Drinking Culture in the RNZN 1950-1970s

Unlike the Army or RNZAF where you were able to go over to the Mess or Canteen or down to the pub at the end of the day, RNZN sailors were aboard ship for weeks at a time. The daily issue of beer aboard ship was two cans per man per day which had to be paid for.

 

Unlike the Army or RNZAF where you were able to go over to the Mess or Canteen or down to the pub at the end of the day, RNZN sailors were aboard ship for weeks at a time. The daily issue of beer aboard ship was two cans per man per day which had to be paid for. This was the issue to the Junior Rates. Senior Rates was as and when required. Officers had their spirits and beer from the Wardroom as and when required.

Some watchkeeper might have stopped tots, which was issued aboard ship at 1600 when they came off watch. They also got the beer issue at 1700 so this would cause some problems. For some, the tot helped them sleep before their next watch. Note that both rum and beer were issued before the meal at 1730 so sailors were drinking on empty stomachs. It must be remembered that drinking was no different to the Army & RNZAF. For example the Army had Friday night binges and compulsory Mess Dinners. Every three months away from New Zealand the deployed warship would receive a 20ft container with beer from New Zealand for morale purposes.

Because rum was issued before the sailor had eaten it was not their choice. The worst time for a sailor would be his birthday when shipmates would give him a sip of their Tot in full view of the supervising officer. This appears to have been a tradition aboard ship or on shore. Rum was also used as a means for bartering for some quite substantial supplies such as:

  • Air conditioning motor repaired in Pearl Harbour
  • Tractor and tools in Antarctica
  • Mess fitouts when the ship was in the dockyard
  • Vehicles overhauls at the Waiouru workshops
  • Expensive radio valves from US Forces
  • Washing and ironing kit

It was always thought that the RNZN could not afford to do away with rum as we would have nothing to trade with other navies and forces to keep our ships at sea.

Gary Cousins personal experience:

When HMNZS Taranaki was being commissioned at Portsmouth he saw the issue of the tot at the Victory Barracks. A team of five sailors would prepare glasses and trays and the rum barrel for the daily rum issue. Each day they would issue 1,000 tots.

He visited an RN aircraft carrier in Hong Kong in 1962. While visiting a mess there were 99 tots drawn [5.75 gallons]. In this mess the rum was watered down by two parts water to one part rum. Each sailor tipped a little of his rum back into the fannie. The visiting men had 3 pints to consume.