Of the three branches of the military, Navy Army and Air force, only the Navy have the privilege of wearing a beard, the other two branches have to settle for neat little mustaches or in some cases the larger handlebar versions.
Having a beard in the Navy was a mark of a really old salt, and most of us youngsters wanted to grow one!. The photo to the right is the “Red Devil” he was an Able Seaman aboard HMS Cockade. I was seventeen when I first him, and while I’m sure he had a real name I can only remember him as the Red Devil. His huge beard was flaming red. I thought at the time he was really old, but on reflection I imagine now he was more likely between 30 and 40. I wanted to grow a beard and indeed gave it a try around 1960-61 whilst aboard the submarine Taciturn. Regulations required we get permission from the Captain before we stop shaving. I got the permission and after about four weeks I had something resembling a mangy set. Unfortunately my face hair was jet black and this only emphasized the white bald patches, it looked terrible and was shaved of before the Cox’swain told me to remove it. I never attempted again while in the Royal Navy. Today, much older and with an abundance of facial hair I have sported a natty beard for many years. The photo of Amy and I was taken in approx 1993. It is clear from this photo my facial hair is no longer jet black!!!
At first – under Queen’s Regulations, 1861 – officers, petty officers and seamen of the Fleet had been forbidden to wear either beards or moustaches, but this was changed with the 1869 Admiralty Circular Letter No. 36, which permitted ‘a full set’ (both moustache and beard, required to meet).
Victoria was unamused as she preferred beards without moustaches, but was willing to accept them together.
The Royal Navy is still the only British armed force that allows beards (with the exception of one army rank, the Pioneer Sergeant).
Each sailor must apply for “permission to stop shaving”. After a few weeks, the Master at Arms then decides, at his own discretion, if the sailor has enough facial hair for ‘a full set.’ If the beard is scrappy or looks daft in any way, the sailor is ordered to shave it off.
Designer stubble, ‘hipster’ beards and anything taking “an excessive amount of time to grow” is generally off limits.
While on land, Royal Marines are considered a branch of the army when it comes to facial hair so they must remain smooth-chinned, though a moustache is acceptable.
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