The Royal Navy

There was a touch of sadness for me as I heard the latest defence cuts for the Royal Navy. When I was in my teens I twice applied for the RN and both times was turned down.

HMS Southampton

HMS Southampton, flagship of the 2nd Light Cruiser Squadron

My family has a naval pedigree stretching back to the 19th century. My great grandfather William Goodenough (and yes I was named after him – ju

st not the surname!) commanded the second light cruiser squadron at Jutland in HMS Southampton and his squadron was the first to sight the German fleet. Of course in those Imperial days the navy had many more ships (in 1877 there were 533 ships). In the 19th century Britain aimed to be as large as the top two next navies in size.

Of course some of our naval history isn’t particularly nice to read. The destruction of the French fleet at Mers-el-Kébir in World War 2 or the shelling of the Greek port of Piraeus in the nineteenth century, the Opium wars etc etc.

But there is also a history to be proud of in there as well. The suppression of the slave trade; ensuring our survival as a country against dictators such as

Hitler and Napoleon. These wouldn’t have happened without a navy. There was a cost involved in this freedom as well. The cost in people dying and injured to

protect our freedoms and those of others. My great great grandfather (Commodore James Goodenough) died while suppressing the trade in women for prostitution in the Pacific Ocean.

The spending review anticipates that the Navy will be reduced to 19 warships and no aircraft carrier available for a decade. How the mighty have fallen. But should we be so concerned (if indeed dear reader you are concerned!)? The Russian threat has markedly diminished and the Chinese and Far Eastern threat has not (at least yet) risen to replace the old cold war threat. The main concerns will be in the middle east – both those states that are unstable – such as Iran and the piracy in that area from especially Somali pirates. In addition some last vestiges of empire such as the Falkland Islands.

Interestingly, our fleet originally grew to protect our merchant seamen (from mainly Dutch, French and Barbary pirates). Also interestingly our merchant fleet having declined from world dominance to virtually nothing is now steadily growing again. I suspect given the international nature of security that it won’t be necessary to grow the fleet back to a huge size again but I suspect that we have got about as small as we can get as a navy and I suspect in 10 years time we may well be looking at increases to the fleet.

Sir William Goodenough (aged 14)

William Goodenough (aged 14)

But in the meantime I am thankful that we have a Royal Navy with an illustrious tradition of public service but I don’t regret not getting into the navy. We do live not in anImperial age but rather in an age where co-operation means that we can share our concerns about piracy etc with other like-minded nations. I’m very thankful for the history of may family. But I am also pleased that I didn’t have to go to sea at the age of 13 or 14.


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