Uncommon Courage – The Yachtsmen Volunteers of World War II

Being there . . . . to volunteer for a new British Reserve of “Gentlemen, and ladies, interested in
yachting and similar pursuits, desirous of being earmarked for training as executive officers,
male and female.” Negatives about this Board of Admiralty’s RNVSR: no rank, no uniform, no
insignia, no flag, no training, no public recognition, and, yikes!, no pay . . . . .

For an overpowering, first-rate read of an overlooked World War II story of how and why 2,000
brave amateur sailors volunteered to fight in the Royal Navy’s Volunteer Supplementary
Reserve (RNVSR), an organization of which they knew little, had no idea what was expected,
and for how long they would serve. All they knew for certain was they wanted to serve, offering
their lives up, if necessary, for the safety and security of their beloved demi-paradise, their
Great Britain . . .
“People ashore don’t realize what a grim war we are waging at sea
with the Germans. A cold-blooded war, in a way I think requiring the
maximum of courage from the men of both sides in the long run, as
it so ceaseless and intangible. You just don’t know whether the next
moment will be your last. . .”
Lt. Commander Robert Hichens, killed
In action 13 April 1943
“UNCOMMON COURAGE – – The Yachtsmen Volunteers of World War II”, by Julia Jones.
ADLARD COLES Publishing, Bloomsbury Publishing, Plc: 2022, 310 pages, hc; $28. Visit:
www.ospreypublishing.com, or email, info@ospreypublishing.com.
During WWII, Britain’s Royal Navy had to increase almost eightfold in the distinct possibility of
a German invasion, almost daily Luftwaffe bombings, and the need to carry out campaigns in
the Atlantic, Middle East, and Far East. To recruit officers for this force it had to move well
outside its normal supply of men and teenagers trained as young as 13. As in World War I, “the
Reserve” realized the urgency to search for yachtsmen, signing them up, and giving the basic
fundamentals and naval discipline before launching them into sea. Then, it sent possible young
officers as models for ordinary volunteer seamen in sailing, fighting, surviving, and fighting
again in often badly damaged destroyers. No matter how you cut it, life at sea between 1
September 1939, and 3 May 1945 was as perilous as it could get. Anyone who knew anything
about seamanship was needed on deck.
Now, the daughter of one of Britain’s first volunteers in the RNVSR portrays dad, as well as
thousands of similar mates, at extraordinary heroism and sacrifice commanding, sailoring, and
battling in destroyers, submarines, and undertaking covert missions of sabotage. Some

undertook the daily drudgery of minesweeping, others tackled unexploded bombs, engaged in
highspeed attack or played roles as intelligence commandos. As author Julia Jones so rivetingly
narrates, these volunteer crews required endurance, resourcefulness, and quick thinking. Many
died in the process, but for those who survived, their experiences inevitably changed them
forever. Surviving WWII to the bitter end, each felt the same, first, family and country, then, the
moment Peace was declared, the return to the pastime pleasure of cruising action in or
navigating yachts, or any one of various types of relatively small vessels.
As for the author of this much-appreciated work, unexcelled other than its peer, “In Which
They Served – The Royal Navy Officer Experience in the Second World War”, by Brian Lavery
(Naval Institute Press), Julia Jones is an English writer, editor, and classic yacht owner whose
father, as mentioned, served in the RNVSR from the beginning. She is the Literary Contributor
for Yachting Monthly Magazine. Julia’s love of the sea began at the age of three when her
parents bought her Arthur Ransome’s yacht, Peter Duck. She says her berth on board Peter
Duck was the snuggest place in the world for reading and writing and dreaming of the sea.
From such experiences she later was compelled to write her “Strong Winds” series of sailing
adventures. After being introduced to the River Deben at birth, she says she will forever remain
an unashamedly English East Coast sailor.