In early September of 1931, the British government made a decision to impose a ten percent across the board pay cut on all military personnel serving the Crown and that this reduction in pay would take place on October 1, 1931. (This did not include the British Indian Army or other semi-autonomous imperial forces locally raised and paid by the various colonies.) Each man in uniform would feel the pinch including officers and ratings in the Royal Navy. This would not have affected officers nearly as much as it would affect lower deck ratings whose pay at that time was only four shillings a day.
During 1970/71, the British reformed their monetary system. Instead of two-hundred forty pence to the pound they trimmed it down to one hundred pence to the pound and eliminated a multiplicity of coins including the shilling.
However, in 1930, under the old system, there were twenty shillings to the pound which was worth US $4.86 at that time so four shillings a day would have be worth US $0.97 cents. Cutting that by ten percent in 1930 would have reduced a sailor’s wage to US $0.87 cents a day.
So wrote Admiral of the Fleet Andrew Cunningham in his memoir, A Sailor’s Odyssey:
That is putting it mildly. The government tinkered with wages in the Royal Navy in such a foolish way that their decisions showed both a Cabinet and an Admiralty completely out of touch with their own sailors.
Ships of the Atlantic Fleet had begun to gather in the naval anchorage at Invergordon in Scotland for fall training maneuvers on September 11, 1931. The ratings called this “InverG”.
The Admiralty Fleet Order had gone out on Friday the 11th of September. No follow up was made to ensure the men on the spot received this important information before it was released to the press on Saturday, September 12th.
Since the Admiralty did not trouble itself to ensure it had up to the minute information of who was actually in command of the fleet, or even in command of different divisions of the Fleet, their communication about the pay decrease only reached a few ships by Saturday, September 12, 1931. Instead of being briefed by their officers, most of the men learned of the pay cuts from the Saturday newspapers. Incredibly, the Admiralty did not ascertain whether Admiral Tomkinson had received a copy of the order.
He had not received it since he was aboard his flagship, HMS Hood, which was only temporarily the flagship of the entire fleet given that Tomkinson was only in temporary command due to the illness of the fleet commander. HMS Nelson was the flagship of the Admiral commanding the Atlantic Fleet and the staff of the fleet remained on the HMS Nelson when their admiral was sent ashore for medical treatment. One can sense a certain petulance on the part of the Atlantic Fleet staff in their slowness to pass on vital information to Admiral Tomkinson. Only on Sunday night September 13, 1931 was the order brought to Tomkinson and he was astounded. He had never seen it before.
From a confidential report to Their Lordships of the Admiralty by Rear Admiral Tomkinson, who served as acting C-in-C Atlantic Fleet during the mutiny:
On arrival of Nelson I first became aware of the issue of Admiralty letter C.W. 8234 of 10th September, addressed to all Flag and Commanding Officers, stating the principles on which the reduction in pay had been based and explaining the views of Their Lordships.
[Source: The Cunningham Papers: Selections from the Private and Official Correspondence of Admiral of the Fleet Viscount Cunningham of Hyndhope : The…1939-1942 (Navy Records Society Publications). Images courtesy of The Imperial War Museum Website, Coinquest Website, Naval History & Heritage Command Website, and The Imperial War Museum Website.]