The Royal Navy rum ration – Splicing the Mainbrace to celebrate Christmas

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    Malcolm Lewis

      Over the Christmas period in 1943 the RN fought the Battle of the North Cape ending in the sinking of the Scharnhorst by gunfire from HMS Duke of York and HMS Belfast. At that time, it was, I believe, traditional for the Navy to Splice the Mainbrace on Christmas Day which entailed issuing a double tot of rum to the ship’s company, including commissioned officers. (The daily issue of rum stopped in 1970).
      Was this ceremony still carried out when ships were engaged searching or in action with the enemy? What was the situation regarding the issue of rum in submarines when on patrol?

      Frank Scott

        A.J. Pack., Nelson’s Blood: Story of Navy Rum (first published UK & USA, 1995), is the only source that I know. James Pack was a Captain (S) who in retirement became Curator Victory Museum (1965-72), then first Director of the RN Museum in Portsmouth (1972-79), so had access to all the records.
        He records that it was quite common, for sailors to horde their tot for Christmas Day, so that it could be a bit riotous. However, no mention at all of ‘splice the main brace’ being normal on that day.

        Splice the main brace was an extra issue to those who normally drew their tot, and a gratis tot for those who were normally excluded (Officers). For the 1977 Silver Jubilee Review HMS Tiger had acquired proper navy rum from the bright entrepreneur in Gib who had bought up all the navy stock there for a knock-down price back in 1970. Ship & Squadron (826 NAS) all partook after the signal was promulgated on behalf of of Her Majesty.

        So far as I know HM Submarines issued rum in wartime & peacetime, just like the rest of the fleet.

        Malcolm Lewis

          Thankyou Frank. I had always understood that by adding water to the rum ration it went flat and undrinkable after some hours/days so preventing its storage although I have never experimented myself. Captain John Wells in his book ‘The Royal Navy – an illustrated Social History 1870-1982’ mentions the concerns of senior officers in the 1940s and 50s regarding senior rates, who received the tot neat, storing rum in bottles for a celebration at a later date. Of course, the practice of “sippers” in payment for favours done and also for celebrating important birthdays gave problems too, some fatal.
          Still nothing found on Splicing the Main Brace on Christmas day.

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