There remains a stereotypical image of Jack Tar as a man with loose morals who enjoyed himself ashore whenever he got the opportunity. Yet, how far this stereotype stands up has increasingly been questioned by historians. This article does not intend to join in this debate per se but rather to reflect on the stereotype through the spectrum of the First World War and, more importantly, examine what sailors thought by considering their diaries. It is important to remember that, although sailors are primarily considered as existing solely aboard ship, they also existed upon land and interacted with the ports that they visited. Again, this is not an in-depth analysis of all the factors relating to the Jack Tar stereotype and leave in general, but rather an insight into current research.
Shore leave represented a welcome break from disciplined life aboard British warships and the amount of leave granted had steadily increased between the last decades of the nineteenth century and the Great War. However, the declaration of war in August 1914 resulted in the cancellation of leave and lengthy periods spent aboard ship. This affected sailors whether stationed in home waters or across the empire and was a cause for much grievance amongst seamen. Sailors were evidently aware of the time between visits ashore and often recorded in their diaries how long it had been since they last had leave. It is therefore understandable that they occasionally let themselves go, sometimes with a bit too much gusto.
This brings us back neatly to the rowdy Jack Tar stereotype. Interestingly sailor diaries record an increase in the number of accidents when sailors who had been ashore returned to the ship. Although not specifically mentioned, it can be inferred that this was often the result of either drunkenness or ‘skylarking’. But what did Jack get up to ashore? Sadly how they spent their leave is not always well recorded. However, sailors did record in their diaries tales of run-ins with the police/authorities. Walter Dennis noted sailors being reprimanded for ‘interference with the Military Guard’, and looking at diaries from before the war it is apparent that this was not uncommon. Henry Baynham, however, has argued that much rested on residents’ attitudes and that they were less tolerant of ‘feeling[s] of high spirits ashore’.
However, bad behaviour could lead to undesired consequences which impacted on other sailors, not only aboard their own ship but also in harbour. Dennis recorded one such case where men from HMS Black Prince caused trouble outside the Governor of Gibraltar’s residence which resulted in shore leave being cancelled for all ships in port and the Black Prince being given orders to sail. Dennis was therefore naturally relieved when two weeks later ‘all night leave’ was granted and noted it was ‘much appreciated’. Nevertheless, after this, naval commanders were evidently at pains to try and calm crews before they went ashore and captains ‘advised everyone to uphold the reputation and the good name of the ship ashore.’
On the other hand, it is clear that not all sailors conformed to this stereotype and a number of diaries dispel the image of drunken sailors ashore, demonstrating the dangers of accepting stereotypes too readily. Edwin Fletcher’s diaries, for example, reveal that leave for him meant home to his wife and young daughter. He recorded: ‘I met my Darling Wife at Fratton, getting home about 6pm. I enjoyed myself immensely. Time seemed to fly…’ Similarly others such as Dennis do not record engaging in any drunken antics either, although their silence does not automatically mean they did not. Instead they recorded what happened to others ashore and are maybe simply reporting those that were causes celebres.
Therefore accepting the stereotype of Jack Tar, as with all stereotypes, is fraught with danger. Whilst some sailors evidently caused trouble ashore others did not and it would be grossly unfair to suggest the stereotype is accurate. Although this article has not had the time to consider the topic in-depth it can nevertheless be argued that these were men who lived a disciplined life afloat and needed time to experience some freedom. The war heightened this as opportunities for leave decreased and the stress of war took hold. It was crucial that sailors had some time to themselves to relax and have some fun; this was an important part of coping with life in the war-time navy. Living with the constant fear of death undoubtedly had an effect upon sailors. It is hardly surprising, therefore, that given the opportunity they enjoyed themselves as much as possible.
 For example See Mary A. Conley, From Jack Tar to Union Jack: Representing Naval Manhood in the British Empire, 1870-1918, (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2009); Christopher McKee, Sober Men and True: Sailor Lives in the Royal Navy, 1900-1945, (London: Harvard University Press, 2002).
 For more on this line of thought please see other contributions to the Port Towns and Urban Cultures project, in particular the work by Louise Moon.
 Henry Baynham, Men from the Dreadnoughts, (London: Hutchinson, 1976), 190.
 See for example, “Diary of Walter Dennis, 3 December 1914 and 28 February 1915.” Diary digitalized by McMaster University, Ontario Canada and available at http://pw20c.mcmaster.ca
 “Diary of Walter Dennis,” 8 September 1914.
 See for example RNM 1980/115: “Diary of Edwin Fletcher”, 9 January 1918; “Diary of Walter Dennis”, 8 September 1914.
 McKee, Sober Men and True; Baynham, Men, 191. One sailor who did discuss activities ashore is Stoker Robert Percival; Percival goes into detail about prostitution in Malta in 1912. See RNM 1988/294: “Memoirs of Robert Percival.”
 2Diary of Walter Dennis,” 19 November 1914. RNM 1976/65: “Diary of William Williams,” 26 June 1902.
 Baynham, Men, 192.
 “Diary of Walter Dennis,” 19 November 1914.
 “Diary of Walter Dennis,” 3 December 1914.
 “Diary of Walter Dennis,” 29 January 1915.
 RNM 1980/115: “Diary of Edwin Fletcher.”
 For further information on the effect of war on sailors please see Simon Smith, ‘An intimate history of… sailors, killing and death in the First World’, (April 2014).
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