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Guz rating
07-08-2009, 22:38
I have a question which has puzzled me for a long time. Why do RN officer wear their swords on long chains, that drag on the deck.

Regards
Alan

benbow30
07-08-2009, 22:53
Was it for a sign of disgrace for loss of a Battle, or was it for the death of Nelson?
Benbow30

Guz rating
07-08-2009, 23:21
Hi, BenBow,

Thanks for responding, It could be any of the two you said. Someone told me years ago that was something to do with a mutiny. But I never have had a definitive answer. Maybe someone on the forum can tell us.

Cheers mate.

qprdave
07-08-2009, 23:23
This is all I can find at the moment. From an Ozzy website

There seems to be an oft-repeated story about our Navy and perhaps the Royal Navy too that following some disgrace within the RN - perhaps mutinies - an order was once given that naval officers could not wear their swords, as they were not gentlemen. Instead, they would have to carry them.

This at first seems a little strange, as there don't seem to be too many mutinies within the RN where officers disgraced themselves. The Spithead mutiny on 1797 was confined to sailors, not officers, although it might be said that officers' mismanagement led to that situation. The rumour also suggests that this was a Victorian decision - perhaps made by Queen Victoria herself - which sounds strange coming so long after the famous RN mutiny.

Jan Steer
08-08-2009, 08:14
As far as I can recollect it WAS all to do with mutiny. I believe that coming so soon after the mutiny at the Nore, the powers that be wanted a quick and decisive end to the Spithead mutiny. In order to achieve this they swore that nobody would hang if the mutineers gave themselves up. Believing this to be true the ring-leaders duly handed themselves over -- and were promptly hanged! Ever since naval officers have dragged their swords as a permanent reminder of their disgraceful conduct.
This is what I have either read or been told long ago but in honesty I have never bothered to check it's validity. Although if memory serves there is a mention of the incident in "Sea Life In Nelson's Time" by John Masefield. It was first published in 1911 and is still considered by many to be the finest work on the subject.
Hope this is helpful and I will be interested to see what others far more qualified than I can uncover.

Best wishes
Jan

TrotOneLower
08-08-2009, 08:28
This has long been my belief, but apparently not true. the Spithead mutineers were pardoned, and I believe only one from the Nore was hanged. This was more for treason rather than mutiny, as he was a political agitator, and a French sympathiser.
From what I can gather it is down to nothing more than vanity, and a bit of practicality. The tails on sword belts needed to be slightly longer for Naval Officers in order for them to gather the sword when in ships boats etc.
Dragging the sword was also a way of saying "look at me Pompey Maids (if ever you can find one), ain't I great". It is also from where the expression "Sabre Rattling" comes. Posturing or attention seeking if you prefer.

NSR
08-08-2009, 12:30
When I asked the question many years ago, no-one mentioned mutiny or disgrace. A GI told me that when ashore, officers would be mounted (that is they would ride a horse) and their scabbards (the thing you tuck the sword into) were hung cavalry style. As a Chief Mech, I once had to wave a sword about on parade. The scabbard was mounted on my belt infantry style and a kindly GI showed me how to come to attention without cutting my right ear off. GIs aren't all bad.

Ken

nogrub
08-08-2009, 12:58
Jan.
Your answer is the same as i have been told, it was to show that Naval Officers were not Gentlemen, And therefore could not be trusted.
Harry

Guz rating
08-08-2009, 13:03
Great replies lads, its what I have come to expect from this forum. Gathering up the sword on steep ladders, and mounted officer makes sense.

Alan

harry.gibbon
08-08-2009, 13:53
and from the Australian Navy:-

http://www.defence.gov.au/news/navynews/editions/2001/08_20_01/story22.htm

so the debate continues

Rob Hoole
08-08-2009, 15:31
Nothing to do with mutinies, disgrace or RN officers not being gentlemen although some see fit to keep this myth alive for their own reasons :) . One of the best answers I have ever found comes from Flint & Cap, the newsletter of The New Zealand Antique
and Historical Arms Association (link (http://www.nzaaawgtn.org.nz/pdf/nl0607.pdf)):

OFFICERS BUT NOT GENTLEMEN

Naval officers, in accordance with dress regulations, are required to carry or trail their swords rather than being hitched at the waist. The scabbard is suspended from two long hanger straps requiring the wearer to carry the scabbard to prevent it dragging on the ground, unlike army and air force officers who hitch their swords and scabbards to their belts.

The myth surrounding this unique naval custom is that naval officers are required to carry their swords as a mark of disgrace, allegedly for involvement in the Spithead mutiny of 1797 that was confined to sailors, not officers, although it might be said that officers' mismanagement led to that situation. It wasn't until Victoria came to the throne that details regarding the carrying of swords became uniform and Victoria’s reign was well after the Spithead and Nore mutinies. In any case, the major mutinies of the Royal Navy involved ratings, with officers having no involvement. There is some suggestion that Victoria had made a casual remark that “naval officers were not gentlemen” (and the wearing of a sword was the mark of a gentleman.) In one sense she was quite correct.

Naval officers in British society were unique. The navy had, by the late 1600s, made it clear that being a “gentleman” was not sufficient to enter or succeed as a naval officer. Skill, as opposed to social status, was the mark of a naval officer and the navy exercised equality of opportunity at the point of entry over a century before the army saw the merits of such a program. Army commissions, very much the preserve of the nobility, were generally purchased. Naval commissions were granted only after a young teenager had learned his trade, passed his examinations and was selected for promotion on the basis of merit. When wartime required the navy to expand its officer corps, most were drawn from the seaman pool where education and skill in handling ships carried weight; social status carried none.

Those aristocrats who did enter the navy found themselves competing on an equal basis with the sons of merchants and labourers. Given that, naval officers were not considered less than an aristocratic army officer; just different, and the title “naval officer” carried with it a degree of social standing which indeed made one a gentleman. So, while they may not have been the sons of gentlemen, naval officers were certainly considered gentlemen in British society.

Some historians suggest that naval officers never wore swords at sea and when the sword was used, the scabbard was discarded as useless, particularly when boarding another vessel. That certainly makes practical sense except that for most naval officers, who were unlikely to be good fencers, an edged sabre was the weapon of choice for close quarters fighting. Swords and rapiers had little place in the hack and slash boarding fights of the days of sail.

What is more likely is that the army changed and the navy did not. Trailing a sword shows up as an act of pride among light horse regiments where both officers and troopers loosened their spurs and allowed their trailing sword scabbards to rattle over the cobblestones. Naval officers, who would have no reason to wear a sword except when ashore, copied what was then a military display. So, all officers, regimental and naval, actually trailed their swords, with slings as long as possible, as a means of attracting attention to the wearer. This is the origin of the term, “sabre rattling”.

On parade, all officers carried their swords whether they were army or navy. Soldiers eventually slung their swords from their belts, for practical purposes, particularly as field drill developed. Naval officers, having never used swords for practical reasons and rarely wearing them in any case, saw no need to change and continued to carry them when dress dictated.

New Zealand naval officers today still continue the tradition of carrying their swords on parade.

I love these military customs and traditions. I once hosted a Royal Engineers officer at a mess dinner and was surprised to find him wearing spurs with his mess dress uniform. When I questioned him, he said that his forebear Sapper officers rode horses during Wellington's peninsular campaign against Napoleon. They even kept their spurs on when they bivouacked in barns overnight. When an officer woke up in the straw next to a warm, breathing body in the morning, he would rake it gently with his spurs. If it complained, then he knew it wasn't his horse!

Incidentally, the Royal Engineers and the Royal Artillery share the same motto: 'Ubique'. This is Latin for "Everywhere" but when they apply it to each other, they say it means "All over the bloody place." :D

Guz rating
08-08-2009, 16:01
Nice one Harry great site Navy News i've bookmarked it. I'll tell you another story about a sword in the wardroom later.

Alan.

Jan Steer
08-08-2009, 16:10
Rob you have given my grey cells a shake. Victoria did say that naval officers are not gentlemen and I believe that was because the deck heads were so low officers sat down to drink the royal toast.

best wishes
Jan

Fairlead
08-08-2009, 17:09
Well I have heard some fairy tales (putting it nicely!) but this lot beats them all!
Have any of you ever considered that if you wear a 'Tunic' with an overbelt/shoulder strap (ie Sam Brown) then it is possible to wear the sword scabbard slung at the waist - as SOME army regiments and Senior Officers in the RN and RAF when they wear No.1 (old style) dress. Many Regiments and the RAF have the same arrangement as the RN sword belt - and use the same drill - which dispells any mutiny theories.
Because Naval Officers wear a 'Jacket' it is not possible to wear a sheathed sword at the waist and therefor it is suspended on two straps (Not chains as in post No1). When the sword is drawn the scabbard is hooked up to the belt. When wearing a great coat there is a slit in the left hand pocket through which the sword is passed into the hooked up scabbard.
Sorry if I have burst any bubbles, but I did wear one (more than once) over the last 26 years of my service.

Dave Hutson
08-08-2009, 17:13
And he knows you know.

Well done Graham

qprdave
08-08-2009, 17:34
Us mere mortals, fairy tale lovers and bubble makers bow to your superior knowledge on this subject, Fairlead

(Still prefer our theories though!!!!!)

John O'Callaghan
12-08-2009, 08:52
Hi All. I've always found it much more convenient to carry me Pussers dirk and wheel spanner in me pocket.But then again Stokers were always gentlemen mutiny or no mutiny.
Cheers John O'C

Francis Stanley
12-08-2009, 08:55
Eh up! the stokers are revolting...........(you know the rest!)

John O'Callaghan
12-08-2009, 09:01
Francis Stanley.I can always depend on a Bubbly to be unable to recognise a gent.
Cheers

Francis Stanley
12-08-2009, 09:11
It must be all that grease and soot :)

Guz rating
12-08-2009, 10:08
Well I have heard some fairy tales (putting it nicely!) but this lot beats them all!
Have any of you ever considered that if you wear a 'Tunic' with an overbelt/shoulder strap (ie Sam Brown) then it is possible to wear the sword scabbard slung at the waist - as SOME army regiments and Senior Officers in the RN and RAF when they wear No.1 (old style) dress. Many Regiments and the RAF have the same arrangement as the RN sword belt - and use the same drill - which dispells any mutiny theories.
Because Naval Officers wear a 'Jacket' it is not possible to wear a sheathed sword at the waist and therefor it is suspended on two straps (Not chains as in post No1). When the sword is drawn the scabbard is hooked up to the belt. When wearing a great coat there is a slit in the left hand pocket through which the sword is passed into the hooked up scabbard.
Sorry if I have burst any bubbles, but I did wear one (more than once) over the last 26 years of my service.

That would date the current method of wearing the sword. To the introduction of the style of uniforms worn by navel officer to-day.

Regards
Alan

Jan Steer
12-08-2009, 10:41
Just came across this on an Army forum:

"The RN are (or were) not permitted (Queen Victoria) as they are not gentlemen (mutiny somewhere, told the sailors to come down and discuss it nicely, hung the lot). It was supposed to last for a hundred years and is long gone but none of the matelots seem to have noticed."

www.arrse.co.uk


.....Not JUST me then.

Best wishes
Jan

johnny07
18-03-2011, 17:44
Something slightly similar (officers kit) ,Does anyone know what spiritual spurs are?.

omanip
19-03-2011, 11:06
It's an urban myth:

"There is no official reason why RN officers wear their swords lower than in other services - it is dictated by Dress Regulations which have undergone many variations but which contain nothing to substantiate any links between the swords and mutiny (a folklore tale). The present arrangement dates from 1856 and a full account is given in The Naval Officer's Sword by H.T.A. Bosanquet (London:HMSO, 1955) and even more exhaustive details in the 2-volume Swords for sea service by W.E. May & P.G.W. Annis (London: HMSO, 1970)."

As previously remarked a lot of Cavalry Regiments wear their swords at the trail, and it's not possible to wear the sword under a no.5 tunic (or for that matter the Frock Coat that preceded it). The USN, RAN etc., do exactly the same, and why would they if the reason for it was RN disgrace, except in USN Dress Whites it is possible to hook up due to a slit cut in the jacket - see also the Cenotaph parade where RN Officers DO hook up their swords because the ceremonial greatcoat (I'm looking at mine now) has a similar opening on the left side. So it may be for some nice to think it's about past disgraces, but sorry, not so.

davidrn
19-03-2011, 13:07
Hi, have just seen this one from the past.
As an Ex-sword collector the one thing that strikes me is that most Naval Edged Weapons of the past are curved (not used for fencing but for cutting and slashing) the same as the Light Cavalry Sabre. This would not allow it to rest in the same position as an Infantry officer’s straighter blade.
In the Napoleonic wars even British Infantry used the 1796 and 1803/5 patterns with the curved blade and at that time also used the double looped scabbard hanging from their belts.

Dave

Polycell
19-03-2011, 13:23
It's an urban myth:

"There is no official reason why RN officers wear their swords lower than in other services - it is dictated by Dress Regulations which have undergone many variations but which contain nothing to substantiate any links between the swords and mutiny (a folklore tale). The present arrangement dates from 1856 and a full account is given in The Naval Officer's Sword by H.T.A. Bosanquet (London:HMSO, 1955) and even more exhaustive details in the 2-volume Swords for sea service by W.E. May & P.G.W. Annis (London: HMSO, 1970)."

As previously remarked a lot of Cavalry Regiments wear their swords at the trail, and it's not possible to wear the sword under a no.5 tunic (or for that matter the Frock Coat that preceded it). The USN, RAN etc., do exactly the same, and why would they if the reason for it was RN disgrace, except in USN Dress Whites it is possible to hook up due to a slit cut in the jacket - see also the Cenotaph parade where RN Officers DO hook up their swords because the ceremonial greatcoat (I'm looking at mine now) has a similar opening on the left side. So it may be for some nice to think it's about past disgraces, but sorry, not so.

Sorry but being forever the cynic where did your info come from, please.
Fred

Linton
19-03-2011, 14:38
The reason is probably something as mundane as ease of getting in and out of a boat
Here is an item I managed to discover on the Naval Review about it:

I am reliably informed by the Historical Branch that no one ever ordered RN officers to trail their SWORDS, it was a fashion adopted to match the cavalry (Hussars), who were looked on with some envy. Just another example of the mess fashion gets you into - carrying your damn sword everywhere for eternity.

omanip
20-03-2011, 07:14
Sorry but being forever the cynic where did your info come from, please.
Fred

The source is in my post.

oldsalt
21-03-2011, 17:17
Officers swords, I was proficient in handling the dipstick ( Engineers funny) while it was sheathed, but on being appointed to Raleigh , I was horrified after a week, that I was to be Officer of the Guard for the passing out parade. A quick dash to the parade ground & a short course from a helpful (sometimes they can be) PO GI ( gunnery instructor) helped me through the first experience, first of many.

Forester
06-06-2011, 20:49
Pardon a bit of cheek from a former RAF Sergeant....

"Does your sword hang low?
Can you swing it to and fro?
Can you tie it in a knot?
Can you tie it in a bow?
Do you get a funny feeling as your head bangs on the ceiling?
Oh you'll never be a sailor 'til your sword hangs low."

Francis Stanley
07-06-2011, 07:37
Pardon a bit of cheek from a former RAF Sergeant....

"Does your sword hang low?
Can you swing it to and fro?
Can you tie it in a knot?
Can you tie it in a bow?
Do you get a funny feeling as your head bangs on the ceiling?
Oh you'll never be a sailor 'til your sword hangs low."

Oh its sword is it, the version I know is definately not Sword:

Do your ;) hang low?
Can you swing em to and fro?
Can you tie em in a knot?
Can you tie em in a bow?
Do you get a funny feeling if you smash em on the ceiling?
Oh you'll never be a sailor 'til your ;) hangs lo

Oh you'll never be a sailor 'til your ;) hangs lo
Oh you'll never be a sailor 'til your ;) hangs lo
can you toss em o'er your shoulder like a continental soldier?
Oh you'll never be a sailor 'til your ;) hangs lo

glojo
07-06-2011, 08:00
Now we know what crap-fats do when they joust with their swords :o:D

Forester
07-06-2011, 11:42
Now we know what crap-fats do when they joust with their swords When I was an apprentice, we did never ending parades and practices and our officers had to join in. The practices always dragged on for ever, so they had "practice" swords made out of aluminium that were nice and light. Our Flight Commander left his in the squadron office one Friday night. On Saturday morning, when the order came " Officers will draw swords. Draw SWORDS!!" He pulled out the remaining foot or so of his sword, touched his nose with the hilt and stood there at attention with the sorry stump sticking up like a ruler. The Parade Commander saw the funny side of it, but our Boss didn't. The jape cost us our Saturday afternoon off, but we considered it well worth it.

eskimosailor
18-10-2011, 19:48
When I asked the question many years ago, no-one mentioned mutiny or disgrace. A GI told me that when ashore, officers would be mounted (that is they would ride a horse) and their scabbards (the thing you tuck the sword into) were hung cavalry style. As a Chief Mech, I once had to wave a sword about on parade. The scabbard was mounted on my belt infantry style and a kindly GI showed me how to come to attention without cutting my right ear off. GIs aren't all bad.

Ken

Would that not have been a cutlass or some such? I understood only officers were allowed to carry swords. Other ranks carried other types of sharp blades with different names.:D
Steve