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Daniel Owen Spence
in Colonial naval culture and British imperialism, 1922–67
Daniel Owen Spence

As early as 1902, the same year as the Anglo-Japanese naval treaty, military authorities in Malaya pressed for the creation of locally-recruited volunteer units. The Straits Settlements Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve (SSRNVR) was established in Singapore on 20 April 1934. The SSRNVR's discriminatory recruitment policy was criticised by the Eurasian community, who highlighted the issue in its campaign for political and social rights. The Admiralty discussed reconstituting the Malayan Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve (MRNVR) with the Malay ratings in Ceylon for the re-occupation of Malaya. The Royal Malayan Navy's (RMN) amateur roots as volunteer reserves undermined its attempts to professionalise the service, with the incompetence of retired and reserve British officers undermining the Navy's efficiency and Britain's prestige. This loss of respect, and the Malaysian Government's desire to assert its post-colonial autonomy, led it to forge a closer naval relationship with Australia at the expense of British hegemony.

in Colonial naval culture and British imperialism, 1922–67
Abstract only
Daniel Owen Spence
in Colonial naval culture and British imperialism, 1922–67
Abstract only
Daniel Owen Spence

The political, economic and strategic pressures of the interwar years forced serious discussion regarding Hong Kong's naval defence. The outbreak of war with Germany, followed by the occupation of the New Territories' border region by Japanese troops, increased local tensions and led to the partial mobilisation of the Hong Kong Royal Naval Volunteer Reserve (HKRNVR). By drawing Hong Kong's Chinese sentimentally closer to Britain through celebration of the Navy, they might be turned away from sympathies across the border that could politically and socially threaten British colonial rule. For the naval authorities, it was 'unheard of for a commander to prejudice the safety of his ships to save two Chinese, however distinguished', and thus the Motor Torpedo Boats (MTBs) left the rendezvous point before Admiral Chan Chak had arrived, forcing the one-legged Admiral to catch up overland.

in Colonial naval culture and British imperialism, 1922–67
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Daniel Owen Spence

The initial defeat of Britain by an Asian power in the Second World War marked a shift in China's attitudes towards British power, compounded by their own elevation in the post-war international system to one of the Big Five. British politicians 'remained acutely conscious of Hong Kong's vulnerability throughout the 1950s' and of the strategic reality that if China really 'wanted the return of Hong Kong then British rule was untenable'. Unlike the Hong Kong Regiment, which was an entirely local defence force, the Hong Kong Royal Naval Reserve (HKRNR) 'was liable to serve in any part of the world in the event of hostilities', with its personnel incorporated into the Royal Navy. A key justification for Hong Kong's naval force framed it within the discourse of the 'civilising mission' and empire development, emphasising the moral and social improvement that paternalistic Royal Navy instruction could bring to the colony's population.

in Colonial naval culture and British imperialism, 1922–67
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Daniel Owen Spence

Colonial naval forces were seen as an important step in fostering regional cooperation. The metropole-colonial dynamic was inverted, with the Navy dependent upon the local legislatures holding the purse strings and power to support or veto its schemes. Welfare provisions were intended to morally and materially improve the lives of colonial sailors and their families. 'Progress' under naval instruction reinforced the notion of a 'civilising mission', where colonial peoples still required Britain's paternal guidance before they were considered 'developed' enough to govern themselves, politically and militarily. Seafaring race theory served to divide and rule, legitimising the exclusion of groups seen as threatening to British authority within this racial ordering, such as Chinese and Eurasians in Southeast Asia, whilst buttressing colonial collaborators. Ultimately, for the British authorities the perceived imperial loyalty of colonial naval recruits was considered more important than any seafaring ability they might possess, inherent or otherwise.

in Colonial naval culture and British imperialism, 1922–67