About Navy List Research
On leaving the Royal Navy in 1988, Lieutenant-Commander Mike Coombes spent the ensuing 15 years as the Chief Executive (then titled Secretary and Treasurer) of the Association of Royal Navy Officers - service for which he was honoured to receive an OBE in 2003.
It was in this capacity that the number of enquiries for details of officers' careers highlighted the need for a more efficient research facility than the printed Navy Lists themselves.
The last 125 years' Navy Lists were held in ARNO's office, but in order to trace an officer's career it was necessary to look in every List over the period of his or her service, and in order to establish forenames, specialization, decorations and post-nominals, in each List to find the officer's seniority in the alphabetical listing, and then to look in the seniority lists in another part of the book in seniority date order, to find the further information on the officer concerned. Many of the older Navy Lists listed officers with their forenames first and the surnames were not therefore in line, so the task was both tedious and time consuming, and it was still not possible to establish all officers serving in the same ship in the same year without going through the entire book page by page.
It was therefore on his retirement in 2003 that Mike set about creating a database of Navy List information, at that time with a view to making it available as a CD. He acquired his own copies of Navy Lists through e-bay and booksellers, and with very supportive and much appreciated contributions from ARNO and the RNBSO, he now has Navy Lists and Retired Lists covering over 200 years.
However, it soon became apparent that Crown Copyright costs for CD production would involve many thousand pounds expenditure, and that this would render the cost of a CD prohibitively expensive, when it had been his intention to provide a self financing but affordable facility to be of benefit to the Royal Navy officer community.
The project was nearly abandoned, but before doing so Mike asked the Crown Copyright agents if copyright fees would be due if he researched questions on Navy List information using the database he had created as a tool for doing so, and he received the response that 'it would not be a breach of copyright to set up your own website and answer peoples requests by the use of your database - in fact I marvel at your lateral thinking and ingenuity!"
It therefore became possible for database research to be conducted at an affordable cost,
which he hopes will allow him to recover the initial production costs amounting to over £1,000 and expenditure - already nearly £3,000 - for purchase of older editions: his work on the website comes free of charge!
The facility was launched in late August 2008 when 26 years' serving officer Navy Lists were included, and now includes 43 years. It is Mike's intention to continue to update the database to include each current year, and further historic years without increase in the annual cost of £6, providing the facility is sufficiently well supported.
In addition to access to the database, subscribers may also request manual research by e-mail into the Navy List volumes not yet on line. The possibility of making all the Navy Lists over 50 years old which are held available for perusal on line is being investigated: those under 50 years old and not yet included in the database would attract a prohibitive copyright fee.
In February 2012 one click links to view some 120 digitally copied Navy Lists available online from various sources (acknowledged in this website) for years not covered by copyright was given.
Mike considers that he was fortunate to make contact with Adam Sheik of Celerity Design, who has wide experience in complicated database design and application - notably a leading website interpreting in Chinese characters. Adam's pride in the speed of research (the bottom right hand corner of any research page indicates the microseconds each search has taken), his painstaking attention to detail and attention to the particular requirements and details of the unique role which it is hoped the website will fill, has been a very great asset.
The website was launched in August 2008, and at the end of its third year is in daily use by many individuals and organisations.
Some comments from those who have taken advantage of the manual research facility follow:
Sept 2009: "I have now spent a fascinating couple of hours checking up on many names from the past. This really is an ingenious website, which I shall be drawing to the attention of any of my ex-Navy friends who may not have heard of it. I do congratulate you on a superb initiative and wish it every success."
Sept 2009: "My deepest thanks. It would take too long to explain the need and importance to us but be assured the information has helped a lot"
Oct 2009: ""Long time no see or hear" - now I can see why. My goodness you have been busy, this is a fantastic asset with colossal research put into it. Really well done!"
Oct 2009: "Many thanks for the prompt reply"
Oct 2009: "That's a fantastic amount of data so quickly. You've prompted many new lines of enquiry..."
Oct 2009: "Thank you for the swift response"
Oct 2009: "Thank you so much for all that information, much appreciated indeed."
Oct 2009: "Thank you very much for this. It is just what I hoped for, and I am most grateful that you responded so quickly."
Oct 2009: "Many thanks for your very speedy reply to my request"
Oct 2009: "Well, it's simply a fact that the work you are doing is prodigious, and I'm sure that people will be truly appreciative, even if they only gradually come to realize the tremendous amount of dedicated application needed to compile such a work. The Scots say, "Facts are chiels that winna ding" - you can't get away from the facts; or, as it applies in your case, the work you are producing speaks for itself."
Oct 2009: "Really appreciate the site, thank you"
Nov 2009: "thank you very much for the swift reply and for the information"
Nov 2009: "Thanks very much for your prompt response and the information"
Nov 2009: "Thank you so much for your research. This will really help."
Jan 2010: "This is completely brilliant, thank you so much - I would never have got it... This is such a delight to have got this information, I am very much in your debt"
Jan 2010: "Thanks Mike for your speedy response and for your answer."
Jan 2010: "Many thanks ... That is immensely kind of you."
Jan 2010: "Once again, I am very much indebted to you. This is all a tremendous help."
Jan 2010: "Many thanks. This is very good and fully meets my requirements and all your effort is very much appreciated."
Feb 2010: "Thank you very much for this. It is just what I hoped for, and I am most grateful that you responded so quickly."
Feb 2010: "Thank you for your prompt replies, they have been very useful."
Feb 2010: "Thanks that"s great information"
Feb 2010: "thank you for the response and I greatly appreciate your research."
April 2010: "Many thanks for your hard work in obtaining this information.I was quite taken aback when I first saw it and I am still trying to get to grips with it."
April 2010: ".... am most grateful for your help .... and very impressed with your system."
May 2010: "Great stuff. What a useful resource, which in this case is 99% Coombes powered."
May 2010: "What a fantastic resource this is. Lately I have used it for a number of different purposes and found it very helpful."
May 2010: "This is above and beyond the call of duty! Thank you very much indeed, this gives me just what I want."
May 2010: "Many thanks Mike. Excellent. Just ideal. Very grateful for all this help"
July 2010: "Your Navy List Research is a superb service and I find it hugely useful."
August 2010: "There is something very reassuring and familiar about your efficiency. I very much appreciate your help"
August 2010: "Many thanks. What a great resource."
August 2010: "By the way - I'm very impressed to see the navy list online. I goOgled in hope, rather than confidence! Well done."
August 2010: "That is excellent. I am delighted! We will now be able to complete the ......."
December 2010: "Thank you, very much. That was a good deal more than I expected, and much more (and a far more rapid response) than my small fee deserved!"
February 2011: "Your wonderful work continues. It will be a terrific memorial to you when you have gone, ... "
February 2011: "Last night I subscribed and spent a few hours enjoyably trawling the dats for ex naval colleagues"
April 2011: "Many thanks for you prompt and useful reply. It has filled a gap in my records. Once again, may I say how much I appreciate your work"
April 2011: "Fantastic, thanks so much Mike ..... You're a star!"
June 2011: "Thank you for you speedy and thoughtful response"
June 2011: "A huge thank you, what a fantastic service"
July 2011: " ... that is brilliant, and a very fast and efficient service"
August 2011: "Thank you so much for your quick response. That explains why ...... . Your information was very helpful, much appreciated."
August 2011: "Mike - what can I say - you are a gem and I really do greatly appreciate your assistance" "Brilliant - thanks so much"
August 2011: "Thank you for providing such a great database. ..... your site has helped tremendously in my work."
August 2011: " ... thank you for the terrific effort you did on my behalf."
November 2011: "Great work and so quick!! Thanks very much. ..... (she) ... will be delighted with the information you have provided".
December 2011: "Thanks A million Mike, that was very kind of you. .... I really appreciate your interest"
January 2012: "Thank you so much Mike! :) Great information, really appreciate your help! I really appreciate all the effort you have put in for me "
February 2012: "Excellent work. The new lists will be immensely useful"
February 2012: "Iím delighted to see the scans of old NL becoming available."
February 2012: " Wow, How very kind of you to have produced the information re ....... . You have also introduced me to several very useful web sites which I had not come across before. Really appreciate all the work you have done."
February 2012: "Thank you very much for your email and your excellent website....really unusual but effective search facility.
March 2012: "I cant thank you enough for your prompt reply and the information provided. Its great."
March 2012: "I cannot thank you enough, this is so much more than I could have hoped for, and .......... will be delighted. Thank you so much for your help and for the very professional way you dealt with my request."
April 2012: "What a brilliant rapid response - many thanks indeed"
May 2012: "Thank you - Your site & service is in my opion the premier first option for Naval Officer research!!!!"
August 2012: "Superb many thanks ....... extend her gratitude and thanks. She was very impressed with the level of detail that you compiled"
August 2012: "SUPER!! Thanks your a star! ....... fantastic work thankyou so much!!!"
October 2012: "Nice one Mike and well done. A great credit to you. At the price you charge for membership, it is more than value for money, and I am prepared for an up-rating in 2013, whatever it might [and should] be." "I am not only impressed and delighted with your speedy response, but also very grateful. Many thanks indeed."
October 2012: "Thank you so much. What a great, efficient service."
October 2012: "Many thanks indeed for your splendid research and work. Very much appreciated and a great help to me."
December 2012: "Mike - this is excellent ..... I wish I had known about this site before, it will be a great help"
January 2013: "Thanks for your interesting and informative replies and attachments"
February 2013: "Thanks so much for that - really appreciated and unexpected - I hope there's an element of a labour of love in it for you. I expect so - you sure wouldn't be doing it for the money!"
The following sources of information are acknowledged with thanks:
- The Navy Lists ISBN 978 0 11 774070 O
- The Navy Lists of Retired Officers together with Emergency List ISBN 0 11 773005 X
- The Broadsheet published by the Royal Navy on behalf of the Ministry of Defence (Annual ship and Naval Air Squadron information)
- The Squadrons of the Fleet Air Arm by Ray Sturtevant and Theo Ballance ISBN 0-85130-223-8
- Ships of the Royal Navy by J J Colledge and Ben Warlow ISBN 978-1-86176-281-8
- Lt Cdr Laurence of Mar for kindly monitoring information on officer deaths announced in the press, and The Association of Royal Navy Officers, the Fleet Air Arm Officers' Association, and Navy News from which similar information is obtained.
- World War II Unit Histories and Officers
- The Internet Archives Wayback Machine library
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