The Navy differs in almost every particular from the Army, and the naval man's wife feels quite strange when faced with Army regulations.
"The Poor Man's Service"
A lieutenant of eight years' standing in the Navy ranks with a major of the Army; with less than eight years his rank equals that of an Army captain. A naval captain of three years' standing is equal to an Army colonel; with less than three years he equals a lieutenant-colonel. A rear-admiral is of equal rank to a military major-general, a vice-admiral to a lieutenant-general, and an admiral to a general. So Captain Mrs. Jones whose husband serves on H.m.s. Mercury ranks higher socially than Captain Mrs. Jones whose husband commands a battery of Royal Horse Artillery.
The Navy, however, is the "poor man's Service," and exceptional are the junior officers who have more to live on than the pay the State allows them. This is not more than ios. to 14s. a day for a lieutenant, exclusive of any small sums he may receive for knowledge of various branches of gunnery. A captain receives 21s. to 24s. a day On this he considers himself rich enough to marry, but naturally his wife is only able to entertain very little. One of the unwritten rules of the Navy is that junior officers shall not entertain much, and if anyone transgresses this rule, he is spoken to rather severely by his captain.
Of course, there are a few lieutenants and captains who have ample private means. They can do as they like in this matter, and often are able to give a pleasant time to their less fortunate friends in the Service.
An admiral's wife, with her husband's pay of £5 to £6 a day, is expected to entertain a great deal. She will, if she likes the officers' wives living near her station, invite them to her parties, even including the wife of the youngest lieutenant.
Another reason for the smallness of the amount of entertaining done by naval officers' wives is the fact that they have the companionship of their husbands for so short a time.
An officer's commission for foreign service is now usually two years, except for very distant stations, and his shore leave is only a fortnight for every year he serves. This means he spends only a month with his wife every alternate year, holidays that seem like recurring honeymoons. It is only a small proportion of officers who serve with the Home Squadron, in the dockyards, or in any of the scanty shore posts. Most officers' wives have to content themselves with being " grass widows," and enjoy life as best they can without their husbands.
The officer serving at home in any capacity gets six weeks' leave at the end of his term of service. But he is also able to get weekends occasionally, and other short periods of leave. Yet slackness can never be attributed to the sailor. He works like a horse. He is as keen, too, on sport as the Army man, and encourages it among his men. This takes up what otherwise would be his " spare time."
A large number of officers' wives live in the neighbourhood of Portsmouth and Devon-port, where they can join the circle of naval society, and be near at hand for the sailing and incoming of the ships. Some wives, though the number is small, go abroad with their husbands, though, of course, never on their husband's ship, and spend the two years at the station which is the headquarters of the fleet with which the husbands are connected. They either take lodgings, or hire a furnished house from some departing Army or Navy man.
These stations are usually largely composed of men of both Services and their wives, and life is very much the same, except, perhaps, a little gayer, as it is in a home station. The favourite stations are Gibraltar, the headquarters of the Atlantic Fleet, and Malta, the headquarters of the Mediterranean Fleet. Here the population is almost entirely made up of Service men and their wives, and no one is lonely or without friends.
The admiral's wife and the general's wife
- if there is one in residence - do the lion's share of the entertaining, and the wives have a very good time indeed. The climate is very good, and neither place is too far away from England to give the impression of exile. Children can live there without injury to their health. If it were not for the matter of education, there would be no need for that much dreaded ordeal, the separation of mother and child.
The wives of officers are encouraged, and often asked, to live on the cadet training ships, because of the good influence it has upon the boys. These are the only ships on board of which wives of officers are allowed to live.
The proportion of lieutenants in. the Navy is three times as great as that of any other rank. Joining at fourteen, they train as midshipmen and sub-lieutenants, usually becoming lieutenants between the ages of twenty-three and twenty-six. They may hold this post for fifteen years, and at the end of that time, having reached the age of forty-five, retire on a pension of £300 a year.
Promotion is by selection, not seniority, and consequently there is liable to be a little jealousy among the wives. One man, by influence or sheer good luck, may be chosen to command a Royal yacht, or given the charge of a torpedo-boat, and in a very few years' time be promoted to commander. This means he will be in command of a cruiser or serve as second in command of an ironclad, both of which posts are very much coveted.
Another man may never even become a "three-stripe officer." Commanders and captains are chosen by selection, and wives often can do a great deal towards a husband's success. A woman with influence or particularly charming manners is an asset of very great value to her husband. Flag officers, all above the rank of captain, are chosen by seniority, and do not serve longer than five years after promotion. Thus, the time as admiral's wife is short, though there still remains the immense dignity (as wife) of the Admiral of the Fleet.
The question of pension is always a terribly near one for the woman whose husband serves on the sea. She never knows whether she has seen her husband for the last time as she bids him good-bye, and the wives of submarine officers must at present feel constant fear. This matter of the pension is exactly the same as in the Army. Every widow with a small income may apply for a pension, but it is only given in cases where the existing income is quite inadequate for the proper support of the widow and family of the deceased officer.
The amount of the pension, too, varies according to rank, an admiral's widow receiving a considerably larger sum than the widow of a lieutenant. If there is a family, a little extra may be given to provide for them should the necessity for this, of course, be apparent
But there are other officers serving on board ship beside those known as the "Executive." Chaplains and surgeons spend their lives aboard in exactly the same way as the lieutenants and captains.
Chaplains, who are volunteers from the Church of England, pass through different ranks while tending their floating parish, which duty consists officially in taking prayers every day, and service on Sunday and any special occasion. There is a chaplain aboard every large man-of-war. The Chaplain of the Fleet arranges their time of service at home and abroad, and their wives have the same option of residence as those of the other officers. Chaplains' wives are regarded as naval officers' wives, for their husbands are not very well paid, and they endure the long absences and brief times of companionship. A junior chaplain's pay usually does not exceed £219 a year, and a senior chaplain of many years' standing does not receive more than £410 10s. Senior chaplains do not serve on board ship, but at the dockyards, hospitals, and marine divisions, and a few succeed to the appointment of some wealthy half-dozen livings in the gift of the Admiralty. The naval chaplain - the " padre " of the Army and Navy - and his wife receive the same respect as the captain of the ship; they are important people, and their wishes are always considered in every matter.
The period of service of surgeons differs from all other officers. They have the option of leaving the Service after eight years, and returning to civil life. A gratuity of £1,000 is given them on this retirement. On entering the Service they receive the sum of £209 17s. 6d. a year. After twelve years, this pay has increased to £282 12s. 6d., and, on becoming staff surgeons, the pay rises still further to £313. A fleet surgeon on completing his full term of service, receives a pension of about £700.
The officers of the Royal Marine Artillery and the Royal Marine Light Infantry - " his Majesty's Jollies, soldier and sailor too," as Rudyard Kipling so aptly designates them - receive promotion and pay according to the Army, but usually they are men without private means, and their wives mix more with naval than military society. Then there are the officers of torpedo-boats and submarines. These conform to the rules of the Navy, though there is a slight increase of pay in all ranks.
Social Position of a Naval Officer's Wife
The naval officer's wife has the entry, providing she is of good birth, into every rank of civilian society. She is usually presented at Court before or just after her marriage, and from that time, if she chooses, she can entertain or be entertained by Royalty or any of the titled families. As before stated, much depends upon her personality, for she can, by her tact and savoir-faire, do much to smooth for her husband the thorny path to promotion.