|Canadian General Service medals awarded to RN
|GUNNERS MATE WILLIAM WEST, R.N.
William West was born in Gosport, Hants on 7 Jan
1833. Being raised in this port city he would have
witnessed a lot of sailing ships & met many sailors, no
doubt this helped him in his decision to enter the R.N.
He entered as a Boy 1st class onboard HMS Blenheim
(3rd rate of 1813) on 14 Nov ’52. At this time in his life
West signed his name with a mark (X) as he was
illiterate. He would have undergone basic seaman, boat
handling, & sail training on board Blenheim, until
26 Jun ’53 when he leaves Blenheim & signs on to
HMS Vesuvius ( 1st class Paddle Sloop of 1839).
Whilst on Vesuvius he made the wise decision to sign
on for the newly introduced Continuous Service system
offered to ratings of the RN. West does this on 13 Sep
1853 & is assigned CS number 3201. This was a new
scheme intended to try to keep ratings in the service for
a fixed period of time. Prior to this they could sign on &
off ships at will & many trained men were lost to the
service over time. After a fixed period (a minimum of 20
years) of service a rating would in turn qualify for a
pension for life. Also at the same time the pay &
gratuities of ratings was greatly improved & Good
Conduct Badges(GCB’s) were introduced as an incentive
for men gain better daily pay.Whilst on Vesuvius West
is promoted to Ordinary Seaman on 25 Aug ’53.
Great Britain & France had declared war on Russia on
25 March ’54 & proceeded to send out an
expeditionary force to the Crimea to stop Russian
advances into Turkish territory.
The RN was heavily involved in the Crimean campaign &
over the course of 1854-55 many ships were sent to
the theatre to take men & supplies out for the army &
to reinforce the army in the form of a naval brigade to
serve on shore. Thus Vesuvius was sent out to the
Mediterranean in Apl ’54. On 11 May 1854 HMS Tiger,
Niger, and Vesuvius were detached to cruise off
Odessa & observe Russian troop movements.
In late June to 17 July , operations in the mouths of
the Danube were undertaken by HMS Firebrand,
Spitfire, and Vesuvius.
On 14 Sep HMS Samson, Fury, Vesuvius, and some
French steamers with troops on board, were sent to
the mouth of the Katcha river to deter the Russians
from advancing northward.
Later in Oct, HMS Leander was sent to Eupatoria to
assist in the defence of that town, followed later by
HMS Firebrand, Vesuvius, with other vessels. Vesuvius
was also present on 17 Oct at the first bombardment
26 Feb 1855 Vesuvius was at Balaklava. On 25 May she
participated, with several other ships in the fleet, in the
capture of Kertch and Yenikale along with thousands of
tons and coal and provisions, along with factories. Also
in late May, Vesuvius, along with other smaller ships,
entered the Sea of Azoff in order to take men into
that area to participate in commando style raids into
Russian territory & destroy as much Russian commerce
on both land & sea, as could be found.
HMS Vesuvius qualified for both the Sebastopol & Azoff
clasps to the Crimea medal. Officers & ratings of
Vesuvius qualified for 159 Azoff clasps.
During this period West had been promoted to AB on
28 Oct ’55 & Leading Seaman(LS) on 15 Jan ’56.
Vesuvius had returned to UK in early April ‘56 & on 23
Apr was present at the Fleet Review for Queen Victoria
A wooden Gorgon class paddle powered sloop of 1839.
One of the earliest steam powered(2 cylinder) sloops.
She also carried sails on three masts.
She carried 6 deck guns, various calibres at various periods.
Complement 160. Most of her service was in the Mediterranean
(Crimean war) & on the West coast
of Africa on anti slavery duties. Sold & broken up 1865.
A wooden Cruizer class sloop of 1856, full press of sail on 3 masts , auxiliary steam & screw propulsion. During her
career she served on Pacific, Australian, New Zealand, North American stations, including interior Great Lakes of Canada,
in the Mediterranean & Sea of Marmora. She became a Survey ship in 1876 & was sold in 1884.
She carried 17 32 pounder deck guns, complement approx. 310.
UPPER RIGHT:In this colour engraving she is to the right of HMS Miranda in new Zealand, 1862.
UPPER LEFT: In this photo HMS Fawn is shown under sail circa 1870.
She was subsequently paid off on 14 Nov & West was drafted to HMS Pembroke(3rd rate of 1812, 74 guns), & whilst on board her he was
promoted to Captain of the Foretop (Capt FT) on 1 Jun ’57. West must have proved himself a very competent seaman for he had received
quick promotion, as he only had to this point in his career almost 4 yrs service, and he had not yet rec’d a GCB.
On 1 Mar ’58 he is drafted to HMS Edinburgh(3rd rate of 1811) in the rate of Capt FT. Edinburgh became part of the Coast Guard Service,
stationed in the Leith District at Queen's Ferry.
Whilst on board Edinburgh West is granted his 1st GCB on 23 Jan ’59, & his 2nd on 25 Aug ’61. He also signs on for a second engagement
on 13 Sep’63 & this time he is able to sign his name. He remains on Edinburgh until 24 Sep ’63 when he elects to enter the gunnery branch
& is drafted for seaman gunner training at HMS Excellent.
HMS Excellent at that time was actually the former HMS Queen Charlotte, a 3rd rate ship of the line stationed in Portsmouth harbour & was
the primary gunnery training ship in the RN.
West qualifies as a Seaman Gunner 1st class (SG1) on 1 May ’64 & departs Excellent as his next overseas draft is to HMS Fawn(Screw sloop
of 1856) which he joins on 29 June.
Also on 29 Jun West gets appointed as Gunner’s Mate(GM), now a Petty Officer 1st class, so he must have done quite well at Excellent to
obtain advancement to GM quickly. Fawn was to sail to North American station at Halifax & was to participate in the 1866 Fenian Raid
invasion into Canada of June 1866.
The campaign was to count as active service for West & he was to qualify for the Canada General Service (CGS) medal of 1866-70, altho at
the time he would not known that, as the medal was not authorized until 1899 & awarded only to officers & ratings who had survived to
1899 & applied for the medal.*
Whilst on Fawn West was awarded his 3rd GCB on 1 Sep’66.
After a four year commission Fawn returned to UK & paid off at Portsmouth on 11 Jun ’68. Upon paying off his Captain had this to say
about West’s conduct & ability:
“Noted as being very trustworthy, a thoroughly trustworthy and as a steady good PO”
West then went back to HMS Excellent to requalify & remained there until 27 May ’69.
His next draft was to HMS Endymion(Screw Frigate of 1865) which he entered on 29 May ’69 as Coxswain of the Launch.
HMS Endymion was assigned with five other ships
‘For Particular Service’. They were to sail around the
world visiting the RN stations along the way & taking
officers & ratings out to replace men on other ships
at the foreign stations. The cruise was also intended
to test the capabilities of steam vessels making
lengthy and expeditious trips under sail. The ‘Flying
Squadron’ left Portsmouth on 19 jun, the first stop
being Madiera. The sqdn then west west to Rio de
Janeiro, Montevideo, Then east again to cape of
Good Hope, then in Oct left for Australia, stopping at
various cities in that continent, then sailing to New
Zealand arriving at Wellington 24 Jan ’70, then
Auckland & then sailed to Yokohama Japan, arriving
on 6 Apl ’70.
On 19 Apl thy left Yokohama sailing east for
Vancouver Is arriving on 15 May. They then circled
back to Honolulu, Hawaii. On 23 Jun the sqdn left
Honolulu for Valparaiso, Chile. They then sailed to
Bahai, Brazil arriving on 6 Oct, & on the 9th left for
England. They arrived in Plymouth Sound on 15 Nov.
Endymion went around to Portsmouth to pay off
which she completed on 30th.
West was drafted to HMS Excellent on 1 Dec & again
requalified as SG1 & GM.
On 10 Jun ’71 West had completed 20 yrs, 2 days
service, including the 1/5 time added for SG, & thus
he became eligible for the Naval LS medal. Under
the regulations in force in the day, the award of the
LS was somewhat of a lottery. A rating did not
automatically receive it when he reached 20 yrs adult
service. His Ship’s Captain applied for the medal
based upon his ship’s complement & other
regulations he submitted names of deserving ratings
to the Admiralty for consideration. Wet’s conduct
was noted as “exemplary & he had been awarded
three GCB’s as req’d by the regulations. This
application was submitted for his medal on 26 Jun ’
However, as it turned out, he was unsuccessful with
West remained on Excellent until he went to pension
on 7 July. However he was not finished with the RN
He signs on HMS Asia (Depot ship, Portsmouth)as
an AB pensioner on 11 Aug for unlimited service. In
the day pensioners were permitted to sign on the
depot ships usually employed in somewhat close to
the jobs they did whilst in the RN, some serving as
Instructors for junior seamen.
In reality there was not a lot of difference in the
pensioner’s status, they continued to receive their
pensions & were paid & rated as AB’s on the Ships’
books. They may have continued to wear their PO
rank & rate depending upon how they were
employed. West might have been an instructor as
he was a GM, or he might have been employed in
some other manner on board Asia. Usually the
seaman PO’s were employed as seamanship
instructors & West may have been an Instructor or
perhaps as a Coxswain of one of the many ship’s
boats Asia would have carried. In any event he was
to remain on Asia for a quite a long time.
West’s next LS medal application occurred on 23
Sep ’74. He now had 23 years, 74 days service at
time of this application. His conduct was noted by
his Captain as “Exemplary”. However, as it
transpired, again his application was unsuccessful.
He remains on Asia until his third LS medal
application is made on 23 Jan ’77. Again his conduct
is noted as “Exemplary”, he possesses three GCB’s
and now has completed 25 years, 197 days service.
This time his application is successful & he is
awarded his Naval LS medal & gratuity on 19 Feb ’77.
West still continues to serve in some capacity on board HMS Asia, finally being promoted to & paid as a PO2 pensioner on 3 Jan ’91. On 1
Oct he leaves Asia for HMS Victory, where he serves as PO2 pensioner until going to pension for the second time on 27 Nov ’94. He is 61
yrs, 10 months of age & he had completed 23 yrs, 6 months service as a pensioner on Asia & Victory over his previous 20 yr regular
service. This time gave West a total of 43 yrs , 6 months paid RN service. His actual time served (not including his time added for SG)
would have been 42 years, 2 months. It was unusual for a rating to have served this long, normally their extended post pension service
stopped at 50 yrs of age, why West remained so long in service is unknown, but no doubt he remained in service as long as he was able.
Naval life must have agreed with him!
During those 42 years service from 1853 to 1894 he would have seen an amazing change in the ships of the RN – when he entered the RN
was still a wooden ships, sailing fleet, steam was only just coming into service. When he left ships were now Ironclads, gunnery had
advanced considerably, steam power was universal, & sails had virtually disappeared.
*On 21 Oct 1911 West applied for the award of his CGS medal. This medal had been authorized in 1899 for the small ships that
participated in the Fenian Raid troubles in Canada of 1866 & 1870. The ships mainly served along the St Lawrence River near Cornwall & in
the Lower Great lakes Ontario & Erie in Ontario.
The CGS medal was only awarded to survivors that claimed the medal from 1899.
West’s record was verified on 28 Oct & returned to him on the 30th.
Also on the 28th the request for his medal was forwarded to Canada.
His rate was shown as Gunner’s Mate & his rank Petty Officer 1st class. However, when he rec’d his medal in early 1912 his rate was
indented as AB, Royal Navy. This was typical of naming at the time for late issue medals named & sent to overseas recipients from Canada.
Statistics for the CGS medal awarded to survivors of HMS Fawn :
Of which 3 medals are known to have survived – Lt Bridges, Gunners Mate West & Officer’s Steward Phillips.
William West’s family –
Wm West married Catharine in May 1861 - he was 28 yrs of age, she was 22 yrs.
By 1871 they had a family consisting of daughters Mary (10), Jessie (1); & son William(8) living at 3 Spreets Yard, South Cross St in
In 1881 the family is residing in Portsea, Hants at 21 Froddington Rd.
Jessie is still living with them (age 11) & they have added sons John(9), Alfred(7),& Samuel(5); and another daughter Catharine (3).
In 1891 the family is still living at 21 Froddington Rd, & son William who is shown as living in the home, is now a Steward in the RN (age
28). Catharine (age 13) is still living at home. Jessie is not living with them for this census.
In 1901 the family makeup has changed considerably, now West is shown as a widower, his wife Catharine deceased in the last decade.
Jessie is still at home (age 28, however her age was stated incorrectly as she should be approx 31), & they have a visitor by the name of
Francis Hall (15)
In 1911 census William (78)& daughter Jessie(40) are still living at 21 Froddington Rd.
William was too old to participate in WW1 – he would have been 81 ½ in Aug 1914, but with his history, I kind of think he may have tried to
sign on again! I am certain he would have followed the development of the war closely.
But he was not to live to see the end of that war - William West died at 21 Froddington Rd on 17 Apl 1917, aged 84. His estate, valued at
215 pounds was probated to his daughter Jessie on 20 June.
It is unknown where Catharine & William West are buried but I expect in Portsea or Portsmouth.