Book gives a fascinating insight into navy call-ups

New HO recruits, just issued with their new kit and, inset, the cover of Brian Lavery's book showing multiple pom-pom gunners at action stations

New HO recruits, just issued with their new kit and, inset, the cover of Brian Lavery's book showing multiple pom-pom gunners at action stations

IMMACULATE The Royal Yacht Britannias dining table at which many heads of state dined with the Queen

All ship-shape and Bristol fashion for Her Majesty

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If I told you that there were just over a million personnel in the Royal Navy during the Second World War, you might find it hard to believe.

But it’s true. Some 933,000 men and 86,000 women served the King during Britain’s darkest hours.

The cover of Brian Lavery's book showing multiple pom-pom gunners at action stations

The cover of Brian Lavery's book showing multiple pom-pom gunners at action stations

Although we had the finest navy in the world, the outbreak of war meant many more sailors would be needed to man the ships and Wrens to act in all different divisions of the Royal Navy.

So conscription, or ‘call-up’, papers were delivered to houses all over the country calling men who never had the slightest intention of ever going to sea to serve in His Majesty’s ships.

These men and women were to serve for the duration of the war and were called ‘Hostilities Only’. A recently-published book by Brian Lavery tells the story of how all these men and women, some complete misfits, were drawn into the melting pot of the wartime navy.

Many local establishments are mentioned, from Collingwood to St Vincent, Bedhampton to Excellent and even Butlins camps. All were used to train these new recruits – and fast.

Every aspect of ‘Hostilities Only’ entrants can be found in this extremely well-researched book. A little short on photographs, the 286 pages are still a worthy read full of fascinating information.

n Published by Conway at £12.99, Hostilities Only: Training the Wartime Royal Navy would make a good Christmas present for those who have a love of the Royal Navy and this period in history.

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