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  • The Royal Navy and Dogs of War January 29, 2014

    Author: Beach Combing | in : Contemporary , trackback

    bull dog

    Military services are closed societies with their own rules, sensible, silly and bizarre by turn. Few of these military cliques have, however, the traditions to rival the UK’s senior service, the Royal Navy. The Royal Navy, indeed, had everything from the banal (piping officers aboard), to the curious (the different toasts on different nights of the week), to the heroic (‘no British soldier left behind on shore’, which almost destroyed the WW2 Mediterranean fleet at Crete), to the practical (the rum ration). Here was a new one for me. This curious snarling custom, that was in place in the years before the Second World War, though knowing the RN it may date back to the times of Elizabeth and still be operational today. We can but hope…

    If the sub-lieutenant of the mess wished to remove anybody from the mess he would shout ‘Dogs of War’ whereupon all warts would growl. He would then order ‘Out Mr X’ and all warts in the gunroom at the time would eject Mr X, and if he resisted hotly the sub-lieutenant would add ‘debag Mr X’ and he would be ejected without his trousers.

    The picture of some annoying dinner guest getting his just deserts instead of dessert is a pleasant enough one. However, the real joy in this account is forty or fifty young men – the warts – suddenly dropping their knives and forks and sitting up like bull-dogs when they see the postman’s legs through the hedge. Among the snarlers will likely have been the man himself who was to be kicked out sans dignity: which adds an interesting twist to the whole exercise; a bit like those scenes in James Bond when you don’t know who around the Table Dr No is going to off. The tradition works because it is discipline but also because it is fun. I imagine that the warts liked nothing more than a good snarl, preferably followed by a debagging.

    Other silly RN or military customs from other lands? drbeachcombing AT yahoo DOT com

    The passage, btw, comes from Tim Clayton’s excellent Sea Wolves: The Extraordinary Story of Britain’s WW2 Submarines. The book came out a couple of years ago and I’d wanted to do a review but the publishers were against blogs (sigh) so I’ve only just picked up a second-hand copy on Amazon. As with all of TC’s work, it is well worth reading. Memories of taxis in the Mid Atlantic and there are lots of unpleasant and frankly incredible details about corporal punishment in the Royal Navy in the years before the war.