When I first found this article about new craze for canaries among sailors on the flagship of the Atlantic fleet, the Nelson, in 1929 I only gave it a quick scan until this passage caught my eye;
“Parrots are the proverbial pets of seamen ; but a genuine craze for canaries — costing 6/ with cage – developed suddenly among the men, and led to a difficulty when target practice was arranged”
I then had to go back and read it properly in case I was missing something. Were the sailors fine tuning their big guns by target shooting canaries? That is either real dedication to their craft or massed animal cruelty.
Fortunately I was wrong on both counts. When I read the story properly it turns out that so many of the sailors had been infected by the canary craze while in Malta and Gibraltar that the ship had become home to around 700 of them. The problem with target practice was that the guns were so loud, and their use caused such a shock through the ship, that the welfare of the canaries was a problem.
To avoid having 700 canaries frightened to death the birds were relocated to lower parts of the ship. When the guns were to be fired over their sanctuary the birds were again moved, this time to the messes.
I expect that ‘messes’ would have been an accurate description of those eating compartments once the birds were again moved on, don’t you?
I wondered what the commanders thought of this time-consuming craze? I can’t imagine that moving 700 bird cages in the confines of a large ship would be something that could be done with too much haste can you?
Not only that, I wonder how 700 birds of varying shades of yellow were kept track of by their owners? Can you imagine the fighting! Canaries are quite tuneful birds but we say Canary Yellow for a reason. I’m seeing name tags. Lots and lots of name tags…..