The Parents' Review
A Monthly Magazine of Home-Training and Culture
"Education is an atmosphere, a discipline, a life."
Our Naval Cadets.
In the June number of the Parent's Review there appeared an article by Captain Rowley Wynward, R.A., entitled "Our Cadets." It was very interesting, and will afford much useful information to many a reader.
My only complaint respecting it is that its title might lead the uninitiated to suppose that the only cadets about whom English parents can have any concern are those at Woolwich and Sandhurst, who are being educated for the various branches of the Army. And the uninitiated are many, for probably the number of persons in England is comparatively small who realise even the existence of the cadets of the Royal Navy. Indeed, except in the neighbourhood of the naval ports, it is really remarkable how little people in England interest themselves, as a rule, in the interior economy of our first line of defence. Perhaps, indeed, this may be regarded as a compliment to the senior service, which is assumed to exist as a matter of course; but it is certain that large numbers of persons who follow with keen interest the early fortunes of officers of the Army, have no idea whatever how the Navy is provided with officers, and seem to consider that they are to be found ready made when wanted.
I have known people quite au courant in military matters who, on becoming aware of the existence of naval caders, presumed that, by way of starting from the beginning, they commenced life as cabin boys.
Ladies who hild pronounced views as to the comparative merits of the militia and the line, will often hopelessly confound the Royal Navy and the Mercantile Marine; and many an Englishman, on coming across a training ship for boys for the Fleet, such as the Boscawen at Portland, has supposed that these boys were the officers of the future.
I express no surprise at the existence of this state of things, for of course with Navy it is very much a case of "out of sight out of mind"; but I think it possible that some readers of this magazine may like to know a little about a career which is open to their sons, but the existence of which they may not fully have realised.
This being written, not for the benefit of those who know all about the subject, but of those who do not, it may be as well to say that the age of admission to H.M.S. Britannia (which is the only training ship for officers) is from thirteen to fourteen and a-half.
The naval officer is this, like the Blue-jacket, caught young, and no doubt this is the only hope of acclimatising a sailor to the glorious and honourable, but (it must be admitted) hard and somewhat uncomfortable life which awaits him.
It has been sometimes suggested--more, perhaps, for the mere sake of change than anything else--that this time-honoured method should be abolished, and that young gentlemen of seventeen or eighteen, who had tasted of the luxuries and freedom of University life, should be entered for the Navy in the same way as for the sister service.
But I should like to see the face of the young gentleman straight from rooms at College who suddenly found himself confronted with the necessarily public life on board a ship, and called upon to confine his impedimenta to such articles as could be stowed in a regulation chest, standing amid dozens of similar chests, while dozens of hammocks swung overhead. Truly, there is no hardship in these conditions, but I repeat that the full-fledged Oxford or Cambridge "man" could hardly be expected to accept them with philosophy.
The naval officer, then, is caught young, and if he is successful in passing the entrance examination, held twice a year in London and at Portsmouth, he is at once admitted to the Brittania as a naval cadet.
But it must not be supposed that any boy--or his parents for him--can suddenly decide that he will enter tha Navy, and, without more afo, present himself for examination.
In the Navy, for better or worse, the ancient custom of selection still prevails, and it is in the first place necessary to obtain a nomination giving permission to compete; and a nomination is not always easy to procure.
A certain number of candidates are nominated by the First Lord of the Admiralty, and some by flag officers and captains, under conditions which it is not necessary to relate here, since they may be found at length in the "Navy List," published quarterly.
The examination is undoubtedly of a high standard--higher, especially in mathematical subjects, than is generally required of boys of thirteen years of age.
The papers set in the examinations of June and November respectively, are published about a month later by the Civil Service Commission, and can be procured for sixpence through any bookseller; so that it is an easy matter for the parent or teacher to ascertain the general nature of the knowledge demanded.
There are, of course, many teachers who, after seeing a few specimens of these papers, will know well enough how to impart, no matter amid what surroundings, the instruction required; just as there are many boys who will be capable, at any school, of mastering the necessary subjects.
But as a general rule it will probably be found advisable to send a boy for a time to one of those schools, of which several are to be found ub the South of England, where the naval examination is specially prepared for, and where teachers are to be found who can show a boy not only how to arrive at correct mathematical results, but to reach them by the particular methods approved by those who will subsequently have to be pleased.
By this I do not at all mean to advocate the practice commonly known as "cramming"--that is, letting a boy take his chance for thirteen years and then sending him to a specialist, who in six, or it may be in three months, is expected to plant in no very well-cultivated soil enough of the "tricks of the trade" to enable the candidate to scrape through.
Such a plan is not only obviously mischievous, but must allow itself to be painfully "found out" during the searching two years of probation on board the training ship.
While it is a truism that in every walk of educational life a careful grounding is desirable, it is more than every necessary in the case of boys who are destined so early to depart the regular grooves and apply themselves to special subjects.
Although Latin, owing to imperious necessity, is abandoned on board the Brittania, it is required for the entrance examination; and with a view not merely to obtaining marks, but to the modern languages to be studied later, it is impossible to overrate the importance of ensuring as complete a grounding in accuracy of Latin grammar and style as is compatible with the short time at disposal.
Drawing is not only of value for the purposes of the entrance examination; but is an absolute necessity in these modern days of steam fleets; and it is to be borne in mind that much useful instruction in drawing can be imparted while the boy is at home, and, thanks to the existence of schools of art, and the abundance of good teachers, without partaking of the grim nature of a school task.
An English sailor was always a Jack-of-all-trades, and he is more than ever so now when to navigation and seamanship are added scientific gunnery, torpedoes, signalling, steam machinery, electricity, and naval architecture, besides Infantry drill ashore.
As a preparation in early days for this formidable array of subjects it can only be said--as indeed, might be said of preparation for any trade or profession--that a boy should, and easily may, be trained from the first to habits of precision, punctuality, accurate observation, and tidy handiwork.
The most commonplace walk will afford opportunities for observing the compass, and considering where a straight line infinitely prolonged in any given direction would lead to; a piece of whipcord and a knife, habitually kept in the pocket, will provide interesting and useful practice in knotting for fingers otherwise idle; and even a very little experience, under good guidance, of the use of tools is invaluable.
I have spoken so far only of the entrance examinations conducted by the Civil Service Commissioners, but this is preceded buy a strict medical examination held by the Admiralty authorities, and rejection at the latter, in spite of nominations hardly obtained and special education dearly paid for, ruthlessly excludes from the former.
The special education referred to above--an education which will probably be found necessary--is, as all specialties are, expensive. It may, therefore, be consolatory to learn that, the examination successfully passed and the necessary outfit provided, the expense of education during the two ears of probation on board the Britannia is comparatively cheap--indeed considering that the Britannia is probably the very best school in England, it is actually cheap, the cost of living and education in the ship being only £75 a year.
The explanation of this, of course, is that the cadets, who now wear the Queen's uniform, are virtually young officers on probation, and though it gives them no pay, a not too grateful country does charge itself with a large share of the cost of their maintenance and instruction.
The living is excellent, the instruction is of the very best, and the amusements and exercise, which to a certain extent naturally go hand in hand, are more varied than they could possibly be in a school ashore.
It is not, however, my purpose here to describe life on board the Britannia. I would rather conclude by reminding my readers, on the one hand what sort of men are turned out by the training there supplied, and on the other hand what an officer in the Navy has to expect for himself.
In the first place, the Britannia turns out gentlemen. This is a natural result, due both to the conditions of entry and to the traditions of the service which are rigorously implanted on board.
She turns ot highly-educated young men--men who, if they return to the shore on leaving the Brittania, will have received as good an education (though, it is true, not classical) as those coming from any school in the kingdom.
She turns out men loyal to the Crown and Constitution, and impregnated with habits of ready and instant obedience--that unquestioning, faithful obedience so necessary to those who are destined in their turn to command others, and teaches them that ready submission in act to constituted authority is quite consistent with independence of thought, liberality of mind, and manliness of character.
She turns out practical men--young men who have necessarily learned to use their eyes, their observation, and their fingers, and who, on going to sea after their two years of training, immediately have their powers put to the test. A naval officer, however young, must be practical, must know his business, for not merely his credit but his life depends upon his efficiency.
While the Army officer, a full-grown man, is wishing that he might some day have an opportunity of proving the stuff which he feels to be in him, or, it may be, sighing for men in his skeleton regiment, in order that he may practise the first principles of command, a midshipman, perhaps at the age of fifteen, is already a real and responsible officer. He has real live men under him, whom he must command at once with tact and decision; while at the same time, without any absurd fear of injuring his dignity, he is learning many a useful wrinkle form the petty officers and older seamen best able to instruct him--men who are always glad to assist the young officer who is willing to learn.
He must perform his duties aloft, and keep his spell of watch on deck and in the engine-room, be able to manage the large board of which he has charge in any wind or weather, and is responsible for the good conduct of its crew.
While, as a rule, gay and light-hearted enough, he is subjected to a stern, unbending discipline, under which he early learns those habits of insurbodination alluded to above, which he will subsequently expect from others.
But let no one suppose that he is absolved from lessons or "study" because he has become "an officer and a gentleman." On the contrary, not only does he, as a youngster, carry on his studies at sea under naval instructors, but the examinations and courses and classes which he has to pass through during his professional career are sufficient to secure him from being taunted as an idler by the most cantankerous fault-finder.
And by the time he is a commander, or it may be sooner, what services does he not render to his countrymen?
People in England are little aware how much they owe to their naval officers in distant waters, who, besides keeping the peace by armed presence, and maintaining the dignity of the country by the ubiquitous display of the flaf, are constantly acting the part of ambassadors, plenipotentiaries, judges, and peace-makers, in every corner of the world.
If we look at the matter from the very lowest point of view, we may thank the Royal Navy for sparing the country no little expense which, but for its officers, would have to beincurred in increasing the diplomatic staff.
And what may the naval cadet look forward to for himself? It is certain, indeed, that all the cadets who enter the Brittania cannot attain flag rank; many will never be captains; and not a few, owing to the regulations for compulsory retirement or other causes, will not even reach the commanders' list, but will languish, amiably grumbling on the long roll of lieutenants to the end of their naval life.
This slowness of promotion is naturally enough one of the chief stumbling-blocks and the most serious source of grievance to officers. It can only be said that, from the very nature of things, except in case of war, promotion must be slow.
But who, as a rule, are those to whom promotion comes? Not to the man who is for ever grumbling over the trials of the service, and exerting his ingenuity to avoid doing all he can, on the ground that no further advancement is likely to reward his pains.
Parental government in its best form is the order of the day at the Admiralty, where a careful record is kept of the life, habits, and services of every officer; and captains are required to observe and report upon the midshipmen and young officers under their charge in a careful and fatherly manner, which is probably unknown in any other branch of the public service.
An officer from his youth up is thus under constant observation, and it may be relied upon that in most cases it is the youngster who is always ready and willing to take some extra or special spell of work, to volunteer to go away in a boat at an awkward moment, and generally to make his duty his first interest, who is early singled out for promotion.
It may be admitted that the Navy is not a lucrative profession, or the one out of which to make a fat living; indeed, that the pay is lamentably small.
A lieutenant of twelve years' seniority only receives, as such, £255, a sub-lieutenant £91, and a midshipman £32 a year; so it is evident that the emolument given by the country must be ekes out from other resources.
But at least the pay, such as it is, is assured, and, as was recently pointed out by Admiral Dir Wm. Dowell, the officer is relieved from those uncertainties and anxieties which cloud the life of so many struggling professional men.
And if the pay is small, it will at least go further than it would in the sister service. Extravagance of the kind familiar in the Army is discouraged; principles of economy are inculcated from the first, and a man is not made to feel that he is regarded as mean because he chooses to put those principles into practice.
The naval officer not only sees the world, but sees it under the most favourable circumstances, finding himself an honoured and respected guest in the best society wherever he may happen to be.
Finally, he has the satisfaction of reflecting that the service he renders to his country is rendered in the first and most important line of defence--the best equipped, the most efficient, and the most real; and he knows that, in spite of all the defects which can so readily be pointed out, our ships and our seamen are in a position to uphold the traditions of the past.
Typed by happi, June 2017
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