Fighting Spirits — Three Centuries of Rum in the Royal Navy

Military History Now

Friday July 31, 1970 was a day of mourning for Britain’s sailors. Ceremonies featuring solemn memorials, drums and pipers, black armbands and flag-drapped coffins took place on every ship in the service. The mood was certainly sober…  and in more ways than one. Forever known on Her Majesty’s ships as Black Friday, it was the date that marked the end of the official navy rum ration. And with it went more than 300 years of navy tradition.

In the age of Lord Nelson, the ships of the Royal Navy were powered by the wind… but the sailors ran on rum.

Twice daily, the entire crew of British warships would muster on deck to collect their prized rum ration. Typically, a full half pint was doled out to every tar on board – a portion of that amount at mid-day, the balance at sunset. But on special occasions or after a…

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