The Royal Marines Museum – Eastney, Hampshire
This year, the Royal Marines celebrate their 350th anniversary. There are currently seven thousand Royal Marines and 40% of Britain’s Special Forces originate from the regiment. I recently visited their Museum in Southsea, Hampshire, located in Eastney Barracks, former Royal Marines Headquarters for training, reserve and special forces until its closure in 1991. The Museum opened at Eastney Barracks in October 1958 and charts the regiment’s history from its beginnings in 1664, right the way through until the present day. I was fortunate to be shown around by an extremely knowledgeable member of staff who pointed-out some of the more unusual exhibits in the collection as well as their fascinating backstories.
The Royal Marines – Fascinating Facts About Their History
Although primary focus of my visit was the First World War gallery, I also explored the rest of this superb Museum, discovering so many interesting, as well as rather surprising facts about the regiment’s history. Here are just a few that caught my eye:
- Britain’s first Marines were called ‘Duke of York and Albany’s Maritime Regiment of Foot’, established by Charles II (1630-1685), on 28th October, 1664. The Duke of York was The Lord High Admiral and the regiment became known as the Admiral’s Regiment;
- One of the first ever female soldiers was a Marine called Hannah Snell (1723-1792). In 1745, she enlisted in Portsmouth-based Colonel Fraser’s Regiment of Marines under the name of James Gray;
- Marines took part in the first battle of the American War of Independence (1775-1783) at Bunkers Hill, Boston, June 16th, 1775;
- When the “First Fleet” sailed from Portsmouth on 13th May, 1787, to found a prison colony in New South Wales, Australia, on ship were two hundred and forty-six Marines together with their wives and children. The journey took eight months and this very difficult tour of duty lasted three and a half years. Australia was founded on 26th January, 1788;
- Marines travelled with Captain James Cook (1728-1779) on his three voyages to the Pacific, Antarctic and Arctic Oceans. They served to protect the ship’s crew and scientists when landing upon unfamiliar shores;
- The Marines Forces became ‘Royal’ by Command of King George III (1738-1820) on 29th April, 1802;
- Royal Marines travelled both with Charles Darwin (1809-1882), aboard the ‘Beagle’ (1831-36) and Sir John Franklin (1786-1847) on his expedition to the Arctic (1845);
- Alongside The Royal Navy, Royal Marines were involved with The Opium Wars (1839-1842 and 1856-1860), notably participating in the capture of Peking (1856);
- Shortly after the Second World War began, Royal Marines Aviator, Captain Guy Beresford Kerr “Griff” Griffiths (1915-1999), was captured by Germans. He spent the rest of the war in POW camp Stalag Luft III in Sagan (now Żagań, Poland), made famous by The Great Escape (1963). He helped with colleagues escape attempts by forging documents and concealing tunnels. Griff was a talented artist who would produce cartoons to amuse his fellow Prisoners and also painted fake British planes that confused the Germans. You can view (silent) footage of Captain Griffiths during his early years in German captivity. Click Here;
- Royal Marines Commandos were established in 1942. Commandos are identifiable by their distinctive green beret emblazoned with its Globe and Laurel badge bearing the wearer’s original regimental insignia. Royal Marines Commandos are an elite fighting force whose members are made-up of Army, Royal Marines and Royal Navy personnel.
Above film, The Royal Marines at War: Jungle Mariners (15 mins 17 secs) is produced by the Crown Film Unit and shows the harsh life of Royal Marines on a tour of duty in the jungles of the Far East. (Video uploaded onto You Tube, 31.12.2012 by the Royal Marines);
- Above film, The Royal Marines at War: Commando – The Story of the Green Beret (1945) (59 mins 38 secs) was made for the Admiralty and is a drama-documentary covering Commando training in Wrexham, Anchnacarry and St. Ives. Fascinating archive footage shows wartime Commando units on amphibious assault exercises, perfecting cliff-top assaults and practicing both armed and unarmed combat techniques. (Video uploaded onto You Tube, 31.12.2012 by the Royal Marines).
Recruitment During The Regiment’s Early Years
The regiment’s recruitment policy has always been quite fair. Even in its early years, recruits were never press-ganged but instead volunteered. Marines joined for life or long periods and when not on ship, returned to barracks for further training. In other areas of the military, personnel would often find themselves unemployed in-between periods of active service. In times of war, additional Marine volunteers were encouraged to join by the offer of a bounty payment which in 1794 was eight guineas (£8.40) and in 1808 thirty guineas (£31.50).
I have no rupture, nor was ever troubled with fits, and am in no ways disabled by lameness or otherwise, but have perfect use of my limbs, that I am not an apprentice, and that I do not belong to the militia, or to any other regiment or Corps, or to His Majesty’s Navy.
(A Marine’s oath on enlisting c.1800)
During Victorian and Edwardian eras, living conditions for Royal Marines and their families stationed in barracks were fairly good. Eastney Barracks, built between 1862 and 1867, was home to the Royal Marine Artillery (RMA) training. Married quarters were also provided and wives helped out with laundry, sewing and any other domestic tasks that needed doing on site. A strong community bond developed amongst the military personnel and their families.
Recruitment During The First World War
Your King and Country Needs You. Will you answer your country’s call? Each day is fraught with the gravest possibilities, and at this very moment the Empire is on the brink of the greatest War in the history of the world. In this crisis your country calls on her young unmarried men to rally round the flag and enlist. If every patriotic young man answers her call, England and her Empire will emerge stronger and more united than ever. If you are unmarried and between 18 and 30 years old, will you answer your country’s call? JOIN TODAY.
(Extract from a First World War recruitment poster, on display at The Royal Marines Museum.)
During the First World War, the Royal Marines ran a highly successful recruitment campaign. Right across Britain, tents were erected in public places including local parks. Attractively designed posters, urging men to enlist, appeared everywhere and the Corps had quadrupled in size by 1918. Divisional Headquarters for the Royal Marine Artillery was based at Eastney and Divisional Headquarters for the Royal Marine Light Infantry was split between Chatham, Portsmouth and Plymouth. Their Depot was in Deal, Kent. The Museum’s Curator, Ian Maine, explains:
During the First World War, over sixty thousand men served with the Royal Marines, rising from a peacetime establishment of around fifteen thousand men, so the Corps quadrupled in size. There were around six thousand one hundred and fifty men who were killed during the war. Unfortunately, we don’t have any figures for the number of those injured.
Young men between the ages of 17 and 23 are eligible for the Corps of Royal Marines, provided they produce satisfactory records of character. Each recruit is subjected to a medical examination; he must be strong, vigorous and healthy, and free from bodily infirmity, and be able to read and write fairly well and have a fair knowledge of the first four rules of arithmetic. Men enlisting for the duration of the war will be discharged with all convenient speed when the war is over.
(Extract from a First World War recruitment notice, on display at The Royal Marines Museum.)
In 1917, The Royal Marine Labour Corps was established which continued until it being disbanded in 1919. Members were raised from volunteers aged over forty-one along with those who were deemed unfit to serve on the front-line. Their main duties were to oversee the distribution of war materials arriving at French ports, en-route to the Western Front. Approximately four thousand nine hundred and ten officers and men joined this Corps.
Also in 1917, women were allowed to enlist in the Auxiliary Services with WRNS (The Womens Royal Naval Service or ‘Wrens’), when serving with the Royal Marines they were known as ‘Marens’. Wrens and Marens were stationed at each of the barracks and undertook a wide range of shore-based duties, such as clerks, mess waitresses, cooks, wireless telegraphers and boat crew members. They were disbanded in 1919. The Wrens reformed in 1939 and played an important role in World War Two.
The First World War – Military Campaigns
Shortly after the First World War began, the Royal Marines were sent to Ostend and later Antwerp. The regiment suffered heavy casualties early on in the war. Winston Churchill (1874-1965), then First Lord of the Admiralty, formed a Royal Navy Division of the Royal Marines which was in fact a combination of Marines and naval reservists who were surplus to Fleet requirements. In 1916 and 1918, the Royal Marines with the Royal Naval Division fought in the trenches of France.
The conditions on Gallipoli were appalling. The fighting was fierce and the heat quickly decayed dead bodies lying in the battlefields. A plague of flies caused disease. There was no source of fresh water and sanitation was very basic. There was no rest area and the Allies were constantly under shell fire.
(Extract from exhibition panel in the First World War gallery at The Royal Marines Museum.)
Royal Marines formed a sizeable part of the Royal Naval Division involved in the battles at Anzac Cove and Cape Helles as part of the Gallipoli campaign. Lance Corporal W. R. Parker RMLI received the Victoria Cross for his bravery in rescuing wounded in daylight under heavy fire at Gallipoli on the 30th April, 1915.
By the time war broke-out in 1914, Britain was relying heavily on food imports, particularly from Canada and America, two thirds of our food was imported. Keeping the shipping lanes open in the Atlantic and North Sea became vital. Germany were determined to starve Britain into surrendering and consequently sent many submarines to sink supply ships operating along these routes.
Between 31st May and 1st June, 1916, one of the greatest sea battles in naval history took place, The Battle of Jutland. The result was a draw but fighting resulted in the death of nine thousand six hundred and forty-six sailors, including five hundred and thirty-eight Royal Marines. The regiment’s second Victoria Cross of the war was awarded (Posthumously) to Major F. J. W. Harvey RMLI.
The Royal Marines also played a vital role in The Zeebrugge Raid (23rd April, 1918) in which the Royal Navy tried to block the Belgian port. The aim was to destroy German U-boat bases at Zeebrugge. Two Royal Marines were awarded Victoria Crosses, by ballot, for their part in The Zeebrugge Raid, Captain E. Bamford DSO RMLI and Sergeant N. A. Finch RMA.
Both Bamford and Finch were serving aboard HMS Vindictive (an Arrogant Class Cruiser). When the ship arrived at Zeebrugge it came under very heavy enemy fire, particularly along her upper works. Finch together with another colleague, Lt Rigby, remained at post despite witnessing many of their colleagues being either killed or wounded, Finch also received severe injuries. Finch and Rigby continued until their gun was finally put out of action. The Lewis machine gun used by Finch is now on display in the Museum.
The Royal Marines Band
There are several galleries at the Museum dedicated to the Royal Marines Band. Established towards the end of the nineteenth century, The Royal Marines Band Service is the musical wing of the Royal Navy. There are currently five bands and one Corps of Drums. Headquarters are the Royal Marines School of Music at HMS Nelson in Portsmouth. This is the only branch of the Royal Marines which is open to women. The Royal Marines School of Music (originally known as the Royal Naval School of Music) was founded in 1903 and its base was Eastney Barracks until the Corps moved to Deal in 1930. Primarily, members are trained musicians but they also serve as stretcher bearers, ambulance drivers and in logistics when required. The Captain-General of The Royal Marines Band is HRH The Duke of Edinburgh.
One of the most famous individuals in the history of the Royal Marines Band is Sir Vivian Dunn (1908-1995) KCVO OBE FRSA. He served for a total of thirty-eight years. At the age of just twenty-two, he became Director of Music, Portsmouth Divisional Band and was the last civilian musician to be appointed into such a post. He encouraged close collaboration between the various units of the Royal Marines Band Service and his Portsmouth Divisional Band.
During the First World War, Royal Marine Bands served in ships of the Royal Navy and also the Royal Naval Brigades including the campaign at Gallipoli. The Divisional Bands all did a tour of duty with the sixty-third Royal Naval Division on the Western Front.
To commemorate this year’s 350th Anniversary, the Royal Marines Band will be performing in The Mountbatten Festival of Music which takes place at the Royal Albert Hall (13th, 14th and 15th March, 2014). To book tickets call the box office on 0845 401 5018 or see the website for booking details www.royalalberthall.com.
The First World War – The Victoria Cross
The Victoria Cross is the highest military decoration awarded for valour “in the face of the enemy”. Since its introduction on 29th January, 1856, Royal Marines have been awarded ten of them, five of which were earned during the First World War. The last Victoria Cross awarded to a Royal Marine was in the Second World War (Corporal Thomas Peck Hunter, 1923-1945). The Museum has a dedicated Medal Room, formerly the Officers’ Mess Billiard Room, showcasing all of the regiment’s medals, including Victoria Crosses.
Listed below are details of the five Victoria Crosses awarded to Royal Marines during the First World War:
- Lance Corporal W. R. Parker RMLI. Gallipoli, 30th April, 1915. Displayed conspicuous bravery in rescuing wounded in daylight under heavy fire;
- Major F. J. W. Harvey RMLI (Posthumously). The Battle of Jutland, 31st May, 1916. Ordered the flooding of his turret’s magazines although mortally wounded, thereby saving his ship;
- Major F. W. Lumsden DSO RMA. France, 3rd April, 1917. Led a party to recover six enemy guns under heavy fire. He is the oldest Royal Marine to be awarded the Victoria Cross;
- Captain E. Bamford DSO RMLI. The Raid on Zeebrugge, 23rd April, 1918. Led his company with initiative and daring in the face of great difficulties (medal awarded by ballot);
- Sergeant N. A. Finch RMA. The Raid on Zeebrugge, 23rd April, 1918. Maintained continuous covering fire from the exposed foretop, although severely wounded (medal awarded by ballot).
- For visitor information about The Royal Marines Museum, Click Here;
- For more information about forthcoming events at The Royal Marines Museum, Click Here;
- For a round-up of events taking place this year to commemorate the 350th Anniversary of The Royal Marines, Click Here;
2 thoughts on “The Royal Marines – Stories From The Great War Part 4”
Thanks for your article, brings back the memories when I visited the place as a child. Eventually I ended up joining the corps …
Hi John, thanks so much for your comment, glad it evoked such good childhood memories. Obviously, a very inspirational Museum for you. Many kind regards. Emma:)