Friday, 11 October 2013

Sepia Saturday – Uncle Rue and the Navy

This has been a big week (and a bit) in Sydney with the International Fleet Review here to commemorate the centenary of the first entry of the Royal Australian Navy’s fleet into Sydney in October 1913.
So, when I saw the Sepia Saturday prompt for this week was the launch of a battleship, I thought it appropriate to write about my grandfather’s brother and his time in the Navy.

Rupert Fitts
My great uncle Rupert Alfred FITTS enlisted in the Navy as a ‘Boy 2nd Class’ on 22 January 1913, he was 15 years old and 5 foot 4½. He was on the Tingira

My grandfather was only 4½ years old, so would hardly have got to know his big brother.

About the time the first RAN fleet was sailing into Sydney, Rue was promoted to Boy 1st Class. 

In June 1914, still a Boy 1st Class, he was transferred to one of the RAN ships, the Australia.

In January 1915, there were rumours that the HMAS Australia had met with disaster – such a worry for his mother at home with little children, and her son onboard the Australia only 17 years old and not officially old enough to go to war.

There are reports in the newspapers refuting these rumours and assuring everyone that those on the Australia were well and “doing excellent work in upholding the Empire’s position on the seas.”
Alice Fitts nee Dineley

Rue moved up through the ranks, from Boy, to Ordinary Seaman, to Telegraphist, to Leading Telegraphist.

In August 1918, just three days after his 21st birthday, Rue married 19-year-old Alice Maud DINELEY of Birmingham in England.

He must have met her in 1917 (if not before) as his brother (Eric/Ricky) wrote in his WWI diary in August 1917 that he had taken the Midland train for Birmingham where he was met by Rue and Alice, and stayed at Mr Dineley’s that night.

It must have been good for the brothers to meet up so far away from home in the middle of the war.

Rue and Alice’s first daughter, Marjorie Alice Joy FITTS was born in Kings Norton, Birmingham in July 1919. 
Alice and Marjorie moved to Australia where three more children were born: Dorothy, Desmond and Barbara.

At the end of WWI, in September 1919, Rue was posted to the Cerberus, and then in July 1920 to the Platypus

He was invalided out in March 1921 at the age of 23 years. 
The only thing I can find related to injury in his file is that the top of his left mid finger was damaged. He was discharged in August 1922.

His file says that on his ‘advancement to Man’s rating’, he had grown to 5 foot 7½ and had had his appendix out, and had a tattoo on each forearm. 
I don’t remember ever seeing his tattoos.

A couple of weeks ago, in Canberra, I met a grandson of Rupert (my second cousin) for the first time – but that’s a story for another time.


  1. Lives of seamen are quite interesting (got a couple of them personal friends). It must have been exciting for your great uncle to be enlisted in the Navy at such a young age.

  2. These young boys were brave to enlist. Glad he survived. It must have been a fun week in Sydney. great pics .

  3. Perfect timing for you! I agree with the others -- an interesting story to say the least. I'm always touched by the number of YOUNG men willing to serve their country. They're babies, really, and we depend on them for our safety.

  4. Young boys are the perfect people to enlist as they have a sense of invincibility. At least before they get in the thick of a war. I thought it was interesting that there was a category of "boy" below seaman. There must have been many who enlisted.

  5. I am surprised that they had boys so young and small in the Navy. My grandfather joined the U.S. Navy when he was about 16.

  6. I wonder if as a telegraphist, he used his left middle finger to tap and wrote with his right hand? That's such an odd injury but if he couldn't do his job...maybe they discharged him for it?

  7. I thought this was going to be a sad story at first but I was relieved to hear of Rupert's survival, and a happy marriage as well.

  8. A lovely post, so well illustrated and one that fitted this week's theme so well.

  9. Great story about your great uncle, and I love those naval classifications, from Boy 1st and 2nd Class upwards! He was only a short chap even when fulled qualified as a man, from the sound of it, but clearly acquitted himself well, despite his intriguing injury and his tattoos, which must have been standard in the Navy.

  10. Looks good Jack, Mum had been looking everywhere for the Album, said that I must have thrown it out like everything else.We don't remember any tattoos either. Obviously not my side of the family,-- being only 5 ft 4 inches. Your brothers and nephews would have been 6ft 4 inches.

  11. Yes Jackie I would have liked to have been in Sydney last week for the celebrations. It would have been a lot of fun.

  12. Sometimes I even impress myself with the timeliness of my prompts! And I never cease to be impressed by the ways bloggers such as yourself can create blogs that are both informative and entertaining out of a single picture prompt.

  13. Organisations in the UK are a;ready asking for stories to commemorate the start of WWI. 100 years ago next year. Your family link with Birmingham would be ideal. It was a pleasure to read this post.

  14. Isn't is amazing that young men -- boys, really -- so desperately wanted to go to war that they lied about their ages?! I have a great-uncle who did the same thing to enlist for service in the U.S. in WWI. I think it's interesting that he grew several inches, but at 15, one would expect more growth. Interesting post. Thanks.


  15. Boy Second Class. Boy first Class, what wonderful titles. A very interesting post.

  16. Hi Jackie. Did Rupert come back to Australia on the ship in 1919? If so, check out this photo on my Flickr photostream and the link below as well.

  17. Rue certainly had an interesting life.
    I'm curious about the tattoos but since you know nothing about them...
    Let's just say I have a personal interest in the matter...