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Badgeman - The Old Hand



Good Conduct Badges - Up until the mid seventies sailors of the RAN were awarded with, (what appear to most nautically ignorant persons as 'stripes' or chevron's appearing similar to those badges of rank worn by soldiers and airmen denoting corporals or sergeants). These 'Badges' as they are known in the RAN were up until this time awarded every four years for being of 'Good Conduct', or better still, as colloquially described by sailors, awarded for 4 years of, ' Undetected Crime'. They are today in the RAN awarded every four years for 'Long Service' and have nothing to do now with being "Of Good Conduct".


'Badges' in the R.A.N do not carry any formal rank and are worn by all sailors up to and including the rank of Petty Officer. 'Badges' are only worn on one arm, the left arm, and in the case of Leading Seamen and Petty Officers, directly below their rank badge.


"Badgemen did however have a great deal of status amongst their 'lower deck' peers. The more badges means the more 'senior' you are in years served. The maximum number of badges that can be awarded and worn is three (These look similar to sergeants stripes in the army), three badges denotes a sailor has been in the navy for 12 years or longer.


Badges were, in days past, also worth money and a "Badgeman" was paid a daily 'allowance' or "Badge Money" for each badge awarded.


Once upon a time having a badge on your left arm meant you had served four years and were of good conduct for that period, 2 badges 8 years, 3 badges 12 years. As I said the criteria of 'being of good conduct' no longer applies for they are now only, in the main, of aesthetic and traditional value.


Above: A "One Badged" AB Gunner dressed for Action, in No. 4's with Anti Flash Gear."


If a 'Badgeman' committed a serious offence and was found guilty he could have one or more badges taken off him as part of his punishment, a consequence of "not being found of good conduct". Naturally this punishment was twofold -


1. Financial


2. Loss of status.


Although when a known Badgemen all of a sudden stopped wearing his badges you instantly knew he was a bit of a "Lad" or rogue.


Once upon a time a three badgeman was close to god in a messdeck and a 2 Badgeman was also somewhat looked up to. Sadly today, in some instances, if the multiple badge wearer is still of a low rank he is more often than not looked upon with scorn for not gaining promotion 'equivalent' to their years served.


Badges come in gold wire, red and blue and are only worn on 'dress' uniforms and not working dress.


A derogatory dit about badgmen:


"Three Badges Gold -  Too bloody old"
"Two Badges Red -  Bloody near dead!"


Whilst the sailor in the story below is not mentioned as being a "Badgeman". However it is a good bet that he would have been. It is about a Captain's Cabin Hand, and if the Skipper was a decent bloke then this employment would be seen as a 'perk job', one befitting at least a two or three Badgeman, if there was indeed a 'Three Badged' AB aboard.


Badgemen are as much about the navy as rum and salt water, they reckoned they knew all the lurks (and alot did) but were there when you needed them most.


They were Sea Daddy's to most of us and gave us a clip under the ear should we OD's not be toeing the line and then again looking after us and taking us ashore for a few grogs at an exotic bar on our first trip up top.


"The Old Hand" - Written by G.K.S. During World War Two.............


THERE was no denying he was a good seaman. He had been in the ship from her last pre-war commission, and he had the happy knack of always being able to produce a strand of spun-yarn or a marline spike from some unexpected corner just when it was needed.


Of course, like all old hands, he knew how to look after himself. I used to wonder how he always seemed to have a pipe in his mouth the moment "stand easy" was piped. I was sure he didn’t carry it with him in the pocket of his tropical rig. It puzzled me for a long while until one day I found a pipe and pouch tucked away in the ventilator of my cabin, and another in the ready use locker of the porn porn. How many he had I don’t know.


It was quite an education to watch him prepare his tobacco. He always used "Pusser’s" leaf, and he pressed it into a plug with a good serving of tarred spun-yarn. The he would anoint it with something out of a bottle he produced from his ditty box.


That also had me puzzled until some time after he became my cabin hand. He asked me if I would like to try a fill of his special baccy. He apologized that it was a bit dry, and explained that he had not had sufficient rum for the moistening which was so important while it was maturing. I took the hint, and when he gave me a plug a week or so later I had to admit I had never had a better smoke.


He was the best cabin hand I had ever had. We grew to know each other pretty well, and as he rubbed up my boots in the morning he would usually smile in his quiet way and tell me the latest gossip from the mess-deck.


From some mysterious source he could always tell me our future movements long before I knew them officially. I also became possessed of much information that an officer doesn’t usually know. This would have damned many a man on board had it reached the ears of the Jimmy. But it was all told me so quietly and with such supreme faith in my sense of humour that it went no further. In fact I grew to look forward to that morning chat while I stropped my razor and prepared for the trials of the day.


I learned that it was by no accident that a wet brush had dropped on the jaunty when they were painting the funnel. I heard the full story of the time the chief stoker’s underpants, brightly painted and fitted with swivel clips, had found their way into the flag locker. They had been in the middle of a hoist at the yardarm before they were noticed.


I even heard the rather embarrassing story of a certain parcel of comforts I had received and opened in the wardroom. I suppose the steward had started it on its rounds, and by this time the embellishments had left the original story far behind.


Sometimes after chatting with O’Dare I became quite sentimental: I mused to myself about the soul of a ship and the spirit that binds her crew together. There must be something of that sort born in a ship. What else would explain the action of men who lift a 200-pound bag of peanuts from a wharf where they are lying, smuggle them on board behind the back of the officer of the watch, and then present him with a bagful?


Through the medium of O’Dare I was able to solve one or two personal problems for members of the crew. "I was wondering, sir, if you would tell Donnegan the best way. " That’s how he would begin. And I must admit there were times when the sound common sense opinion I got from O’Dare helped me in my problems too.


Of course he was no angel. He got his "10 days no. 11" just as often as the average sailor. Never once did he ask me to pull a wire for him. He was too much a man for that.


Sometimes he would confess afterwards that he really did like his drop of liquor, and that it was almost worth it. But there was one happening that even O’Dare didn’t confess to me until just before I left the ship. As he placed the seemingly countless suits of whites into my trunk, he looked up for a moment with a half smile on his face and said, "I don’t suppose you remember, sir, the night I got a little drunk in Port Tewfik?"


"I smiled the answer.


"Well, sir, I reckon before you go you may as well know the full story, "You may remember Donnegan, sir; he had his leave stopped. Well, sir, Donnegan and I usually drink together, and I felt a bit lonely ashore there by myself. "You know the skipper, sir, and the risk it is to bring any liquor on board. But I just couldn’t think of poor old Donnegan back there; so I came back aboard early. You may remember, sir, you were the officer of the watch, and when I came over the side you saw the bottle in my pocket. It was a whisky bottle all right, and you called the master-at-arms to arrest me. "I explained, sir, that it was eau-de-cologne I had bought in a little shop in Zaghoul street. I said I had bought it in bulk, that was why its was in a whisky bottle. And when the Jaunty unscrewed the top and smelt it, it was eu-de-cologne alright.


"But it was pretty dark that night, sir, and I don't think you saw the cork jammed in the neck of the bottle, about an inch from the top. The was scent there all right, sir, but only on the top of that cork".


"And you didn't even hear us in the chain locker when you did middle watch rounds. I hope you don't mind me telling you this, sir".


I didn't mind him telling me; and I feel that O'Dare and his type are the backbone of the service.



My Blue Suit











Above: A scan of the badges of my old No 1's Suit (still hanging in the wardrobe) purchased at Red Anchor in January 1971. These are the accoutrements of a 2 Badged Leading Seaman Fire Control Sailor. Note the old Red Anchor tag.