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Sunday, June 7, 2015

100 Years Ago ~ Sailors Drilling at the Norfolk Navy Yard

Blog #55.  June 7, 2015 by Marcus W. Robbins
Real picture post cards (RPPC) provide a most accurate window to look back upon events that happened in the past.  A naval shipyard is home to many ship building and repair actives but at the end of the day it’s also a place to care for the sailors that man and operate those same ships.

The ship that appears in portions of two of these RPPC’s is unidentified but could be the USS Virginia BB-13 or a similar battleship after modernization with the addition of the distinctive cage masts.  Based upon the fact that the USS Virginia BB-13 called the Norfolk Navy Yard home for most of its career I shall include a period photograph of same as an illustration of the sheer size of one the most powerful naval vessels in the world as it would have appeared about 100 years ago.
USS Virginia BB-13 underway (circa 1913)
(Courtesy of Library of Congress, image # npcc32728)
The following series of RPPC’s provide a look the north end of the Norfolk Navy Yard about 1915 based upon my review of station maps and the excellent views of the facilities that are shown in the background of these sailor’s everyday drill activities.  Every good drill needs a band and if you look to the left side of the below photo, there they are at the ready. Our group of sailors are standing in perfect formation with rifles at their sides, don’t they look happy?
Sailor Drill (view 1) Norfolk Navy Yard
(RPPC circa 1915, courtesy of Marcus W. Robbins)

Below is yet another group and now they are off to march. It appears that these sailors have been joined by a small group of Marines wearing much darker uniforms.  If only the two horses in the view could talk we would know so much more about that day’s activities.  As a point of reference this view is looking north as you can see the flagstaff in Trophy Park and both of the wireless telegraph structures (metal one in the park & earlier wooden one at east end of Building 51).  The brick structure is today’s Building 74 and the dome structure is the now demolished connection of the 1851 main entrance, today we know it as Gate 3.  The extreme elevation height of this photo indicates it was taken from a ship sitting in Wet Slip 1.
Sailor Drill (view 2) Norfolk Navy Yard
(RPPC circa 1915, courtesy of Marcus W. Robbins)
Our Sailors have now found their way to the clear space in front of Building 59, the then Boiler Shop that today houses our NAVFAC’s Transportation & Facilities Maintenance functions.  Also in the background is a rare image of Building 55, the Sheetmetal Shop (one story structure) before the fire that completely destroyed it on May 18, 1916.  Well it is time to put those rifles to good use and do some stretching exercises.  Note the band is in position and tunes are in the air. 
Sailor Drill (view 3) Norfolk Navy Yard
(RPPC circa 1915, courtesy of Marcus W. Robbins)
Again yet another view, most likely from the same day’s activities this time taken from the ship sitting along Berth 2 that is seen in two of the above photos.  In the view on the left is shown the Metal Bending Shed, Building 41. Across the center is the Black Smith Shop, Building 9 shown with the multiple skylights and a raised monitor roofline.  And if you look really close you will see the oldest building standing upon the yard to this day, Building 3.  This is a structure which I presently use as my Historian’s Office dating to about 1834 that is constructed on a foundation of left over Dry Dock 1 granite stone, in this view the brick chimney has not yet been removed.
Sailor Drill (view 4) Norfolk Navy Yard
(RPPC circa 1915, courtesy of Marcus W. Robbins)
From the days of wood and sail that transitioned to iron and steam and onward to today’s nuclear vessels we still live up to our motto – “Service To The Fleet” at the Norfolk Naval Shipyard.  It is here where we not only repair, alter and safely harbor ships of all types and sizes but we also take care of the sailors that man them.  When you are dealing with an institution that has served this nation for almost 250 years the waterfront is always changing.  It is when these sailors are ashore they must continue with drilling and training to keep their skills sharp and so was it over 100 years ago because – “history matters”.

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