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).