If possible, I would like to get in touch with anyone who served as a Royal Navy Officer prior to 1993 please.


Lantern Swinger
Hi all,
If possible, I would like to get in touch with anyone who served as a Royal Navy Officer prior to 1993. I have some questions about how the Officer Cadet, Midshipman and Acting sub-lieutenant ranks worked back then. I know things are different now (for example, the Acting sub-lieutenant rank was abolished around 1993).

I asked similar questions on this site a while back (with an old account that I've lost access to), but I didn't get an answer to a followup question, so I thought I'd try again.

Instead of directly writing my questions here, I thought it was easier to try to find people who had experience with being an officer in that time period first, and go from there.

Thanks very much for your time. :)


War Hero
I never served in the Regular Navy, I was always a reservist (joined 1976) and the system was somewhat different for us anyway. However, I'd originally wanted to join the RN and can remember something about how the system worked. If I've got anything wrong, someone on here will probably be able to put me right.

Officer cadet had stopped being used at some point in the 1960's, if I remember correctly. If you joined the Navy straight from school with 'A' levels, or on a University Cadetship, you went to BRNC as a Midshipman. Direct entrants would pass out from BRNC as Midshipmen and then join the Fleet to train for the Fleet Board. I don't remember at what point they became Acting Sub-Lieutenants.

University Cadets would spend a year at BRNC and then go on to University for 3 years, spending the long vacations doing further training in the Fleet. They would, subject to progress, normally be appointed Acting Sub-Lieutenant at around the beginning of the 3rd year of university. After graduating, back to BRNC and the fleet to complete Fleet Board. After Fleet Board, confirmation as Sub-Lieut, and into specialist training.


Lantern Swinger
Hi @huwshpis, how are you? Thanks very much for your reply. Sorry for my delay in getting back to you.

You've already cleared up the difference between the Officer Cadet and Midshipman ranks nicely, thanks.

For my first question lets forget about the uni students and (for the sake of simplicity) just focus on the Midshipmen who joined straight from school with A levels. Once they had passed out from BRNC and were posted to ships, did they have authority over ratings as Midshipmen, or did they have to wait until they were appointed Acting Sub-Lieutenants before being able to exercise any authority?

It would make more sense to me if the answer to my question is the latter (that Midshipmen before 1993 had no authority prior to being appointed Acting Sub-Lieutenants), that way the Acting Sub-Lieutenant appointment would provide a clear line of demarcation between being a trainee and a probationary (trial period) officer, who is getting practice at having authority and responsibility, before receiving their commissions as Sub-Lieutenants.

If the answer to my question is the former (that Midshipmen before 1993 had some authority over ratings straight after passing out from BRNC), I have some follow-up questions:
1. Did they only have authority over junior rates, effectively slotting the Midshipman rank between Leading Hand and Petty Officer (that would make sense, since I've seen senior rates train Midshipman in documentaries)?
2. If Midshipmen had authority over *all* ratings (not just junior rates), then what was the point of the Acting Sub-Lieutenant step, why not just go from Midshipman to substantive Sub-Lieutenant?
3. Were Midshipmen back then saluted and/or addressed as Sir (upon passing out from BRNC), or did they have to wait until they became Acting Sub-Lieutenants?
4. If they weren't addressed as Sir, how would a rating respond to a Midshipman's order, "Aye Midshipman" or something else?

House keeping notes:
I hope nothing I've said in this post sounded disrespectful to any of the ranks or rates mentioned, I certainly meant no disrespect.

I posted similar questions on a pre-existing Midshipman thread a while back, so it might seem like this thread is an unnecessary duplication. However, even though @Pontius answered my questions about how Midshipmen were regarded in the days of sail, he didn't really answer my questions about semi-modern Midshipmen. By semi-modern I mean between the 1920's and 1993. I'm not complaining, just explaining the situation (@Pontius may not have seen my reply).

Thank you very much for your time. :)

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War Hero
Super Moderator
As I recall, as a rating (both as a JR and a SR), we called them sir but other than that they had no authority, didn't get salutes and gave no orders.


Lantern Swinger
ATTN: @huwshpis @WreckerL @dapperdunn @Dredd @alfred_the_great and anyone else who wants to join in.

Hi All,
Sorry for the huge delay in responding to your comments. I have been very busy with moving to a different city.

House Keeping
I have decided to reply to all of you in one big comment rather than doing separate replies to your individual comments. I will tag/@mention some people so that everyone knows when I'm referencing a specific comment, but the entire reply is addressed to everyone so please read all of it. Also, I have written some words in all caps to add emphases. I know some people consider the use of all caps to be the equivalent of shouting rudely, but I promise that it's not my intention to shout at anyone.

@WreckerL: Thanks for your reply, I was pretty sure that Midshipmen could not give any orders but were addressed as Sir as a courtesy. Are you sure Midshipmen did not receive any salutes? Wikipedia disputes this, this article: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Subordinate_officer#United_Kingdom states that subordinate officers were entitled to salutes. I don't take Wikipedia as gospel, but the statement regarding salutes does have a newspaper article referenced as a source. I will point out that the whole article is confusing because it lumps Midshipmen and Acting Sub-Lieutenants together as subordinate officers (because neither have received their commissions yet), and at the same time, it makes sweeping statements that NO subordinate officers could give orders, and that ALL subordinate officers were entitled to salutes. Part of that article has to be rubbish, because as you and I both know, Acting Sub-Lieutenants most definitely COULD give orders, otherwise their rank/title of Acting Sub-Lieutenant would be meaningless. Nonetheless, given that some of the article had citations, I can't help wondering whether the part implying that Midshipmen WERE entitled to salutes might be true. Unfortunately, the source they reference doesn't seem to be available online. They also mention The Queen's Regulations for the Royal Navy, but I'm unable to find an online copy of the relevant edition for the time period. If you (or anyone else) could shed any more light on this matter, I'd really appreciate it.

Lastly, you (and others) have clearly explained that Midshipmen could not GIVE any orders, I'd just like to clarify whether they TOOK orders from ratings (Leading Hand or above); or were officers the only ones who could give them orders after they graduated from B.R.N.C.?

@dapperdunn: Thanks for your reply, I was aware that Midshipmen used to have no commission at all, but I was unsure as to whether their status as subordinate officers entitled them to give orders.

@Dredd: As far as I am aware @alfred_the_great is right, today Midshipmen are considered to be fully commissioned officers, just like they are in the Royal New Zealand Navy (R.N.Z.N.) and the Royal Australian Navy (R.A.N.) (see background to thread below). Thanks for your reply though. :)

Background To Why I Posted This Thread
Some of you may be wondering why I am so interested in/obsessed with the precise protocols regarding the authority and treatment of Midshipmen under an old system that is no longer used. The answer is twofold. Firstly, I'm planning to write a space science fiction story, and being a naval enthusiast, I want the ship's company to have proper ranks and rates. Over the years, I've been very irritated with popular space sci-fi's (like Star Trek, Babylon 5 and Battlestar Galactica) which focus far too much on commissioned officers at the expense of enlisted personnel and/or get other key details about rank and rate structures horribly wrong!

The second part of my answer is as follows: Having decided to have a real naval structure in my story, I initially decided to use the ranks and rates of the Royal New Zealand Navy (since I'm from New Zealand). However, a friend of mine who is a retired Royal New Zealand Navy Rating can't remember the protocol around how Midshipmen were treated and the level of authority (or lack thereof) they possessed prior to the law change giving Midshipmen commissions. He and I think that the modern practice of giving Midshipmen commissions immediately upon graduation from the New Zealand equivalent of B.R.N.C. is rather foolish, so I don't want to use that system in my story. Hence, here I am asking all of you about how things used to be done in the Royal Navy.

Thank you all very much for your time, interest and help. :)


War Hero
For my 2 pennyworth

I am fairly sure we saluted midshipmen as we were 'saluting the uniform, not the man.'

They were put in charge of work parties etc (how else would you learn management/leadership skills) but could be over ruled by the senior rating present if necessary

and you never, ever, called them Sir !!
FWIW - a Midshipman/salute dit I'd previously posted in Dec 2010:

<<< A salute at the Torbay Queens Colour Presentation Review.

On the eve of this Review in '69 our Cinderella leave expired at Haldon Pier Torquay where a pair of Fleet Tenders were parked to ferry all returning libertymen to their vessels at anchor in Torbay.

Earlier that evening the wind had increased, naturally inducing not an inconsiderable swell. So coming alongside each ship became increasingly fraught; but all of the skimmers, and eventually the conventional submariners too, were safely decanted back aboard their own vessels

Not so for those of us on the Tender trying to return to Warspite & Valiant, our two SSNs being anchored off 'furthest from the shore due to Nuclear Safety reasons'. Despite several valiant efforts (please forgive that irresistible pun) the Tender skipper had to wrap it all in and returned us to the harbour pier. (Some of us were fortunate enough to slumber fitfully on the bench seats aboard the Tender but others just had to crash out in sea-side deckchairs; exposed to the elements at the adjacent pavilion).

At daybreak on that day of the Review the Tender ferry service resumed for all of the other RN vessels but it was still too unsafe to come alongside the SSNs and here this salute story cuts in:

In between these early morning trips our small group of submariners (still in Nos. 1s, but by then looking somewhat unkempt and unwashed/unshaven) were milling around at the seaward end of the pier. In the distance we espied a pair of Midshipmen, all pink & shiny, marching towards us in step (if I recall correctly at least one of them was in step). As they drew nearer we had already decided: "Yes! - Let's all chop 'em one off!" So in unison, we sprang to attention, chorussing a polite ˜Good Morning, Gentlemen".

But, as they passed us by, our nearest submariner to them was this tall, rubbery-limbed, two-badge specimen of a fore-endy. Being of the S/M specialisation he had long been sheltered from untoward exposure to these youthful Adonai - although apparently he recalled that some formal gesture was the rightful due of this strange, white-patched tribe. He therefore decided to venture far beyond that basic mode which had always been the preference of those long-forgotten, stiff-necked, red-faced, whistle-blowing Parade GIs from somewhere in his distant past.

Anyway, Badges smartly removed his cap and laid it out as an offering before these Middies. He then proceeded to prostrate himself at their feet: Down low on his knees, arms outstretched, he raised and lowered them many times - All the while wailing loudly, but humbly, his personal tributes to these vastly superior beings.

Having been delivered of the best salutes ever offered by those assembled, (albeit from the scruffiest bunch of S/M JRs & SRs) those two poor virgin Middies did indeed return them; self-consciously blushing and farting throughout as only those of their ilk are able.

Hey Ho - They probably retired as full Admirals and are still dining out on this story even today.

Should anyone here know of a finer display of respect I would be delighted to hear of it and hence suffer the inevitable visit of the dreaded black cat.



The Review? What Review?

When it became apparent that we'd never get back aboard at all that forenoon we dispersed ashore then saw Her Majesty review our Fleet, (minus us) all the time cheering gleefully, on the Torquay sea-front Pub's TV.

We finally returned aboard that evening, tired but well merry and were just in time for TOT Mismusters AND Splicers; we then later received subsistence alowance for our overnight inconvenience and time spent ashore. Tough or what? >>>


Lantern Swinger
Hi All,
Once again this post is intended to be read by everyone, with tags being used to indicate whom comments I'm referring to.

Before I get into the core of my post, I owe @BreathingOutOnTheWayUp and @Dusty70 a big apology for the lateness of this reply. I see that it has been 5 weeks since you wrote to me. I mentioned in my previous post that I have been very busy with moving to a different city, what I didn't explain was, I am physically disabled. The delay in writing this post is largely due to being busy advertising for, and interviewing more caregivers. Nevertheless, being busy is no excuse for rudeness, sorry. As a side note, if I was able-bodied I would've enlisted in the Royal New Zealand Navy when I was 18.

@BreathingOutOnTheWayUp: Thanks for that very entertaining story about those Middies and the review Bob. I laughed out loud from beginning to end as I read it! :)

@Dusty70: Thanks for your reply. It was a good idea to give Midshipmen temporary authority over work parties in order to give them leadership practice before they were promoted and (effectively) given their commissions. I will treat that bit of information as gospel.

Still @Dusty70: As for saluting them, I've heard of the expression "Salute the rank not the man!"; but I honestly thought that applied to commissioned officers only, which (in the time period we're talking about) excluded Midshipmen. I admit that my understanding on the matter could be totally inaccurate. Also, you say you (and presumably your fellow ratings at the time) "...never, ever, called them Sir!!", while I'm not questioning you per se (more on that in the next paragraph), I would've thought saluting Midshipmen would be *worse* than calling them Sir. My reasoning is as follows: I was taught a salute is always an indirect salute to the Sovereign, because the officer being saluted carries the Sovereign's authority. Since Midshipmen (in the time period we're discussing) didn't hold commissions from the Sovereign, I don't see how Midshipmen could be said to be carrying the Sovereign's authority. I think this is why Warrant Officers are called Sir, but not saluted; their Warrants give them enough status to set them apart from the rest of the ratings, but without a commission, saluting them seems meaningless and improper. Having said all of that, I know that there are many aspects of military protocol that are not always logical and my reasoning could be way off base.

Now we get to the heart of my problem, contradictions. @WreckerL says that Midshipmen were called Sir but not saluted (just like present day Warrant Officers), @Dusty70 says that it was the other way around, without any clarifying statements, @dapperdunn's post suggests that Midshipmen were neither saluted nor called Sir and @BreathingOutOnTheWayUp's post implies that Midshipmen were both saluted and called Sir (his very entertaining dit mentioned saluting a group of Middies and calling them "Gentlemen" --which is sometimes considered to be the plural of Sir). Obviously, you can't all be correct. I hope I don't sound like a whining ingrate, I do appreciate all your responses in this thread; it's just that without a consistent account of the protocol regarding Midshipmen (in the modern days -- but before they were commissioned), I don't know how to be accurate in my planned stories. In the next paragraph, I'll talk about, and get your advice on, where to go from here.

Maybe you could all take a look at my understanding of what each of you meant in your explanations to me? Perhaps having each of the combinations of whether to Sir or not to Sir/salute or not to salute laid out in a single paragraph will jog everyone's memory and help to form a consensus as to which protocol was correct. If that doesn't work and total accuracy can't be achieved, should I just pick an arbitrary protocol, or would that be disrespectful to the Royal Navy? Lastly (assuming it's not too disrespectful to the R.N.), if you were writing a story and you weren't 100% sure what the correct protocol was, which of the following protocols would you pick for your story:

1. Midshipmen are addressed as Sir and Ma'am, but not saluted (just like present day Warrant Officers).
2. Midshipmen are addressed as Sir and Ma'am and saluted (just like commissioned officers).
3. Midshipmen are saluted, but not addressed as Sir and Ma'am.
4. Midshipmen are neither addressed as Sir and Ma'am nor saluted (just like ratings).

Thank you all very much for your time. I wish you all a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year. :)

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