally, a first class man professionally [and by inference by character also] equated to different pay scales and all three of the following are the old first class men. SCALE 'A' pay, and his badge would reflect this with the addition of a well place star or some other device, was for the senior man.  SCALE 'B' pay was awarded on first achieving that rate and time alone had to be served before SCALE 'A' pay [and a new badge] were awarded.  Later on, SCALE 'C' pay [and its badge] were awarded to spread the difference between rates and to encourage ratings to climb through the professional pay rates.  However, some branches, my own included, dropped the word 'class' and instead, if the badge had a star above and below it, it became a W/T3, if just a crown above, a W/T2, and if a crown above and a star below, a W/T1, where W/T stands for wireless telegraphy.  Artificers followed this same pattern, and an engine room artificer, an ERA, was either a 1,2 or 3, but always called, for example if a 1, a first class tiffy.  A crown above a badge, which was a naval crown meant nothing to a navy man unless the design of the badge immediately below it was understood. This crown was an integral part of an officers uniform and of a sailors uniform when dressed in fore and aft rig i.e., with peaked caps.   Crowns were mounted on cap badges, button anchors [three different designs], ratings branch badges, officers sleeve badges for aviators, and later on, a few other types of badges or brooches, like my submarine dolphins.  

So, by 1956, with all the changes from nearly one hundred years ago, only a few naval branches still had the word 'class' system as part of their titles, but only one, boys, had the original title meaning the same thing as was conceive in the Admiralty Committee formed by the Royal Commission of 1859.

When boys became juniors in June 1956, that last link was broken and naval traditions were sent to posterity.