The Sentinels of Britain
: Royal Navy Destroyers, British Identity, Culture and Civic Celebration, 1895-1945

  • Jayne Louise Friend

    Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


    Destroyers are described by the Royal Navy today as the ‘backbone’ of the service.1 Since their inception they have performed some of the most valuable operational roles and have stood as symbols for the fortitude and ingenuity which characterise the Royal Navy. To this end, this thesis examines the importance of Royal Navy destroyers as symbolic vessels within British culture, society and identity. It is important to understand not only how and why the ship gained this emblematic status, but to consider the nature and extent of the influence this has had upon wider culture and society. This thesis argues that the destroyer evolved to become a symbol of naval power, heroism, innovation, and an agent of naval omnipresence in a continued culture of naval pageantry which negotiated the complex relationship between Britain and its navy. This thesis also looks beyond the symbolic significance of the destroyer alone to argue that naval symbolism played a significant role in enhancing civic culture and localised naval theatre, especially during the interwar period and Second World War.
    This thesis offers a unique view of the importance of naval ships within the far-reaching contexts of British culture, identity formation and naval pageantry, going beyond previous studies of such contexts to consider the destroyer as uniquely indicative of the bond between Britain and the Royal Navy. This is a timely study which in light of publications such as Jan Rüger’s The Great Naval Game which illustrates growing scholarly interest in the important relationship between the Royal Navy, British culture and society.2 More recently, A New Naval History affirms that naval, social and cultural histories should be examined as inseparable threads in a firmly woven national story.3 This thesis sits amidst this growing body of cross-historiographical work such as that brought together by James Davey and Quintin Colville, which demonstrates, ‘singly and collectively, the active and purposeful ways in which the navy has been fashioned for wider consumption.’4 Consequently, this study of destroyers reaches beyond the traditional contexts of strategy and conflict, viewing the destroyer as a tool within ‘the broader cultural arena’ which was ‘intrinsically linked to questions of power and the function of the fleet.’5
    1, Accessed on 16th April 2022.
    2 Jan Rüger, The Great Naval Game: Britain and Germany in the Age of Empire. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007).
    3 Quintin Colville and James Davey (Eds.). A New Naval History. Cultural History of Modern War. (Manchester University Press, 2019).
    4 Colville, and Davey. Ed. A New Naval History, p.11.
    5 Colville and Davey. Ed. A New Naval History, p.234.
    Date of Award7 Sept 2023
    Original languageEnglish
    Awarding Institution
    • University of Portsmouth
    SupervisorRobert James (Supervisor), Brad Beaven (Supervisor) & Mathias Seiter (Supervisor)

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