So, how and why was the Club formed? The simple answer is that we do not know as the archive from the early years is unfortunately lost. However, what we have done is to try and put ourselves in the position of the founding members and draw on our service experience, RN, RNR and MN, and see what it was that they were trying to achieve by forming the Club.
These men had just been through the Great War as Reserve Officers serving in a variety of roles afloat and ashore, in warships and armed merchant cruisers. They were then demobilised during 1919-1920 and reverted in most cases to their original shipping companies to resume the peacetime effort of rebuilding the nation after the hardships of the war.
We know that the wartime service in the RN/RNR had a profound effect on them, whether serving in warships or merchantmen. These men had gone through the perils of war at sea but also served as part of a ship’s company, supporting each other during the loneliness and horror of the war but also making friends. As we serving or retired RN officers know, this generates a certain camaraderie when serving together for a deployment or a commission. We think that this is what they missed and decided to create the Club to continue friendships and shared experiences during a difficult time.
On the other hand, one might ungenerously say that it was a good excuse for a weekly luncheon! There were many though who liked the idea and 5 years later the membership stood at over 300:
RNR Officers – 237
Non-Reserve members – 26
Royal Navy officers – 14
RNVR officers – 2
Army officers – 4
Honorary members – 19
Life member – 1
The rationale for our thinking is borne out in part by the first paragraph in the Club Rules, which has probably not altered in 100 years –
The objects of the Club are to maintain and foster social intercourse amongst Royal Naval Reserve Officers, sea-going or otherwise, and to give the opportunity to discuss matters of service and general interest and to meet periodically at lunch or otherwise, at a place selected by the Committee.
There is also the link to HMS CONWAY, the cadet training ship originally moored in the Mersey where many of the earlier Presidents and we suspect many of the members attended. This would have given them a taste of comradeship.
Finally, another link which we have always held dear is that to the Master Mariners (HCMM) and of course the early Presidents were qualified Masters as we have copies of their Certificates. Now this is where a connection becomes fanciful (or does it?). Sir Robert Burton-Chadwick was born in Oxton, Birkenhead, attended HMS CONWAY, went to sea and worked in his father’s shipping company in Liverpool. He was an Honorary Captain in the RNR during WW1. Can we assume that he was a member of the Club at inception? Probably, as he was passionate about the Merchant Service.
Other associations bear this out: our second President, Captain J W Harris wrote a book titled “Days of Endeavour” and the foreword was by Sir Robert. Captain Harris also attended the first HCMM Dinner in 1932. Captain S S Richardson, our first President, also features in a painting of the First Meeting of the First Court of the HCMM, which has pride of place in the Court Room in the HQS Wellington, Victoria Embankment, London.
The Executive Council of the Master Mariners in 1925 included Sir Bertram Hayes, Captain Richardson and Captain J W Harris.
Was it the formation of the Sea Urchins that led Sir Burton-Chadwick to propose at the Annual Dinner of the Shipmasters Association in 1921 “that the profession was entitled to form, and was capable of forming, a Guild or Company very much on the lines of the old City of London Livery Companies.” (HCMM website)
The Honourable Company was eventually formed in 1926 and we look forward to celebrating their Centenary with them. It would be quite wonderful to think that our link to the HCMM is as definite as this.
Many of you will no doubt be aware that when conducting research, particularly on the internet, it can sometimes be fascinating, rewarding or frustrating! It is also quite possible to be distracted by something that catches your eye!
Searches for “Sea Urchins” in the Newspaper archives for the 1920’s brought hundreds of results, but most of them not what we were after. Who knew that so many articles and books had been written about the spiny echinoderm or that so many people were interested in them? Or that there was a correspondent in the 1920s using the pseudonym “Sea Urchin” who regularly wrote in the Hampshire Telegraph regarding Naval issues! Just to confuse matters more (before search filters were applied) was that there was a play called “The Sea Urchin” being performed in the 1920’s and also a race horse called “Sea Urchin”.
However, one search that we did follow up on was a book called “Sea Urchin’s First Charter” by Douglas Stanhope. The author’s real name was Lieutenant Commander Douglas Valder Duff RNVR, a Conway boy whose career reads like a boy’s own story and you may wish to search for him online – absolutely fascinating. However, he did write over 100 books and 4 of these were the Sea Urchin stories. Coincidence? He may well have known about the Club and it could have been the idea for his books. The book cover describes the story:
“Five men who have all been demobilised from the Royal Navy do not like the prospect of settling down ashore and have bought the ship in which they were serving, the schooner Sea Urchin…….”
Or are we being a step too fanciful?
The current Club Members are of the opinion that the Logo and the motto “Hold Fast” were designed at the time of the Club’s inception in 1921 although not widely used in publications etc in the early days. The short name of the Club – “Sea Urchins” is perhaps a derivation of the word “Urchins” meaning a mischievous boy – the addition of “Sea” came naturally.
An Urchin is also the historical old name for a hedgehog and Sea Urchins have also been known as Sea Hedgehogs.
Our research found that there were five ships called HMS URCHIN since 1797 including two destroyers during both World Wars. The ship’s badge, pictured, showed a hedgehog and an enquiry to the Naval Historical Branch found that the badge was designed in 1943 by the then Admiralty Adviser on Heraldry, Sir Arthur Cochrane, Clarenceux King of Arms. We are not convinced that the founder members saw themselves as “hedgehogs”!
It may also have come from the definition of a sea urchin itself –
“a marine echinoderm having a spherical or flattened shell covered in mobile spines, with a mouth on the underside and calcareous jaws.” It seems unlikely that this was used!
You can just imagine the founding members sitting round a table with a glass of something, saying “we need a short nippy title for the Club as the full description is too long!” So a few glasses later….. How they arrived at “Sea Urchins” we shall never know unfortunately.
So, what does “Hold Fast” mean in naval terminology – quite simply it is a command to stop doing something. For example, when pulling on a rope, the order would be given to “Hold Fast” and that would mean to keep a tight grip on the rope but to stop pulling. It is also used by a senior to a junior as in “Hold Fast there sunshine, where do you think you’re going?” In other words, “stop right there!”
When these words are tattooed across the knuckles it is believed that it would keep the wearer from falling overboard or dropping a line in the dangerous days of sail. As the founding fathers started life in sailing ships, this might be the connection we are looking for.
The Oxford English Dictionary – A firm grip. A staple or clamp securing an object to a wall or other surface or a stalked organ by which an alga or other simple aquatic plant or animal is attached to a substrate.
It could therefore be that these “mischievous old boys saw themselves as clamping on to or not wishing to fall overboard from their Naval life”.
I think we must leave the reader to make their own mind up!
Today there are monthly Club Luncheon Meetings on board HMS Eaglet, an Annual Dinner in Eaglet, and various other social activities. Times have certainly changed, but the aims remain … to foster the interests, prestige, status and traditions of the Royal Naval Reserves.