Sennit hats in the Royal Navy

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    Lawrie Phillips

    There are very few references to the wearing of sennit hats by sailors in the RN. Cdr A.B. Campbell in his Customs and Traditions of the Royal Navy (Aldershot 1956) p.119, says that in 1921 sennit hats for ratings in the tropics were abolished and tropical helmets replaced them. He refers to AFO 664/1941 – does he mean 1921?

    Were sennit hats intended to be worn only in the tropics? One sees many photographs of sailors wearing these well into the 20th Century in home waters. I would be interested to know more.

    [Editor’s note: ‘Sennit’, ‘sinnet’ or ‘sennet’ is plaited straw, grass or palm leaf, and first noted in use by mariners for cordage in 1611, and again in Captain Smith’s Seaman’s Grammer (sic) of 1627. Falconer (1789) also refers to it.
    It was used to make rustic sun-hats since at least classical times in Greece. Prints and drawings show wide-brimmed sennit hats worn by all ranks of the Royal Navy throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, but Lawrie’s post poses interesting questions as to their formal use – any ideas?]

    Colin H

    An entry on the National Maritime Museum’s web page states: “Sennit hats were worn with blue uniform in summer, weather permitting but not at sea unless required as protection from the sun.”
    There is no source or date given for this statement other than agreeing with the above that they finally disappeared in 1921. It does mention that there were very particular regulations governing the wearing of uniforms, a study of these might answer the query. Might there be copies of these regulations at the NMM?


    At the Naval and Maritime Libraries and Archives Group conference yesterday we saw a photograph of a naval burial at the former hospital burial ground at No Place Field, Plymouth, taken about 1910.
    All of the ratings were in old No1 uniform with caps, apart from two in the foreground who were wearing sennit hats. From their bearing and separate position we agreed that these men were part of the bearer party. If so, it shows that sennit hats were part of formal uniform and also that it is probable that some commanders thought they enhanced the rig. There are many images of pulling crews wearing sennit hats with long ribbons.
    Justin Reay

    Frank Scott

    Informally sennit hats were still in use in WW2. Indeed when my Father’s ship was sunk minesweeping in the invasion of Madagascar his sennit hat, along with his shirt and shorts were the only items of clothing that he possessed.
    Certainly not approved formal wear, and when he joined HMS Duncan (Capt D) a couple of days later (no survivors’ leave) he did not think it prudent to wear his sennit hat. However this did not save him from Capt D’s displeasure, ‘Snotty where’s your cap?’ was all the welcome he received.
    Frank Scott

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