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Financial matters for national servicemen
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.

Basic pay

Pay for us naval national servicemen was twenty-eight shillings (written as 28/- or £1-8-0), a week, payable fortnightly. From this was deducted two shillings and sixpence, 2/6, to keep our contribution to National Insurance going during our National Service.

This left us one pound, five shillings and sixpence a week (written as 25/6 and £1-5-6).

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Expenses

There were expenses that had to come out of our pay. Although our initial issue of kit was free, any replacements had to be paid for out of our £1-5-6.

Also we had to pay for our 'best' uniform (known as our Number One Uniform). It was not compulsory to have it but everyone did.

The sales routine was for a representative of one of the naval tailors to come round in the evenings selling their wares. An account was opened for each customer and we paid our dues by signing an agreement for a specific amount of money to be deducted from our pay each week. A Number One uniform was, as far as I can recall, about £7. The normal deduction was in the region of five shillings so it took about six months to pay off this major item on our account.

Other things were available from the tailors like flowers for your mother's birthday, shoes, etc., but we were loath to take on too much because as our deductions increased, we stood the chance of being left with almost nothing.

Other expenses such as toilet soap, shaving equipment and toiletries were obtainable from the NAAFI where we paid normal NAAFI prices. Once a month, the Royal Navy Stores Department issued us with 400 cigarettes and a 'ration' of soap which was very, very hard and likely to take the skin off hands and which we used for washing our clothes. We had to pay for these, of course, but not very much. The cigarettes were of generally poor quality but they were cheap. At sea, though, this ration was not available and we bought cigarettes at the on board NAAFI at sixpence for twenty. The wide variety was the same as available in the High Street tobacconists except for 'Ships Woodbines' which were the usual Woodbine cigarettes apart from size. Whereas the Woodbines in the civilian shops were small 'ladies style', the Royal Navy ones were full size. They were very popular. Each pack had the slogan HM SHIPS ONLY on the lid so that we could not sell them ashore very easily.

We also had the additional expense of contributing to a communal iron for our laundry.

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Pay increases and promotion

As National Servicemen in the Communications Branch of the Royal Navy we were not in line for pay increases of any kind. I will explain why shortly, but would point out first that if we had been seamen we would have been eligible for promotion to Able Seaman from Ordinary Seaman and received an extra shilling a day for the remaining four months of our service. It was all the more unfair on us in that we had been told that the being in the Royal Navy was 'the cream of the national servicemen' - less than 1% of national servicemen were - and furthermore that being put into Communications meant you had to be a bit of a bright boy.

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The reason why we in the Communications Branch were not in line for promotion was as follows. As a signalman the basic requirements for promotion were (a) a rather difficult trade test to pass from Ordinary Signalman to Signalman and (b) one year's mandatory sea time. As we were in the Royal Navy for eighteen months, of which one month was spent at our Initial Training Base then six months at the Signal School, this left only eleven months.

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How servicemen were paid in the Royal Navy

We were paid at a pay parade. When asked to identify ourselves to receive our pay, we had to step forward state our full naval number, in my case, "C/JX 872268 Ordinary Signalman Peach, Sir".

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