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Last Day of the Tiffi es


NDERSON, Arnold, Bradley, Brookes, Carter, Charles, Chilton, Daniels, Dewis, Diggle, Dodd, Doherty, Doyle, Everson, Farebrother, Harding, Haywood, Huntrods, Jeffrey, Joliffe, Kerton, King, Marper, McColl, Mckenna, Newman, Newton, Peggs, Priestley, Rainey, Richardson, Robertson, Saunders, Scott, Shepherd, Silcox, Slack, Turnbull, Upton, Willcocks, Wollaston.

If it sounds like a class register, it’s because it is. A unique one.

engineering artificers – tiffs or tiffies in everyday Jackspeak – to pass out of training and into the Fleet. On a bitingly-cold February day on the parade ground of HMS Sultan, these 41 junior and senior ratings marched past guest of honour Vice Admiral Andrew Mathews, Chief of Material Fleet. But they were not the only tiffs on parade on this historic occasion. Bringing up the rear, wrapped up

It is the last class of marine

ever with ships such as the incredibly- complex Type 45s.” WO1 Woods added: “An artificer’s someone who can look at a problem and come up with a solution to sort it out. And that remit won’t change with the ETs.” Among the engineers to benefit from his expertise is LMEA Fred King, one of those final 41 artificers, who’s completed two and a half years of training. It required brain and brawn: the final test was to design, then build, a folding bicycle. “There’s a lot of mathematics – up

warmly in all manner of coats and hats, a good three dozen veteran tiffies carried out the order ‘eyes right’ to a man (and bear – more about him later...) as they passed the dais. They received a standing ovation

● Last of the old breed... Vice Admiral Andrew Mathews inspects the fi nal class of artifi cers to join the Royal Navy

from friends and families of today’s generation of marine engineers, among them WO1 Pete Woods, a tiff for 27 years and the senior instructor on the final course; around 3,000 artificers have passed through Sultan during his five years at the establishment. “It’s a poignant day for me,” he

said. “I’m fiercely proud of being a tiff.”

Indeed he is. You’ll find few more passionate advocates of the artificer, past or present. “We go back to Cain in the Bible,

God’s artificer,” he proclaimed. Well, not quite... More accurately,

the days of the ironclad. The growing mechanisation of the

● Veteran artifi cers march past Vice Admiral Mathews on the Sultan dais while (below) an Old Caledonian proudly holds on to the association mascot, Ted the Tiddly Tiff

Pictures: LA(Phot) Darby Allen, HMS Sultan

Royal Navy in the 1860s prompted the Admiralty to create a branch of engine room artificers – ERAs. The branch was given added impetus by Jacky Fisher in 1903; perturbed that the RN might be surpassed technologically by other navies – especially the Germans – the First Sea Lord introduced training for boy artificers which would be “second to none” at Chatham, Plymouth and Portsmouth, the latter housed in a collection of Victorian hulks in the harbour – HMS Fisgard. The renewed threat from Germany a generation later demanded a fresh breed of tiffs.

to Chatham and Torpoint with the later addition of HMS Caledonia at Rosyth. Each year 15-year-olds were selected by examination to join up in the engine room, electrical or ordnance – and from 1938, air – categories.


have been trained at HMS Sultan in Gosport. It embraced them as other establishments had done. “There’s something special about

Caledonia and Fisgard have long gone; since 1983 artificers

a tiff. They are masters of their craft. They are held in high regard because of their skills, their knowledge,” said Capt Graham Watts, Captain RN School of Marine Engineering. “When you’re 1,000 miles from

shore, these are the guys you rely on.”

Which, of course, begs the question: wherefore the demise of the tiff? Well, today senior RN engineers

believe the title artificer – ‘a skilled craftsman’ or ‘Serviceman skilled in mechanics’ in the words of a dictionary – no longer accurately reflects the work of a 21st-Century marine engineer.

Engineering Technicians (Marine Engineering) – ET(ME). “We are not throwing the artificer’s

In the place of tiffs stand the

skills away,” Capt Watts stressed. “These are skills we need, more than

In the ’30s training was transferred

to degree level, but it’s also a very physical course, taking apart diesel engines, working with pistons, high- pressure air systems, gas turbines. If you don’t work hard, you won’t pass,” he said. “It’s a shame that there’s no-one to continue the artificer name, but we’re moving on to better things.” That is something ex-tiffies also

acknowledge. They shed a tear at the demise of the branch, but realise that the name might vanish, but not the skills and attitude for which the artificer – the ‘think-do men’ as former First Sea Lord Admiral Sir Michael Le Fanu called them – are renowned. “I don’t see this as the end of an

era,” said Rear Admiral John Burgess, who joined HMS Caledonia in early 1945 as a boy artificer. “When you get to sea, the job is still the same. You still have to face up to the same challenges.

the day, a Type 45 is still a tin can on the ocean and you still look to your artificers – or ETs – to put things right.” Still,

“At the end of

guard couldn’t let 142 years of Royal Navy tradition pass into history with a fitting send-off. “It was a very sad and historic occasion for us, who literally held the Fleet together for over a hundred years,”


the old

● The art of being a tiff... Some examples of artifi cer humour down the years from the HMS Caledonia magazine and (left) a 1937 cigarette card champions the work of the electrical artifi cer

Images courtesy of Lt Rocky Valvona, HMS Sultan,

of the Old Caledonia Artificer Apprentices Association (he’s Series 20, Grenville Division for the record...).

said Gil historian

Gil Harding’s HMS Caledonia Story: The Apprentices’

Story 1937-1985 and OCAAA.

ERA’s lament, then watched his comrades march past... complete with bear. Ted the Tiddly Tiff is the smallest, (possibly) furriest and arguably most travelled artificer on the planet. The mascot of the Old Caledonians,

he wears the uniform of a fifth-class tiff, circa 1939. Ted globetrots with his shipmates as far afield as Australia, New Zealand, Hong Kong and the USA, sends postcards from his trips and is, we’re told, “very popular with the ladies”... ■ THE passing of the tiffs has been marked by artist Andrew Wing in his inimitable silhouette style (at the top of the page if you hadn’t guessed already...). Copies of ‘End of an ERA’ were presented to the last class to pass out of Sultan. Mounted copies are available from Stoke Gallery, 175-177 Stoke Road, Gosport, for £26.50 and framed copies for £36.

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