Royal Navy sailors are no stranger to tradition with a rich history of customs to draw from but the morale-boosting time-out on a beach known as ‘Banyans’ is one many a crew looks forward to.
Naval traditions like Banyans have evolved over time and many had their origins in rituals that began long before the founding of the professional Navy in 1660.
Customs range from the formal, ceremonial to the social, and include everything from forms of saluting to sporting activities which the Royal Navy considers an essential part of what makes the service unique.
There are too many naval traditions to mention in one report but they range from board games such as Uckers and on-deck team games like Bucketball, to rum rations and splicing the mainbrace, to customs like why the chef was traditionally the only crew member allowed to whistle on board ship, otherwise it was seen as a sign of mutiny. The chef, however, could whistle as it showed he was not chewing the food.
Banyans is one of those many traditions that has not only been practiced by crews of the Royal Navy but navies of countries such as the US, Australia and Canada too.
What Is Banyans?
Banyans is a time for the crews of Royal Navy ships to enjoy some downtime during long deployments at sea – with a short stop off at one of the countless locations to which naval ships sail as they maintain Britain’s defence and represent the nation overseas.
A Banyan or Banyan Party, is a barbecue or picnic party, often with steaks and other refreshments, which tends to take place on a remote beach or other relaxing location.
The ship will anchor and a party of sailors would be sent by boat to a beach, say, where they set up a barbecue, enjoy some fun times and play sports and other games on the sand.
Commodore (Ret'd) Alistair Halliday, who was in command of three ships including HMS Campbeltown, HMS Manchester and HMS Bridport from 1995 to 2001 and is now CEO of the Forces Employment Charity RFEA following a Royal Navy career, said he and the crews took part in many Banyans, adding:
“We would take in several barbecues made from barrels cut in half. Loads of food. Usually played some sport - football or beach volleyball, possibly some singing too.”
Some notable Banyans have included the crew of HMS Hermes, which anchored off Virgin Gorda in the British Virgin Islands in 1981 while some of her crew went ashore via an LCVP landing craft. However, the crew had to cut the barbecue party short because the wind got up and the crew members were taken back on board by Sea King helicopter.
The crew of HMS Fearless held a Banyan party off the Virgin Islands in 1978 and off the Sokho Islands in 1986, while HMS Glasgow held a Banyan in the Caribbean in 1987 and HMS Birmingham went ashore in the Gulf in 1993, to name a few of the memorable moments for Royal Navy crews over the years.
What Is The History Of Banyans?
The tradition is thought to date back to the 18th Century when, rather than an act of celebration involving parties and barbecues, it instead had its roots in rationing.
In the reign of Queen Elizabeth I, meat was not in bountiful supply to Royal Navy ships, so sailors were denied meat on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, perhaps to spread supplies out.
These were known as Banyan, or Banian, days – with the word thought to derive from a garment worn by a sect in India that neither kills nor eats meat.
That practice evolved over time, with sailors making the most of the meat they did get in the form of a celebration, and a Banyan in modern times often involves meat, particularly steaks, on a barbecue as part of the tradition.