The first of June 1914 was a sad day in the US Navy, when SecNav Josephus Daniels issued General Order 99, which effectively prohibited “the use or introduction for drinking purposes of alcoholic liquors on board any naval vessel, or within any navy yard or station.” This put an end to the officer’s wine mess, and no doubt made 31 May 1914 something of a wicked debauch throughout the fleet as the officers put their backs into draining the remaining stores before the ban went into effect.
Navy sailors had already lost their access to their “spirit ration” in 1862 (they got a nickel a day in extra pay as compensation), and even beer was forbidden them entirely in 1899.
On my first visit to HMS Broadsword, a veteran British frigate of the Falklands campaign, I was surprised to see a small reefer in the (really quite comfortable by US standards) enlisted men’s quarters which carried each tar’s ration of two beers per day. Everyone told me that it was quite sensible arrangement, and pretty much forestalled the kind of excesses all too common to US Navy ships entering foreign ports (or home ports, for that matter) after months at sea. And a former roommate who had flown Harriers aboard HMS Invincible told me that after supper, the officers not actually on watch would retire to the bar and no few of them would retire to their quarters hours later, having fully blown out their gaff.
So it was with a degree of surprise that I note VADM Russ Crane of the Royal Australian Navy – a man whose photograph hints at a propensity to enjoy life in all its many aspects – cracking the whip on his sailors:
Addressing the entire Navy by video link, Vice-Admiral Russ Crane threatened to ban alcohol consumption during port visits while overseas, and to increase shore patrols unless there was total cultural reform. He warned mariners that they would be subject to mandatory breath tests, drug testing and curfews if they did not radically improve their behaviour.
His stern message came after the release earlier this year of a 400-page report detailing sordid behaviour on-board HMAS Success in 2009.
Success - a perhaps unfortunately named ship – thrust herself into the headlines down there when a long, hard look revealed that some crew members had engaged in competitions not entirely of the nature designed to bring credit to the service:
The report examined allegations of a “predatory culture” and drunken misconduct on the ship, with sailors accused of preying on young female recruits and putting bets on how many colleagues they could sleep with as part of a “sex ledger”.
Among the embarrassing revelations were reports that mariners could earn extra “points” by sleeping with a female officer or for having sexual intercourse with a lesbian. Points were also awarded for sex in adventurous or outlandish locations, such as the top of a pool table. At the end of the tour the eventual winner would receive a cash prize.
Perhaps the admiral’s threats really will lick his sailors into shape, so long as he’s not seen as going off half-cocked. And of course, it is his responsibility to remain abreast of their behavior once he’s atop the saddle as fleet commander. Still, for all the press releases, these were the actions of a handful. For the vast majority of sailors who enjoy their pint in quiet comfort once ashore, this is certain to come as something of a blow.
And privately, while it’s tempting to try and get your head around why this story is coming to a crescendo just now, I have only one comment:
The top of a pool table is “outlandish”?