Ships Crests and Adventures at Sea

In celebration of World Book Day, we at Company of Makers (CoM) have launched ‘Dit Book’ and are supporting this year’s WBD goal to ‘share a million stories across the UK’ on 5 March 2020. You see, behind every Royal Navy ships’ crest, there is the story of people who went to sea, the traditions, adventures and camaraderie and through this, their stories will live on.

As the Home of the Royal Navy, Naval history is important here where we are based in Portsmouth and this is a heritage project. 

During the Age of Sail, Royal Navy ships were identified by elaborate figureheads and gilded carvings. The Admiralty eventually replaced these expensive extravagancies with ‘crests’ or ‘badges’. Over many years, crests have been passed to the Royal Maritime Club (RMC) in Portsmouth, from the estates of former Naval sailors. Nothing was known about these old crests, many in disrepair, some completely broken. This inspired us at CoM to work with local Veterans who wanted to restore the crests to their former glory and learn about the lives of the sailors who Served on the ships and submarines (‘boats’) that these crests represented.

So for the last couple of years, we’ve worked with local Veterans to bring these crests ‘back to life’ and find sailors who lived on board these ships and boats, asking them to ‘spin us a dit’; hence, the Dit Book was born. So what is a Naval ‘dit’? A story, often funny, some let’s say, exaggerated? … others very, very naughty; about any aspect of Naval life, at sea or during ‘a run ashore’. Actually, we won’t get into ‘Jackspeak’ right now, the Royal Navy’s own language is a whole other (baffling) subject! Every dit received was different from the last. However, there were running themes throughout: camaraderie, banter and sense of belonging.

A challenge presented itself when we discovered that some crests were not of ships or boats, but  were for buildings or clubs; some were not Royal Navy and others were from different countries. Of the Royal Navy ships and boats, some were very old with no living crew members; some, when still in Service, only had a small crew. That said, the mission was completed and, although we do say so ourselves, successful.

Given the often eccentric names of the vessels and designs of the crests, we took the project on the road. Well, we went on some visits to explore the history. Visiting The National Museum of the Royal Navy and Portsmouth Historic Dockyard proved invaluable to our research. A guided tour by a former-submariner on board HMS Alliance, the only remaining WWII era submarine, really painted a picture of life under the sea.

Back to the RMC’s crests. We ran restoration workshops at the Veterans Outreach Support monthly drop-in to repair the old crests and there was something for everyone to do; from sanding to filling holes; from glueing broken crests back together to using clay to remodel missing parts; from hand-painting fiddly detail to mounting crests onto hardwood shields ready for display on the RMC’s library walls where they are now for everyone to enjoy.

We’d like to thank the Veterans at Veterans Outreach Support for all their hard work, as well as the National Lottery Heritage Fund, for making this project possible.

Here we go, the dits … the printable ones, anyway!

*** UPDATE ***

If you’re interested in purchasing a copy we have made them available on Blurb Books in hardback without the blurb logo and as a softcover with the blurb logo, we’ve done the softcover version to make it as cheap as possible.

These books are printed ‘on demand’, in other words we don’t have any stock. Also, as this project is funded we are not adding any markup – So the price you see is the price we pay too.

Hardcover available here. Softcover available here.