I’m never surprised by what detectorists retrieve from the ground, but here’s an unusual find and one that you don’t see often. Clinton White of St. Albans tells me that he was detecting in Hertfordshire woods with his Goldmaxx, finding lots of bullets, buttons and ring pulls when he came across this unusual item, a bosun’s call, sometimes referred to as a boatswain’s whistle or pipe.
The Bosun’s Call was once the only method other than the human voice of passing orders to men on board ship, and its high-pitched notes could even be heard in gale conditions. Today more sophisticated communications systems exist but the Royal Navy, always believers in tradition, still use the whistle as a mark of respect to pipe the Captain or special visitors on board. Nowadays it’s a badge of office and its use is essentially ceremonial.
The screw lock karabiner attached to the shackle on this example suggests a relatively modern date, but this is not necessarily so. The whistle itself looks much older and hasn’t got the look of the sort of sleek shiny replicas sold to sea scouts. What do you think?
The following battery example of a whistle from the Detectorists’ Database (also recorded with the PAS) still produces a vey loud call. Found by a detectorist in Lincolnshire, it is thought to be circa 16th century. This example is made from a sheet of silver, with a hollow spherical bulb and applied S-shaped handle.
As they were a symbol of status, base metal boatswain’s whistles were seen as worthless (Spencer, 1998, 107). This has led to their interpretation as toys or pilgrim souvenirs. A silver whistle with similar scrolling keep was found on the Mary Rose (Gardiner, 2005, 256 fig 7.18). Another similar example can be found on the PAS database: LON-8FC268. From the PAS Database
SOUND of the BOSUN’S CALL
For those interested in the sounds produced from the pipe and their meanings take a look and listen to Mate Wayne Stacey of SS Ship 198 Eagle Milton, Delaware LCDR USCG Ret. as he explains and demonstrates the four basic sounds. I can’t be sure that they are the same as those used in the British Navy. Although quite long, the demonstration is quite entertaining.
Adapted from a Blog first published in 2012