H.M.S. Royal Oak Prize Oar, 1938
Pulling races at Fleet Regattas in the 1920s and 30s were eagerly anticipated events and were held periodically in the Royal Navy’s principal fleets. For weeks beforehand, every opportunity was taken to train the crews entered by each ship. A ship’s gig might be crewed by officers, midshipmen or ratings under the urging of a coxswain, who was often a petty officer. Though a heavy boat by comparison, a gig with a good crew could be made to move though the water at surprising speed.
In 1937-38 the Revenge class battleship, Royal Oak was deployed on non-intervention patrols around the Iberian Peninsula during the Spanish Civil War, coming under fire from Republican and Nationalist forces. This same period saw Royal Oak star alongside fourteen other Royal Navy vessels in the 1937 British film melodrama ‘Our Fighting Navy’, the plot of which centres around a coup in the fictional South American republic of Bianco. A month after Britain declared war in 1939, Royal Oak was anchored at Scapa Flow in Orkney, Scotland, when she was torpedoed by the German submarine U-47. The U-boat commander, Günther Prien, who became the first German submarine officer to be awarded the Knight's Cross of the Iron Cross. Before the sinking of Royal Oak, the Royal Navy had considered the naval base at Scapa Flow impregnable to submarine attack, but U-47's raid demonstrated that the German navy was capable of bringing the war to British home waters. The shock resulted in rapid changes to dockland security and the construction of the Churchill Barriers around Scapa Flow.
Silver. Miniature 1938 Home Fleet Regatta presentation oar. The blade inscribed ‘H.M.S. ROYAL OAK / 1937.’ Maker’s mark of NA&AFI for the Navy, Army & Air Force Institutes (est. 1920). Hallmarked 1937. Length: 6in (15cm).