Roll Along, Wavy Navy
DESCRIPTION: "Roll along, Wavy Navy, roll along (x2), If they ask us who we are, We're the RCNVR, Roll along, Wavy Navy, roll along." The sailors joined for pay, for glory, for the chance to go to sea, but have found very little of any of these
AUTHOR: Words: P. D. Budge and R. Pope (source: Hopkins)
EARLIEST DATE: 1936 (source: Hopkins)
KEYWORDS: sailor navy hardtimes
FOUND IN: Canada
REFERENCES (2 citations):
Hopkins, p. 74, "Roll Along, Wavy Navy" (1 text, tune referenced)
ADDITIONAL: John D. Harbron, _The Longest Battle: The RCN in the Atlantic, 1939-1945_, Vanwell Publishing Ltd., 1993, "Roll Along Wavy Navy, The Unofficial Wartime Navy Song" (1 text)
ST Hopk074 (Partial)
cf. "Roll Along, Covered Wagon" (tune)
NOTES [618 words]: The RCNVR was the Royal Canadian Naval Volunteer Reserve, the second string of reserves, behind the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) and Royal Canadian Naval Reserve (RCNR).
Bercuson, p. 11, reports, "Like the army, the RCN consisted of a professional core and two militia-like auxiliary forces: the Royal Canadian Naval Reserve and the Royal Canadian Naval Volunteer Reserve. The professional core numbered about 1900 at the outbreak of the Second World War. These men were careerists, but the training they received... was well short of what would be required when war broke out. The RCNR had been set up in 1923 with an authorized establishment of 500 men in nine ports. In fact, it was usually only half that size through most of the interwar period. RCNR members were required to have a maritime occupation in civilian life and to possess a professional knowledge of ships and the sea. They received four weeks of training each year aboard RCN vessels. Members of the RCNVR (referred to as the "wavy-navy" because of the wavy gold stripes on the cuffs of its officers' uniforms) came from virtually all walks of life.... They were treated to thirty evenings of training during the winter and two weeks at sea in the summer. There were never more than 1500 member of the wavy-navy between the wars."
Milner, p. 62, says that "The volunteer reserves formed the corps of [director of the Naval Service Rear Admiral Walter] Hose's new national navy. For the first time, citizens from all walks of life and from all across the country could participate in their navy. Naval reserve divisions were immediately opened in Halifax, Saint John, Charlottestown, Quebec, Montreal, Ottawa, Toronto, Hamilton, Winnipeg, Regina, Saskatoon, Edmonton, Calgary, Vancouver, and Victoria. Most of these were 'half companies' of fifty men, officered by men of standing within the community who served without pay. Saint John and Winnipeg were allotted full companies, while in Montreal two half companies, one English and one French, were raised.
"By all accounts the volunteer reserve companies were an instant success.... [Pay Commander Woodhouse wrote that] 'Most of the companies have a waiting list of 40 to 50 men.' ... All this was done on a shoestring." Men were not paid, and most of the equipment was scrounged or bought by the officers; "By 1939 there were 113 officers and 1292 rating in the RCNVR... The hardest task for the tiny interwar RCN was to get all these would-be sailors to sea, 'which is regarded by them as the greatest pleasure of their service.'" [Compare this to the song's comments about lack of pay, glory, and time at sea.] It sounds as if this was really the main reason most of these inland boys joined; Milner, p. 63, tells a story of a half-company that was actually given a day's training aboard a Royal Navy vessel -- and heard the word "war" mentioned. Most of the reservists vanished immediately after.
This lack of training meant that the Wavy Navy crews often found themselves in way over their heads when World War II forced a dramatic expansion in the Canadian navy: "Crewing of the new ships therefore depended on the RCNVR, whose recruits usually had no previous marine experience. For many of the newly built warships, the only experienced office (sic.) available was often the captain, a member of the RCNR -- a merchant marine officer in civilian life -- whose knowledge of naval operations relied on courses and some service in small coastal or harbour defence vessels" (Sarty, p. 41).
Hopkins describes the authors of this song as crewmen of HMCS Saguenay. For the destroyer Saguenay, one of the few significant ships in the pre-war Canadian navy, see "The Saguenay Song." - RBW
Last updated in version 5.0
- Bercuson: David J. Bercuson, Maple Leaf Against the Axis: Canada's Second World War, 1995 (I use the 2004 Red Deer Press edition)
- Milner: Marc Milner, Canada's Navy: The First Century, University of Toronto Press, 1999
- Sarty: Roger Sarty, War in the St. Lawrence: The Forgotten U-Boat Battles on Canada's Shores, Penguin 2012
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