Splice the mainbrace

From the expression on the Duke of Cambridge’s face, the privileges that come with rank are not always pleasant ones.

The Prince was given a tot of rum as he attended the rededication ceremony of the only surviving British Second World War-era submarine – a ritual usually carried out by newly qualified submariners.

While the lower ranks tend to have their rum watered down, officers are given have less water. In an apparent acknowledgement of his position as Commodore-in-Chief, Submarines, the Duke of Cambridge was given his neat and grimaced after knocking back the shot.

Used to be every day. And a substantial amount too. I’ve been told it was 1 gill (4 ounces?). Of 120 proof or so rum. Served as a shot and no keepies, drink it or decline it.

There was a time when it was twice a day, centuries ago, but the Admiralty abandoned that when they realised that absolutely nothing was getting done.

It’s only in my lifetime (and thus within my father’s serving career) that it was replaced with the beer ration. Which is still served open. Fine to drink at sea but not to save stock up and get drunk.

Officers, of course, can drink whatever the hell they like whenever. But Lord preserve the one who gets drunk.

11 thoughts on “Splice the mainbrace”

  1. Having dealt with the rum may I ask that you forgo mention of sodomy & the lash.

    However, on this naval tradition trivia I would just add that the last RN sailor to be allowed to sleep in a hammock was a petty officer on HMS Britannia.

  2. Gawds,that’s a facial expression I recognise only too well. Pussers Rum is surely the devils own tot ‘o’ choice. I worked, for many years, at The Dolphin Pub in Gosport, known, affectionately as Dolphin III to the patrons. This was the preferred haunt of many a submariner or sailor, be they Officer or Rating, serving or retired, as it was but a short jaunt from HMS Dolphin, renamed Fort Blockhouse, just prior to it’s closure as a submarine base (where HMS Alliance is based). It was also the favourite haunt of various medical staff that were training or serving at The Royal Hospital Haslar (before that was shut down as well). Every birth, birthday, engagement, marriage, deployment, divorce, death or bog standard run ashore was celebrated with a tot ‘o’ Pussers, at some point in the evening, which even the bar staff had to sup. Surely the only thing worse than the tot ‘o’ Pussers was the tot ‘o’ Bunderberg that the boss (Dave T) dished out every Anzacs Day. Glleeuurrkkk.

  3. During the olden-days it was half a pint of nutcase navy rum every day. It used to be served neat, but then they started mixing it with lime and water – aka grog.

    It was reckoned that most sailors were almost permanently (albeit mildly) sloshed.

    Also, if it was your birthday, your mates would donate their rations so you could have a nice session, that probably ended with you 1) comatose and 2) getting a dozen lashes when you sobered up. Amazingly enough, most seemed to think this a perfectly decent trade off. It’s almost as if getting wankered on strong waters is a fun thing!

  4. Further pedantry, for those who didn’t know… the rum ration for junior rates was issued as ‘grog’, watered down with one part rum to IIRC two parts water (although, on smaller ships, “the water’s very strong today, Chief!”) because it was believed that, once watered down, it would spoil quickly: so, drink it or lose it. (Said to be introduced by, or at least under, Admiral Vernon, known as ‘Old Grog’ from the grosgrain cloak he favoured, and not at all popular with the sailors of the time).

    Senior rates got their rum neat, usually to be drunk on the spot but a certain amount of saving and storing went on; permitted but not generally encouraged; the POs had their rum issued neat at 1100, then the ‘grog’ was mixed in the scuttled butt for the JRs and issued at 1200. The underage and the teetotal had a ‘T’ marked by their name at rum issue and were credited with something like tuppence for each tot foregone.

    Officers were only issued rum on special occasions, but – as Tim described, then as now – they had effectively an open bar to buy what they wanted, when they wanted. However, as with senior rates, you were required to be fit for duty when your watch rolled around; and while being a merry fellow was acceptable, being a drunkard was not.

    Apart from the lack of issued rum since Black Friday, it’s not that different today, perhaps a little less strict; the Junior Rates’ mess runs on a ‘two can rule’, two beers per person per night – again, officially no carrying unused forward – while the SRs and Chiefs’ messes and the wardroom are nominally open bar.

    However, particularly in an operational theatre, many ships are unofficially dry most of the time. In the wardroom you might have a couple of pints of an evening when alongside, but generally the shutters stay down on the bar while underway by mutual consent; and in the last decade or so it’s become typical for the JR’s Mess to vote to stick to soft drinks while underway, especially in theatre.

    Alongside it gets livelier, and ashore Jack will still get drunk, get into fights and/or try to trap and shag anything with a pulse – or at least, enough of them will do that to keep their divisional officers busy – but it’s surprising how little alcohol actually gets consumed on an operational warship these days. Possible reasons are many, but one point is that on a 3,500-ton Type 42 you’d have nearly 300 crew while on a 8,000 Type 45 you’ve got 185; there’s more work for fewer people to do, and fewer opportunities to sleep off a hangover in the chain locker or the small-arms workshop.

  5. I’ve always thought the grog was tolerable due to sanitation reason. You’re far less likely to get dysentery from drinking grog than from drinking what’s passing for drinking water in those vessels.

  6. No drinking under way on my ship.

    Once the anchor’s down and the ship’s safe it’s a different matter…

    But then we’re only a 30-foot five-tonner so different rules apply I guess.

  7. The daft bugger should have offered ‘sandy bottoms’

    2 Wetters = 1 Sippers
    2 Sippers = 1 Gulpers
    2 Gulpers = 1 Sandy Bottoms

    SANDY BOTTOMS = A rare privilege, being invited to see off a friends entire tot

  8. @Jason Lynch

    Thanks for that. Really interesting inside knowledge. I went to Pompey Grammar but, despite its naval connections, never picked up on that kind of detail.

    You’re no skate. 😉


  9. Bloke in California

    “Wetters”, that was it!

    When I was at Plymouth Poly many years ago I lived near a pub called “Sippers”. I could remember Sippers and Gulpers for sharing your tot but I could never remember the third one.

  10. A one gill measure of rum is going it a bit: a gill is quarter of a pint. English standard spirit measure= one sixth of gill (bigger in Scotland?)
    When I was a student in Manchester, hard-up locals used to drink beer in special gill glasses. I swore I would never sink so low but soon did.

  11. Navy proof is 100% proof. The rum — or any liquor on board — had to be that strong for operational reasons: in the event of a spillage, it’s the minimum strength at which gunpowder soaked in the stuff will still work.

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