Huzzah: A Toast to Britannia!
This year marks the 150th anniversary of the start of training of British naval officers on the River Dart in Devon.
In 1863 the wooden hulk HMS Britannia was moved from Portland and moored in the Dart. In 1864, after an influx of new recruits, Britannia was supplemented by HMS Hindustan. The original Britannia was replaced by Prince of Wales in 1869, which was later renamed Britannia.
The splendid red-brick college at Dartmouth was completed in 1905 and the current commanding officer is Captain Jerry Kyd (one ‘d’).
Last weekend more than one hundred officers and cadets from BRNC marched through the Devon town of Dartmouth with swords drawn, bayonets fixed, drums beating and colours flying. No, it wasn’t an invasion but BRNC exercising its right of Freedom of Entry. It’s the first time in more than 50 years the college has done so since being given the honour in 1956. Freedom of Entry dates back to medieval times, a symbol of a close relationship between citizenship and military.
Over 3,200 cadets from 68 different countries have passed through the doors of the college in the past four decades alone. There’s a long tradition of training international naval officers at Dartmouth and the rolls include three twentieth-century monarchs! Many male members of the Royal Family have attended BRNC – The Duke of Edinburgh (who met his bride-to-be, Princess Elizabeth, here), The Prince of Wales, The Duke of York, Prince William.
In Kydd’s day there was a small naval college at Portsmouth but the majority of naval officers learned on the job. Admiralty regulations stated that a man had to have served a minimum of three years as a midshipman or master’s mate in the Royal Navy before qualifying for lieutenant, and have served a total of at least six years at sea.
Nowadays, officer training takes place ashore and afloat with opportunities to take up around 20 specialist officer roles from the six main branches of the Royal Navy – Warfare, Engineering, Logistics, Medical, Chaplaincy and Aviation.
There’s been some talk of proposals to close Britannia Royal Naval College but fortunately the security of the college now seems assured, at least for the foreseeable future.
Britain leads the world in officer training and I would have been very saddened indeed had Britannia gone the way of many fine institutions in today’s climate of budget slashing – and, on a personal note, I treasure the honour of having had the launch of MUTINY there.
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