Officers' uniforms


Oct 14, 2003
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Heya!

Can you tell me what the officer's uniforms entailed and if they wore them still while they were off duty?

Also did they just crash into bed when their watch was up or did they have some fun at some point? I find it hard to believe, with all the stories surrounding sailors, that they were the solemn people we see in the photos today. I know that Lightoller was a prankster but what of the others? What about Murdoch, Boxhall, Moody, Pitman, and Lowe (I imagine he would have been an interesting character!).

Christa
 
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Brian R Peterson

Guest
Hi Christa!

Great Question, and one that touches on my other great interest and that is uniforms.

Here is a thorough description of the officer's uniforms and what they entailed.

First there were two uniforms the officers were issued, a white dress uniform that may also have functioned as the summer uniform, and the standard navy blue uniform.

There are important differences in the tailoring of these uniforms as well.

For instance, the white uniform was made of cotton and featured a single breast frock coat with a stiff collar; there were five brass buttons featuring the White Star emblem in the center on the front of the coat, as well as two smaller brass buttons of the same design on the two breast pockets. Above the left breast was to be worn any medals or ribbons the officer may have been awarded. To show rank, the white uniform featured black epaulettes, or shoulder boards with strips of gold piping to display rank. A white peaked hat bearing the White Star emblem surrounded by gold leaves was to be worn, the cap would have a strip of gold piping on the bill for all officers, higher ranking officers would also have gold oak leaves or "scrambled eggs" of various thickness depending on rank, on the bill. White dress slacks and white dress shoes were also to be worn. If worn for dress occasion, white gloves may have also been employed.

The blue standard uniform was made of wool and featured a double-breasted frock coat with eight buttons, four to a side, all bearing the White Star emblem. There were no breast pockets on this uniform, however the awards and medals were still be worn above the left breast, usually the ribbons were worn, but the officer could opt to wear the full size medals if it suited him, Captain Smith is shown as doing such on occasion. Because this uniform was open at the neck, a white collared shirt and black tie were to be worn. To display rank, the blue uniform featured gold rings on the cuffs; the number of rings on the cuffs would match the epaulettes on the white dress uniform and overcoat. For a cap, either the blue or white peaked cap could be used depending on the occasion. It is identical in design to the white dress cap only blue. Blue slacks and black shoes were to be worn with this uniform.

Now here are the different ranks an officer on a ship during Titanic's era could hold.

Captain: Equivalent in rank to a Navy Captain. Blue or white uniform featuring four gold bars on the epaulettes and four gold rings on the cuffs, blue or white peaked cap featuring full size "scrambled eggs" on the bill.

Chief Officer: Equivalent in rank to a Navy Commander. Blue or white uniform featuring three gold bars on the epaulettes and three gold rings on the cuffs, blue or white peaked cap featuring smaller size "scrambled eggs" on the bill. (optional, I haven’t seen this very often but it could be used)

First Officer: Equivalent in rank to a Navy Lieutenant Commander. Blue or white uniform featuring two gold bars with a thin bar in between on the epaulettes and two gold rings on the cuffs with a thin ring in between, blue or white peaked cap featuring smaller size "scrambled eggs" on the bill.

Second Officer: Equivalent in rank to a Navy Lieutenant. Blue or white uniform featuring two gold bars on the epaulettes and two gold rings on the cuffs, blue or white peaked cap.

Third Officer: Equivalent in rank to a Navy Sub Lieutenant. Blue or white uniform featuring one gold bar with a thin bar above on the epaulettes and one gold ring with a thin ring above on the cuffs, blue or white peaked cap.

Forth Officer: Equivalent in rank to a Navy Ensign. Blue or white uniform featuring one gold bar on the epaulettes and one gold ring on the cuffs, blue or white peaked cap.

Fifth Officer: Equivalent in rank to a Navy Ensign. Blue or white uniform featuring one gold bar on the epaulettes and one gold ring on the cuffs, blue or white peaked cap.

Sixth Officer: Equivalent in rank to a Navy Ensign. Blue or white uniform featuring one gold bar on the epaulettes and one gold ring on the cuffs, blue or white peaked cap.

Best Regards,

Brian
 
Mar 3, 1998
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Brian,

The White Star Line insignia, as worn by Titanic's officers, was slightly different from what you described.

Sleeve rings, as worn by WSL officers:
Captain: four rings with executive curl
Chief: 3 rings with executive curl
First: 2 rings with executive curl
Second: 1 ring with executive curl
3rd/4th/5th/6th: 1 ring

The breast pockets of the summer uniform had no pocket flaps; therefore, no brass buttons.

WSL officers did not buy formal dress with epaulettes. The WSL officers shown in existing pictures wearing formal dress were wearing their RNR uniforms. By 1912, there was no formal dress insignia (including epaulettes) for the WSL, if it ever exised at all.

The Great, or Frock, Coat was of Royal Navy pattern and had 10 buttons. The Undress Coat had 8 buttons. I think you were referring to the Undress Coat in your description.

The WSL uniform complement also included a Mess Jacket, also of RN pattern. Also, uniform vests were worn under the blue coats, both Great and Undress.

Only the Captain and Commodore (the latter not in service in the WSL of 1912) wore a single row of gold bullion leaves on the visor of their service caps. All other officers, including the Chief, wore a plain black leather visor.

I think that the term, "scrambled eggs," used in reference to the row of gold bullion leaves on senior officers' visors, is purely an American idiom, but I would check with those on the board who have had RN or Merchant service to verify that.

Hope this helps.

Parks
 
Oct 14, 2003
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Thanks guys! You've given me heaps of info.

Just a few quick questions for a person who isn't familiar with your jargon (namely me!):

1) What does RNR stand for?

2) what was the mess coat for? (I'm guessing for off duty hours like dinner and just being off duty in general?)

3) and are we talking vests like the ones that old-er people wear (over the shirt kinda thing)

4) also were their shirts stiff collared?

5) you mention 'buying' the uniform - did they have to buy it?

Thanks,

Christa.
 
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Brian R Peterson

Guest
Hi Parks

We have some misunderstandings on my descriptions.

>>The breast pockets of the summer uniform had no pocket flaps; therefore, no brass buttons.<<

There is film of Captain Smith on the Olympic wearing such a uniform, this is what I based my descirption on.

>>WSL officers did not buy formal dress with epaulettes. The WSL officers shown in existing pictures wearing formal dress were wearing their RNR uniforms. By 1912, there was no formal dress insignia (including epaulettes) for the WSL, if it ever exised at all.<<

I am not referring to the giant gold fringed epaulettes you must be thinking, the tabs shown in all pictures of the officers are also known in the US as epaulettes, or shoulder boards

>>I think that the term, "scrambled eggs," used in reference to the row of gold bullion leaves on senior officers' visors, is purely an American idiom, but I would check with those on the board who have had RN or Merchant service to verify that.<<

It may be an American idiom, but it is the best description for the insignia based on US military jargon, the British may call it by a different term. And I did not imply all officers wore this cap insignia, I said I have seen it on US ships and it was a rare occasion.

Christa,

1. RNR is Royal Navy Reserves

2. The mess coat was for formal gatherings, sort of like a tuxedo only with rank insignia

3. The vest worn under the uniform coats would have been similar to the vest you would wear with a suit

4. In that era dress shirts did not usually come with collars or cuffs, these would be worn seperately and were usually starched making them stiff, so the answer to this is yes

5. When Parks mentioned buying a uniform he was referring to a parade or formal dress uniform; White Star officers ordinarily would not have these as it was strictly a RNR function worn by former RNR officers such as Captain Smith. These uniforms are similar to the Class A uniform of the US Military which is not issued or required, it is a very expensive option for those officers who wish to look sharp at formal gatherings.

Best Regards,

Brian
 
Mar 3, 1998
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I don't have "hard" evidence for this, but it is my understanding that the WSL officers were required to purchase all their uniform items out of their own pay. Some, I think, had their RNR uniforms do "double duty" in order to save money. Because of this, a merchant officer might not own every uniform that he was authorised to wear. I would be interested to hear from anyone who has more specific information on how a merchant officer's seabag was put together in 1912.

Parks
 
Oct 14, 2003
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Heya guys.

If a mess suit was for formal gatherings what would they wear when they were off duty?

Why would they need a RNR uniform? Were they immediately put in the Reserves because they were sailors?

You refer a lot to the US. Were the White Star Line Officers considered employed by Britain or the US?

Parks, what do you mean by 'double duty'? And when you say a merchant officer's seabag are we talking about the type that you see sailors carry on board ships? I'd be interested in the contents of that too.

Thanks,

Christa.
 
Mar 3, 1998
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Off duty...probably civilian clothes.

Not all of Titanic's officers were RNR (Pitman wasn't, if memory serves me correct). Being in the Reserves was a good source of extra income.

The WSL officers were employed by the Line, which was British-run, even though it ultimately was U.S.-owned. Some of the terminology used in this discussion comes from modern-day U.S. vernacular. "Seabag," for instance, is a U.S. Navy term when used in the manner in which I used it. I shouldn't have used that term in this discussion...I believe "kit" is a better term to use to describe the personal effects that a WSL officer of the period would have brought on board.

When I said, "double duty," I meant that sometimes RNR uniforms were modified so as to stand in as Merchant Service uniforms. I have seen actual examples were merchant sleeve insignia was sewn onto a blue wool band, which was then laid over RNR sleeve insignia (thereby obscuring it) and tacked down temporarily. The buttons were probably changed over, too, which means that one jacket could be used for both Reserve duty and Merchant service. I don't know if any of Titanic's officers followed this practice, though.

Parks
 

Inger Sheil

Member
Feb 9, 1999
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From Titanic and Other Ships:

quote:

So, in the year of Our Lord 1900, armed with a letter of introduction and full of good resolutions, I made my appearance at 30 James Street, Liverpool, the headquarters of the wonderful White Star Line. It was customary in those days to have to wait anything up to six months before getting an appointment, so, feeling very virtuous at having done the great deed, I slipped away for a few months' holiday. Within a week, to my utter disgust, I had orders to report; and on arriving in Liverpool, found I was appointed to the R.M.S. MEDIC, the first of the five huge White Star Liners that were to open the new Australian service. I suppose I ought to have felt flattered at being picked out from among the many, but it was rather a staggerer, since all my outfit happened to be roaming somewhere round the railways, more or less lost, and certainly unobtainable.

When the Marine Superintendent told me the ship was sailing within a couple of days, I blurted out, "Good Lord, I've no clothes." His reply was short, and to the point. "Get some." I did, and rambled off to Australia with slightly less than half an outfit. But it was the White Star Line, the summit, at that time, of my ambitions.

You're correct that Pitman did not hold a commission in the RNR in 1912, Parks - with the outbreak of war he was the Tuetonic's purser, which was transferred to Assistant Paymaster when the Tuetonic was converted for war service. James Moody never held a commission in the RNR, nor - as far as I know - did he ever seek to hold a commission in the reserves. No doubt he would have if he had lived.

Commissions in the RNR were not automatic, Christa. At that time, merchant officers, armed with a recommendation from their line, were interviewed by the Admiralty in London. If satisfactory, they were made probationary Sub-Lieutenants until summoned up for a few weeks training, after which they were gazetted as full Sub-Lieutenants if their performance was satisfactory. Further and more extensive training was required before promotion to Lieutenant. At the time of the disaster, Wilde, Murdoch and Lightoller held the rank of Lieutenant RNR, Harold Lowe was gazetted as a probationary sub-lieutenant in mid-1912 (after the disaster) and as a full sub-lieutenant in mid-1913. He is interesting as, earlier in his career before he sat for his BOT certificates, he had served in the RNR as a rating. There's a tremendous photo of him in a rating's uniform. Boxhall I'd have to look up my notes for, but his career pretty much paralleled that of Lowe's with a few months advance on him.

I discussed the matter of Lowe's RNR uniform with his family, and one of his grandsons thought that his grandmother might have chosen to bury him in it. Certainly his dress hat, sword and medals were placed on top of the coffin at his funeral.​
 
Mar 3, 1998
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Ing,

Thank you for that. Another reason why I should look for that book. Similarly, I have found a wealth of information about WSL practice in Hayes's biography, Hull Down. Among other things, it's an invaluable source for information about the WSL Commodore uniform.

According to George Sinclair, Bride's Marconi uniform -- the one he wore off the ship! -- belonged to the family for some time. Next time I see him, I'll have to press him on the subject of what became of that uniform.

On the sweat diamond in one of my WSL uniform caps, the address of one of the Soton tailors is listed under the King's Cypher. I would wager that a majority of the WSL officers sailing out of Soton purchased their uniform items there.

Parks
 

Inger Sheil

Member
Feb 9, 1999
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I've got a great photo to show you when I get to LA, Parks - Moody in his pristine WSL uniform, obviously a new acquisition, impeccably presented with nary a crease out of place.

Lowe seems to have given away buttons he wore that night - I know of at least once instance where he presented one to a new-found friend (and later his family also gave one to a researcher). I know I sent you a photo of that mystery item - I did also include the name of the manufacturer as stamped on it, didn't I?

Rumour has it that a lot of Philips' clothes were preserved by one of his sisters - only to be burned when she passed away.
 

Gary Cooper

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Jun 5, 2003
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Fascinating stuff above. I have a query of my own in this matter of uniforms. In my collection of Titanic books, I have an original 1893 edition of 'From the Old World to the New', with W T Stead's prophetic tale of a ship colliding with an iceberg. On page 43 is a photo said by many to be a picture of Captain Smith (though his name is never mentioned in the text). He is wearing an older type of uniform with what appears to be a bow tie and wavy rings and buttons on the cuffs. Does anyone have any idea when the uniforms changed to the style worn in 1912?
 

Gary Cooper

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Jun 5, 2003
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Parks,

Smith was certainly RNR, never seen a mention of him being in the RNVR. Perhaps 'wavy' was a poor description, 'entwined' might be better, anyway, here's the picture:
78286.jpg
 
Mar 3, 1998
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Gary,

In my opinion, that does not look like Smith, even when he was younger. Then again, I'm poor at identifying individuals. I don't believe that the uniform is either RNR, RNVR, or White Star. I think I've seen it somewhere before...give me a couple of days and I'll see if I can find the photo I'm thinking of (possibly Wilde?).

Parks
 
Mar 3, 1998
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Now that I think on it some more, I think that the uniform depicted in the photo that you supplied may actually be from the RNR, possibly late-1800s. The RNR used plaited rings and the shape of the "star" looks very familiar. I think I may have seen a similar uniform in a portrait of Wilde wearing his RNR formal dress; again, it will be a few hours before I can look through my library to verify.

Parks
 

Gary Cooper

Member
Jun 5, 2003
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Parks,

I agree, it doesn't look much like him and the cap badge even in the full sized photo is indistinct. The photo was reproduced in a recent Eaton and Haas book (I think). Stead edited the journal the picture appeared in and he and Smith were certainly acquainted. In her memoirs of her father, Estelle Stead claims that it is Captain Smith being described in the story, though she does not allude to the photo directly. Perhaps Stead used a stand-in photo to spare Smith's blushes.
 
Mar 3, 1998
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Gary,

I assume that you have seen the picture of a (slightly) younger Smith wearing his formal RNR dress? It's a head-and-shoulders portrait, and shows Smith wearing a cocked hat.

Parks
 
Mar 3, 1998
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Gary,

I checked at home for my portrait of Wilde, and the RNR sleeve insignia depicted there is similar to that shown in your photo. So, yes...the man in your photo appears to be wearing an early-style RNR uniform. Someone more versed in RNR uniforms than I would have to narrow down the date for you.

Parks
 

Dave Gittins

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Mar 16, 2000
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To clarify a point. The Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve was not formed until 1903. It was open to those who were not professional seafarers. All that was required was enthusiasm for ships and the sea.
 

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