Coastguard Drill

HMS Alexandra appears to have been in reserve until shortly prior to this date. She was commissioned at Devonport on the 7 March and was to sail to Portland the following week to replace the Northumberland as the Flagship of the Naval Reserve Squadron, but some defects were found which delayed her sailing.

The Alexandra would also appear to be a Headquarters ship for the Coastguard, with Chief Coastguard Officers being appointed to her when serving in charge of units along the coast.

The Times of 4 Apr 1891 reports that she was sighted off Prawle Point, Devon, presumably en route from Devonport to Portland.

When coastguards were sent to their HQ ship for training, it was more of a refresher course on what life was like in the Navy ie dusting up on their professional skills. Being in the coastguard they were often tucked away in some sleepy hollow along the coast, following their own specific routines of coast watching, exercising with life saving equipment, communicating with ships out at sea, maybe cruising their area of coastline etc.

Coastguards were treated by the Admiralty as a reserve force, in the event of an emergency. They were brought in for training every so often to exercise on the big guns on board ship; to refresh their drill with the rifle and sabre/sword; and when at Portland to go ashore to the rifle range; to carry out boat drills and all the 101 other things that makes up a seaman's life, and maybe using one of the coastguard cruisers, making a ship ready for sea, mooring and unmooring a ship and taking her to sea and so forth.

Paul Benyon


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