RNB Portsmouth

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HMS Victory during World War One

One of the main roles of the barracks administration was to supply men for warships. Before the war First Sea Lord Admiral Fisher made changes to the manning of the Reserve Fleet and in July 1914 the Navy tested their ability to mobilise.

Due to this test at the outbreak of war in August 1914, Portsmouth Barracks was able to mobilise effectively. In the space of a few days all warships were manned to full complement. In the first few weeks of the war the barracks was a hive of activity. Depot staff set to work drafting men for ships and sending and receiving signals.

Parade Drill at RNB Portsmouth. (RNM)
Parade Drill at RNB Portsmouth. (RNM)

There was an oversubscription of reserves and the barracks was over full. Officers and Petty officers had resort to turning men away at the gate and request that they return home until needed.

Men awaiting draft filled their time keeping physically fit with activities such as boxing and football. Other entertainments such as concerts and cinema shows were put on. The Navy tightened security due to threats of espionage and armed sentries patrolled the barracks. Metropolitan Police guarded the naval base and lived at HMS Victory.

On September 25th 1916 Portsmouth Dockyard endured its first air raid. The Germans dropped two bombs - narrowly missing Nelson’s Flagship HMS Victory and the capital ship HMS Renown. Luckily, bombs never struck the Royal Naval Barracks at Portsmouth during World War One.

The number of men the barracks needed to house began to overwhelm the establishment. They set up an accommodation camp into the grounds of Royal Naval Hospital Haslar across the harbour in Gosport. The Navy had intended the camp to hold 800 men, but soon this figure rose to nearly 2,500. The men lived in tents and used wooden huts as mess facilities. By 1918 the Rear Admiral commanding Portsmouth’s General Depot had 22,000 officers and men under his command.

During the war many dignitaries visited the barracks including King George V on 28 May 1916 and the Duke of Connaught in September 1918.

The Women’s Royal Naval Service (WRNS), or Wrens also made a new addition to the barracks from January 1918. By the Armistice in November 1918 there were 1,148 Wrens serving in Portsmouth working in naval departments as cooks, clerks and store women.

There were 156 Wrens based at the naval barracks - 70 in the Pay office, 60 working in the Signal School and 20 employed as cooks and stewards.

Follow the link to read the Story of the Wrens.

Learn about the barracks between the wars, select Next