Personnel > Service Records/Medals and Awards

Help with pre-WW1 Royal Navy Service record


(see attached doc) This is a brief record of my maternal Great Grandfather's Navy service from the early 1900s.
The 100th anniversary of the Iolaire disaster is approaching and there will be a ceremony in Stornoway. The organisers have asked for anyone with family connections to help build a bigger picture for posterity and historic record.
My Great Grandfather, Victor George Gusterson, had previously served on the Iolaire during the winter of 1915/16 when I assume he met my Great Grandmother, a Lewis resident. He also served on other ships connected to the tragedy so I draw the sad conclusion that whether by local acquaintance or through the Navy, he knew a great many of those that lost their lives.

We're not sure if he was on Lewis for Christmas leave 1918/19 where he helped with immediate shore recovery and/or was drafted in/volunteered as a diver for the dreadful task of recovering bodies from inside the stricken vessel. According to family recollection, one thing is certain... he was deeply traumatised by this tragedy and was never the same afterwards.

We don't have a great deal of information about what he actually did in the Navy but it seems from this record that he was a diver and possibly teaching, since many of the ships are shore based or training vessels? I don't know if a record like this is typical of the Royal Navy but that is surely an awful lot of ships for one career? He's pictured here (see attached) at around 19 yrs old in uniform but this upload is an iPad photo from my mother of the original which has greater detail; she says HMS Torch cap badge and the other obvious uniform insignia are Seaman Gunner qualification & Able Seaman rating. I know this is just a snapshot in time but his uniform insignia and service record snapshot doesn't give any indication of why so many moves and for such short periods of time. It can't have all been training? This is quite confusing.

Other than family memory which is now somewhat faded due to the extended time, I'm not having much luck finding detailed information about him. Record of his time in the Navy is limited to the attached document which is our only tangible link to a man that I do know for sure was much loved but whose memory has regretfully been somewhat neglected. My family would like to change that.

My mother recalls early childhood memories of him as "a darling of a man; quiet and gentle with a mischievous sense of humour". He passed in 1955.

Any help at all with this document would be very greatly appreciated.

Thank you

From his Service Record he joined as a 16yr old Boy in 1908, later engaging for a 12-year stretch.  He never progressed past Able Seaman, so would never have been an instructor.  He does seem to have moved around a bit, but this is not unusual for this period.  He saw quite a bit of the world, as can be seen, but at the time of the Iolaire tragedy, he seems to have been in Malta ....

An outline of his service:
Joined Royal Navy in 1908 as a Boy Seaman.  When aged 18yrs in 1910 he “signed on” for a 12-year engagement; Trained as a Seaman Gunner

Boy's Service

June 1908 – March 1909 GANGES training ship at Shotley, Suffolk for initial training 
Served brief periods, with rating Boy Seaman, on Cruisers DONEGAL, EURYALUS and LEVIATHAN, during 1909: these were part of the Home Fleet (Portsmouth – Plymouth) and he would still have been under training. 
PEMBROKE – barracks at Chatham
His training was completed by term on PERSEUS 1909-10. This was a Cruiser serving in the Indian Ocean (calls at: Bombay – Persian Gulf – Colombo) then transferred to HYACINTH 1910 – 11. She was also on the Eastern Station (calls at: Colombo – Bombay – Trincomalee – Persian Gulf - Rangoon). Came home, via Aden – Suez – Malta – Gibraltar in May 1911

Whilst onboard HYACINTH he was rated Ordinary Seaman, and 'signed on' for 12 years

Pre-war Service

PEMBROKE – barracks at Chatham
Briefly on CRESCENT (cruiser), which was used to transport new crews for ships in the Far East/Pacific stations.  This was to allow him to join the ENCOUNTER (cruiser) 1911 -12 which was serving on the Australian / New Zealand Station. He then moved on to the Sloop TORCH Jun 12 – Nov 12 which was on the New Zealand station (visits to various Pacific Islands / New Zealand).
1912 – 14 back in England, with time at PEMBROKE – barracks at Chatham
At this time, he must have been in trouble: noted as ‘Second Class for Conduct”

World War 1 Service

Aug 1914- Feb 1915 – to VICTORIOUS: Battleship, part of the Ninth Battle Squadron, Grand Fleet, based in the River Humber and Tyne.
1915 – PEMBROKE and the EXCELLENT – barracks and training
Jun – Sep 1915 MANCO – Auxiliary Depot Ship/ Stornaway
Oct 1915 – Jan 1916:  IOLAIRE
Jan – March 1916 – PEMBROKE
Mar 1916 – May 1917 – CLIO Sloop, based in the Persian Gulf
May- Jun 1917 – PEMBROKE (Now rated as Able Seaman, he qualified as a Ships Diver at this time)
Jun – Nov 1917 – LAPWING – a Torpedo Boat Destroyer then serving in the Mediterranean, based at Malta  (the VIVID-II / HECLA / BLENHEIM were successively acting as the “parent ship” which looked after pay and paperwork)
Nov 17 – Oct 1918 – APOLLO – old cruiser, acting as a Depot Ship for destroyers, at Devonport 
Dec 18 – Jun 1920 – SPORTIVE destroyer; part of the 6th Destroyer Flotilla in the Mediterranean, based at Malta; she saw active service in the Black Sea, assisting the “White” troops in the war against the Communist “Reds” – this including evacuating White troops from Odessa (the GREENWICH / BLENHEIM were successive parents)
Jun – Nov 1920 – PEMBROKE
Nov 1920 – Sep 1921 – DILIGENCE -destroyer depot ship at Malta
Oct 1921 – PEMBROKE
Nov 1921 – Aug 1922 - COLUMBINE was the name of the Depot at Port Edgar, Rosyth for service on TBDS (short spells on TANCRED – RAIDER – RADSTOCK - SORCERESS – plus one I cannot read)

If you want further details, please ask

Hello PhiloNauticus, thank you so much for taking the time to assemble all of these ships into a coherent timeline together with places and even adding some history. No mean feat I’m sure. This was something I wanted to do but I know might have taken me weeks of Internet searching to collate. To be honest I wouldn’t have known where to begin looking. Thanks also for clearing up confusion about why he moved about so much, this makes more sense.

We’re still not clear about his involvement in the Iolaire tragedy. On seeing the ship’s name on this service record, my mother assumed that he might have been aboard until I pointed out the much earlier date against the ship. Distant family members with other pieces of the puzzle are convinced that he most definitely was part of the recovery operation in his capacity as a Navy diver, so the plot thickens…

I was confused by the coincident time placing him with quote: “Greenwich (Sportive) – 21st Dec 1918 to 21st Feb 1919”   :-\  Are these two separate ships? If he was in Malta or thereabouts, I wonder if it’s possible that he was drafted in at short notice but in those days I doubt that would have been possible. Do you think Kew would hold more detailed information about the recovery operation?
Whatever his involvement at that time, events most definitely had a lasting negative effect on him and not surprising given the closeness of those involved.

Researching Victor George’s life has been like going into a forgotten room in the house, opening the door and finding boxes crammed full of memories…a fascinating, surprising, amusing, at times sad and humbling journey of discovery for our family, especially for my mother who had a more immediate personal connection, albeit at a much young age. She says herself that she wishes she had been older so she could chat properly with him about his life. I echo that sentiment with her father Tommy, Victor George’s son in law; my grandfather. Sadly, they don’t make ‘em like this any more!

Once again, many thanks for your expertise and clarification. To reiterate, do you think there would be more information at Kew?



No problem

To clarify some points:
In the Service Record, where you have a name followed by a name in brackets - such as GREENWICH (Sportive) - it means that the first name is what is known as the 'parent' establishment, the second name, in brackets, is the ship served on.  The 'parent' was responsible for all the admin, pay, paperwork etc for the smaller vessel. 

I have had a closer look at the 'Iolaire' period (New Year 1919): his record shows GREENWICH (Sportive), between December 1918 and February 1919 and then BLENHEIM (ditto) after Feb. 1919.    I know that Sportive was a destroyer, part of the 6th Destroyer Flotilla, which was part of the Mediterranean Fleet - this would be at Malta, because the Blenheim was a depot at Malta.

But ....

On checking the service of Greenwich, then she was actually part of the Atlantic Fleet at the time, and most likely at Scapa Flow. Further, on looking at contemporary newspapers, I have found a report which shows the 6th DF (including Sportive) not leaving the UK for Malta until February 1919.  This would seem to confirm that he was not in Malta at the time of the Iolaire disaster, as I first thought, but in the UK - most likely at Scapa Flow.

Incidentally, newspaper reports mention that divers were used at the scene, to recover bodies

Kew - more info: depends on what you are looking for; they have the record of the Court of Enquiry on the Iolaire wreck (ref: ADM 116/1869) , but I would doubt that they have any details of the individual divers

I hope this helps - if you want any more assistance, just ask


I know This is an old post but could the original poster please comment on this as I have the same photo of I think my family member



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