13: Royal Navy

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Navy & Army Canteen Board

The NACB (1917 to 1921) was a central organisation that managed canteen services and procured food supplies for the British armed forces at home. The origins of the NACB arose from allegations and complaints about the varying standards of regimental catering. Prior to 1914 individual regiments were responsible for their own canteens and the quality and price of food varied greatly coupled with exploitative service to their troops. To improve standard, centralise organisation and improve procurement the War Office sought to form a central organisation to look after all canteen services at home.

Although the NACB charged for their services they were run as a not-for-profit organisation and surplus moneys were usually donated to ex-servicemen organisations.

Here’s a brief timeline of their development.

1894, the Canteen & Mess Co-operative Society (CMOS) was founded to counter substandard food & catering facilities within the Army’s regiments.

January 1917 the Army Canteen Committee (ACC) was formed when the CMOS amalgamated with the Army Service Corps.

June 1917 the Navy & Army Canteen Board (NACB) name was adopted after the ACC took over the running of the Royal Navy’s canteens.

April 1918, the NACB took over the running of the newly formed Royal Air Force canteens.

1919, the NACB took over the running of the Expeditionary Forces Canteens that provided catering for the troops overseas.

January 1st 1921 the NACB were reorganised to form the nucleus of the Navy, Army & Air Force Institutes (NAAFI).

Royal Navy Motor-Boat Reserve – created early in the war to provide motor-boat protection on the rivers and canals first of France and later in the Mediterranean] The flotilla consisted of ML’s 438, 505, 432, 440, 516, 539, 535, and 530. Leaving Portsmouth on July 11, they reached Havre and Rouen. After various adventures peculiar to the waterways of France, and being compelled to endure trying delays, they reached Marseille on the last day of the same month, not without damage to propellers owing to grounding or striking the lock sides or fouling submerged tree-branches.

Having been docked and repaired, ML’s 535 and 505 proceeded under their own power to Gibralter, having left on the night of August 8 and arriving on the evening of August 11. This was no mean achievement, for it involved a run of about 700 miles with no intervening friendly port in which to run in case of necessity. They were escorted by H.M.S. Marguerite. The other six ML’s after their repairs left Marseilles and proceeded on August 19 via Villefranche, Genoa, Spezzia, Leghorn, Civita Vecchia, Naples, Policastro, Messina; here ML’s 438 and 432 parted company on their way to Malta. The other four reached Taranto on September 3, in twenty-six actual steaming days from Portsmouth, a distance of 2,246 miles.

Royal Naval Patrol Service When the Royal Naval Reserves were mobilised in August 1939, Sparrow’s Nest, Lowestoft became the Central Depot of the Royal Naval Patrol Service, at the most easterly point of Great Britain, then the closest British military establishment to the enemy.

The advantages of using small ships for minesweeping and other duties had been recognised during WW1 and many of the crews of the peacetime fishing fleets had been encouraged to join the Royal Naval Reserve.

At first known as ‘Pembroke X’ the depot later became HMS Europa and was the administrative headquarters for more than 70,000 men and 6,000 ships which included trawlers, whalers, drifters, MFV’s (Motor Fishing Vessels), ML’s (Motor Launches), and later MMS (Motor Minesweepers or ‘Mickey Mouses’), American produced BYMS (British Yard MineSweepers) and numerous requisitioned vessels.

Within a short while the Royal Navy had almost taken over Lowestoft with the establishment of no fewer than five Naval Bases, HMS Europa (RNPS Headquarters), HMS Martello (the local Minesweeping Base), HMS Mantis (Coastal Forces MGB’s and MTB’s), HMS Minos (Harbour Defence, small escort and other craft) and HMS Myloden (Landing Craft Training for RM Commandos and Combined Operations).

Here, however, we are only concerned with HMS Europa. The RNPS fought all over the world in all theatres of the war and were involved mainly with minesweeping and anti-submarine work. The only RNPS VC was won at Namsos by Lt. Stannard of Arab during the Narvik campaign but over 850 other awards were made to RNPS personnel as well as over 200 Mention in Despatches.

Vessels from RNPS were on convoy duty in the Atlantic and the Arctic, in the Mediterranean and the Far East but many will first think of the keeping clear of the War Channel. Throughout the early years of the war mines were laid by the Germans by sea and air around the British Isles in an attempt to strangle the coastal convoys which were used to keep Britain supplied. It was the work of the RNPS to keep the shipping lane clear so that the convoys could continue and this meant constant minesweeping because as soon as an area had been cleared it was a simple task for E-Boats or aircraft to mine it again.

This hazardous work was recognised by the award of a unique silver badge to RNPS minesweeping and anti-submarine crews. It was not an automatic award and only given to those officers and ratings who had completed six months sea-time. The first issue was with a vertical pin at the back but so many of these were lost that it was changed to having four small eyes so that it could be sewn onto the sleeve.

Because the majority were Royal Naval Reservists the RNPS became ‘a Navy within a Navy’ and was given a number of unofficial titles, ‘Harry Tate’s Navy’ and ‘Churchill’s Pirates’ being two of the more polite. The peacetime crews becoming Naval seamen together made for a special cameraderie which continued in the Service throughout WW2 even though by the end most RNPS members were ‘hostilities only’ who had probably had no connection with the sea before the war.

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