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EUROPE - OTHER & CIVIL ORGANIZATION BRANCH & RANK INSIGNIA

British merchant marine, 1918 and 1921

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British merchant marine, 1918 and 1921

Unread postby J.T. Broderick » Thu May 04, 2017 4:15 pm

Late in WW1 the British government decided to prescribe a standardized uniform for those serving in the merchant marine (not yet called the Merchant Navy). There had been complaints that the uniforms of the various steamship companies (or lack thereof) were not well understood by the public or the services, and that the merchant service was not getting the recognition due its contributions to the war.

The text of the regulations were published in the London Gazette in September 1918. In 1921, a new order was published, the main difference being that half-inch rank stripes were changed to three-eighths inch. One interesting thing is there was a blue working dress with stand-up collar, basically a blue version of the white RN officer uniform, with black instead of gold stripes on the shoulder boards.

No illustrations, unfortunately.

1918:
http://www.thegazette.co.uk/London/issu ... page/10533


1921:
http://www.thegazette.co.uk/London/issu ... page/10248

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Re: British merchant marine, 1918 and 1921

Unread postby Medic_in_Uniform » Thu May 04, 2017 10:38 pm

This is from a little later but still broadly illustrates the various rank and grade markings, as described in the original 1918 Order.

MN.Rank.jpg


(if the thumbnail for the attachment doesn't appear, click on the icon anyway, the main image should still be there!)

I wonder who sat down and decided what these should look like and why they chose to do them this particular way...?!

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Re: British merchant marine, 1918 and 1921

Unread postby Dorward_Bis » Fri May 05, 2017 10:55 am

Resembles some mixture of traditional British naval sleeve insignias with Royal Naval Reserve (RNR) and Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve (RNVR - btw, Ian Flemming was a Commander of RNVR, lol) insignias.
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Re: British merchant marine, 1918 and 1921

Unread postby Medic_in_Uniform » Sun May 07, 2017 12:55 pm

The wavy cuff lace of the RNVR and the interlaced stripes of the RNR of this period still followed the basic pattern of the contemporary regular RN cuff lace. This pattern, while having some similarities to the RN / RNVR / RNR, is also rather more complex, with distinctions for sub-grades that didn't exist in the RN (e.g. the narrow top lace for Second Master, and so on).

I often wondered what the origins were for the Chief Engineer being given the same pattern of lace as the Master (albeit with purple backing). To me, it would have made more sense for the Chief Engineer and the Chief Officer to be wearing the same three-ring lace with diamond centre, leaving the insignia for Master (who had overall responsibility for his ship) distinctly different to all other grades. I have no knowledge of the traditions and working practices of the merchant fleet at the time but I'm guessing that it has something to do with tradition and practice relating to the relative standing of the Chief Engineer within the senior officers of a merchant vessel and the parity between the Deck (executive) Branch and the Engineering Branch -- although one assumes that in the event of the Master becoming incapacitated, the Chief Officer would assume that responsibility, not the Chief Engineer! If anyone knows, please enlighten me!
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Re: British merchant marine, 1918 and 1921

Unread postby J.T. Broderick » Sun May 07, 2017 7:22 pm

Medic_in_Uniform wrote:I wonder who sat down and decided what these should look like and why they chose to do them this particular way...?!


Apparently it came from the Board of Trade with some support in the House. I think one thing that's pretty sure about it is that the R.N. did not want anything that could be confused for naval. The diamond in the center is pretty hard to mistake for anything else.

Medic_in_Uniform wrote:I often wondered what the origins were for the Chief Engineer being given the same pattern of lace as the Master (albeit with purple backing). To me, it would have made more sense for the Chief Engineer and the Chief Officer to be wearing the same three-ring lace with diamond centre, leaving the insignia for Master (who had overall responsibility for his ship) distinctly different to all other grades. I have no knowledge of the traditions and working practices of the merchant fleet at the time but I'm guessing that it has something to do with tradition and practice relating to the relative standing of the Chief Engineer within the senior officers of a merchant vessel and the parity between the Deck (executive) Branch and the Engineering Branch -- although one assumes that in the event of the Master becoming incapacitated, the Chief Officer would assume that responsibility, not the Chief Engineer! If anyone knows, please enlighten me!


I've always wondered, too, especially since the chief engineer on a battleship with 400+ men under him would be "only" a three-striper. I do know, though, that experienced marine engineers were in high demand, so many having gone into the navy, that maybe giving them an extra stripe would attract more or better candidates? Of course only the captain/master got leaves on the cap peak (laurel, not oak!).

The Chief Officer was second-in-command, definitely.

I think the "half stripes" for second master etc. were for companies that had existing variations in their officer structure, so the new system wasn't too one-size-fits-all. As we know from the Titanic, White Star had First Officers under Chief Officers, whereas most companies skipped from Chief to Second.
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Re: British merchant marine, 1918 and 1921

Unread postby Medic_in_Uniform » Sun May 07, 2017 9:55 pm

Indeed -- and, if I recall correctly, it was not unknown for the largest vessels on the longest voyages to carry a second fully rated and certified Master, but obviously only the senior one would be fully responsible for the vessel under maritime law; I assume this is why the insignia for Second Master was created, to differentiate between the two, thus making the markings more like role insignia than substantive "rank" insignia. To my eye at least, there's something not-quite-right about the asymmetric look of the insignia for Second Master and First Officer (and so on) but I'm not sure what I would suggest instead.

Also, I re-read the Order and couldn't quite decide, the laurel leaves embellishment on the cap peak were for Master and not for other officers, including Chief Engineer, but did they also extend to Second Master...? The implication is that they did not and were thus reserved solely for the Master in command of the vessel. Thoughts...?

As to the origins of the designs, I was thinking (well, more like musing, really) about which individuals actually sat down within the Board of Trade (likely with representatives from the big shipping lines and, presumably, the Admiralty...?) and decided (a) how the grades would be delineated and (b) exactly what the various insignia would look like.

Always intrigued by how these things evolved and developed! I wonder if some of this was based on existing insignia already in use at the time?

P&O, by all accounts, were using something very different -- even after 1918.
(This one might interest you Justin!)
http://www.pandosnco.co.uk/deck_officers.html


Finally, a few more pics...

A modern version of the MN officer cap badge alongside a rather more vintage version:

Modern:
MN_new.jpg
MN_new.jpg (66.47 KiB) Viewed 776 times


Vintage:
MN_old.jpg



The MN laurel leaves cap decoration compared to the standard RN (single-row) oak leaves:

Merchant Navy (Master)
MN_peak.jpg
MN_peak.jpg (8.22 KiB) Viewed 776 times


Royal Navy (Commander, Captain, Commodore)
RN_peak.jpg
RN_peak.jpg (6.6 KiB) Viewed 776 times



An to end, a set of vintage accoutrements for an MN Master, with a standard MN cap badge and a variety of cap badges specific to particular shipping lines:

MN_set.jpg



I still don't know why the Forum isn't handling thumbnails for uploaded attachments properly right now, but the main images are definitely there, so click to look!

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Edit:
Nope, some of these pics still don't want to work. Don't know why. Bah. I'll try again later...
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Re: British merchant marine, 1918 and 1921

Unread postby J.T. Broderick » Sat May 20, 2017 6:22 pm

Medic_in_Uniform wrote:Also, I re-read the Order and couldn't quite decide, the laurel leaves embellishment on the cap peak were for Master and not for other officers, including Chief Engineer, but did they also extend to Second Master...? The implication is that they did not and were thus reserved solely for the Master in command of the vessel. Thoughts...?


I don't know for sure but I would bet it was intended just for The Man, the master who had the ultimate responsibility for the vessel.

Medic_in_Uniform wrote:As to the origins of the designs, I was thinking (well, more like musing, really) about which individuals actually sat down within the Board of Trade (likely with representatives from the big shipping lines and, presumably, the Admiralty...?) and decided (a) how the grades would be delineated and (b) exactly what the various insignia would look like.


I now have a copy of "The Report of the Committee Appointed by the Board of Trade to Advise as to the Uniform to be Adopted as the Standard Uniform for the Mercantile Marine," 1918. The members were:
  • Captain Alfred H. F. Young RNR, chairman
  • Mr. D. Bramah
  • Captain John W. Grace
  • Captain C. H. Holttum
  • The Lord Inchcape GCMG KCSO KCIE
  • Major H. Maitland Kersey DSO
  • Mr. S. J. Lester
  • Mr. G.C.L. Maunder
  • Commander Dudley B.N. North RN
  • Mr. William Raeburn
  • Mr. John Tod
  • Mr. R. Walton

And in Feb. 1917 there was a conference with Admiralty, Board of Trade, Chamber of Shipping of the United Kingdom, Liverpool Steam Ship Owners' Association, Shipping Federation, London Short Sea Traders' Association, Mercantile Marine Service Association, Imperial Merchant Service Guild, and Marine Engineers' Association.

Some of the difficulties seem to have been brought up by the Admiralty, which didn't want a number of things associated with naval officers (royal crown, half-inch rank stripes, oak leaves on the peak) to be used on a merchant marine uniform. It seems that merchant marine uniforms were rarely worn on shore before the war, but then had became quite common, especially by younger officers who didn't want any questions as to if they were "doing their part."

It doesn't say anything about how the designs were arrived at, though.

Medic_in_Uniform wrote:P&O, by all accounts, were using something very different -- even after 1918.
(This one might interest you Justin!)


Yes, I am familiar with the P&O "fore and aft" rank, having been intrigued with the distinctive design when I saw it in a group photo in a book many years ago. Unique!

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Re: British merchant marine, 1918 and 1921

Unread postby Medic_in_Uniform » Sat May 20, 2017 10:18 pm

Yes, given how, erm, exacting and inflexible the Admiralty were about what they would (and wouldn't!) allow for all sorts of other things — including the rank titles, rank insignia and service Ensign for the then new RAF — I'm not at all surprised that they wouldn't accept things like the Crown, naval pattern lace or, one presumes, the RN-type executive curl in the rank lace for the Merchant Navy!

It's an interesting diversion from the usual military stuff though.

It's also worth noting that the diamond motif from the MN rank lace is also used for the Royal Fleet Auxiliary, but for the RFA it is positioned above the upper row of more re conventional patterned RN-type lace in place of the RN's circular curl. The RFA also use the same laurel leaf peak decoration for Captain that the MN use for Master, not the oak leaf peak decoration used for Commander and above in the RN. The RFA was established before WW1 to supply and support the RN but I don't know when they adopted their current rank markings and what, if any, they used initially.
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