Invergordon Mutiny of the Royal Navy – Part 8

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Crew swabbing deck of battleship HMS Rodney, 1940. The wooden deck would have been made of teak which does not splinter when hit by shell fire. Swabbing the decks would have been a morning ritual on all Royal Navy ships of the era. HMS Rodney, sister ship of HMS Nelson, was only one of two Royal Navy battleships commissioned between 1922 and 1940.

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.

One British shilling issued 1927. The Latin inscriptions on the front and back translate roughly as “George V by the Grace of God, King of Great Britain and Emperor of India.”

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:

…there is no denying that the whole business of reducing the pay was sadly mishandled and mistimed.

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.

Royal Navy battlecruiser HMS Hood circa 1932. Flagship of Admiral Tomkinson, Commanding the Battle Cruiser Squadron of the Atlantic Fleet, who became temporary commander of the entire Atlantic Fleet during the Invergordon Mutiny.

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.

Battleship HMS Nelson off Spithead in 1937 for the coronation review for King George VI. (He was the British monarch whose story is told in “The King’s Speech”.) He had taken the throne after his older brother, Edward VIII, had abdicated to be with that awful woman, Wallis Simpson. George VI had served in the Royal Navy and had been a turret officer aboard HMS Collingwood at the Battle of Jutland (31 May – 1 June 1916) and was the only English monarch to have been under enemy fire since George II had led his troops at Battle of Dettingen in 1743 during the War of the Austrian Succession.

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:

HMS Nelson (Captain FB Watson, DSO) arrived at Invergordon on the evening of(Sunday) 13th September. (1931)

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.]

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Charles McCain

Charles McCain is a Washington DC based freelance journalist and novelist. He is the author of "An Honorable German," a World War Two naval epic. You can read more of his work on his website: http://charlesmccain.com/

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