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A report on the Invergordon Mutiny, 1931

Posted by Neil Jackson, on September 16th, 2021

This month marks 90 years since the Invergordon Mutiny of 1931, when pay cuts forced upon the Board of Admiralty resulted in what was effectively industrial action by sailors of the Atlantic Fleet. The Members’ Blog is commemorating this event by delving into the archives to bring to light accounts of similar of mutiny throughout the history of the Royal Navy.

Extracts from a report written the day after the mutiny occurred provide an example of what took place in the ships gathered in the anchorage. The narrative speaks for itself and needs no further introduction, however what is worth commenting upon is the seemingly calm and measured manner in which events unfolded, despite the potential seriousness of the situation. It is also worth noting the tone of sympathy that runs through the accounts of officers towards their men in this and other documents.

Extract from ‘British Naval Documents 1204-1960‘ by Professor G. Till et al, Vol. 131 (1993) pp. 994-996.

Report by Capt F. Burges Watson of H.M.S. Nelson, 16 September 1931

. . . On arrival on Sunday, 13th September, a message was intercepted about landing an extra patrol for the canteen at Invergordon.
On Monday morning the ship was full of rumours of what had occurred ashore, mostly gross exaggerations. At Divisions I told the men of the proposed cuts in pay. I felt that it was not well received although the men listened respectfully.

. . . At 0520 on Tuesday 15th September, 1931, the men turned out and lashed up and stowed hammocks. At 0600 all hands fell in except 20 forecastle men and 40 topmen. All quarterdeck men and Royal Marines were present. Officers of Divisions were sent to messdecks to get men up to their duty.

. . . After breakfast the ordinary routine was continued but it was ascertained that the men did not intend to go to sea. At about 0830 both watches for exercise was sounded off but on this occasion only half fell in. The commander reported and suggested he should go on with routine. I agreed most certainly. All preparations were continued for getting ready for sea. Ladders hoisted, lower booms got aft, quarterdeck awning furled. Special sea duty men piped and went to stations, cable parties fell in on the forecastle. But the men who had not fallen in collected in a tight, compact, silent and respectful body around and on the port bower cable and cable holder making it impossible to weigh anchor without using force. To have enforced this order would have been a most unspeakable folly. We are not at war and the men behaved perfectly well with the exception of this last obstruction. The actual order to weigh was never given by me.

. . . The commander then spoke to the men again, he had also done so when both watches fell in after breakfast, he addressed the group on the forecastle. His speech, which could not have been bettered, was received in silence and respectfully. When they finished they clapped and cheered him. Throughout it has been apparent that the men bear no animus against their officers, but far otherwise they like and respect them one and all. The men gave the commander to understand that it was simply impossible for them to let the ship get under way. If they did they would not dare show their faces ashore and they would incur the hatred and contempt not only of their squadron mates but their wives as well. It would be grossly deserting their comrades in other ships and they would be considered traitors and blacklegs. This point of view is, I consider, correct and the logical outcome of the attitude of the men of the fleet. If they did not hang together, the grave step that they had taken to enforce their claims being investigated AT ONCE would be futile.
No further attempt to enforce further action was made by me. On receipt of the signal cancelling sailing both watches fell in complete and without demonstration. Booms and ladders were got out, awning spread, etc. etc., and on completion of that general work and routine re-started without trouble.

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About Neil Jackson

Neil Jackson is the Editor of the Members’ Blog, and a serving warrant officer in the Royal Navy. He has a BA(Hons) in History from the Open University.