Royal Navy riddle surrounds ceremonial sword

Peter Mallett, Staff Writer — A retired naval commander continues his quest to unlock the mystery surrounding a 100-year-old Royal Navy (RN) ceremonial sword in his family’s possession.

Commander (ret’d) Tim Addison, Vice President of the Naval Association of Canada, says the sword belonged to RN admiralty at one point.

“The sword represents 60 years of consecutive service in the Royal Canadian Navy (RCN) for myself and my father,” says the 68-year-old Ottawa resident. “The fact that we both carried it on parade at various times during our careers makes it especially cherished for me.”

Addison was born in Victoria, and served in the RCN from 1972 to 2006 as a ship’s navigator, training officer, squadron staff officer and then Executive Officer of HMCS Huron and HMCS Toronto. He also worked at National Defence Headquarters.

His curiosity surrounding the story of the sword began to mount long before his 34-year naval career ended.

“It’s both the history of the sword and the mystery of its original ownership that I find most intriguing,” Addison says. “Most records, to my knowledge, for the sale of swords made before the Second World War literally went up in smoke [during the Battle of Britain bombings], so I can’t figure out who owned it.”

Lieutenant-Commander (LCdr) (ret’d) Herb T. Addison, Tim’s father, passed the sword down following retirement as LCdr in 1975. Herb served in the RCN starting in 1946 and held posts as Executive Officer of HMCS Jonquiere and HMCS New Glasgow. He passed away in 2002.

Herb had purchased the sword from a junior RN officer for £15 (CAD$25) sometime between 1947 and 1950 as he attended officer training courses in the United Kingdom. The RN officer was the son of a RN Admiral who served in the Second World War.

1989 Fleet School

1989 Fleet School

“The sword is now an Addison family heirloom,” said Tim. “I’d love to find out who the original first owner was, what their history in the RN was and what places the sword has been carried on in parade or ceremonial occasions.”

The details about the young naval officer are scant. Addison confirmed with an antique sword website operator that the sword was made between 1917 and 1919 based on its serial number. He remains hopeful about unlocking more details.

Addison has other naval keepsakes from his father with known origins, such as a midshipman’s journal kept by his father during a voyage in 1947-1948 during his time aboard HMS Norfolk in the Asia-Pacific region. The journal includes handwritten notes of life at sea, diagrams, navigational plans, sketches of shipboard equipment, and mention of an onboard visit by Lord Louis Mountbatten who served as Viceroy and Governor General of India.

Other items include: several photos; pamphlets from foreign port visits; a mess kit that once belonged to Vice-Admiral Charles Morris Winton Thomas, a former Commander of the Canadian Navy; cloth ship crests; a commemorative edition of Maritime Warfare Bulletins; Fleet School documents; and several decades’ old back issues of the Lookout and the Trident newspapers.

Addison says he is currently searching for a museum that will accept some items as donations.

The sword is in excellent condition.

A stainless steel curved blade with a King’s crown indicates it was manufactured in the early 20th century. It has a brass hilt, serial number stamped on the blade’s edge, with a leather carrying case and black leather sword belt, distinguished by an Admiral’s belt buckle.

The owner’s  late father, Herb Addison, served 29 years in the Royal Canadian Navy and had the name ‘H Addison’ engraved on the inside of the hilt.

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