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On This Day… A Sad Day For The Royal Navy’s Poor Sailors

Written by: George Chittenden : 22 May 2019

It was on this day, 31st July back in 1970 when the Royal Navy issued sailors with a daily rum ration for the very last time, ending a 300-year-old tradition. The Royal Navy’s history with alcohol began all the way back in the 17th century, when sailors were given a daily ration of a gallon of beer. In those days beer was relatively weak and was often consumed instead of water as it was safer to drink. It was also introduced as a way of boosting the morale of the crew and maintaining high spirits during long sea voyages. As the British Empire expanded and sea voyages grew longer the Royal Navy required a longer lasting drink than beer, which often rotted in barrels and took up lots of space in cargo holds. It was in the year 1655 when they finally switched to rum, and half pint of rum became the equivalent.

As you can imagine it was preferred by sailors as it was much stronger than the beer and they now had a way of actually getting drunk. Of course, drunkenness on board naval vessels became a problem, so the ration was formalised in naval regulations by Admiral Edward Vernon in 1740 when he ordered it to be mixed with water in a 4:1 water to rum ratio and split into two servings per day. The tradition of drinking on the job aboard Royal Navy ships continued right up to this very day, back in 1970. The final ration was poured at around 11am as usual in the forenoon watch. Some sailors wore black armbands and some tots were even 'buried at sea'. It really was an end of an era for the Royal Navy

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