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THE UNOFFICIAL BADGE OF HMS VANGUARD
The dreadnought HMS Vanguard, laid down in Barrow-in-Furness in 1908 and launched in 1909 was the 8th ship to carry the name; the first Vanguard was built at Woolwich in 1586 during the reign of Elizabeth 1st. The present HMS Vanguard - a Trident Nuclear Submarine - carries the official badge of 1945, created for the Vanguard name.
The official badge primarily features a lion holding a white spear- a symbol of the figurehead used on past Royal Navy ships and of Britain’s power. The banding of green and white interprets the colours of the Tudor era, an indication of when the first Vanguard was constructed. The circular gold cabling signifies the vessel as a battleship, embellished with a naval crown at the top. This badge was first submitted on 29th August 1945, being accepted and passed by the Admiralty on 31st August 1945.
The only previous Vanguard to carry the same badge was the 1944 Battleship; the ninth Vanguard which was completed after the end of the Second World War and subsequently never took part in any enemy action.
The governing body to present a ship with an official image of the vessels name was the Ship’s Badges Committee (now the Ship’s Names and Badges Committee). Created in December 1918, a badge design would be passed by the Committee before a carving was produced for casting at the Royal Naval Dockyard, Chatham. The sealed pattern would be filed in the Drawing Office also at Chatham Dockyard, with a copy sent to the Admiralty.
Prior to the Ship’s Badge Committee being established unofficial badges were designed by a commanding officer of the ship - early examples can be seen in “Heraldry in the Royal Navy” Crests and Badges of HM Ships by Alfred Weightman.
The badge of the 8th Vanguard (1909) portrays a profile of Lord Horatio Nelson with reference to one of his greatest battles, the Battle of the Nile in 1798, of which the 5th HMS Vanguard was Nelson’s flagship. As the dreadnought was destroyed before the Committee was created the Nelson image was never approved as an official badge as the ship no longer existed.
The creator of the badge is unknown - it was possibly the vision of Captain James D Dick who was killed in the 1917 explosion. An early badge or symbol was often embossed onto letterheads and stationery or copied onto gun tampions, although there are no known examples of this image on any letter. There are however examples of the Vanguard badge on silk postcards and an ashtray exists, recovered after the Scapa Flow disaster.
All images of the 1917 HMS Vanguard are similar to a point, but vary in colour or detail. Alfred Weightman’s Heraldry book specifies the original unofficial badge along with a black and white photograph, describing is as:-
Field - black; Nelson’s head and shoulders proper; gold lettering and cabling; black scroll with white letters HMS VANGUARD.
The black and white image provided within his pages gave no insight into what colouring Nelson actually was, until the original item, the photograph in the book, was tracked down and a new image taken in colour. A recent viewing of a Vanguard artefact at the Imperial War Museum in London confirmed the colours Weightman had described and that an early, if not original, badge does survive.
Whilst the actual date of creation is unknown, IWM confirmed that the badge was passed into their care by the Royal Navy in 1918.
Somewhere along its 100+ year history the plaster has cracked and an effort was once made to restore it, albeit rather poorly. It is now kept safely stored away to prevent further damage but it could be one of the very few remaining items relating to HMS Vanguard in 1917. On closer inspection it is also probable that this is the very item that was photographed for Weightman’s book, as there are indentations in the cabling, in the same place, of both pieces.
The plaster badge is strikingly delicate in its colouring as well as its age. Nelson is painted with silver/grey hair wearing a blue uniform, displaying the Star of the Order of the Bath. His skin tone is very pale in comparison to his lips which are rather rosy, although there is a subtle blush in his cheeks.
Researching the 8th Vanguard badge gave insight into the newer, official, current Vanguard symbol and its meaning as well as earlier ships of the same name. Mentioned in the booklet “The Nine Vanguards” published by Robert Dinwiddle & Co Ltd, it suggested that each ship had a fresh badge design. The badge of Nelson’s Vanguard (the 5th Vanguard) is described as “the sternworks of a ship of the line, all proper” - no evidence of such an image exists.
The sixth Vanguard, built in 1835 is mentioned as “a sailing ship appearing over a distant horizon”...of which there does exist a small, possibly unique embossed piece of paper, cut from a letter written in the distant past.
Depicted in the photograph in an oval is a ship on the horizon, framed by British flags, the naval crown and the words “HEAVE ROUND RODNEY VANGUARD IN SIGHT”.
Held within the Admiralty library, there are no indicators as to how old the piece is, where it came from or who created it - it may have been designed for the 6th Vanguard or could have even been a precursor to the Nelson image, for the dreadnought.
Knowing that the badge for HMS Vanguard in the First World War was unofficial and that it was highly unlikely to have remained in the format it is recognised in today had the ship survived, does it mean anything less? Whilst the Nelson badge was never formally approved, the range of items the image appeared on certainly proved it was a widely accepted emblem. This can no more be true than reflected in the Vanguard Memorial Window, a stained glass window forever on display in Rochester Cathedral, Kent, erected in 1920 - after the formation of the Ship’s Badge Committee. Whilst the Committee was formed 4 years previously and would not have approved unofficial badges to previously lost ships, the Nelson image - the HMS Vanguard badge - was adopted into relatives hearts. A design always to be associated with the 8th Vanguard regardless of its officiality.
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