View Full Version : Beards and Facial Hair in the Royal Navy

17-04-2008, 02:59
"There are two kinds of people in this world that go around beardless — boys and women — and I am neither one." - Greek saying

"A woman with a beard looks like a man. A man without a beard looks like a woman." - Afghan Saying

There are very few people with non-committal opinions about the wearing of beards - and moustaches. It's fair to say that attitudes change cyclically over the years. In the 18th Century beards were not on but in Victorian times, beards were the way to go. Today they are not so popular. Though there was a resurgence during the hippie period.

Then there's the fact that beards are intimately connected with religion, e.g. Muslim, Hindu, Sikh and Jewish faiths. You never see a painting portraying Jesus Christ that he is not wearing a beard. Many early Protestants deliberately wore a beard to signify their break with the Established Church. However Queen Elizabeth I didn't like them and so taxed them.

The ancient Greeks enjoyed them, regarding a clean face as a sign of effeminacy as did the Romans for much of their history. Alexander the Great banned them because they were a danger to a fighter as he could be held by the beard and stabbed.

Attitudes within Armed Forces also varies considerably.

Canada forbids beards except in the navy. And they must wear a full set. But moustaches are allowed.

The French don't approve of any facial hair. Unless they are gendarmes when a moustache is allowed.

Israel forbids any facial hair unless the person is an Orthodox Jew.

Britain allows full sets in the Navy but only a moustache in the Army. British police are allowed facial hair but is has to be neat.

My guess is that the RN tradition started in the glorious days of sail when water for washing and shaving was scarce. About the same time that wearing of pigtails stopped.

The United States bans beards but tolerates moustaches. US troops in Afghanistan are however encouraged to grow beards to better "fit in" with the population.

Australia does what Britain does. It always has.

Of course all the above countries have special provision for various religious groups, skin disease etc.

Now all you old salts, here's your chance to reminisce about your experiences. Did you ever have an official request knocked back? Have trouble growing one perhaps? Riled at not being allowed on leave until the beard was deemed to be acceptable? Have a bad time at the Beard Review? Terrify your children when you shaved it off?

So, do you have a beard now? Do I?

Robert McDougall
17-04-2008, 07:16
RNZN also follows the RN tradition of beards, full set or nothing. You need to put in a request to stop shaving and if granted, allowed three weeks to grow. Whispy or wimpy looking beards not allowed.
I grew beards at various times but prefer to be clean shaven. As an aside my father grew his beard when he was fifty, never shaved again. Was always called Father Christmas by little kids during his retirement years.
I heard that various styles were given names like Van Dyke or King George Fifth.

17-04-2008, 07:31
Stangely, I don't have a beard! :D

Interesting post though....not something i had thought about until now. Personally I like a bloke with a beard... but only if it isn't too long and untidy.Quite a few people in the Biker world have really long, matted beards, which are just gross.

My Dad was a Policeman for 30 years, and always had a moustache, until one day he shaved it off and I did indeed run off screaming as he didn't look like Dad anymore! Happy to say that since his retirement, the moustache is back, along with a little 'goatie' beard!


17-04-2008, 12:45
We used to have competitions, when going on patrol. Everyone chipped in 50p and at the end of the patrol the winner was decided by the skipper. Anyone with just bum fluff was ordered to remove it before going ashore.
Have had a beard, 'tach & Goatie in my time. Shaved my 'tach off a couple of years ago (after 20 years), and it did make the kids squimish ;-)
Currently clean-shaven and plan to stay that way.

17-04-2008, 15:47
Not ever been in the service, health issues prevented it.:rolleyes:

I've had beards and mustaches and mustaches alone. Not very fond of them on me as I never really felt "clean" when I had one. I can grow a heck of beard. In about two weeks time, I'm a woolie-booger, but I suspect it would now be mostly gray.

Years ago I was shaving off a beard and left a schnickelgruber on for a bit. I put on a khaki shirt, plastered my hair to the side, frowned meanacingly and rendered a textbook extended arm salute, a la 1944, and my wife snapped a pic. I looked like a dang Neo-nazi, or more closely, the former head cheese himself.

bob shayler
17-04-2008, 20:41
The one on the right has a beard. Two old reservists called up to serve their country at the time of Jutland,

stewart mcloughlin
17-04-2008, 22:25
Applied for a new job in the Force Headquarters and went for the interview with a 'Mexican', not unusual in the 70's, but it had to come off to get the job. "We don't allow them here...", but there was nothing in Orders to stop you having one!
Having got the job, a couple of years later I got a "barbers' rash" , stopped shaving and got a 'full set'. Went in the bosses' office with some corri and he went berserk. Kept insisting, repeatedly, "I want a doctor's note, I want a doctor's note...." I thought he was going to fall of his perch. Kept it for ages, just to spite him I suppose.
Smooth as a baby's bum now though, but the occasional designer stubble.

25-03-2011, 13:38
The one on the right has a beard. Two old reservists called up to serve their country at the time of Jutland,

I can tell that they are reservists, you would'nt be allowed to be that rotund in the real navy.:mad: Not in those days anyway.

25-03-2011, 13:42
I discontinued in 1959 but had to shave again as after the stipulated time I only had a chin strap. In those days the model was KG5. :o

25-03-2011, 21:08
I had a beard from 1964 - until several years after I left the RN.
Nothing strange in that, I agree, but what is strange is the fact that at no time did I request to stop shaving.

What happened was that when I returned home from Malta after my 2 yr Married Accompanied draft, I had a fair bit of leave to come - during which time I grew a beard.
When I joined HMS PEMBROKE, nobody queried it!
So I served in PEMBROKE, EXCELLENT, AJAX, EXCELLENT again, CHICHESTER & VICTORY with a beard I never officially had permission to have........it was never queried! :D

25-03-2011, 22:59
I started one on Bulwark, I was only 20, but at end of probation period, It was neither one thing nor the other, though it had 'promise' but, I decided to shave off as I wanted to go ashore in Marseilles. In Singapore I managed a presentable set, see my profile picture, taken on the Batu Pahat Ferry as it happens. I'm told there is a bridge there now. Shaved it off when I got fed up with it. More recently when married and in my 50s I defied my wife's preferences and grew another full set. It didn't last long - 3 months at most. I scoff at 'designer stubble', though sometimes I might miss a shave for a couple of days. One of my RNWT Suara thread photos shows me with whiskers.


The Monkey God
08-05-2011, 12:43

Can anyone confirm for me what the regulations are within the Royal Navy with regards to facial hair, I know that men are allowed to have a full set, but are there any regulations with regards to moustaches?

The reason I ask is I`ve been told that your not allowed one, and yet I have a photo from the WW1 period, perhaps a little earlier, anyway the guy in the photo clearly has a moustache?


Jan Steer
08-05-2011, 12:45
In WW1 the same rules regarding full sets still applied. Naval reservists were allowed a 'tache though as were the marines of course. Hope this helps.

Best wishes

08-05-2011, 13:04
Hi Monkey God,

Have moved your enquiry, and Jan's reply to this existing thread regarding similar discussion.

Don't forget that the Forum has a search facility which can be very useful for searching for existing threads about the topics you are interested in. We urge all members to use this before submitting new threads, in order to avoid duplication and ensure that all available information is kept together as far as possible.

If you need help mastering the search facility, have a look at the guidance here:

http://www.worldnavalships.com/forum...ead.php?t=7499 (http://www.worldnavalships.com/forums/showthread.php?t=7499)

John O'Callaghan
08-05-2011, 22:30
Hi All! If memory serves, when growing a beard in the Navy the first thing to be done was to seek permission.The formal wording on the request chit was you were requesting to 'cease shaving'. Therefore any attempts to style a beard such as goatties moustaches etc. would have required the member to shave at least part. Hence it was a full set or nothing. A blind eye was turned to minor trims and tidy ups. The beard grower was then not permitted ashore or to be seen in public until the captain determined the beard was fit for public viewing.If deemed unworthy it was 'shave off'. This was often the point at which captains who disaproved of beards made their view felt. Later having decided you wished to 'shave off' the member had to go through the process of seeking permission to shave as he (or she?) had a legal sanction against shaving.Life gets complex don't it?
Cheers John O'C.

09-05-2011, 06:30
John..................some managed to grow, have and retain a "set" without first seeking permission! See Post 10 :D

09-05-2011, 11:37
Not been mentioned yet but gas respirators required a good seal on the face to work well. I had a full set beard in 1990 in the RN. When we sailed in August at the start of the Gulf war we were ordered to be clean shaven for this reason.

09-05-2011, 12:03
I remember whilst out in the Middle East one of our Jack Dusty's [Stores Accountant/Assistant] 'cracked up' and decided to shave his head!!

I say this because today it appears fashionable to do this but this rating was charged and of course found guilty of rendering himself unfit for duty. I guess the old section 39 would cover that??

The reasoning I think being that a bald head would expose the owner to very painful sun burn!!

At least facial hair would protect the chin :) :)

John O'Callaghan
09-05-2011, 22:55
Hi Scurs! Iknow! I know!There always those who are guilty of conduct prejudicial to the good order and Naval Discipline.But they shall be found out and punished.
Cheers John O'C.

10-05-2011, 15:42
On the Fishery Protection patrols in winter off Iceland we were allowed to discontinue shaving without formal permission but on return to the UK we had to get permission to keep a full set or shave off. I understand that part of the reason for the formality was that it required the photograph in your paybook to be changed and authenticated.


10-05-2011, 20:15
John O'C............I may have got away with it regards my set.....but managed to fall foul of that charge a few times! :D
It was always a good "stand by" charge to use if all else failed!

11-05-2011, 08:20
I grew my set in 1974 on the Yarmouth on a "cod war" patrol up North (it would have never won the best beard competition!!) and kept it for 22 years - it eventually became grey with dark patches so "She who must be obeyed" withdrew my permission to discontinue!!





Going grey!!


11-05-2011, 09:23
Finally - as is today!! (grumpy old man!!)

Without again


16-06-2011, 19:39
Me as a baby Stoker in 1990, could never understand why my beard was ginger :D I started growing it when the Missus said she was pregnant and never asked permission. The next photo is the 60th Anniversary of BOA in 2003 and the beard and the hair have gone very grey ( had a hard life haha ) kept it trimmed down to a number 2 and with it being so grey you can hardly see it. Still got it now after 21 years and would feel naked without it

18-10-2011, 19:36
I stopped shaving while at Portland because I got fed up with scratching my face every morning. It did not grow too well, but fortunately the end of the three week "trial period" coincided with a fortnight's leave, so I got five weeks growth when it came to approval. Even then I just scraped through. The Coxwain on my next draft still referred to me as looking like a rat peering through a lavatory brush.
I still have never shaved since.

derek s.langsdon
18-10-2011, 20:05
My baby's-bum face during Natsvc did'nt produce more'n a cat's whisker ,but
since I joined ranks of the ancients it needs daily hedgetrimmer--- at the moment difficult to raise arm for the scraping process to tidy nifty "Players Please" outlook (good excuse), and never did get on with the rusting battery/electric shavers that fill the bathroom cupboard !


Mitch Hinde
18-10-2011, 22:23
Hi All

I seem to remember being inspected on divisions at Mercury during the 60's sometime by CinC Portsmouth. An admiral sporting a huge set of mutton chop sideburns. Would this be Admiral Dalrymple Hamilton?

Mitch Hinde

Brian Murza
18-10-2011, 22:39
Great subject!!! I have a great Beard, that i have grown for 2 years and a month; though i have never served my country, as The Hamilton Police Force in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, CRIMINALLY HAULTED ME FROM ENLISTING IN THE CANADIAN FORCES=2007!!!! Anyways, being a W.W.II Naval Researcher, i have RESEARCHED materials where as you say, you have to fill out a REQUEST FORM to have GROWN A BEARD during W.W.II. I heard that at times GROWING A BEARD in the ROYAL CANADIAN NAVY during W.W.II was looked down upon, as if your SHIP that you were serving IN was SUNK and you ended up in the DRINK; there was a very POSSIBLE CHANCE of CHOKING ON YOUR SHIP`S FUEL if you SPORTED a BEARD!!! BRAVO ZULU, a VERY GOOD POST!!! I HAVE HAD PEOPLE TELL ME IN A rOUND ABOUT WAY CONCERNING THIS SUBJECT; BRIAN, YOU DO not KNOW WHAT YOU ARE TALKING ABOUT!!!!!!!

27-01-2012, 14:20
Great subject!!!
GROWING A BEARD in the ROYAL CANADIAN NAVY during W.W.II was looked down upon, as if your SHIP that you were serving IN was SUNK and you ended up in the DRINK; there was a very POSSIBLE CHANCE of CHOKING ON YOUR SHIP`S FUEL

Alternatively it could be seen as a very effective fuel filter, as well as a reservoir of food from your last meal, thus allowing you to survive a little longer:D:D

Alan D
31-01-2012, 02:56
I grew my first set in 1971 and in early 1973 shaved it off and discovered double chins on the way, so put in a Request to Cease Shaving joined the queue to be viewed by the XO and have had it ever since. I used to tell members of my Department that my beard had been around longer than they had been on this planet.

31-01-2012, 08:54
I first grew facial hair at about 16... moustache only.

When I joined the Marines I had to shave it off for boot camp, but immediately re-grew it unpo arriving at my technical school.

I later had some problems with a rash, but kept shaving rather than go through the whole "temporary medical waiver followed by medical discharge if I could not resume shaving within 3 months" crap (the rash started up shortly after re-enlisting for 4 years with a large bonus... which I would have had to repay).

The last time a razor or electric shaver touched my chin was 28 June 1989... the day I picked up my final discharge papers!

Here is what I looked like in 1987... and then in August 2009.

Mike B
03-02-2012, 14:21
On 24th June 1869 Admiralty Circular No.36 permitted the growing of beards and moustaches (a full set) but not one without the other. I still have mine!!!!
Mike B

20-02-2012, 16:00
My dad served in the RN during WWII and he told me that he had to ask for permission to grow a beard. His friend (who smoked Players Senior Service cigarettes) showed him a packet of 20 cigarettes on the front of which was a picture of a sailor with a full beard. He joked to my dad that it would be a long time before he could sport such a fine specimen, adding that he (my dad) was more like a model for Weights (a much smaller and slightly inferior cigarette). From then on, my dad's nickname in the navy was Weights!

07-04-2012, 23:10
pic #1 unshaven in preparation for HK, having got permission to discontinue growing whilst on a Joint Services/Civilian Language course at RAF North Luffenham.

pic #2 full set - for passport, This replacement photograph taken at RAF Cottesmore 1969.

Little h

12-04-2012, 23:21
Further to previous post, a few more photo's:-

pic #1; 1964 Singapore - me with a full set after RAF Medical Officer having authorised same.
pic #2; late 1964 Singapore - me with 2nd growth having a quiet evening out with the boss.

pic #3; 1970 Hong Kong - me with a full set, grown to avoid medical probs experienced in '64

Little h

Jan Steer
18-09-2014, 08:16
Re Mike B post 32.
There were exceptions of course. Around the time of the Great War naval reservists were allowed to wear a moustache as I have mentioned before but also any Maltese born sailors serving in the RN were similarly privileged.
When this was all rescinded I don't know. I served with Maltese sailors in the sixties and we all conformed to the same facial hair rules then.

Jan Steer
18-09-2014, 17:34
Sorry Little h but Mrs h is far prettier than you even with your beard!!!

Gannet driver
18-09-2014, 17:48
A Beard to remember!

Butch Barnard (in immersion suit) on arrival of 849 Squadron at Brawdy Dec. '64. Wings' beard looks trivial by comparison!

23-09-2014, 11:59
A Beard to remember!

Butch Barnard (in immersion suit) on arrival of 849 Squadron at Brawdy Dec. '64. Wings' beard looks trivial by comparison!

Beautiful photograph ! And such wonderful beards !

But, remembering back to 1930s/40s and the naval types who passed our house on the way to Whale Island, it was the seamen who were bearded, the ossifers were all clean shaven !


23-09-2014, 13:04
Beautiful photograph ! And such wonderful beards !

But, remembering back to 1930s/40s and the naval types who passed our house on the way to Whale Island, it was the seamen who were bearded, the ossifers were all clean shaven !


Edna, I seem to recall that generally being the case even in the '60s/70s when I was in. Officers with beards were quite a rarity, and stood out among their peers.

23-09-2014, 14:51
I think I have asked this before but don't remember a reply........Gannet driver, your 38, the bearded Commander facing, is his name "Mason"?

23-09-2014, 15:55
Looks like his name was Barnard, see this reply

Gannet driver
23-09-2014, 16:34
Yes, I'm almost certain that Wings (facing camera) was called Mason. And I know full well the giant with the huge beard was "Butch" Barnard, he was my CO and then Little "F" in Centaur.


23-09-2014, 16:49
Gannet driver...............Thought so.............he was my DO as a Lieutenant in CEYLON 1958-60..............we had a mutual dislike relationship! :)

23-09-2014, 17:23
I heard about that Scurs.
There was nothing he would'nt do for you and nothing you would'nt do for him and that's how you spent the entire commission doing nothing for each other.

23-09-2014, 21:01
Oh dunno about that Johnny.........he quite often let me visit the MAA, who in turn allowed me to enjoy a chat with Commander Stobie on frequent occasions.

Gannet driver
24-09-2014, 22:50
Personal offering - family group in October 1966 when Hermes visited Hamburg.

And, to avoid any rumours, those ARE my wife and daughter!