14. Oct, 2021


As for the rum, well...............the rum ration, or "tot", was first issued in 1655. From 1850 to 1970 it consisted of one-eighth of an imperial pint (71 ml) of rum at 95.5 proof (54.6% ABV), and was given out to every sailor at midday. Senior ratings (petty officers and above) received their rum neat, whilst for junior ratings it was diluted with two parts of water to make three-eighths of an imperial pint (213 ml) of grog. The rum ration was served from one particular barrel, also known as the "Rum Tub", which was ornately decorated and was made of oak and reinforced with brass bands with brass letters saying "The Queen, God Bless Her".

Not all sailors necessarily drew their rum: each had the option to be marked in the ship's books as "G" (for Grog) or "T" (for Temperance, if they were members of the Temperance Movement). Sailors who opted to be "T" were given three pence (3d) a day instead of the rum ration, although most preferred the rum.

The time when the rum ration was distributed was called "Up Spirits", which was between 11:00 and 12:00. A common cry from the sailors was "Stand fast the Holy Ghost". This was in response to the bosun’s call "Up Spirits". Each mess had a "Rum Bosun" who would collect the rum from the officer responsible for measuring the right number of tots for each mess. The officers did not get a rum ration.

Tot glasses were kept separate from any other glasses. They were washed on the outside, but never inside, in the belief that residue of past tots would stick to the side of the glass and make the tot even stronger. Sailors under 20 were not permitted a rum ration, and were marked on the ship's books as "UA" (Under Age).

The 31st July 2020 was the 50th anniversary of the ending of the tot (31st July 1970). I remember it well. I had joined Commander-in-Chief’s Headquarters, HMS Warrior, Northwood, Middlesex in early July 1969 after leaving the aircraft carrier HMS Hermes. It is where the UK’s ultimate deterrent is supported from. In those days the staffing was in transition from RAF personnel who had been responsible for delivering it using its ‘V’ bomber force, to the Royal Navy who were to deliver it if necessary using its new Polaris missile carrying nuclear powered submarines.

Because of what went on there we were not permitted the daily tot of rum. Plus there was the added risk of what would have happened if the RAF’s ‘Brylcream Boys’ had got just a whiff of the stuff. On that final day, whilst the rest of the fleet got a double rum issue, we were permitted just the one. By then I was newly married and living in the lovely village of Abbots Langley the other side of Watford, and had to travel to the camp on a day off especially to get my tot issue. They were some of the happiest days of my life, with a tot of rum thrown in as a bonus.