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WW2 Navigator badges / insignias / training


Hi - (again) the next topic I need to understand re my fathers naval war time is, what he did within the Navy itself. Obviously I know that when he joined he would have been a 'normal' seaman (is that correct?) - he later became a Petty officer then an Officer.

Eventually at some stage he became a 'Navigator' - given that this was in the war years was this training 'fast tracked' so they could get you in to the conflict asap? - does anyone know what would have been the process at that time?

Also, what badges or insignias would he have had to do with being a navigator?

Would that have been his only duty at this time as I understand many men had 2 or 3 duties during the war time hostilities?


War Hero
Super Moderator
Ratings are navigators assistants called Navigators Yeoman, those that have done the course wear a badge on the cuff of their uniform


Officers do courses but don't have any distinguishing badges.


Thanks Wreckerl, when you were an officer then, you didn't wear anything that showed what you have previously qualified in?
I have recently being talking with my fathers second wife to see if she could remember anything that could help me regarding his war time Naval service and she mentioned that she seems to think that she had seen in a letter from a war time crewman (I guess buddy?) that they referred to him as 'Flags' and that she had heard my father refer to this in some conversations but never knew what he meant, so never bothered asking.

Is there any connection in this with navigation? - what does it mean if anything as I'm not even sure?

Please remember that the period that I am referring to is WW2

Thank you.


The pilots I recall getting it wrong, wore a frown, awaiting their Court Martial.
There were many of them, sadly.


The pilots I recall getting it wrong, wore a frown, awaiting their Court Martial.
There were many of them, sadly.

Hi, could you explain what you mean please as I'm not quite sure what you mean? (I know what a pilot is (not air-force))


War Hero
Super Moderator
Flags is normally the name for an Admirals Flag Lieutenant (his assistant) and what maggiemay is referring to is the pilot being the navigator. If a ship runs aground it's a mandatory courts-martial for the Captain and the navigator would be courts-martialled if it was his fault.


Cant honestly see dad being an Admirals assistant, I think that he would have talked more about that if he had - far to splendid for dad!
Is there any other reason why he 'may' have been called 'Flags'?

I'm fairly confident that he was involved with navigation at some stage during his naval exploits - were you called 'Flags' if you were in involved in Signals? - could that be where it came from? could you be a navigator as well as being something to do with Signals, or the other way around?


War Hero
There was a time when the RN had a branch referred to as signalmen. Their branch badge was crossed semaphore flags. A small ship might sometimes only have one signalman embarked so he would have been nicknamed "Flags" by some members of the crew or more like the "Bunting Tosser". Whether it was your Dad's scenario I couldn't say for certain.


Could he have been a Navigator and a signalman together?

Why was it that once you became an office you didn't have any distinguishing badges?
Could he have been a Navigator and a signalman together?

Why was it that once you became an office you didn't have any distinguishing badges?

Officers don't have any distinguishing badges it's just the way it is. We could get into branch distinguishing lace but it's a sidetrack as he wouldn't have had any if he was a navigator. Essentially, God's chosen children (ahem) are the officers, and they need to know what the non-officers do, so non-officers need badges that show that. Non-officers just need to know that an officer is an officer.

No he couldn't have been an officer and a signalman in the way that signalman has been described so far. If he was a bunting tosser before he was an officer then he would have dropped all that when he was commissioned. Apart from some of the branches merging/disappearing the great scheme of things hasn't changed too much since the war. If you want a crash course in what a junior RN officer did/does then visit the RN website and read the stuff on officer careers.

Broadly, some sort of attachment afloat under training, qualify as an officer of the watch, qualify as a navigator and so on.

There was a signals officer branch (IIRC Mountbatten was one) pre-war, but whether or not that was still recruiting during the war I don't know. That wouldn't have stopped him being a navigator as well, but while has was a navigator he would have been a signals officer but not the Signals Officer. God, it's only when you try and explain it to someone with no background that you realise how complicated everything is....
Before I get jumped on, I know officers can wear:
wings/dagger/dolphins, etc, but for the purposes of this query (where none of those are relevant, like the branch lace) it's simpler to keep it at "they don't wear trade badges"


Book Reviewer
I've never heard a Signalman called Flags, it was always Bunts (that's the polite version) Could it be that he earned the nickname Flags for some other reason not connected to his trade?


God - this is confusing!!!!

As I mentioned earlier, I'm fairly confident that he was a Navigator as I remember always being fascinated when he used to recollect and say that he was always having to read the charts and plotting courses along with avoiding wrecks in the channel and me thinking 'don't you just point the ship roughly where you want it to go - then set off and steer as you went on' - bear in mind I was only probably 10 at the time.
I remember 'flags' being in conversations but always thought of them at that time as 'flags to hoist or signal with' which they may have well been? - I cant say for sure.
The 'Flags' as a nick-name only cropped up when I spoke to his second wife as I mentioned earlier in this thread, maybe 'she' got it wrong or misunderstood it at the time? certainly looks like it may be difficult to get some connection of some sort? - maybe in the war time period there was some sort of connection but has disappeared since? - its not like we can ask someone who was there at that time?
if you do a search on this site for the details I'm pretty sure if you're the next of kin you can get his service records from the MOD. That will tell you chapter and verse where he served, what he did, etc.

Follow this link for the address you've got to write to.

As far as Flags goes, it's either wrong or he was a flag lieutenant to an Admiral. Of course, if his surname was Flaggestaffe/Pennent for example, then the answer might be closer to home....


War Hero
Is it possible he was referred to as 'Flags' before he actually became an officer?
That might go some way to explaining it.


Is this a possibility (in my simple terms) when joined as a normal seaman he was a signalman and so known as 'Flags' then as he became an officer he did 'navigation' and dropped the 'signals'? - as Ballistic suggests.

kinross-special - I will write to them and see what happens but I've heard that they are not always successful? - and no the surname is nothing like 'Flag' etc - but good suggestion.


War Hero
Super Moderator
It could have a been a nickname for something he'd done, quickest way to get a nickname that sticks and follows you round is to make a cock up which amuses everyone else.
kinross-special - I will write to them and see what happens but I've heard that they are not always successful? - and no the surname is nothing like 'Flag' etc - but good suggestion.

First World War, 2/3rds of the records were blitzed in the second unpleasantness. Second World War they will have it and if you're the NOK they will give it to you.


In asking for his war records is there only one record or do I have to request different parts which make up his complete record?
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