Archive for August, 2015

The Royal Navy in World War II – Personal Memoirs, Anecdtotes

August 31, 2015

The BBC site WW2 People’s War has almost 2600 reminiscences about the activities in the Royal Navy during that conflict. By accessing the timeline feature, one can see a chronological list of major events, among them the Narvik Naval Battle or the sinking of the Bismarck. Clicking on each item will open up a succinct factsheet as well as give a listing of narratives that pertain to that particular event. If you want to see the Royal Navy in action from a personal, intimate level this is certainly a place to visit.

Pre-1800 American Views on Great Britain

August 26, 2015

Embedded in the Evans Early American Imprint Collection, a database of almost 5,000 items, will be found hundreds of references to American reaction against Great Britain. For instance, inter alia, read No standing army in the British colonies; or An address to the inhabitants of the colony of New-York. Against unlawful standing armies (1773); Considerations on the propriety of imposing taxes in the British colonies, for the purpose of raising a revenue, by act of Parliament (1765);  and American independence the interest and glory of Great Britain; containing arguments which prove, that not only in taxation, but in trade, manufactures, and government, the colonies are entitled to an entire independency on the British legislature….(1776).

Jane Austen and the Royal Navy

August 24, 2015

Two of Jane’s siblings, Francis William and Charles John, had long careers in the Royal Navy, both ending their careers as admirals, the former as Vice-Admiral of the Red and the latter as Rear-Admiral of the Blue. Their naval exploits are detailed in contemporary biographical sketches: Francis’ are found here (pp.27-8) and here (pp.274-283); Charles’ here (pp.26-27) and here (p.74-77). The venerable Dictionary of National Biography contains a brief biography of Francis (pp.258-59). His descendants (some of them naval officers in their own right) published Jane Austen’s Sailor Brothers in 1906 that contained letters to them from Jane.

For such a writer as herself, we are not blessed with many of her missives; the most modern edition of her letters – Jane Austen’s Letters (4th ed., 2011) – contains just over 160 items, We have a limited preview of this book; an older work that does not reflect modern editing procedures but does contain many letters is the Braeburn edition of 1884. A search through this work will find both letters addressed to these brothers as well as letters containing information about them. It is not perfect, but it will give the reader a glimpse into Jane’s view of the Royal Navy as seen through the lives of her brothers.

(U.S.) Naval Studies Board

August 11, 2015

“The mission of the Naval Studies Board (NSB), created in 1974 at the request of the Chief of Naval Operations, is to be a source of independent, long-range, scientific and technical planning advice for the Naval Forces.” (about)  Its publications are here and cover a wide variety of topics, from climate change to hydroengineering. Its predecessor agency, the Office of Naval Research, has many of its documents readily available online. The difference between these two agencies is that the NSB’s board is comprised of non-military members (although some are retired Navy personnel) and operates under the umbrella of the National Research Council while the ONR resides within the military hierarchy.

British Naval Biographies, Part II

August 5, 2015

A previous entry on this topic alluded to other works of importance. So here we go. John Charnock authored the six-volume Biographia navalis; or, Impartial memoirs of the lives and characters of officers of the navy of Great Britain, from the year 1660 to the present time; drawn from the most authentic souces, and disposed in a chronological arrangement between 1794 and 1798. It contains biographies of over two thousand post-captains and admirals who served in the Navy between 1660 and 1793 along with portraits. Much of his work was conducted in the British Museum and the College of Arms; he was also indebted to William Locker, lieutenant governor of Greenwich Hospital, who had amassed a large collection of naval biographies. (vol.1, p.xii) While many of the biographies are accompanied by quotations from other sources, Charnock maddeningly was not consistent in citing them.

Another multi-volume endeavor – Royal naval biography : or, Memoirs of the services of all the flag-officers, superannuated rear-admirals, retired-captains, post-captains, and commanders, whose names appeared on the Admiralty list of sea officers at the commencement of the present year, or who have since been promoted, illustrated by a series of historical and explanatory notes – was written by John Marshall, himself a naval officer. These volumes, four tomes published in eight parts,  were published between 1823 and 1835 and concentrate on officers appointed from 1760 to the “present.” ( A four-volume supplementary series also accompanies the main work; supplement two is here. There is also a marvelous index to the entire work.) The biographies are presented by rank/seniority. The author, Captain Frederick Marryat has a laudatory memoir included. Many of the lives are buttressed by recourse to original sources; i.e., letters or dispatches as well as the contributions of the subjects themselves. Marshall acknowledges that much of what he wrote was based on previous compilations but argues his work has value because of all the added information he provided. (vol.1, pt.1, p.xi) As with the above work, citations are frustratingly sparse.

Other works of similar scope include: A naval biographical dictionary: comprising the life and services of every living officer in Her Majesty’s navy, from the rank of admiral of the fleet to that of lieutenant, inclusive. Compiled from authentic and family documents (1849, a compilation of 5,000 biographies of those on the 1845 Navy List; references to the London Gazette are so noted); British naval biography : comprising the lives of the most distinguished admirals from Howard to Codrington : with an outline of the naval history of England from the Earliest period to the present time (4th ed., 1853, with a very informative appendix introducing the non-sailor to terminology and ranks); Lives of the British admirals, with an introductory view of the naval history of England (5 vols., 1833-1840, from Roman times to the 17th century. Of course, since there was not an England in Roman times, it kind of begs the question, doesn’t it?); The naval biography of Great Britain: consisting of historical memoirs of those officers of the British navy who distinguished themselves during the reign of His Majesty George III (4 vols., 1828, references Charnock and other contemporary sources); and Naval history of Great Britain, including the history and lives of the British admirals. By Dr. John Campbell. With a continuation to the close of the year 1812; comprising biographical sketches of the admirals omitted by Dr. Campbell: likewise of naval captains and other officers who have distinguised themselves in their country’s cause (8 vols., 1813).