Training in 1921

Published by Peter Collins on

ABOVE: The 1905 quota of Naval Recruits going through their training in Brisbane. From page 15 of “The Brisbane Courier” newspaper of 12 March 1924.

The Naval Brigade.
Brisbane Boys.
Sailors in the Making.

“Non Sibi Sed Patriae” — not for himself, but for his country — a great motto; a motto expressing the highest of ideals; the motto of the Royal Australian Navy.

And it is this spirit of self-effacement that permeates the whole of that great activity, which, during the war; became known as “The Silent Service”.

The appellation is particularly appropriate.

Few know just what is being done to carry on the work of those, who saw that the defence of Australia depended principally on substantial naval strength.

Long before Federation, there was in Queensland a system of naval training, the body being designated the Queensland Marine Defence Force.

This organisation, on the formation of the Commonwealth, was merged into an Australian volunteer naval cadet force and militia.

On 1 July, 1911, was ushered in compulsory training for lads and young men between the ages of 14 and 26.

Queensland was formed into a naval district, with Sub-Districts at Thursday Island, Cairns, Townsville, Rockhampton, Bundaberg, Maryborough and Brisbane.

All males born in 1894, ’95, ’96 and ’97 were called up for medical examination, and, from those who were passed, the naval officers proceeded to select recruits for the new service.

As Thursday Island is not a military training centre, all youths who, were declared fit passed into the Naval Cadets.

From Brisbane 360 recruits were taken — 90 from each year’s quota — and 16 cadets were selected from each of the other Sub-Districts.

Last September the Naval Board abolished training at Cairns, Rockhampton, Bundaberg, and Maryborough.

There were many protests by the residents and trainees of those towns at this action; but all to no avail.

Brisbane’s number had in 1912 been increased to 120 cadets per year, and last year that number was increased to 200.

The instruction given to the cadets, that is to youths between the age of 14 and 18, is very thorough.

Upon being selected they are clothed, and then undergo a year’s general training in gunnery, seamanship, and signals, learning the rudiments of the Morse and semaphore codes.

The young sailor is taught discipline and how to conduct himself in a manner worthy of his great heritage.

Recognising how true it is that all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy, the authorities decreed that recreation should have, its place in the training and early in 1911, Captain Grant [ Duncan Grant ], late of the Jervis Bay Naval College, who was relieving the District Naval Officer (Captain Curtis) [ George Arthur Hamilton Curtis ], drew up a system of recreational training, which, for years was and in some sections is still carried on in Brisbane.

“Medicine” and punching balls, boxing gloves, and all the sporting apparatus so dear to the youthful male were procured; Swedish drill was introduced; and teams for outdoor sports organised.

The Sub-Districts followed Brisbane’s lead, and no aquatic and few land sports went by without the blue-jacketed lads having taken prominent parts.

A glance at the trophy case in the Brisbane drill hall satisfies one as to the prowess on the sporting fields.

Last July the system was reorganised. A sports committee were selected and affiliated with the various sporting associations.

The Brisbane executive is composed of Captain Curtis (patron), Lieutenant P. Keane [ Patrick Keane ], sub-District Naval Officer (president), Chief Petty Officer A.M. Brown (hon. secretary), and Mr. J.O. Alexander, chief clerk (hon. treasurer) [ John Orlando Alexander ].

At Townsville and Thursday Island Sub-District Naval Officers, Lieutenant Lavers and Lieutenant Pember [ Edward Ernest Pember ] act as presidents of the committees, and are assisted by members of their staffs to encourage clean sport among their trainees.

Efforts are now being made to interest the boys’ parents in this recreational training, it being considered the proper thing that the parents should form the general committee, while the executive committee should be composed of and elected by the trainees themselves.

When the cadets have had a year’s training, they are chosen for the various branches — signals, wireless, and general service.

In the remaining three years of cadetship, the lads concentrate on the principal subject of the branch to which they have been allotted, though of course their other knowledge is not allowed to become rusty for want of practice.

Each class has its own room at the domain drill hall.

The wireless and signals rooms are fitted with a number of sending and receiving instruments, and in the wireless room is stored a portable transmitting and receiving set.

Compact, but complete, the whole of the apparatus can be taken apart in 15 minutes, carried away, and set up again wherever desired.

This branch is in the charge of Chief Petty Officer Leicester.

The signallers are also provided with a number of signalling lamps, and of course the usual flags.

There is a neat contrivance whereby the lads are taught how to read flag signals.

The instructor, Chief Petty Officer McDougall, manipulates a complete set of miniature flags, and the cadets are supplied with pieces of metal shaped as ships.

These they manoeuvre according to the signals hoisted by the instructor.

The boys are later taken out to the parade ground, where each cadet becomes a vessel, one being the “flagship”.

The signals are hoisted on the staff, and are received by the “flagship” and then transmitted by him to his “fleet”, who perform the required evolutions.

The whole of the instruction is made as interesting as possible, and the great majority of the lads throw themselves keenly and vigorously into the work.

The general service corps under Chief Petty Officer Whatley [ William Marston Whatley ] are those who will ultimately become the seamen.

They do mostly gunnery and general shipboard work. This covers a very varied instruction.

The cadet is taught how to use ropes and blocks, how to “box the compass”, and how to do the thousand and one things a full-fledged “tar” is expected to know.

Also there is a sub-branch — the Artisan Section. Here the boys are taught naval architecture, engineering, gun-mounting, &tc. The whole of the tuition is carried under the personal supervision of the Sub.-D.N.O.

During training, cadets may be promoted to Leading and Petty Officer Cadets, and at 18 years of ago may sit for and be passed for the rank of Acting Midshipman.

After having passed four years in this junior service, all the cadets go be-fore naval medical officers and, if passed as fit, are transferred to the Adult, usually called the “A Class”, or “Naval Reserve”.

The examinee must be 5 feet 2½ inches high [ 158.6 centimetres ], and his mean chest measurement must be not less than 32 inches [ 81.28 centimetres ].

If he fails to pass that test, and 32 inches as a mean chest measurement is a high standard in a climate like Queensland’s, he is sent to the military doctors and if passed by them, is drafted into the military forces. Such often happens.

The cadet goes into “A Class” as an Ordinary Seaman, an Ordinary Telegraphist, or an Ordinary Signalman; but he may rise to Leading Seaman and Petty Officer, Leading and Petty Officer Telegraphist, Leading Signalman and Yeoman of Signals.

From these non-commissioned ranks officers are taken, and he who was once an awkward but willing cadet may, if he perseveres, become in turn, Midshipman, Sub-Lieutenant, Lieutenant, Lieutenant-Commander, and Commander.

The service is as yet too young to have produced Commanders, but there are in the Queensland District several who have risen to Lieutenants.

For eight years the reservists are trained ashore and for 17 days each year afloat with the object of becoming at the end of their training wholly efficient.

These days, however, the word “efficient” acts upon certain reservists as does a particularly impossible recruit upon an irritable drill sergeant, and for this reason.

When war broke out in 1914, the Queensland District had between 400 and 500 naval trainees of the “A Class”.

A number went away with the New Guinea Expeditionary Force, and about 30 percent of the remainder were allowed to enlist for the A.I.F.

Of the remaining 70 percent 65 percent offered themselves for service anywhere. They were retained for home service.

Many of these men put in four and five years at war signal stations round the Commonwealth and in the examination service, both of which were manned solely by R.A.N. ratings.

They were not permitted to join the A.I.F., because their efficiency was needed for home defence. “You cannot be spared,” they were told. There was nothing to do but grin and bear it until the end of the war.

Then came the setback. These men, who, by strict attention to duty, had made themselves indispensable, were deprived of all the benefits distributed by a grateful nation — war gratuities, repatriation money, Red Cross grants, and the like.

They were not even granted the medal given to returned soldiers and sailors.

True, they were handed a decoration of a sort; but to the aggrieved reservists this seemed to be insult, added to injury, for the concrete recognition of their service by the Commonwealth Government was not given the dignity of a crown.

Four years is a long time to be away from one’s occupation, no matter what, and some of them when they applied for their former positions, were turned down in favour of returned men.

Have they not a substantial grievance?

However, to resume, when the trainee reaches the age of 26, the compulsory clauses of the Defence Act cease to apply to him; but if he desires to remain with the Navy he can join the recently-constituted R.A.N. Volunteer Reserve.

Persons who wish to become members of this force need not necessarily have served in the R.A.N.R.

For instance, all who follow the sea as a profession or recreation, and those interested in or connected with shipping are eligible.

The training required during the first year is 14 days, including seven days continuous service on one of his Majesty’s ships or establishments and after the first 12 months a similar amount of training is undergone each alternate year.

Men can in this way be instructed in naval subjects, and in time of war would prove a valuable asset to the standing naval forces.

Thus Australian youths become imbued with pride of race and by coming continually into contact with subjects maritime unconsciously accept and appreciates the principle that —

“ ’Tis the broad and mighty sea
That has made us strong and free,
“And will keep us what we are.”

— from page 25 of “The Week” (Brisbane) of 9 December 1921.

Categories: RAN Milestones