Chapter Three.


Brothers before the mast – the Royal Navy.     


On June 17 1912, Thomas Bishop, then aged 18, signed on with the Royal Navy – the senior service – for 12 years and became seaman M4650. His service record says he was 5'6” tall, with brown hair, blue eyes and a “fresh” complexion. Thomas was to spend his entire life in the Navy and rose to the rank of Sick Bay Chief Petty Officer in 1927 – the same year he won his long service medal

When Thomas arrived home on leave, with money in his pocket and a uniform on his back, he must have cut a dashing figure in Lax Lane. Jack at once fell in love with the idea of joining the Navy and vowed to follow his brother. For him, it promised travel, adventure, a square meal-a-day and a future.

There was plenty of encouragement for strong young men, like Jack, as Britain struggled to crew its growing fleet of warships. Britain, under the eye of the navy-building seaman, Admiral John Fisher, was expanding its fleet, in the face of an imperial threat from Germany. The foundations for a new battle fleet – complete with the new Dreadnought ships equipped with steam turbines and the  biggest guns on the sea– were laid in 1911 and a new generations of young sailors was needed to sail it.  

Jack desperately wanted to be one of those young sailors. There was a big problem, he was simply too young. The Royal Navy took boy seamen for training at fifteen and three quarters. It meant Jack had another year of riding an errand boy's bike around Bewdley and he just couldn't wait.

So, it meant the Bishop and Garbett families had to concoct one of those little family conspiracies that everyone turns a blind eye to, if they succeed.

The plan was for Jack to lie about his age to the local Registrar, Thomas Pennington, at Bewdley Town Hall in the High Street. This was done with the help of his uncle Richard Garbett, another carpet worker, who countersigned a duplicate birth certificate – doctored to say Jack had been born a year earlier than he had – under the Factory and Workshop Act . This certificate was all employers needed to verify the age of a worker and it was Jack's passport into the Royal Navy costing sixpence.

Jack and Rosa Bishop, either went along with the deception, or were faced with a fait accomplit. My great-grandfather signed the consent papers and retained the right to take Jack out of the Navy for being under age – but he never did. 

It meant Jack signed on the dotted line on September 4 1913, less than a year before World War One broke out. Overnight, he became John Bishop, Boy Second Class, service number: J28161. Soon afterwards, his family waved him off through the steam and smoke of Bewdley Station; down the Severn Valley line to a new life.  


Written by Chris Bishop