Rum, sodomy, and the lash

In his most recent column [del]Ed[/del] Cecil takes on those tales of “buggery” in the British Royal Navy.

I just thought I’d add the following, from the naval Articles of War. and dated 1757. These statements named offenses committed at sea, and their punishments.

*29. If any person in the fleet shall commit the unnatural and detestable sin of buggery and sodomy with man or beast, he shall be punished with death by the sentence of a court martial. *

So while sodomy could have a blind eye turned towards it, it was, as [del]Ed[/del] Cecil said, still a grave offense officially.

*Men, men, men
We’re a ship all filled with men
So batten down the ladies’ room
There’s no one here but men!

There’s men above and men below
And men down in the galley
There’s Butch and Spike and Buzz and Biff
And one guy we call Sally!
(And one guy we call Sally!)*

From ‘Men’, by Martin Mull

Hmmmm, distinct sens of urban legend here, well not necassarily urban in that its ‘recorded’ by ‘writers’.

Biggest load of tosh I ever read.

Having served in the Royal Navy, I can vouch that the incidence on homosexuality in the lower decks was vanishingly small, never ever once saw or even heard of a case where anyone was disciplined for this.

We certainly had security training films and presentations that put the case that homosexuality could leave a serving Navy rating vulnerable to blackmail and from there this could lead to becoming a risk to security - mainly in the radio and communications sections, but also in other departments.

Aside from this, the reality is that homosexuality during my time was seen with pretty extreme disdain - its not any sort of stretch to say that there was a good deal of homphobia - not that this is something to be proud about - but given that the average age of crew is less than 25, and actually the majority of the crew are rather less than that age, you can see how homphobia and peer pressure would make it very difficult to be either a closeted homosexual, and impossible to be an openly gay person.

I am not denying that there were gay men in the Royal Navy - its just that it was so incredibly rare, I served a goodly few years, never met any and in the rumour mill of the Royal Navy, never ever heard of any gay cases, not any.

Rumour carries far and long in the Royal Navy - I heard little ditties that had to have happened over 30 years before I signed up so the chances of missiing a few choice scandals such as these are remote and would certainly have made the rounds.

I think that this is all wishful thinking.

It seems to me that there is a fascination with homosexuality in closed male environments, I work in a prison and there seems to be a belief that male rape and homosexuality are very common, when in fact these are very rare.

When you have a large number of young males together, the peer pressure to conform is huge, you cannot underestimate it, and anyone outside the norm had better have two good fists, or keep damned quiet about it.

Sorry to burst somebodys gay dream, but homosexuality in such institutions is hugely overexagerrated - probably says more about the dreamers than such organisations.

Dear Sir,

I am glad to hear that your studio audience disapproves of the last skit as strongly as I. As a naval officer I abhor the implication that the Royal Navy is a haven for buggery. It is well known that we now have the problem relatively under control, and that it is the RAF who now suffer the largest casualties in this area. And what do you think the Argylls do in Aden? Arabs?

Yours etc.,

Captain B.J. Smethwick in a white wine sauce with shallots, mushrooms and garlic.

I’m just curious as to why you assume your experience in the late 20th/early 21st century RN is directly reflective of the reality of the RN of two hundred years ago.

In addition, your personal experience is not automatically an accurate reflection of the prevalence of comtemporary homosexual activity on board. For example, straight USN friends and acquaintances of mine say that there is little gay sex on board, while gay USN friends reported they never had any trouble finding gay sex on board. IOW, one’s own orientation is a major determinant in how much gay sex is perceived.

The Royal Navy, in common with many closed institutions, is a rumour mill, word gets around, both factual and non-factual.

The way the RN is held together by gossip means that the chances of not hearing about instances of homsexuality are remote, I could flash my dick to a messdeck on a ship in Plymouth and in a couple of weeks the crew of the minsweeper fleet in Hong Kong would know about it.

I rather think that the stories about gay men in the RN are more wishful thinking than anything else.

Sure, over a lot of years there will have been a number of gay men in the RN, but they will have kept it deep under cover, real deep.

The way ihomosexuality in the RN is protrayed is somewhat differant, its as if its institutionlised, almost expected in every messdeck - when that is about as far from the truth as you can get.

Go back a few hundred years and its also a fact that sailrs in the Rn often had their wives aboard - suggest you look up the origins of the phrase ‘shake a leg’.

Sorry to dissappoint you, but homosexuality has never been widespread or accepted in the RN - it doesn’t make for interesting reading but quite often the truth is far more mundane than the fancy.

Even more curious than your other assertions is the implication that your perception of “the truth” would disappoioint me. I have no particular emotional investment gay sex in the RN.

Most RN ships in the Victorian and Edwardian eras did not have wives on board. Prostitutes were brought on in port on the pretext that they were a sailor’s “wife,” but that doesn’t have much to do with the price of tea in China.


Folk etymology may suggest a baser interpretation, but folk etymology does for nearly every phrase.

Women have been carried on board RN vessels rather longer than 1904 - but you knew of course didn’t you.
My criticism of the article still stands. Gross exaggeration bordering on the untrue.

“Take your hands off that seal! That is my seal! Captain Cousteau promised me that seal in the Dardanelles!!”*

For the record, I find it highly unlikely that a daily rum ration was handed out to casdave during his Royal Navy tenure, and doubtless flogging was vanishingly rare as well.**

Kicking and screaming?
*from Robert Klein’s routine about Jacques Cousteau and the hazards of long voyages without access to women.

**Is there a modern Royal Navy ship called Dreadnought? I was hoping the tradition had been carried on…

My very own actual grandfather, born in 1880, was sent to sea as a midshipman in the Royal Navy and his experience was that for some officers on some ships, midshipmen were expected to be bum boys. He was eternally grateful that his ship was captained by a rigidy moral man of Evangelical leanings. He was mistreated, as most boys were mistreated, but was safe from sexual mistreatment.