Life Story of Philip Henry Stewart Reid
by his son, Alex Reid

Chapter 5. Osborne and Dartmouth

In 1905 Admiral Sir John Fisher had abolished the old system of training officers in the wooden hulk Britannia and substituted a plan under which cadets were entered very young, to learn a great deal of science and engineering. There were two Royal Naval Colleges - on at Osborne for boys aged from twelve to fourteen, and the other at Dartmouth, from fourteen to sixteen. After a further six months training, the cadets became midshipmen and could serve at sea.


Osborne was organised on a term basis. Each term, named after an Admiral, lived and worked and played by itself, despising those below and frightened of those above. The St.Vincent Term - seventy little boys wearing naval uniform for the first time - collected at Waterloo and took train for Portsmouth. They crossed to Osborne, which is on the Isle of Wight, in a paddle-tug. They learned to salute on the way.

Cadets wore an officer's gilt-buttoned serge monkey-jacket and serge trousers, white shirt, stiff double collar, black tie, black boots, officer's cap, and a lanyard that had the key of one's sea chest on the end. White flnnel trousers, which shrank very much in the wash, were worn for daily work.

The College was in the grounds of Osborne House, where Queen Victoria had once lived. Most of the buildings were bungalow rooms, joined by covered passages. The walls were of a patent material, through which a driven golf ball punched a neat, round hole. Long rows of beds were allocated in alphabetical order. On each bed was spread a dark blue rug, with red embroidered initials. At the foot stood the occupant's sea chest - a great heavy black and white iron-bound wooden box, its brass name plate on the lid. The chests had partitioned spaces and trays, which held all a cadet's clothes. Old pensioner servants kept them tidied. At the end of the dormitory was the plunge - a cold bath into which the boys jumped every morning.

The drill for going to bed and getting up was rigid. Two minutes were allowed for arranging clothes and turning in; one began to undress during the wild stampede up the long corridors after the final parade. The uniform cap was balanced on the open sea chest's lid, with vest and drawers hung on either side. The rest of the things were neatly folded and put in their ordered place; then the cadets said their prayers and brushed their teeth, by signal from a brass gong.

The Term was divided into two Watches - Port and Starboard. By an arbitrary rule, the Port Watch learned German and the Starboard Watch learned French. Cadets were paid a shilling a week, and spent it buying sweets at the canteen, where each used to should what he wanted at the top of his voice, and 'mouldies' - a kind of toffee - were the usual food. Oranges were provided at Sunday supper, before the Evening Service, so sticky orange juice on his fingers reminds Philip of Osborne Sundays.

Much time was wasted on the usual illnesses. An amusement at the Isolation Hospital was to peel an orange in two halves, fill the skin with rice pudding, and throw it at someone. Philip had pneumonia in the summer term of 1914; he was back just in time for the Sports, which included a great tug-of-war involving all four hundred cadets - Port watch versus Starboard. During the summer leave of 1914, Philip's appendix was removed. As he lay in bed at Leonard Place there was shouting and cheering in the street - the beginning of the First World War.


In 1915, at the age of 14, Philip moved to the Royal Naval College at Dartmouth, in Devon, the great building on the hillside shown in the period photograph above. Dartmouth was just like Osborne only even more strenuous. The hill up from the engineering school was steeper, and there was scarcely time to wash the mud off one's knees after playing football. The river was pleasant in the summer; rowing up to Dittisham in a 'blue boat' for tea, or fishing round the moorings of the old Britannia hulk.

The Reids moved from place to place in Gloucestershire during the war years. Philip was happy fishing for chub near Tewkesbury, and learning to shoot. He had a single barelled sixteen bore gun, hired in Cheltenham, and a dangerous miniature rifle. The bicycle that his mother gave him afforded great delight. He got more pleasure swooping downhill on the shiny new thing, than he ever felt in any motor car or aeroplane.

Next: Chapter 5: First World War

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This website is published by Alex Reid, 27 Millington Road, Cambridge CB3 9HW. Telephone: +44 1223 319733. Email: aalreid(at) It is an electronic scrap book, containing family life stories, casual articles, and family memorabilia.


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