A History of H.M.S. KING ALFRED

Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve

Officer training establishment

Hove, East Sussex



Hove Marina viewed from the South Road, the low wall with a rail in the foreground is the entrance to the underground car park.

Hove Marina viewed from the South Road, the low wall with a rail in the foreground is the entrance to the underground car park.



The outbreak of war: the requisitioning of Hove Marina


With the outbreak of the Second World War on September 3rd 1939 the Admiralty implemented its contingency plan training new officers to man the rapid expansion of the peace-time fleet. The plan called for the opening of a dedicated training establishment for Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve Officers at one of he eight RNVR divisional centres in the UK. The Sussex Division, based in Hove was chosen.


A short distance from the Sussex Division RNVR headquarters at 5 Victoria Terrace was a new municipal building nearing completion, the Hove Marina complex. This site was immediately requisitioned by the Admiralty under the authority of the Naval Mobilisation Act of 1938, which gave priority to the commandeering of unoccupied property for military use. The Marina was to have been Hove's new municipal Swimming Baths and recreation Complex, due to be partially open to the public by September 1939. Instead the Marina opened its doors for the first time as a commissioned ship in the Royal Navy, becoming HMS KING ALFRED on September 11th under the command of Captain John Noel Pelly CBE, RN (Ret).


KING ALFRED was the ninth century King of Wessex, and he is considered to be the 'father' of the British Navy as the first monarch to utilise ships in defence of the realm. The new establishment which bore his name was to 'father' a new kind of naval officer to swell the ranks of Britain's soon to be rapidly expanding navy. These were HO (Hostilities Only) officers commissioned into the RNVR as temporary appointments; they were to be released from service on the cessation of hostilities. By the end of WW2 RNVR officers accounted for over 80% of the officers on active service with the Royal Navy.


Training was to commence at Hove almost immediately, the first batch of trainees was due to arrive one week later. Captain Pelly and his small staff set about organizing the Marina's facilities into a training school, preparing a syllabus and to find suitable billets for staff and trainees in short order. Many local hotels and private houses were pressed into service as accommodation billets for staff and trainees, these included Langfords Hotel in Third Avenue, and the Lawns Hotel on the Kingsway The RNVR depot helped considerably; it was to be October before all its personnel had been mobilized so RNVR ratings were employed clearing builder's rubble and converting various rooms into classrooms, offices, and an officer's mess. These working parties were under the supervision of Commander F. P. Frai RNVR, until a week ago himself a member of the Sussex Division staff but now appointed to KING ALFRED as an instructor Officer.


The 480 car underground car park which was part of the Marina was converted into several different 'parts of the ship'; the officer's Mess, trainee accommodation and a ship handling simulator were established over the next few months. The main swimming bath became the main instructional hall; this bath had been designed to double up as a large hall when a removable floor was put in place over the pool creating just over 10,000 square feet of floor space. The second largest room with 4,000O square feet of floor space was a restaurant and dance hall on the west side of the building, this became the Wardroom.


Along the front of the Marina building facing the Kingsway were a number of small rooms which were intended to house individual baths, these were converted into offices; classroom space was provided by the dressing rooms adjoining the pools. A smaller, cleansing pool was allocated for the use of the ship's chaplain, and by 1940 this room had been converted into St Nicholas' Naval chapel.


Like all naval shore establishments HMS KING ALFRED employed a large number of WRNS personnel (colloquially known as Wrens). There were eight Wrens in the ship's company in 1939 when only Hove marina was in use, as the establishment grew a separate WRNS quarters (Wrennery) was set up in two large houses at San Remo, on the Kingsway, which housed 70 wrens. By the end of the war there were 45 working at Lancing and 7 at Mowden.


'˜Officers under training' practice gunnery drill on one of the  4 inch Q.F. MK.V pieces housed in Hove Battery. These Sub Lieutenants RNVR are amongst the first to pass through HMS KING ALFRED. Note the man on the elevation operator's seat has not yet acquired a uniform but is wearing a pin striped jacket.  Image reproduced courtesy of Royal Pavilion, Libraries & Museums, Brighton & Hove




First arrivals and early training


The initial batch of 140 men reported to KING ALFRED in late September 1939, a mixture of Supplementary reservists and direct entry recruits. The Royal Naval Volunteer (Supplementary) Reserve was a force of 2,000 yachtsmen and other experienced amateur or retired professional seamen over the age of 25 established in 1936 as a ready reserve of suitable men to become naval officers in times of emergency. The majority of the RNV(S)R were mature, experienced sailors who were fast tracked through KING ALFRED' and had an average stay of 10 days before they were granted commissions. For less experienced members of the RNV(S)R the standard training period was 3 months.


Certificate issued by HMS KING ALFRED on the occasion of an officer being appointed to another command on completion of his training and commissioning into the RNVR. This certificate was issued to Sub Lieutenant Patrick Cother, one of the last RNSVRs to be processed, on his appointment to the mine sweeper the armed boarding vessel HMT Aquamarine. This certificate would be presented to the commanding officer of his new ship on taking up his appointment. Image courtesy Mrs. Veronica Bentley (nee Cother



The first four classes of 'Officers under training' began instruction in early October, each class comprising of thirty men; two classes of midshipmen and two of sub-lieutenants. Rank was determined by age - those under 19½ became a midshipmen, those over 19'/2 a sub-lieutenant. Upon receiving their commission the new officers received their badges of rank, midshipmen wore a maroon lapel flash while sub-lieutenants wore a single 'wavy' gold stripe on their jacket cuffs. The officers and men of the RNVR were affectionately termed as 'the wavy navy' on account of the officer's wavy gold stripe and the early RNVR ratings wavy white edging on their seamen's jersey collar - both were straight on regular forces uniforms.


Once the men of the RNV(S)R had been processed and left to join the fleet KING ALFRED began to train men from various other sources'; direct entrant officers, CW Officer Candidates and men selected through the 'Y' Scheme. Direct entrants were 'mature' gentleman aged around thirty who joined as 'officers under training', receiving their commissions on call up. CW (Commission and Warrant) scheme candidates were specially selected men from the lower deck, serving ratings with a minimum of 3 months' sea experience assessed as having officer potential by their commanding officers. The 'Y' scheme recruited educationally qualified (School Certificate holders or better) young men whilst still at school and were 'potential officer material'. Upon call up they completed basic new entrant training as naval ratings before joining KING ALFRED.


CW and 'Y' scheme cadet ratings comprised the majority of the trainees to pass through HMS 'KING ALFRED'; they were not afforded the title 'officers under training' until the final two weeks of the 12 week course.



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Topic: H.M.S. King Alfred page 1
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Georgia Apsion
Mar 2016
Georgia Apsion (Brighton) says...
This is wonderful! My father trained at HMS King Alfred, I recently found his navy documents. I'd love to add some to the archive and find out more. Thank you.
Shirley Anne Franklin
Mar 2015
First Poster
Shirley Anne Franklin (Lower Hutt) says...

Incredibly informative - I am researching my late father's war service - the pieces of the puzzle are falling into place
Many thanks
Daughter of J.C.Sandford JX.247125

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