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Allegiance to the Crown
in the Royal Navy

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This page takes 'National Service' as the generally understood term in 1950s Britain, meaning conscription into the armed forces for young men after World War Two.

The Oath of Allegiance

One of the many things that make the Royal Navy quite different from the other two services is the fact that we recruits were never required to swear allegiance to the Crown.

In the RAF and the Army, I understand this is one of the first things that happens. In our case, as post World War Two national servicemen in the Royal Navy, we were to learn why in our naval history lectures.

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Historical background to the Oath of Allegiance in the navy

The Royal Navy started many centuries ago as an armed force recruited by the owners of merchant ships.

The owners had tired of having their precious cargoes plundered by pirates and anyone else who took a fancy to them, so decided to protect them with men employed simply to defend the ships and their cargoes from attack. As such 'the Crown' didn't come into the picture.

As years went by the situation developed into what the Navy is now. Instead of a merchant ship's complement comprising only 'sailors' responsible for loading the cargoes and navigating the ship from one place to another there was a crew of 'protectors'. As the practice grew more popular and piracy and the like was controlled. things changed, and instead of each ship having his own 'protectors' they were put on their own ships which guarded a fleet of merchant vessels.

In time of war the fleet of 'protector ships' was seen as highly suitable for combating the enemies of the then current king or queen. One set of protector ships combined with another and the Royal Navy was born. But still with no allegiance responsibility to the crown. Indeed for a great number of years merchant ship owners provided the pay of these protectors.

Eventually the whole thing was regularised and the Royal Navy proper came into being. One final development followed. Although the Royal Navy personnel fought the ship at sea, there was a need to have more highly skilled marksmen and more military skilled men on the Royal Navy ships.

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Why the Royal Marines do take the Oath of Allegiance

The Royal Marines, who are part of the Royal Navy do, however, take the oath of allegiance to the Crown. The reason again lies in history:

Although the Royal Navy personnel were skilled at swordplay, firing cannons of various shapes and sizes and the use of the traditional cutlass, their rifle skills were only moderate. Yet sharpshooting was a need in the early days, and there were occasions when it became necessary to fight on land from their ships.

Thus was born the Royal Marines - the soldiers of the Royal Navy. These first marines were recruited from the army of the day and were thus 'sworn men' who had taken the oath of allegiance.

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A naval idiosyncrasy

If you can add anything to this page or provide a photo, I would be pleased to hear from you.

Pat Cryer webmaster

Royal Marines were and still are part of the Royal Navy. In ships of the Royal Navy that carry Royal Marines the Marines are always quartered between those of the 'sailors' and the commissioned officers. The theory remains that men who on joining had been required to swear an oath of allegiance to the Crown would protect the commissioned officers from the rough and ready sailors who had not taken the oath.

Page contributed by Fred Peach who may be contacted at the following email address.
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