Being an Island Nation, Britain’s sea defences have always been paramount and many of our ancestors have served amongst the ranks of the Royal Navy in defending her shores. A Bit of History The first recorded sea battle in British waters took place in 719 between factions of the Dalriata, the people who provided the rulers of modern-day Scotland. Over the years, many of the Kings had their own fleets but it was a rather hit and miss affair, with no formal sustained Navy. This was the case until Henry VIII created the first permanent administration for the Navy in 1546. Gradually, the Royal Navy grew in strength until, at the time of the Napoleonic Wars, numbers stood at over 150,000. From wooden hulled ships through to iron armour-plating, our ancestors served on many different types of ships. Were yours amongst the last to fire canons from the decks or were they one of the first to serve on board a submarine? I am sure that there is a fascinating story just waiting to be told. Navy Ranks Whatever your ancestor did in the Royal Navy, understanding the rank in which they served will help. The ranks have changed somewhat over history and you will need to bear this in mind when researching. Crew from the Napoleonic Era Admiral Captain Lieutenant Midshipman Purser Bosun’s Mate Cook Carpenter Sailor Cabin Boy Today’s Ranks Officers Admiral of the Fleet Admiral Vice Admiral Rear Admiral Commodore Captain Commander Lieutenant-Commander Lieutenant Sub-Lieutenant Other Ranks Warrant Officer Chief Petty Officer Petty Officer Leading Hand Rating Whilst some records are held on various pay per view websites, the National Archives at Kew hold Royal Navy ratings' service records from 1853 to1923. They also hold Royal Navy officers' service record cards and files from about 1840 to 1920 as well as the service records from 1756 to 1931 for Navy officers.For the service records of those who served in the Second World War, you will need to visit the Veterans Agency website and download the appropriate forms. Their Guidance about how to do this can be found here.