1734 was the year in which the very first naval officer {Sir John NORRIS} was appointed to be an Admiral of the Fleet, and in 1940, the Admiralty announced that in future all admirals of the fleet would remain on the Active List for life.  After Sir John came another 114 promotions to the highest rank attainable in the Royal Navy. The rank, the highest in the star rating of global combatants which carries five stars, was suspended by the Ministry of Defence in 1995.  The suspension could be lifted were the UK to engage in a major confrontation, perhaps the third world war, where the numbers recruited to fight warranted a leadership greater than the current four star officer, which is an Admiral, appointed as C-in-C Fleet, Second Sea Lord and First Sea Lord. In 1995 it was decreed that an Admiral who had held the appointments of either the Chief or the Vice Chief of the Defence Staff would remain on the Active List on retirement.

Added in 2012. HM The Queen, quite rightly decided to ignore the rule on the UK's entitlement to a five star officer, and awarded a honourary promotion to her eldest son Prince Charles, heir to the UK Throne. Thus, as of the 16th June 2012, HRH The Prince of Wales is an Admiral of the Fleet in the navy, and a five star officer in the British Army and RAF. Rule Britannia I say!

The period 1734-1995, of 261 years, and with only 115 officers appointed as Admirals of the Fleet, shows how illustrious the achievement was, and if averaged out, only 2.27 were appointed on an annual basis.

Of those 115 officers, only four are alive today [updated 28th March 2015] and they are:-

 H.R.H. Prince Philip, The Duke of Edinburgh KG, KT, OM, GBE, AC, QSO - promoted 15th January 1953
added June 2012 H.R.H. Prince Charles, The Prince of Wales KG, KT, GCB, OM, AK,QSO, PC, ADC- honourary promotion 16th June 2012
Sir Edward Beckwith Ashmore GCB, DSC - promoted 9th February 1977
Sir David Benjamin Bathurst GCB - promoted 10th July 1995

Since 1953, the year I joined the navy, 17 promotions have been created, resulting in an increase of the annual average from 2.27 to 2.47, this at a time when our navy was steadily decreasing in size. However, as you will see, averages [or statistics] are irrelevant, for there were many barren years.

The recipients of these promotions were:-

1953 - 15th January H.R.H. Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh KG, AdC[P], PC, KT, OM, GBE, AC, QSO, GCL
Lord High Admiral of the United Kingdom 11th June 2011
- 1921 -
1953 -
Sir Rhoderick Robert McGrigor GCB, DSO Torpedo Specialist 1893-1959
1955 - 22nd April Sir George Elvey Creasey GCB, CBE, MVO, DSO Torpedo Specialist 1895-1972
1956 - 22nd October Lord Louis Mountbatten, 1st Earl Mountbatten of Burma KG, PC, GCB, OM, GCSI, GCIE, GCVO, DSO Communicator 1900-1979
1960 - 10th
Sir Charles Edward Lambe GCB, CVO Torpedo Specialist 1900-1960
1962 - 23rd
Sir Casper John GCB Aviator 1903-1984
1968 - 12th August Sir Varyl Cargill Begg GCB, DSO, DSC Gunner 1908-1995
1970 - 3rd
Sir Michael Le Fanu GCB, DSC Gunner 1913-1970
1971 -12th March Lord Peter John Hill-Norton GCB Gunner 1915-2004
1974 -
1st March
Sir Michael Patrick Pollock GCB, LVO, DSC Gunner 1916-2006
1977 -
9th February
Sir Edward Beckwith Ashmore GCB, DSC Communicator 1919-
1979 -
Lord Terence Thornton Lewin KG, GCB, LVO, DSC Gunner 1920-1999
1982 -
1st December
Sir Henry Conyers Leach GCB Gunner 1923-2011
1985 - 2nd August Lord John Fieldhouse GCB GBE Submariner 1928-1992
1989 - 25th
Sir William Doverton Minet Staveley GCB Non Specialist 1928-1997
1992 - 2nd March Sir John Julian Robertson Oswald GCB Gunner 1933-2011
1995 - 10th
Sir David Benjamin Bathurst GCB Aviator 1936-

The last Royal Admiral of the Fleet to die was on the 28th May 1972 at the death of HRH The Duke of Windsor in France, the former King Edward VIII.

Of these legendary and famous names, Admiral of the Fleet Lord Lewin was one of two only, without Royal connections, to be elevated to the highest honour possible of being created a Knight of the Garter, the other being Admiral of the Fleet Lord Howe 183 years earlier in 1796. Lord Lewin, who died on the 23rd January 1999 said "What I would most like to be remembered for is a real improvement in attitudes and mutual respect between officers and ratings, and the effect that this had on the well-being and efficiency of the Navy." 

Looking at the third column in the table above makes me wonder if being a Gunner was an advantage? One of those Gunners was Lord Hill-Norton who died when aged 89. In my book "The Daily Telegraph Naval Obituaries" part of what they said about him was as follows:-

"An officer who operated on a very short fuse. Although Hill-Norton was feared, hated, and respected in equal measure, he always led from the front. His harsh manner and foul language belied a man who could, on rare occasions, demonstrate an otherwise well-concealed humanity."  Takes all types I suppose, but I know how I like my leaders to behave!

 The Ashmore' were a very impressive family. Edward Ashmore's father was a Vice Admiral as was his younger brother, who himself would have gone further in the Service, but he took the top job in the Royal Household and did it in style.

Although the five star rank was no longer routinely possible after 1995, this did not prohibit the chances for an officer to attain the highest honour in the land, namely to become a Knight of the Garter. One such officer became the fourth holder since 1796 of that unsurpassable honour, and on the 23rd April 2011, Admiral, The Lord Boyce, added the letters 'KG' to his other honours. Earlier, he had been honoured in another unique way. In 2004 he was nominated for, and in April 2005 was installed as Lord Warden and Admiral of The Cinque Ports and Constable of Dover Castle.  The last Warden had been H.M. Queen Elizabeth The Queen Mother who died in 2002, and, although not the norm, the position was gapped until Lord Boyce was installed.  He was the first Admiral to be appointed since 1656 when Admiral Blake [known as the Father of the Navy] held the position.

This is a photograph of the Admiral.


It was taken before the award of the KG.

His uniform is adorned with the following insignia, most of which I believe I have correctly interpreted.

Around his neck is the badge of a Commander of the Legion of Merit, an American award.

To the left are two medals, the first being the OBE and the second being the Queens Golden Jubilee Medal a top of which is the submariners badge. Immediately below is the large ornate Star of the GCB.

Below the GCB Star is the Star of the Venerable Order of St John.

It is a royal order of chivalry established in 1831 and found today throughout the Commonwealth of Nations, Hong Kong, Ireland and the United States of America, with the world-wide mission "to prevent and relieve sickness and injury, and to act to enhance the health and well-being of people anywhere in the world."  It is commonly referred to simply as the Order of St John, or as the Venerable Order of Saint John (VOSJ) when distinction from other similarly named orders is desired.

The sash, worn on the right shoulder, is crimson in colour and is part of the GCB. The badge of the GCB is attached to the sash and hangs over the left hip.

The aiguillette [pronounced a-gwi-let] worn here on the right shoulder for royalty and admirals is of gold wire and is known as a Class 1 Aiguillette. In this instance, a GCB Badge is an integral part of the aiguillette and can be seen attached looped over the top right hand tunic button. For less senior naval officers required to wear an aiguillette, it is of a mixed gold and blue construction and is worn on the left shoulder. In the army, it is gold and red for the less senior officers, but the army also has other ranks wearing aiguillettes but of a much less ornate design.

This ornate flag with sea creatures under a naval crown in the left hand blue section, is the personal flag of Lord Boyce as the Warden of the Cinque Ports. The other part of the flag show a lion front part of body connected to the back end of ship.  The Cinque Ports are Hastings, New Romney, Hythe, Dover and Sandwich.