"Yo, ho, ho and a bottle of rum". This old English sea chanty is what really made England a world power for two hundred years.
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"Yo, ho, ho and a bottle of rum". This old English sea chanty is what really made England a world power for two hundred years. There has to be a reason that a small island off the coast of Europe could subdue so much territory. It was rum, just rum. In order to keep their sailors happy, the British Admiralty issue a daily ration of rum to all its sailors. They liked this idea. They hated being in the British Navy, what with the hard work, the lashings, and the being shot at from time to time. The rum was the key.
"Your Majesty", the councilor said to his regent, "we have not enough men to man our ships. Perhaps if we paid them more, Sire?"
"Pay them more? I didn't know we were paying them anything. No one ever tells me crap around here. Maybe I ought to cut off a few heads. No, no more money."
"Sire, you are correct, as always, Sire. Perhaps we could give them so other form of incentive?"
"You're a real suckbutt, you know that? That's why I keep you around. No, I think we need something to keep the sailors under control. Tell you what, let's keep them half drunk. Yea, that'd do it. Issue some cheap gin to them. Make it so".
"Sire, if I might make a suggestion?", the councilor asked.
"OK, but it better be good. I haven't had anyone beheaded for a while."
"Sire, rum is cheaper. Let's make it rum."
"Make it so."
That's the real reason that the British warships were such monsters. That's the real reason the wharves were built so sturdy. The British Navy was lucky to be able to put to sea at all. The ship would start to turn into the outgoing tide and bang against the wharf. The sailors would laugh and giggle. The Captain would bellow and fume. The First Mate would scream and threaten and lay about with the lash. The sailors didn't even care.
Eventually the ship would reach the high seas, so to speak. Now came the adventurous part. The adventure was trying to cross the deck without slipping and falling in the vomit. The sailors were all hanging over the rail hoping to die. The ship would roll, the sailors would barf, and the British Navy was on it's way to glory.
The daily rum ration would keep the sailors quiet and obedient. It didn't make them drunk enough to fight. The Admiralty solved this problem by announcing that the pirates kept huge quantities of rum on board. The men could divvy it up. Talk about fighting men! The British sailor was the best fighter in the world when rum was at stake. It got so that the smart pirates would toss barrels of rum overboard when spotted by the Navy. That stopped the chase dead in it's tracks.
Here comes a single British warship into a harbor in Africa. There they were, 100 sailors. opposed by a million natives. The sailors were drunk as skunks. The natives weren't. The sailors won every time. The natives never figured it out. They spear, stab, kick, gouge, and generally do all sorts of mayhem to these guys and nothing stopped them. They didn't know that the sailors were past the stage of feeling anything.
"Say there, matey, do you know ye have a spear in ye leg?", one sailor would say to another.
"Well, how do ye suppose that got there. Would ye like to buy it?"
A woman in every port. So they say. The sailors weren't too sure it was a woman and, frankly, were past caring. Besides, the women looked exactly like the men in most of the ports. A few additional drinks and it just didn't matter.
"Say, are you a man or a woman?", the sailor would ask his companion.
"What do you want me to be?, came the reply.
"Why, a woman, mate."
"Then, I am."
The way to make a British sailor mad was to be a pirate carrying something besides rum. The sailors would demand that these pirates be hanged by the neck until dead. Then, they'd drink the wine or brandy or whatever. They'd drink it but wish it were rum. Stupid pirates.
You'd run into the occasional Captain who was a teetotaler and demanded the same of his men. That would not make the sailors happy. The Captain would announce that, "I don't care. I don't believe that a happy ship is a good ship." Those Captains rarely made it back to port. They simply disappeared some night. Then the men got drunk...to drown their sorrow, of course.
The rum ration made the gunnery officer, Lt. Bingmapton-Smythe-Wellington, have to work a lot harder. He get orders to prepare to engage an enemy ship. He ordered the gun crews to aim for amidships. Then they'd start.
"Which ship, sir?"
"Which one, Lt. Bingmapton-Smythe-Wellington, sir?"
Which one? There only is one. Don't try that on a sailor in the Royal British Navy. They know there's more than one. So the guns would fire on both ships. The Captain, looking on from the bridge, would see shots tear into the enemy ship. He'd also see shots see into the empty water fore and aft. Well, the Captain thought, this is one sorry gunnery officer and his report would reflect such.
The first thing the Captain did in the morning was to check to see which way the flag was hanging. Not to tell wind direction. To see if it was hanging right side up. It wasn't always. The blighters didn't always get it right the first time. Sometimes, not the second time. The Captain has been known to run the colors up himself.
Run out of rum? You might as well surrender to the nearest enemy ship. The sailors would be on the verge of mutiny when that happened. Many a British warship had returned to port to replenish supplies.
"Aye, Lt., what would ye be needin", sir?"
"Twenty barrels of rum."
"Aye, sir. What else?"
"That's it. Twenty barrels of rum and wipe that smirk of your face or feel the lash."
The preachers were opposed to the practice altogether. They ranted and raved in their pulpits against the practice of issuing a daily rum ration. They called it the "devil's work". That explains why the British Navy didn't have chaplains on board their ships. They tried it once and the casualty rate was unacceptable. The few that made it back to port were defrocked for drinking.
The idea of a rum ration came from Christopher Columbus. His men weren't about to sail off the edge off the ocean. Columbus gave them enough rum that they would not only sail off the edge, they'd try to. That's how he could stay westward bound long enough to discover the route to India. He didn't but that's because he drank rum too.
The Spanish issued a wine ration to their sailors. Wine is fine but rum it ain't. That's why the Spanish Armada went down. Wine. Good wine is no match for good rum, or even bad rum. The average British sailor wouldn't know the difference or care.
The end of the British Empire occurred on April 23, 1943. That's the day the British Admiralty stopped the daily issue of rum.