Thursday, March 3, 2011

Artifact Spotlight: Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve Uniform Coat, 1946

---Joshua Howard, Curatorial Volunteer



CDR Cherry's RNVR coat

 Before the United States entered World War II, a group of twenty-two Americans, outraged by Nazi Germany's invasions in Europe, decided to join the British Royal Navy as the first American officers in the service.  Though this was forbidden by America’s Neutrality Act, these men risked everything to join a war that was not yet their own. While their counterparts in the Air Force have been written of extensively, little has been published on these Americans in the Royal Navy. This week’s artifact is a British uniform coat belonging to Commander Alex Cherry, an American serving in the Royal Navy Volunteer Reserve (RNVR).

CDR Alex Cherry, RNVR
 Alex Henry Cherry was thirty-eight-years old when he left his life as an extremely successful Wall Street investment banker behind and joined the British Royal Navy. He was both a very competent oceangoing yachtsman and a pilot, so the toss of a coin led to his choice of joining the sea service over the Royal Air Force. Cherry arrived in Britain in 1941 and trained at the Royal Naval College in Greenwich before obtaining his commission.  Commander Cherry served on a number of vessels throughout the war and was involved in many key engagements including the Invasion of Normandy.

This officer’s jacket dates to 1946 when Cherry served on the HMS Katherine. He wore the coat when he became an Officer in the Order of the British Empire, an award given to him in recognition to his devoted service to the Royal Navy as a foreign citizen. Commander Cherry also played an important role as a liaison between the US and Royal Navy during the war and later worked tirelessly to improve tactics and procedures for merchant shipping safety. The distinctive wavy sleeve braiding on the coat distinguished officers in the RNVR from their counterparts in the Royal Navy and Royal Navy Reserve who wore straight rings around their sleeves. This led to their service's nickname: "The Wavy Navy."

In 1951, Cherry wrote Yankee R.N., a book about his experiences in the Royal Navy. More recently, CDR Eric Dietrich-Berryman, USN (Ret.) has written Passport Not Required: U.S. Volunteers in the Royal Navy, 1939-1941 along with Charlotte Hammond, and R.E. White. This book chronicles the history of the twenty-two Americans that joined the Royal Navy and follows the men throughout their different theaters of operations. CDR Dietrich-Berryman recently visited the museum to discuss the book and donated Cherry's coat to the museum along with a set of documents associated with Cherry's career deposited in the Naval War College Archives.

Images courtesy of the Naval War College Museum

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