Friday 1 December 2017

Eliana Krawczyk: world's first female submariner to die. RIP.

Eliana Maria Krawczyk, Argentina’s first woman submariner and her 43 colleagues on the missing ARA San Juan, will no longer be sought. After 15 days the rescue operation has been called off and all aboard are presumed to have died after a battery exploded.

Picture of Eliana from Reuters:

The Telegraph has compiled this list of submarine accidents
1951. Royal Navy submarine, HMS Affray in English Channel during training, 75 lost.
1963. USS Thresher lost during deep diving tests, 129 lost.
1968. USS Scorpion sank, all 99 lost.
1970. French submarine Eurydice sinks with 57 crew off St. Tropez.
1985. Soviet submarine K-431 at Chazma Bay, 10 crew die and 49 others suffer radiation injuries.
2000. Russia's Kursk K-141 nuclear submarine sinks in Barents Seaa fter suffering a explosion on exercises.
2002. HMS Trafalgar, runs aground near Skye, 3 sailors injured.


Many online pictures show grieving women relatives of the crew. (See picture from Reuter,"),

As yet there has been no gender-specific mourning for Eliana.

No one has yet used the tragedy as opportunity to call for women to be excluded from seagoing, as happened with the Royal Navy’s Acting Leading Seaman Faye Turney in Spring 2007 off the Iran-Iraq coast. (Faye pictured with baby Molly and husband Adam, Daily Express, 11 April 2007). Comments about Faye’s reported behaviour after being arrested by Iranian military personnel, along with 14 others, included that she had been insufficiently Nelsonic.

At that time, 17 years after the RN’s 3,000-odd women had been allowed at sea, some in the UK still saw women as inherently not fitted for seafaring, let alone for combat situations. This was seen as especially true for mothers.

A pioneer, not proof of women's unsuitedness

Hopefully Eliana’s achievements will mean that she continues to be a beacon, an inspiration to other would-be female submariners.
Even in the UK women ‘sinkers’ are still seen as pioneers, five years after women being officially cleared to do such work. (The UK is currently said to have c 50 women on submarines, including officers and medical assistants).The first three are pictured below.

Eliana's place in female submariners' global history
See this blog for 22 Nov for a global summary of women on submarines. Eliana is part of the first 500 in the world. She goes down in history as the very first of the sorority to die on active service.
(Picture from Sunday Times)

Wednesday 22 November 2017

Argentine's first women submariner feared for: Eliana Maria Krawczyk's missing sub

Argentinean submariner Eliana Maria Krawczyk, from Daily Mirror,, image by Reuters

Current news about Eliana Maria Krawczyk, on the missing Argentinian submarine ARA San Juan, accidentally brings the information that Argentina is now one of the few countries to allow women to serve on a sub.
Ms Krawczyk (35) is part of the 44 missing crew. This master-at arms (ship’s police person) is Argentina’s first female submarine officer. And she has been in navy for 13 years, since 2004.

I’ve been watching the global phenomenon of women such as Eliana gaining access to submarine work. Here are the answers I’ve found to some FAQs about them.


1. How many women in the world are on submarines right now?

Probably less than 200, and certainly less than one per cent of all 'stinky sinkers' (submariners). In the UK there are rumoured to be about 50 women, in the roughly 8,000-strong submarine service.
By contrast, the 3,400 naval women are c10 per cent of the navy's general service.
The UK has 11 submarines, not necessarily all of which are functioning just now. Not all subs have been converted to accommodate women.

2. When was the very first woman on sub?

Visiting is one thing. Serving aboard is another. Probably Clara Barton (1821-1912) (pictured), was the first woman visitor, in 1899. With other VIPs this founder of the American Red Cross went on a three-mile test run in the Holland at Little Peconic Bay, Long Island.

Celebrating the gaining of their dolphins: Stiles, Olsson and Thackray, from Bradford T&A, 26 May 2014

3. Who were the first UK women to qualify to go on UK submarines?

It was officers first. Ratings started two years later.
In 2014 Lieutenants Alexandra Olsson (26); Maxine Stiles 929); and Penny Thackray (39) graduated.
Medic and nuclear physicist Emma Boswell (pictured) became the first known lesbian to serve on a submarine, in September that year.

4. Who was the first woman boss of a submarine?

Solveig Krey, who in 1995 commanded the 24 men aboard Norway’s HNoMS Kobben. (see pic)

5. What’s the timeline for the first women on submarines, world wide?

It’s not a well-reported or clear story. Not all countries announce the breakthrough.
Often the decision to deploy women in such roles, and then their actual start date, are two years apart. Why? Because it takes time to respond to points thrown up by the investigations into whether to proceed at all, then two years to train the personnel, plus some time for construction workers to create segregated space on board.
These dates below are the decision dates, not necessarily the dates women actually went under sea.
1985 Norway,
1988 Denmark
1989. Sweden
1998 Australia
1998 Canada
1999? Spain
2010 US
2011 UK and seemingly Argentina.
2012 Germany

6. How is it being on a sub different for women?

It isn’t, necessarily. Certainly most women try to minimise the difference. As Lieut Cmdr Debbie Pestell (pictured), a Canadian submariner, found, ‘all are mature, experienced sailors who simply wish to be considered one of the crew, and do not want to be singled out because they are women.'

7. Is being on subs harder for women than for men?

Yes, because:
• In a climate that’s still discriminatory they have to prove themselves more in the training and initially in the job, disproving male doubts
• Women often find themselves doing an extra task: emotional labour, such as listening to men’s private fears, being agony aunts
• Socially, on board there’s an additional burden: fight off male shipmates with opportunist sexual fantasies generated by cooped-up boredom
• On land they have to ensure wives get the message ‘We don’t want your husbands. Naval women are not, per se, marriage-wrecking adulterers. So don’t automatically hate us’

8. Why is women's inclusion such an issue?

It’s a bit fuzzy. But partly it’s about the long-standing cultural and moral anxiety that people on ships will have sex. Obviously it's feared that the greater the proximity (submerged together for days or weeks) the higher the odds are that people will turn to each other.
And sexual activity is thought likely to distract personnel from their duties. In addition, community tensions would include resentment and the assumption that officers will give preferential treatment to ‘women who do’. Cohesion and operational effectiveness would therefore be impaired.

9. Are there practical objections?

Moral and practical difficulties sometime overlap. Material obstacles may have been used to block culturally tricky changes. Initially the stated reason for UK resistance was fear that the carbon-monoxide in the recycled air would be bad for a foetus, if women were pregnant. Now women are pregnancy tested being going aboard, and then seven days into their deployment too.
In some countries like the UK it was thought necessary to make special sleeping and bathroom spaces for women, separate from men. Hot-bedding (sharing a bunk with the person who is on duty when you are off duty, to save space in small subs) was seen by authorities as rather too worryingly intimate.
But refitting ships costs serious money. A projected £3 million bill for altering surface ships to accommodate women caused immense tax-payer hostility in the UK.

8. How were obstacles to women's inclusion sorted out?

In several ways. Building new vessels, with space for women helped. So did generally having more space board, as on today’s nuclear-driven submarines. But some countries are OK about hot bunking. For example in Canada it became accepted practice, but you had your own sleeping bag. Canadian subs didn't have segregated showering. And increasingly, anyway, women are regarded as colleagues, not potential lovers. Gender isn’t so obvious and bimary.

9. But people on subs do have sex, don’t they?

Of course, unofficially. And not only heterosexual sex. But it’s not talked about. Some countries say that you have to report it if you have a relationship on board. The UK navy has a no-touching rule on all ships. However in October 2017 there was what seemed to be the first scandal about a relationship on board a UK sub: HMS Vigilant. The crew are said to have revolted over the incident, involving a divorced 41-year old commander and a sub-lieutenant in her twenties.
The problem is partly about the old one on any ship: wrong rank, fraternising with subordinates. In this Vigilant case two male senior officers were said to be having relationships with younger and lower-status women. So the problem is partly relating to the parental navy’s ‘duty of care’ - i.e. avoiding over-influence, bullying and injustice.

Eliana's submarine, last seen on Wednesday. Image: REX/Shutterstock

10. How does any of this apply to this missing Argentinean sub?

The Argentinian forces have, in the past, used the UK and other countries as models. Eliana Maria Krawczyk certainly is an experienced naval person, with thirteen years service under her belt. Having graduated from submarine and diving school at Mar del Plata (the equivalent of HMS Raleigh crossed with HMNB Faslane) in 2012 she would be very knowledgeable about under-sea life. For both these reasons, as well as her authoritative job, she would be a well-respected person.
The naval base, at which relatives are camped out, waiting for news. They include Silvina Krawczyk, Elian's sister, who is a merchant navy machinist.

As the sub was small she may have been hot-bedding. She had, no doubt, coped with similar male hostility (or just unease and resistance to change) to that earlier faced by her female counterparts in other countries.
It's not known whether there is a no-touching rule on Argentinian ships. Certainly there is no suggestion that she was having an on-board relationship.

Eliana Maria Krawczyk said in a Facebook interview that she hoped to command a sub one day.‘If you think about being underwater, navigating, and being the only woman, it is strange, but at the same time it is exciting and very challenging... Any woman that wants to can do it.’

The point of this week's story of the San Juan is not that somehow it's all the more tragic because a woman is on board. It is simply a tragedy for everyone on board. And maybe knowing the master-at-arms' angle is one of the most interesting angles. But not because she's a woman.

Wednesday 8 November 2017

Trafficked women die at sea: females over 5 times more at risk than males

(The corpse of a migrating person is retrieved from rescue ship Cantabria, Salerno, on Sunday. Getty image)

Reports are just coming in that 26 corpses of Nigerian and sub-Saharan women were retrieved from the Mediterranean at the weekend.
Presumably economic migrants seeking entry to Europe, the dead were aged only 14 to 18. Mass murder is suspected.
A “seemingly endless line of black plastic body bags” , said Agence France-Presse, was landed by the Spanish ship Cantabria when it arrived in Salerno, southern Italy, after a rescue operation that brought in 400 people.
The deceased young women had been among the 64 people on the boat travelling to southern Italy from Warshefana, near Tripoli, when rough weather caused the boat to capsize.
Some of those still living were found in the sea, clinging to the sides of a partly-sunk rubber dinghy.

Picture: Survivors land in Salerno.(Antonio Masiello/Getty Images)

Yesterday, Tuesday, the autopsies were due to begin. The young women were going to be examined to see if they were poisoned and/or raped before they died.


When women are trafficked – not for sex, but just because they want to escape their country – they are five or six times more at risk of dying on their escape boats than are men.
In this case, the dead young women were 40 per cent of those aboard (the total female to male ratio is not yet revealed).

The Guardian reports that Marco Rotunno, spokesperson for the UN refugee agency (UNHCR), said 90% of migrant women arrive with bruises and other signs of violence.
“It’s very rare to find a woman who hasn’t been abused, only in exceptional cases, maybe when they are travelling with their husband. But also women travelling alone with their children have been abused.”

The reasons why women are so additionally mistreated vary a little according to culture and situations. But from my studies of secondary sources explanations would appear to include:
1. women are regarded as lesser and therefore more disposable
2. women usually have less economic power to bribe their way out of trouble
3. women tend to have been socialised to be less assertive about their rights
4. women may also be less physically strong and have had less experience in fighting off male assailants. (Childhood play fights are useful training but are usually only sanctioned between boys, not girls versus boys).
5. mothers are hampered by being with children they are protecting
6. advanced pregnancy – and miscarrying en route – makes women less physically able to withstand attack or hardship, or simple y to fight for a fair share of scarce food and water
7. murder sometimes follows rape, or even after sex as a bribe. It’s a way to ensure silence. Because those with power in the escape progress (such as boat captains) are invariably male, so the rape victims are usually females.

How can this danger at sea, this horrifically gendered aggression, still be allowed to happen?


A report in Monday's Vanguard, the Nigerian newspaper with the motto ‘Towards a better life for the People’, gave the details:
“The bodies of 26 women were unloaded in a procession of black bags on to the dock of Salerno. The deceased women, believed to be Nigerian in origin, were recovered by the Spanish ship Cantabria as part of operation Sophia, an EU anti-trafficking force. Most of the women, aged in large part between 14 and 18, were drowned when the rubber boat carrying 64 sank on Friday while crossing the Mediterranean.
“The other three victims were collected as part of other operations and transferred the Cantabria as it headed to Salerno to turn over the bodies to the Italian authorities. 375 rescued migrants were also brought to Salerno, originating from sub-Saharan Africa, Gambia, Ghana, Libya, Nigeria, Sudan, and Senegal: 90 of them women, eight of them pregnant; and 54, children.


“An investigation into the deaths of the women has been launched by Salerno prosecutors who believe there is a possibility that sexual violence played a role in the death of these women. Public prosecutor Luca Masini has arranged the external examination of the bodies with emphasises on toxicology and evidence of rape.
“The bodies were frozen onboard the Cantabria in order to preserve evidence that may have been lost during the journey to the coast. Full autopsies are expected to be completed at the Salerno morgue within the week.
“Police have detained 7 people for questioning including two men of Libyan and Egyptian origin who are believed to be the captains of the vessel.


“Salerno’s prefect Salvatore Malfi has expressed doubts that the women were being trafficked into sex slavery, as he said “the sex trafficking routes are different. Loading women onto a boat is too risky. The traffickers would not do it as they could lose all their ‘goods, ‘as they describe them, in one fell swoop.”
“While women are statistically at more risk during this kind of migration, it is far beyond the 5 to 6 death rate of men to women crossing the Mediterranean. Read more at:


People wanting to cross that telling bridge from Africa to Europe know the shortest distance by sea is across the Straits of Gibraltar from Point Oliveros to Point Cirse: 8.6 miles(14 km). (A road bridge is being planned.)
‘Illegal’ migrants from southern Africa usually travel via Libya, much further east. Italy has 4,000 mile of coastline and the north-east tip of Tunisia to the west of Sicily, Marsala, near Trapani, is only 325 miles ( 284 km) as the crow flies.
But it’s never that simple, because of sea conditions, and lack of easy places for covert embarkation and disembarkation.
‘Bonafide’ people travelling that route may take ferries from Tunis to Palermo, in north west Sicily. The ten-twelve hour voyage on these large and powerful vessels costs 110 euros in the cheapest period (February).
By contrast, travelling illegally in a rubber dinghy with an inboard motor costs whatever the traffickers can get.
Speeds on a dinghy with a 15 horsepower engine vary between 15-20 miles per hour, but being heavily-laden slows them down. With just two or three people aboard such a boat voyage would take at least 16 hours. These people could have been at sea for several days.
Survivors are just starting to give evidence.

Monday 6 November 2017

TV star (and ex-Wren) June Brown meet's Navy new women

Integrating women into the navy and sea service in 1990-93 was controversial. Veteran Wrens, as well as some die-hard chaps, thought it would never work. Some still do.
They regret that femininity 'doesn't seem to matter any more.'
June Brown (Dot Cotton in EastEnders) was one who thought that way, as today's BBC documentary, Women at war: 100 years of service, shows. Wartime Wren June is the star of this first episode, on women and the navy.
June was a cine-op Wren from 1944-46, projecting instructional films on survival at sea to naval men. She was one of perhaps 100,000 lady-like but excited personnel who 'assisted' the war effort by 'freeing a man for the fleet'.
Those wartime women's histories were evidenced by some of the Wren artefacts June was shown at the National Museum of the Royal Navy. They included the naval shoulder bags for which Wrens had lobbied, needing a place for their lipstick and cigarettes. (There were canvas bags issued, or leather if you could afford to pay). The famous black knee-length 'passion-killers' could, June commented, be worn as cycling shorts today. She also referred to the standard-issue brassieres were 'had a deep band, like an old ladies'', which 'we never wore'.

Now, for this programme, June actually drove a naval vessel, as no woman did until the 1990s. Taking the wheel, well, made her realise she would have been capable of doing that then, as she told the cameras.
She met her successors, today's business-like naval women, on ships and during their training in firefighting.
An early WRNS air mechanic, Dorothy Runnicles, and June too, felt that servicewomen such as themselves had been pioneers then. They saw WW2 Wrens as having paved the way for the 1990s trail-blazers, and then for the women today who take diversity and inclusion totally for granted.

June also interviewed Kate Welch, one of the Wrens to join the first ship that included women as proper sailors. HMS Brilliant sailed in 1990, and Kate said, the 20 women on board were very usefully trained in advance in sea operations.
Any grumpy male doubters were glared at - and handled well by the women who, Kate says, 'were there as sailors in our own right, doing our jobs.'
June's many experiences in making this brisk and well-researched 43-minute film resulted in her starting to see naval integration very differently, as something that worked for today's young women.
I would have pushed it, had I been her interviewer. I would have asked 'So, June, do you now think that treating women as members of a special species might have been a mistake? Do you think it might have been limiting to you all, personally, as well as a waste of potentially useful hands in a wartime crisis?'
I get the impression that, reluctantly, she would have said yes.


TV and film can say things more directly, and with more impact, than books. I wish I had the chance to make a documentary instead of writing a printed volume (although finding the many pictures for it was definitely my favorite part).
But as it is, I feel deeply impressed by this BBC version of women's naval history. The programme was made with the real depth of understanding, and done very succintly and tellingly.
It's a far better brief visual story than my book, Women and the Royal Navy, which is out this week ( A book has the advantage of being permanent. And my summary provides a longer fuller view of woman in all naval services, not only Wrens as in this programme.
But I really take my hat off to the programme makers. Do watch. It's available on i-player until 5 December.

Friday 3 November 2017

Yachtswomen's disaster at sea questioned. Why?

Fulava and Appel on USS Ashland, Okinawa, Picture by AP/Koji Ueda

Why are two seawomen’s headline-hitting disaster story being denied and undermined this week?
Anyone interested in gender has to note the deep ideas about women that are being aired.
The US Coastguard, amongst others, is challenging the ‘inconsistencies’ in the account of Jennifer Appel and Tasha Fuiava. The Hawaiian women set off for an 18-day trip to Tahiti.
On their crippled 50-foot sailboat Sea Nymph they were ‘lost’ for three months after a storm this year, and rescued by the US Navy earlier this week.
See the Associated Press story by Caleb Jones in, for example,


Novelist Ursula K Le Guin (pictured), years ago, famously pointed out the way that women fiction writers’ achievements in history were undermined.
Nay-sayers contended that ‘she didn’t write it’. Or if she did write it ‘she didn’t write much or it wasn’t that hard or it somehow really doesn’t count.’

Similarly, the disparaging counterclaims to these women’s own account amount to this:
1. They were going the wrong way, by thousands of miles. (Code for the stupid women just got lost, and brought on themselves?)
2. There was no storm at all. Records don’t show any severe weather. (Code for they’re lying or hysterical?)
3. If they had REALLY been in trouble, they were only minutes away from rescue facilities. They could have just switched on their beacon.(Code for they’re lying/hysterical, or they brought in on themselves?)
4. They couldn’t have been in a six-hour attack by 20-to-30 –foot tiger shark attack because sharks don’t behave that way nor grow beyond 17 feet. (Code for they’re lying for sympathy or just hysterical drama queens?)
5. Their subsequent stories are inconsistent. Had they really been sending distress signals for 98 days, fearing they weren’t going to last another day? Or had they not felt themselves to be in immediate danger?. (Code for they’re lying/ hysterical drama queens?)

And it goes on. Had they filed a float plan or not? Had they been reported missing before they were due to arrive? By a mum or a man? Were some harbours really too tiny for them to anchor in?
So, they weren't really brave. They weren't really in trouble. Their problems never existed.They can't even tell a consistent story.


Whatever the truth, the commentators are contesting the women’s story. Why? Is it about discounting women’s bravery?
Or alternatively, why would the women have fabricated such a story?

Thursday 28 September 2017

Black seafarers celebrated in Black History Month, Merseyside Maritime Museum

Tomorrow the UK's first large exhibition about Black and Minority Ethic (BAME) seafarers opens, at Merseyside Maritime Museum, Liverpool.
Black Salt
is based on Dr Ray Costello's book of the same name.
It's a great start to Black History Month. Showing how much black people were part of Britain's commercial and naval life corrects the skew that formerly showed Jack Tar as a rollicking white chap whose main contact with BAME people was as lovers.

Even today the Royal Navy has only 5% BAME members (about 1,130), although BAME people are actually 14 per cent of the total population. But the RN is trying hard to recruit more. It has Diversity and Inclusion policies that mean no-one today would be the target of the racist bullying that some portrayed in this exhibition experienced.
I'm very proud to say I've been a little involved in advising curators, especially on black women seafarers sailing today. They include the UK's first black captain, Belinda Bennett of Wind Star cruises. See this blog:

As well as the exhibition there will be a series of talks. So far they are:
Britain's 18th century Black mariners: at home and abroad
A free talk by Dr Charles R Foy, Associate Professor Early American and Atlantic History at Eastern Illinois University.
Dr Foy's scholarship focuses on 18th century Black maritime culture. A former fellow at the National Maritime Museum and Mystic Seaport, he has published more than a dozen articles on Black mariners and is the creator of the Black Mariner Database, a dataset of more than 27,000 18th century Black Atlantic mariners. He is completing a book manuscript, 'Liberty’s Labyrinth: Freedom in the 18th Century Black Atlantic', that details the nature of freedom in the 18th century through an analysis of the lives of Black mariners.
Charles Foy,

OCT 7 Black seafarers at Trafalgar
Dr Ray Costello talks about the experiences of seafarers of African descent in Nelson’s Royal Navy at the battle of Trafalgar.Ray Costello.

OCT 28 Black Tudor and Stuart sailors
Dr Miranda Kaufmann, Senior Research Fellow, Institute of Commonwealth Studies, talks about chapters from her new book 'Black Tudors –The Untold Story'. This includes the stories of: Jaques Francis, the diver dispatched to salvage lost treasures from the Mary Rose; Diego the Circumnavaigator; and John Anthony the Mariner of Dover.
Pic: Miranda Kaufmann

Wednesday 20 September 2017

All hands manfully to the ship's gushing pumps: Henry Tuke and Mrs Peggy

I've just found out that artist Henry S Tuke's (self-portrait, left) image of men manfully manning the ships' pump has been discussed as a maritime narrative that can be read homo-erotically. See yesterday's blog here about a woman, Peggy X doing it so staunchly.

Jongwoo Jeremy Kim devotes several pages to Tuke's 'All hands to the pumps!' in Painted Men in Britain, 1868-1918: Royal Academicians and Masculinities, Ashgate Publishing, 2012.

'The sensuality in this brotherhood of seamen 'is suggested in the action of pumping as well as the water gushing out from the pipes' Kim writes on p103

Kim also discusses The run home (1902) from a homo-erotic point of view:'the Cornish fisher-lads are celebrated as heroes who restore the beauty of the male sex, and a homo-erotic gaze is encouraged as a an aesthetic virtue. Tuke's naturalism capturing "views of labour" must be understood in this context of love between men.' p107.

So what does it mean, symbolically, for Peggy (this short, non-beauteous female outsider) and for the limp-spirited sailors who she allegedly showed up by pumping so much better than them? Can she be read as inadvertently causing a crisis of masculinity and queering a proud, formerly all-male team's collective gendered identity?

Tuesday 19 September 2017

A daughter's story of women on board in Rear-Admiral Edward Ellicott's life

This is an item from the blog of the National Museum of the Royal Navy:

The curator writes:
"I am a little bit obsessed with gender history, especially men and women in the past who crossed gender expectations and boundaries to do things that would shock their contemporaries. One of my favourite objects is Rear-Admiral Edward Ellicott’s biography.
"Even though it is written as though Ellicott is telling the stories, it was actually penned by his daughter after his death.
"I was reading through his tales of fascinating 43-year long career (1781-1846) as a Captain, and came across several stories of women on board ships: including manning the pump and loading the guns, giving birth on ship and being captured by the enemy.

"Women on Board Ship
Though in the 18th century only men could join the Navy, women were on the ships too!
"There would often be a handful of wives living on board, usually married to warrant officers such as the gunner or carpenter. Wives were never recorded on ships’ lists; we learn of them by chance in other accounts such as Ellicott’s biography.
"Wives spent most of their time washing and sewing, but they also played an active role in battle, tending to injured men, and carrying out the dangerous job of running between the decks and the powder stores, bringing cartridges to the guns.
"It was a hard life and women could be away from home for years. They received no pay, and shared their husband’s hammock and food.
"Their mission was not adventure, but to be dutiful wives. There are accounts of women giving birth on ships between the guns, even during battle.

"Captain Ellicott’s Ladies

Gunner's wife takes over his gun
"In Ellicott’s biography women showed that they could fight just as well as the men. One event described was when his ship HMS Hebe was in an engagement with the enemy:
“one of the men at the guns was struck dead on the spot, his wife took his place and by the side of her dead husband, continued for a length of time, during the rest of the battle to load and fire her husband’s gun, as regularly as the other gunners…
"she refused to give up her post, and pointing to her dead husband with the effect of a tragedy queen, said ‘he would have done his duty well, had he been spared, and tho’ you have lost him, you shall not lose a gunner by his death, till I am destined to follow his fate’, she unflinchingly continued her cannonade, and was unhurt, tho’ many were killed and wounded around her.”
Captain Ellicott was so impressed that he bought her a farm in Orkney and “several cows” and she sent him milk and cheese for the next five years as a thank you.

Peggy shows the way on the pump
"The author also describes when Ellicott’s ship HMS Explosion was caught in a storm, and a “remarkably short, thick set” woman on board named Peggy came to the rescue: “many of the men soon became disheartened, as in spite of their utmost endeavours the water increased in the hold.”
Peggy, perceiving how things were going, turned away a man from his post and “applied herself to the pump and for fourteen hours worked incessantly at it, up to her middle in water, in an intensely cold night in January.
She invited the men to further exertions by showing them what she could and did do, and to her determination and perseverance was to be owed the keeping the Vessel from sinking from an over quantity of water.”
"Captain Ellicott was so impressed that back in Portsmouth he declared “that he believed she was to be ascribed the credit of saving the ship, as none of the men half worked until she set them the example” and set about organising a medal for Peggy, and a pension for life.
Peggy was so overjoyed by this that “she danced about in the most extravagant manner, and to evince her gratitude for his reporting her conduct; for years after supplied him with garters of her own knitting.”"


I posted this response:

I love this. Thanks for sharing it.

The story of the daughter being the author of the only published tribute to a naval man's career is typical of women's connections with the Royal Navy. A number of daughters and wives wrote up the exploits of the distinguished naval men to whom they were connected. Often the women made themselves invisible in the process.
But you could say it was one way women quietly shaped naval historical records. They not only gave the admiral his breakfast and so kept him going. These non-seagoing 'associate members' of the Navy also subtly contributed to the historiography of this very masculine institution.
The stories of Peggy at the pump, and the wife of the Hebe gunner carrying on, are so interesting. Again they're typical of what might be called 'corporate wives doing their duty. Is there more on the mother giving birth at sea?
I've tried to look up Edward Ellicott's daughter's name but all I can found out is that she was his only child, born c 1822 probably.So she would have been at least in her late 20s when she wrote the memoir after his death in 1847,

Looking for more illumination
In reflecting about these stories this morning I'm thinking how very interesting it is that Miss Ellicott wrote 'as' the naval officer she would NEVER have been allowed to become. She was not just a female ghost writer for a man. She vicariously 'became' a rear-admiral, and gave herself a patriarchal voice. It was a kind of ventriloquism, crossing the gender divide - and it could be of interest to literary experts.

Checking out the Hebe history you can see this 16-gun ship served at times between Orkney and Sweden, protecting the convoys. This suggests that the gunner might have already been a locally-recruited Orcadian. So the gunner's wife might have been brought up and married in Orkney, before she settled on the farm Ellicott gave her. It might have helped the widow's entire extended family to prosper. It's likely that the action in which the woman took part was in November 1808 when the Hebe helped capture the Danish ships Erndte and Printz Carl.

Peggy's 14-hour contribution on the Explosion would seemingly have taken place some time between 1804-1807 (Ellicott's period of command). This painting by Tuke shows what, 70 years later, 'All hands to the pump' meant: team work, solidarity, and hard manual labour at any time, not just in a freezing January.

Tuesday 12 September 2017

Russian would-be captain Svetlana challenge sexist labour laws in court this month

In the 1930s and WW2, Soviet Russia was globally famous for its pioneering women captains such as Anna Shchetinina and Valentina Orlikova. They were exemplars. Their success and the respect they received inspired women everywhere. (See pics below and

This month, 80 years on, Svetlana Medvedeva is struggling for the right to be captain. Her landmark legal campaign could mean women mariners get back the rights they won at a time when all hands were needed -- even women's.
Svetlana's case raises the issue of whether protective legislation is outmoded sexism. It highlights the persistent pattern that women are allowed opportunities to do 'men's work' when there is an under-supply of labour. They are permitted to fill gaps. And there are few gaps in the Russian maritime industry just now.
This is what Amnesty international, which backs Svetlana, said:
"31 August 2017. A trial that opens today and sees a 31-year-old female navigation officer sue a Russian shipping company who refused to employ her as a ship’s captain, represents a landmark challenge to Russia’s sexist and outdated labour regulations.
Svetlana Medvedeva graduated in 2005 as a navigation officer in Samara region. In 2012 she applied for a job as a ship’s captain by Samara River Passenger Enterprise, but the company’s initial consent to hire her was later retracted because of labour laws that restrict women from more than 400 professions.

The current list of professional occupations that are banned for women in Russia lists 456 occupations and 38 industries that are considered too “arduous,” “dangerous” or “harmful” to women’s health, in particular to their reproductive health.
The “prohibited” list was originally adopted in the USSR in 1974. It was confirmed in 2000 by Russian Government Regulation No. 162 which allowed for exemptions only if safe working conditions were established by the employer.
Svetlana Medvedeva challenged the rejection of her job application in court, seeking a judicial order to compel the company to establish safe working conditions and allow her to work in accordance with Regulation No. 162. However her claim was rejected.


In May 2013, she registered a complaint before the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) alleging that her rights had been violated.
The complaint claimed that she had been denied employment by the company because of her sex, on the basis of a blanket prohibition.
On 25 February 2016, the CEDAW Committee found in favour of Svetlana Medvedeva and urged the Russian authorities to grant her appropriate compensation and to facilitate access to jobs for which she is qualified.

In July 2017 Russia’s Supreme Court ruled that her case should be re-opened. The trial begins today in Samara’s District Court. (see pic)
Amnesty International calls on Russia to comply with the CEDAW recommendation to amend Regulation No. 162 and to remove all arbitrary restrictions on women’s employment."

Seafarers Union of Russia said in 2012:

"In 2005 Svetlana graduated from Samara River Transport College. She specialized in Inland waterway and coastal navigation course. According to her certificate, Svetlana could work as a steerer-motorist. But when the girl tried to apply for a job on board m/s “Om-338” it turned out that Svetlana couldn’t be permitted to get it under the above Regulation.

Thus the situation became absurd as girls are allowed to get trained for specific professions but not to actually work in them.
Svetlana decided to fight and was alone at the beginning. She wrote to the President’s press-office that her constitution rights were violated and the letter was resend to the Federal Labour and Employment Service (which monitors the situation in the employment and compliance to labour laws, and etc.).
There it was explained to Svetlana that she could get the job in question provided that working conditions would comply with safety standards. After that Svetlana got in touch with the representatives of “Memorial” anti-discrimination centre and was recommended to appeal to court and complain against the SRPE for unsafe working conditions. Yet the court decided in favor of the enterprise, and this made Svetlana to write to SUR.
“My dream is to start working as a steerer- motorist, and then to join the Marine Engineering Department of Volzhsk State Academy”,- explains Svetlana.

Tatiana Sukhanova (pictured above), a deep sea captain from the Far East, says that “nowadays there are a lot of cases of gender discrimination in the fleet. More often then not, girls face difficulties when seeking a job, and even during their cadet practice.
This case shows gender discrimination because Svetlana is a bright girl who can successfully cope with her tasks, and even better than some boys do.”
More on Tatiana's own struggle can be found at

Friday 18 August 2017

Indian Navy all-women crew to sail boat

Prime Minister Narendra Modi with the six women officers of the Indian Navy who are set to circumnavigate the globe on the sailing vessel INSV Tarini in New Delhi Aug. 16, 2017. Also pictured is Chief of Naval Staff Admiral Sunil Lanba. (IANS/PIB photo)

This is post straight from the source, though I have added bold face to some bits. Jo.

NEW DELHI — The Indian Navy Aug. 17 said it is committed to increasing the role of women in the force and, as part of that effort, has an all-women crew set to circumnavigate the globe next month.

The team will be world's first all-female military team to circumnavigate the globe and the first all-women team in Asia to undertake such a challenge.

At a press conference announcing the circumnavigation, which is called Navika Sagar Parikrama, Chief of Personnel, Vice Admiral A.K. Chawla said: "We are committed to enlarging the role of women in the Navy. We have opened up several avenues, women pilots are flying Naval aircraft, and it is not a noble gesture, they are capable..."

"We are moving in a gradual manner... there are many issues to address on sea, like accommodation, future progress, and induction as well. I hope over a period of time it will happen," he added.

The Indian Navy has not yet deployed women on warships.

Lieutenant Commander Vartika Joshi, who is the first woman to be a skipper on an Indian Navy vessel and who will lead the team, recalled the moment she learned the Navy was looking for female officers to volunteer for the Cape to Rio Race in 2014.

"I was sitting in front of the computer and wondering where life was taking me... I felt it was a dream come true," she said.

Along with Joshi, the team includes Lieutenant Commanders Pratibha Jamwal and P. Swathi, and Lieutenants S. Vijaya Devi, B. Aishwarya and Payal Gupta.

In early September, the team will sail a 55-foot-long Indian Navy sailing vessel – the INSV Tarini from Goa.

Circumnavigation means the boat will be in open waters the entire trip and cannot travel via straits or canals along its way. It has to cross the equator at least once and the total distance covered must be greater than 21,600 nautical miles, the circumference of earth.

The around eight-month journey will be covered in five legs with stop-overs at four ports – Fremantle, Australia; Lyttleton, New Zealand; Port Stanley, Falklands; and Cape Town, South Africa.

The ship was made indigenously at the Aquarius Shipyard Limited in Goa.

Ratnakar Dandekar, who made the ship, said it was made of wood covered in fiber glass, which will give it maximum strength for the challenging journey it is to undertake.

According to Commander (retired) Dilip Donde, the first Indian to circumnavigate the globe solo and the man who trained the team, said the crew will face the some of the roughest seas on their journey.

"The leg where they cross the Pacific Ocean is going to be the toughest. In the Indian Ocean, in monsoon, the highest waves are three-four meters, in the Pacific, on a day if the wave is below five meters high, it is considered a good day... In addition it is very cold," he said.

The Pacific Ocean leg of the journey is expected to take around eight days.

The team is, however, prepared for the grueling journey and has already sailed in the rough waters of the Indian Ocean during monsoon, as well as participated in the Cape to Rio 2017 sailing race.

Wednesday 2 August 2017

Cruising and civil partnerships: OK now as Bermuda law changes

Transport operators - P&O Cruises, Cunard and possibly Princess Cruises - are now marketing to couples with pink pounds to spare.
This is quite an ironic twist from the 1950s-80s when gay, bi and trans male crew sailed as a way to join floating queer heavens and to live in out-and-proud communities despite the illegality.
There were 'queer weddings' on board then too - and queer divorce ceremonies. They took place below sea level in the rowdy crew bar and of course had no legal standing. Such occasions of carnivalesque misrule happened at a time when legalised same-sex marriages were unthinkable, a fantasy that could never be in reality. However same-sex couples who'd met on board sometimes stayed together for life,when their seafaring days ended.

Camp crew weddings in the mid-20th century were mock-playful, involving a lot of dragging up and drinking. To my knowledge no captain officiated, just a friend with his collar on back-to-front.
Putting on fancy dress, 'becoming' someone other, and having celebratory events was a very normal way of passing a long voyage, for people of every sexual orientation.

The article below shows how times have changed.


"P&O becomes first British cruise line to offer same-sex marriages at sea, by Soo Kim, travel writer
The Telegraph, 1 August 2017

"Marriages at sea on board P&O's seven Bermuda-registered ships, and all three of Cunard's ships, will be open to same sex couples CREDIT: AP

"P&O Cruises, part of the American-British cruise company Carnival Corporation, is the first cruise line in the UK to be able to conduct same sex weddings at sea....
"The first ceremony [will] be held in the Caribbean next January [2018.
"This P&O civil partnership ceremony will be] followed by Carnival’s Cunard cruise line, which will offer same sex marriages from November 2018.


"The new offering follows a landmark ruling earlier this year that legalised same sex marriages in Bermuda. [This is] where seven of P&O’s eight ships (apart from the Britannia, which is registered in Southampton), and all three of Cunard's ships are registered.
"The first same sex wedding at sea will take place on board P&O’s Azura ship, which is registered in Hamilton, Bermuda.
"Wedding packages for P&O cruise ships are available from £1,200... Packages for Cunard’s Queen Mary 2 are offered from around £2,570 and from £2,117 for weddings on board Queen Elizabeth and Queen Victoria, which earlier this year received a £34 million refurbishment.
"The ceremonies will be carried out by the ship’s captain... The marriage licenses will be issued by the government of Bermuda.


"Princess Cruises, which also operates under Carnival, is also reportedly planning to offer same sex marriages across its 13 ships registered in Bermuda, according to Cruise Critic, but has yet to reveal when.
"We are currently working on developing a range of services and amenities to meet the needs of same sex couple ceremonies and will release full information on these shortly," the company said in a statement.
“'This is very welcome news for us and I am delighted that we have become one of the first British cruise lines to take a booking for a same-sex wedding. We look forward to welcoming this couple and many other couples too,' Simon Palethorpe, senior vice president of Cunard, stated.
“'Weddings at sea are very romantic and getting married by the captain in the middle of the ocean is an unforgettable experience,' Paul Ludlow, senior vice president of P&O Cruises, said.


"It has been more than three years since Britain legalised same sex marriages in 2014, when gay couples from Brighton, Halifax and London tied the knot for the very first time on March 29 that year. They were closely followed by hundreds more couples in England. Later the same year Scotland followed suit by introducing new legislation."

Wednesday 19 July 2017

Gay men at sea in WW2 - and raunchy divas. A little of what you fancy does you good, especially in wartime

Stephen Bourne, Fighting Proud: the untold story of the gay men who served in two world wars, IB Tauris, London, 2017, £17.99.

Fighting Proud is the story of men in war. The few women who briefly appear in it are divas such as Bette Davis, who men emulated, or friends and supporters such as Elisabeth Welch, the mixed-race singer of Stormy Weather.

That means servicewomen with non-heterosexual identities, such as lesbian Wren Nancy Spain, are absent. That’s still a book in search of an author.

This new rich book devotes two chapters to queered men who were in sea-related work. They include musician George Melly (1926-2007) on aircraft carrier HMS Argus; and George Hayim (1920-2011), a millionaire idler slumming it among the 480 men on new cruiser HMS Cleopatra. After he left circa 1943 his (later) lover, Lt Cdr Anthony Heckstall-Smith (1904-1983) was also aboard.

Picture, left: George Melly as a young man, at his typewriter

Picture, right: Anthony Heckstall-Smith in later life, when he was an author.

There are disproportionately small references to men in the Merchant Navy, where MSM (men who have sex with men) proliferated.

My review here focuses on the Royal Navy in WW2, but the book shows the armed forces and home front queer contexts in both world wars.


Bringing the story forward to the 1982 Falklands Conflict the author introduces merchant seafarer John Webber, who explains why gay men were thought unsuited to ships, especially when battling on the waves.
Webber was on an (unnamed here) civilian ship transporting the Queen’s Own Highlanders to the South Atlantic. He disputed with senior armed forces officers on board: ‘Their argument was simply “you can’t have men playing with each other like this. What if you’re attacked and they’re busy taking care of each other’s desires”' (p.xix )
The same argument - ‘sexual desire would distract people from the duties’ - was used to oppose Royal Navy women being allowed to work at sea before 1990.
In fact, relationships, sexual preference and personal identity do not necessarily bear any relation to bravery, self-discipline and commitment to the greater good. This was proved, for example, by John Beardmore (1920-2004). He was a Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve sub-lieutenant who was in the appallingly challenging Russian convoys including PQ17 on corvette HMS Poppy. (Betty, his Women’s Auxiliary Air Force sister, unbeknown to him, plotted its course). He also took part in the North Africa, Sicily, and Normandy landings and was Mentioned in Dispatches and be-medalled (p70-71).

Picture: John Beardmore's HMS Poppy. Pictured in with his account of the ship at


Wars undoubtedly lead to different sexual behaviours. The reasons included:
• the idea ‘feel free to act now, because tomorrow we may be dead’
• tenderness towards colleagues bonded by adversity, a closeness that may extend to physical demonstrations
• experiment away from home and familial norms
• the simple seeking of sexual relief. John Beardmore explained the common practice of seamen mutually masturbating each other: it was said to be a way to avoid catching sexually transmitted diseases from female sex industry workers ashore (p71).

Picture: John Beardmore as court usher in Rumpole of the Bailey, 1979. Picture courtesy of


A key question must be what does being at sea – as opposed to in the army, RAF and at the Home Front – enable in the way of non-heterosexual expression and identity exploration?

The book doesn’t tackle this. But from my own research I believe three answers are paramount:

1.CLOSENESS. Long-term living in close quarters bonds people, creates stupendous camaraderie, and develops respect for human differences. Officers’ cook and Polari-speaking female impersonator Terri Gardener (1920-2000) tells apparently double stories of crews’ homophobia yet politeness, of subtle disrespect yet useful loyalty: ‘I was called horrendous things’ but also ‘I don’t ever remember running into real unpleasantness' (p77). A gay man had early advised him ‘the best way for me was to be downright outrageous.’ He did so by entertaining in drag, which made him popular. He was also so appreciated as a receptive partner that ‘I just couldn’t take any more of it’: possibly he was used rather instrumentally. Terri went to see a naval psychiatrist and as result never sailed again. He was under open arrest ‘for being homosexual’ not for committing a homosexual act, points out Bourne, crucially. Officials asked everyone on his ship if they had they had intercourse with Terri. His shipmates all kept schtum (pp77-78). This would partly have been to protect themselves too. But Terri was eventually given a dishonourable discharge. This is something that happened to many LGBTQ naval people in the post-war years and wrecked careers and lives.

2.CROSS-DRESSING. The tradition of dressing as women for entertainment, including theatre shows, was more common on ships on boringly long inactive voyages than it was in the army or air force. Naval signalman Dennis Prattley dragged up for concert parties in a troupe of three. He 'was' singer Ann Sheridan and his pals 'were' Rita Hayworth and Katharine Hepburn.

Picture: the real Ann Sheridan

'Sherry's' troupe was so successful that the members tried to leave the navy to pursue full- time theatrical careers. Although in peacetime navy psychiatrists were keen to get gay men removed (they were seen as weak links), in war Dennis and co had to stay on, ‘I did my bit for my country and was always in action one way or the other,’ he quipped. 'I think I made a lot of difference’ (p71-72).

3.EXCEPTIONALITY OF A SHIP. The vessel far away at sea becomes a heterotopic space where the othered may occur – and may be treated in a tolerant, othered manner, despite official prohibitions.

In other words, sex, love and friendship – in all their hues – naturally happen in cooped-up 24:7 floating workplaces. That’s why today the now gender-integrated Royal Navy has a no-touching rule, and why both Royal and Merchant Navies necessarily have strict policies about sexual bullying aboard, and gender-segregated spaces.


Such space-times of relative freedom were not just war-specific. A number of men who had same-sex sex at sea married but continued their old connections in some way. John Beardmore explained ‘I know of fellows who were oppo’s [counterparts] and who were having affairs at the time…[but who] went on to become godfathers to each other’s children’ (p71).

Terri Gardener. Continuing to idolise Greta Garbo, until 1971 Terri became part of a professional twosome of female impersonators: Chatt and Gardener. He and partner Barri Chatt appear in the musichall documentary A Little of What You Fancy (1968) (still available via Amazon films).
The title refers to the risque Victorian song made famous by Marie Lloyd, which female impersonators often sang:
'I always hold in having it, if you fancy it,
if you fancy it, that's understood.
And suppose it makes you fat?
I don't worry over that.
A little of what you fancy does you good.'

Pictures: A Little of What You Fancy, Marie Lloyd, and Greta Garbo

John Beardmore. After the war John Beardmore resumed his stage career and was in TV series as late as the 1980s, including playing patriarchal roles such as the judge in Softly, Softly: Task Force .

George Hayim.Later known as the Duchess of Cremorne, George in 1988 published a candid memoir: Thou shalt not uncover thy mother’s nakedness . It includes the camp lines: ‘I never wanted to join the Navy to kill anyone, or to sink the Bismarck. I just thought it would be a turn on: a bunch of hard men bubbling away together in a pot. Also, navy blue is my best colour and I love dressing-up.’
In fact, his ship was among the many vessels and planes that in 1941 did actually pursue and later sink the iconic German battleship - while he was seasick below. (No Stugeron tablets for the armed forces in that war; ‘proper men’ supposedly don’t throw up! )

Picture: George Hayim’s autobiography (still available second-hand).


Bourne’s valuable and easy-to-read book is not quite a collection of ‘untold’ stories, as in the sub-title. Rather it gathers under-told stories, and those not previously collected together to give a coherent collective account of GBTQI men in wars. That is, it is not an oral history, nor a collection of hitherto unpublished writings nor an examination of official documents dealing with homosexuality in the services. Those sorts of articles and detailed studies by other scholars will surely follow.
The footnotes and bibliography will help readers research further,
Fighting Proud makes a worthy counterpart to John Costello’s Love, Sex and War: Changing values 1939-45; to the US story told in Allan Bérubé’s Coming Out Under Fire; to the Canadian work by Paul Jackson, One of the Boys: Homosexuality in the Military During World War II; and to Yorick Smaal's Sex, Soldiers and the South Pacific, 1939-45: Queer Identities in Australia in the Second World War.

It is, in a sense, a sister to Emma Vickers’s academic study,Queen and Country: Same Sex desire in the British Armed Forces 1939-45. Fighting Proud's findings are complemented by the Merchant Navy post-war history I wrote with Paul Baker: Hello Sailor: The Hidden History of Homosexuality at Sea. and the recent book about queer life aboard a Falklands Conflict merchant vessel, the Norland: All in the Same Boat, by Warren FitzGerald.