Welcome to the National Museum of the Royal Navy blog. A great way to keep up to date with the latest news and developments from around the museum.

Monday, 14 November 2011

The India of the Future

 Breaking Down Barriers

"their diversities of thought and upbringing were forgotten in the all-important task of helping the Navy in it's time of need..."

As it looked for support during WW2 the Royal Military of Defence searched internationally, offering the women of India new prospects in the work place. Though they were not allowed to go to sea they could become deeply involved in naval life and play a vital role in defeating the enemy. Through confidence, a sense of duty and pride of service these women were able to make a difference, directly confronting issues that still enormously affect us today, those of race and gender equality.   

The Women's Royal Indian Naval Service Photo Album

Chief Officer Cooper is presented with her farewell gift - a photo album from the WRINS

The photographs below are taken from a photo album recently presented to the National Museum of the Royal Navy by Margaret Cooper, who served as Chief Officer and was Deputy Director of the Women's Royal Indian Naval Service (WRINS) from 1944-46.

A WRIN from the province of Bengal, one of the many provinces of India working to defeat Japan during World War Two

 The Women's Royal Indian Naval Service (WRINS) was formed in 1942, and by 1945 approximately two thirds of women employed by them were Indian nationals. World War Two brought a wealth of opportunity to the women of India, they became a useful and intrinsic part of our Royal defence forces.

WRINS arrange models of ships, escorts and attackers in conformity with the tactical problem set
WRINS took part in discussions, debates and general knowledge tests which proved invaluable in developing the skills and broadening the future outlook of Indian women. They were assigned specialist tasks: top secret decoding (see below), clerical duties, training in gunnery tactics and much more.

WRIN performing top secret task in decoding

The Indian women who served in the WRINS were valued highly in society, after leaving the WRINS they were promised the privilege of being at an advantage amongst all others, and becoming a founder and member of "a progressive post-war India, in a way that few other careers could achieve".

Maintainance work being carried out on a 40 mm Bofors gun

Above: WRINS at work
Below: WRINS attending to a rush of naval communiqués

WRINS Officer Cadets during a tour of the dockyards at Bombay, put informal questions to a Seaman of the Royal Indian Navy
 The WRINS assisted in opening the possibilities of employment to the women of India as they built up a nation in both war and peace. Consisting mostly of young girls, the WRINS massively improved the status of women in India. Women could work away from their families, gaining more professional and social independence.

Second Officer Kalyani Sen
"In India there is still a big prejudice against girls and women working with men...but the women are so keen to get into the Services that they are breaking it down" - Second Officer Kalyani Sen, the first Indian Servicewoman to visit the United Kingdom.  

WRIN at work in Gunnery School: Stripping and cleaning a 20 mm Oerlikon gun
Jobs pertaining to the military service were assigned to women to release men for service in the field. It was initially formed to provide personnel for service in the army, but later on it was expanded to include the naval and air forces in India also.  

"Women of many nationalities, castes and creeds are represented in this young service, and it is particularly interesting and encouraging to those who know the WRINS, to note how well these women and girls with their many diverse opinions and customs, get on together in their every day life and work" - Chief Officer Cooper
WRINS in their traditional sari clothing

"The war is producing a new spirit in India, the India of the future" 
- The Countess of Carlisle, Chief Controller of the WRINS

Monday, 7 November 2011

Triumphant Trophy or Ill-gotten Gain?

Lots of the items in our collection stores haven't been researched - here are some objects I've been investigating over the past few months!

Many of them arrived here by donation, yet others have come into our hands for very different reasons, mainly as trophies and spoils of war. The circumstances surrounding their acquisition pose a difficult question: Is it right for us to keep them in our museum? or should they be viewed in their original context?

The Benin Tusk

Detail - the Oba (divine king) wears the sacred beads of kinship across his chest
In 1897 the Kingdom of Benin (modern day Nigeria, west Africa) was purged of its cultural artefacts. Thousands of objects in brass and ivory were shipped to Britain, to be sold by Queen Victoria's government. This ivory tusk was taken from the Oba's palace and (in its original context) played a vital role in the spiritual connections between past and present for all the Nigerian people of the Edo tribe.

Arabic Manual of Astronomy and Divination

Translation: "The Star-signs: The Aquarius: God knows the month of the Aquarius (which is the eleventh zodiac) brings hot wind with humidity, settled when the moon goes down. This is a good time for digging wells, rivers, plantations, plotting and trading...anyone who travels at the end of the month of the Aquarius will always come back with good things..."
Looted from M'wele (modern day Kenya, east Africa) in 1895 this manuscript is equipped with diagrams, charts and text that prophecise future events. Divination was not merely a cultural hobby, but a highly regarded social science of the time, for African people believed that the true explanations for all events could be known.

 The Lord of the Dance

Detail of plate - Natraja/ Shiva performing his cosmic dance
This plate depicts the Hindu deity Natraja (the Lord of the Dance), a pictorial symbol of creation, destruction, preservation, salvation, and illusion. It was made using an important process of classical south Indian metalwork that is nearing extinction. This plate was awarded to Rear Admiral Frank Ballance for his service in the Indian Navy (1950-53).

The Sultan's visit

Abdulaziz modernised the Ottoman (Turkish) navy and was the first Ottoman Sultan to visit western Europe in 1867. On 18th July he visited London where he was invited to a banquet by the Corporation of the City of London. Above is a commemorative medallion made to mark this occasion, the City of London (figure on the left standing in front of St Paul's Cathedral) clasps the hand of the Ottoman Empire (figure on right standing in front of the Mosque of Sultan Ahmed).  

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

New Opportunities for Young People to Work in Heritage!

Strengthening Our Common Life Programme
The National Museum of the Royal Navy is participating in a skills training project, "Strengthening Our Common Life" (SOCL), offering 12 paid placements in top heritage organisations around the UK including the Southbank Centre, Historic Royal Palaces and Bristol Museums, Galleries and Archives.
SOCL aims to increase workforce diversity by offering opportunities to individuals in sections of the population currently under-represented in the heritage sector. Placements offer a rich variety of skills and experiences that enable trainees to gain a Diploma in Cultural Heritage (QCF Level 3) and help them pursue a future career in heritage. The project is supported by the National Lottery through the Heritage Lottery Fund’s Skills for the Future programme and is devised and managed by London-based arts and heritage charity, Cultural Co-operation.
Our new SOCL trainee, Kiri Anderson is now in post and will train at the Museum for one year, covering specific areas such as collections research and management, learning and interpretation activities and community outreach events.
One of Kiri's main priorities within this project is to shed light on the untold histories of Black and Asian minority ethnic (BAME) groups and highlight their roles in modern naval history through detailed research of hand-selected objects. The cultural significance and historical stories of these pieces will run as ‘threads’ within the new exhibitions for the Storehouse 10 project.    

Wednesday, 13 July 2011

Children Take Over the Museum!

Welcome to Children’s Takeover Day. Today, the Museum staff will step aside and let the pupils of Year 6 at Stamshaw Junior School in Portsmouth run the place – for one day only!
The fun starts at 10am, as we open to the public. We will be blogging live and some of the pupils will be “tweeting” throughout the day at http://twitter.com/NMRNP. Pupils will be holding guided tours in the Museum and on HMS Victory, running an Art competition, and conducting the official opening of the relocated Museum shop. They will also be taking over the shop, security, and even the Director General’s office. Keep an eye on the blog all day as we keep you up to date with everything that’s happening. Or better still, come down and join us at the Museum!
Stamshaw Pupils arrive to take over the Museum

This might help you with one of the questions on the trail
We are having a special trail in the Victory Gallery all day with prizes for the most correct answers and the fastest to complete the trail. Come and find us in the Victory Gallery to take part.

At 11:45am we officially opened the new Museum shop. We made a speech and then Graham, the Chief Operating Officer helped us to cut the ribbon and he made a speech too. Then we had lots of cake and fizzy pop!

I declare this shop open
HMS Vernon Monopoly Set
Aislinn and Bethany are giving behind the scenes tours of the Museum today. They go into the store rooms where the public don't normally get to see and they talk about some interesting objects such as the Monopoly game that HMS Vernon made, a punishment book from HMS Leviathan, a desk from HMS Resolute and some ships bells.

One of the stores is cold to help preserve some of the old items. The walls can be moved back and forwards
You must wear gloves to look at some of the delicate items, so that you don't damage them. The punishment book is really interesting because it shows what punishments sailors got for different crimes like theft and drunkenness!

The desk in the furniture store was used in the film National Treasure and is from HMS Resolute.

The Ark Royal's bell is in the attic store and it used to be used for babies being christened on the ship. The babies' names are engraved on the bell.
Aislinn talks about Ark Royal's bell

Chloe, our Director General for the day, decided she wanted a cup of tea and got one of her new assistants to make it for her. Meanwhile, another of her assistants took an important phone call because we had run out of bananas in the office!

Mohamed and Emily were giving guided tours of HMS Victory. They started on the deck where Nelson fell in the Battle of Trafalgar and explained how he was injured. Then they went down to the middle gun deck and explained how the cannons worked and let everyone have a go at firing them (not for real otherwise they would have been squished when the cannon rolled back). Mohamed showed some of the weapons that the sailors used in the battle and they looked very sharp and dangerous.

In the Hold is the safest part of the ship because it is at the bottom and not near where the cannons fired. Supplies are kept here such as food and fresh water. Mohamed explained what happened if there was a hole in the ship and how the sailors would try to fix it.

There is a part of the ship where Nelson died but the exact area is not really known. There is a memorial stone and a painting near here and Emily told the groups that Nelson's last words were "Thank God I did my duty."

There is also a barrel like the one Nelson was put in when he died. He didn't want to be buried at sea so they put him in the barrel upside down, and put brandy in to preserve his body. Then he was brought back to England and buried in a Cathedral.

Emily and Mohamed remembered a lot of information and were very good at answering questions on the tours.

In the Communications Centre, we were able to see everything that was happening in the Museum on the security cameras. We also made announcements over the tannoy so that all the staff and visitors could hear about the tours, the art competition and the shop opening and all the other important things happening today.


Control was handed back to the Museum staff this afternoon, and the children headed off for their coach. They all seemed to have a great time learning about how the Museum is run and the staff enjoyed learning from the kids too. All of a sudden it seems very quiet in here.............

Tuesday, 17 May 2011

American Naval Heritage

Last week Richard Noyce, our Curator of Artefacts, was in the USA for a research visit funded by the Museum’s Society of Friends. He made a bit of time in his busy schedule to write this blog post for us.

Richard poses with a Trident Missile!

The trip didn’t start off too well – my flight to Washington was delayed an hour and then it took 2 hours to clear immigration! Luckily, after that things improved dramatically! I spent Sunday morning looking at the sights including The White House, Capitol complex, Washington Monument and The Air and Space Museum. Afterwards I met some friends for a BBQ.

A display at the Naval Museum

On Monday I began by visiting the Navy Museum Рa great place - the ship models are massive compared to some of the ones we have back in Portsmouth. I met Commodore Eric Fraser of the Naval Attaché at the Embassy this afternoon and spoke to him about our 20th and 21st Century Galleries Project. He seemed very keen on hearing about it and thought that the Americans would also be interested in finding out more about what we are doing.

After I left the Embassy I visited The Lincoln Memorial, The Pentagon and Arlington Cemetery. Off to Annapolis tomorrow.

On Tuesday I visited the Naval Academy Museum at Annapolis which is the US equivalent of Britannia RN College at Dartmouth but with 4,000 students at a time! (BRNC has about 300 at any one time) They loved showing me about 30 captured British ensigns from 1812! The Museum are busy looking for possible items for loan so there is lots of potential for us to work with them.

US Marine Corps Museum

Wednesday saw me visiting the US Marine Corps Museum at Quantico. It must be one of the most impressive museums I have ever visited. It boasts 500,000 visitors a year and is very high tech. Their canteen is a mock up of Marines’ favourite pub Tun Cavern, I can recommend the Militia Burger!

We were buzzed by the presidential helicopter on the way to Quantico but didn't see the President waving!

Thursday was another interesting day looking through the armory at the Naval Museum. Lots of great stuff including a briefcase gun liberated from one of Saddam's palaces. I also visited Carderock test facility which is where testing takes place on ship hull designs. They have a similar tow tank to the one at Haslar but this one is over 3,000 ft long!

On Friday I visited the
Mariners Museum at Newport News. This is the US equivalent of the National Maritime Museum but houses the conservation centre for the USS Monitor, a civil war iron clad. Large sections including the turret have been raised and are being conserved a bit like the Mary Rose.

Thursday, 5 May 2011

We are 100!

The publicity launch for our centenary celebrations in June was kicked off on Tuesday, when 100 members of Museum and wider Historic Dockyard staff posed in front of HMS Victory in the shape of the number 100.

The sun was shining, fortunately, but was accompanied by a pretty strong and cold breeze, so it wasn't exactly a good hair day. Luckily, the photographer was several feet in the air on a mobile crane and the long distance shot was perfect for hiding those 'windswept' styles!

The final images will be used in our literature and publicity materials over the coming weeks, and we will be announcing further details of events and celebrations to mark 100 years since the Museum first opened in June 1911.

You can keep up with the latest centenary and other news by following us on Facebook and, coming soon, we will also be launching our very own Twitter feed.

Thursday, 27 January 2011

A "Spooky" Night at the Museum

Last Friday night, a group of brave volunteers, made up of Museum staff and Paranormal Investigations team Dark Encounters, chose to spend a night in the museum. Did the exhibitions come to life, just like in the film?

Well, we didn’t see Nelson walking around in all his glory, but there were certainly a few unexplained goings on….

We split into four teams and went off to four different areas of the museum. Two teams went up into the attic, where some of the artefacts that are not currently on display are stored. Another team went into our Princess Royal Gallery, which is used for meetings and functions, and the fourth team went into one of the public galleries, the Sailing Navy Gallery on the ground floor. All of these rooms are within Storehouse No 11, one of the main museum buildings.

We started at  around 8:30pm, a time when the Dockyard is relatively quiet, apart from the coming and going of the odd ferry and the striking of the clock on the top of Storehouse No 10.

In the attic, we stood in a circle and asked if there was any spirit present. Some of the volunteers felt sensations of cold and movement and saw lights flickering in certain areas. One group thought they sensed a German man, that they felt might have been linked to an artefact in the room.

Dowsing rods were used, which are supposed to channel the spirits through the subconscious of the person holding the rods. Questions are asked by the person holding the rods, and yes and no answers are given through the movement of the rods either coming together for yes or moving apart for no. We asked questions such as “Is there a male spirit here?” and “Did you work here?” – names were discovered by a process of elimination, going through the alphabet until we got  a yes for a certain letter and then suggesting names.

One of the other techniques that was used in the attic rooms was Glass Divination. One group used an old table - one of the artefacts stored there, and using an upturned wine glass, each put their finger on the glass and asked questions, trying to make the glass move. Some of the volunteers felt as if they were swaying, as if on a boat, and when asking certain questions, the glass would move.

In the Sailing Navy gallery, the large glass display cabinets were used for scrying, where one volunteer would stand in front of the cabinet and light their face with a torch. This produced two reflections. The volunteer would close their eyes and the investigators would ask if any spirits could show themselves in the volunteer's face. There seemed to be differences between the two reflections for each volunteer, and one or two of them looked nothing like themselves in their reflections.

The Princess Royal Gallery seemed to feel quite warm and comfortable, but there were also “cold spots” and tapping noises. A few of the volunteers felt that they sensed a young child in the room, and others thought there was a man there. Other noises were heard, but they sounded as if they were coming from outside.

It’s hard to know where the noises came from – could it be the Museum’s heating system, people leaving the evening function on HMS Victory, cars driving through the Naval Base, or ships moving in the harbour? Or could it be something else?

The Museum stays relatively warm at night, aside from parts of the attic and some of the fire escape areas, so when the volunteers did feel cold it was more noticeable. Some volunteers would feel sensations in certain parts of the body and one or two felt slightly sick at times but this could be put down to anticipation or excitement at what they might discover. One volunteer felt a sudden feeling of real joy, which faded away on leaving one of the rooms.

At the end of the night, the groups all came together and shared their experiences. Some of the groups experienced similar things in the same rooms, for example the lights in one of the attic rooms and the sensing of the young child.

Of course, we can’t tell you everything that we discovered, or this post would go on forever!  It was all great fun, and a fascinating experiment to see what we could find.

It certainly gave the volunteers food for thought, and some have even been inspired to research some of the names and dates that were reached during the course of the investigation, to see if anything turns up. Certainly everyone very much enjoyed the night and would like to give a big thank you to the excellent Dark Encounters team.

We hope to run more events like these in the future that could be opened up for the public to attend, so watch this space!