Tuesday, 8 November 2011

Keeping spirits high

I have blogged before on the general hatred amongst sailors for coaling. It was dirty, hard work that lasted days and the coal dust penetrated everywhere, both in terms of the sailors and the ship. The diary of Joiner First Class George Michael Clarkson states ‘A shadow would come over the ship as soon as you heard you were coaling.’1 In order to help the hours pass more easily, a few coping mechanisms were introduced. There was always the promise of beer (and presumably women) when the job was done, and sailors recorded that some commanders would circulate with a rating with a blackboard with a picture of a pint of beer on it. Below the picture were the words ‘The sooner you get in, the sooner you can get ashore and have one of these.’2 If two (or more) ships were coaling at once, the sailors would compete to see who could coal the quickest. Special food was served; usually bully beef or salted pork, and cans of lime juice were distributed (although if they weren’t consumed quickly, they would soon fill with coal dust).

HMAS Brisbane Coaling, courtesy of astraltrader (http://www.worldnavalships.com/forums/member.php?u=1187)

Perhaps more interestingly, or perhaps bizarrely, were the two methods which I have managed to find pictures of. As I have mentioned many times, the whole process was a dirty one, and thus the sailors could not wear their usual uniforms. It would seem some used this as an excuse to liven up the coaling process by wearing fancy dress. A very camp example is included below.

Lastly, throughout the whole process the marine band played lively songs in an attempt to liven the mood. 


  1. An entertaining read , thank you. Strange that this is the second time in a week the subject of coaling has jumped out at me ! Just last week i noticed a book on the shelf's at Asda , Battleships' by Leo Marriot , which has a good section on coaling with some great pictures too.
    Thankfully on a Leander Class frigate my only experience of fueling involved hoses and diesel.

  2. Thanks very much for the comment, glad you enjoyed it. I will have a look at that book, sounds useful, thank you. Seems an almost forgotten subject, so hopefully I can do something to bring coal back into the history of the Royal Navy.