We now entered a phase at Invergordon which did not exist in any earlier mutiny and will probably never exist again. The men did nothing, in the full meaning of the word. In fact on one of the big ships they pulled out the piano from the recreation room on to the forecastle and ran impromptu concerts. But apart from that there was nothing to do. We had done what we considered needed to be done, and now it was up to the Admiralty and the government. With the typing and circulation of the manifesto – copies were distributed round the Fleet by motorboat – the strike was at its apex; but unlike most movements it was not faced with a decline. Had we threatened an intensification of our efforts if the cuts were not rescinded, there might have been a danger of weakening. But in the circumstances a straightforward rejection could only mean our continuing as we were, refusing to serve. We had bypassed our officers and appealed directly to the Admiralty; our answer was to come from them, and soon. We were losing nothing by the continuation of the strike whilst the Admiralty was on the way to losing a navy.
As it happened, the end of the strike was delayed a whole twenty-four hours by the Admiralty’s strange behaviour. Knowing that the Admiralty had every modern means of communication and transport at their disposal, we expected our manifesto to reach them within hours of it reaching Admiral Tomkinson at Invergordon. It was our officers who had asked us what we wanted, and we had responded immediately, so we could not be accused of presumption in expecting a quick answer. Moreover, it was not only we who were waiting but the whole country. The day dragged on and no answer was forthcoming. Evidently some of the denizens of Whitehall were not prepared to sacrifice anything, as for instance their tea-breaks to expediate matters.
While the Admiralty were engaging in pure adventures – not least in blowing up Invergordon into a national revolution to frighten the King – Admiral Tomkinson, the man on the spot, who did not depend on conflicting reports from rival security services for his information, was successfully playing the affair down and controlling hot-headed young officers. Already an army of pressmen had converged on Invergordon from London and the central towns of Scotland. Even in those days cameras were efficient and easily portable, yet no photographs of Invergordon exist. This is to Admiral Tomkinson’s credit. As soon as the newspapermen arrived he took them aboard the flagship and gave them to understand that sensationalism was not required. So effective were his powers of persuasion, (and they have to be good to get a newspaperman to ease up on such a question) that nowhere are there pictures of sailors massed on the forecastles of ships at Invergordon. And yet there were quite a number of local boat owner prepared to take newsmen out in the Firth, and likewise there were newsmen willing to fork out a tidy sum for the trip.
If Invergordon was the ideal place for springing the cuts on an isolated Fleet, then it was doubly ideal for settling the dispute without publicity. The canteen and fields around were government property where no local civilians ever came. When Admiral Tomkinson reported the first rumblings of dissatisfaction to the Board, they should have travelled to the scene of the action, as their predecessors did to settle the Spithead mutiny of 1797. In 1797 travel was difficult. In 1931 it was not, and although air travel was not yet widely used, with so much at stake the Admiralty could at least have taken a plane to Scotland. All the measures eventually taken, the cancellation of the exercises, the setting up of a commission, the investigation of the men’s financial situation, the restoration of part of the cuts, could have been done in the isolation of the Firth of Cromarty and no outsider any the wiser. Had these measures been taken then and there, the Admiralty would have scored a greater political victory than any Board in history. Of course, they would have eaten humble pie over the cuts, but this they did in any event, and publicly. Here it would have been magnificent humble pie, and afterwards the mere mention of the words `Board of Admiralty` would have called for a gesture of reverence from the lower deck.
Only when it was beginning to get dark at Invergordon on Wednesday, 16 September 1931, did the captain of Norfolk come forward and read a new Admiralty Fleet Order to us:
The Board of Admiralty is fully alive to the fact that amongst certain classes of ratings special hardship will result from the reduction of pay ordered by HM Government. It is therefore directed that ships of the Atlantic Fleet are to proceed to their home ports forthwith to enable personal investigation by C.-in-C.s and representatives of Admiralty with a view to necessary alleviation being made. Any further refusals of individuals to carry out orders will be dealt with under the Naval
Discipline Act. This signal is to be promulgated to the Fleet forthwith.
Whether it was light or dark at that moment, one thing was clear to us: we had won the day. The threat at the end was just normal form for My Lords of the Admiralty, every one of whose Articles of War ends with a promise of punishment. Without that formality I doubt if they wrote a letter home to their loved ones: it was the thickening ingredient of their blood. But why should we continue disobedience? We had gained our point, a review of the cuts. The tacit promise in the order that actions, up to the time of its promulgation, would not be punished was later made explicit in the House of Commons. But still a vengeance-seeking Board had to invoke the Naval Discipline Act to justify their claims of agitators, secret societies and other conspiratorial groups, which were so clandestine that the conspirators themselves did not know they existed. At the moment of the reading of the order, however, I doubt if any man paid the slightest attention to those threatening words. The strike was over.
Discipline had not even been bruised and had taken us through to victory. It was still the main binding force of a powerful navy which we were prouder than ever to be a part of . With pride too, the `few`, the `handful` that the Board blamed for Invergordon could count their achievement. They knocked Britain off the gold standard. They caused the cancelling of excercises for some ships of the Fleet. They brought about the recall of ships to home ports from the unfinished cruise, an event which had last happened with the declaration of war in 1914.
That, up to the time of receiving the new Admiralty Fleet Order, was the list of favourable results of the activities of the `few`.
Within a few seconds of Captain Prickett’s announcement the forecastle on Norfolk was empty. It needed no pleading, no threats or trickery; the men’s aim had been achieved, the strike was off. A short time later the Norfolk was steaming down the Firth on her way to sea. As we passed close to one of the big ships a crowd of men lined up on the forecastle gave vent to an ear-splitting cheer and Captain Prickett on the bridge of Norfolk exclaimed, `My God! Have they started again?` It was not, however, a cheer of defiance but a cheer of victory.
During the three days’ trip to home ports we were without news. The only radio receiving set was in the wardroom, and the moment when the commander of Norfolk had invited a few of us to listen to it had passed, never to return. For us the show was over and we were once again the `ready boys, steady boys` of the British Navy. But the admiralty, fuming in defeat, was plotting its revenge.
There is an old sea story showing how something perfectly ordinary can be made to appear extraordinary. The story goes that a captain warned his boozy mate that if he again appeared on the bridge inebriated, he, the captain, would enter it in the log. Despite the warning the mate turned up next day in a drunken state and he captain duly entered it: `Today the mate came on the bridge drunk`. When, however, the captain came to relieve the mate, he found this entry in the log: `Today the captain came on the bridge sober`.
A similar technique has been used to suggest that on its return from Invergordon the Atlantic Fleet got a frosty welcome from the British people. Writers on Invergordon have alleged that, in defiance of tradition we were not cheered as we entered harbour. Of course we were not cheered, and there was no such tradition. The three towns had seen the ships moving in and out of harbour so often that they were not excited by the fact. To have cheered every time they returned would have meant a permanent cheering party. Whatever scheming and intriguing was taking place at the Admiralty, as they prepared to break their promise that no one should be penalised for Invergordon, we on the ships felt nothing out of the ordinary going on around us. True, the local paper at Devonport had a banner headline to greet our arrival: `Home In Disgrace, Sailors’ Wives Turn Husbands Away From The Door`, but this was just a ridiculous example of yellow press journalism. If we had agreed to allow further disruption of any kind, it would have been possible to organise such a demonstration of sailors and their wives at the editor of that paper would have crept around the back streets of small European towns for the remainder of his life. No one was more disturbed by the cuts tan sailors’ wives or, as they were officially designated on more than one occasion, `sailors` women`.
By this time the investigating commission set up by the Admiralty had arrived at Devonport and was now sitting in the barracks interviewing seamen and collecting their complaints. This was merely a time-waster, during which hundreds and thousands of lower deck men repeated practically the same story. Had the commission discovered a handful of ratings whom the cut would have hit specially hard, the Admiralty would not have made exceptional rates for them. The lower deck had made its one demand, one big one: we do not intend to serve for such pay. There was nothing more to establish, for if the proposed cut had been reasonable and bearable, there would have been no mutiny and no need for commissions. The Admiralty, however, had taken a 180 degree switch, and from doing nothing whatever had now launched into action every kind of investigator, commission and informer to contribute to the cauldron of fables, half truths and direct lies which, when boiled, would make the whitewash for the guilty parties. My Lords of the Board of Admiralty.
I had an early sign of things to come. On our passage south I had written a letter to Captain Prickett about the consequences for the Navy if the cuts, as originally proposed, were carried out. My letter was somewhat on the lines of the manifesto, but more elaborate. I was invited, as were other seamen, to talk to the captain in his cabin and explain my own position. Also present at the interview was the paymaster commander who, I take it, was to back up the captain with figures showing how wealthy I was.
I was a single man, I smoked but did not drink. According to my papers I enjoyed a fairly good reputation amongst the officers. At that time I was engaged to be married to a girl who was the only child of parents much better placed financially than were the parents of the average sailor’s wife. I had a promising career in the Navy and was fully intending to continue my service to pension and rise as far as a man of proletarian origin could. It is possible that the war might have helped me even further – or put me at the bottom of the sea. In fact by my action at Invergordon I simply threw all this away.
Right away Captain Prickett began talking about my individual case, pointing out that I had no financial commitments to be threatened by the cuts. From the Sunday evening when I made the first speech in the canteen, I was concerned only with the lower deck and the impoverishment of the best fighting service in the world and how best to stop it. But this was beyond the captain’s comprehension. Someone brought up in a society where the children are daily asked what they are going to be, daily warned that they cannot hope for a good job without going to college, as if a diploma were a pair of trousers, indispensable, finds it difficult to accept a non-selfinterested action. For people who are launched into the rat-race when they begin to walk and who learn the underhand tricks of infighting for position and rewards, the idea of being a crusader, if only briefly and small-time, is as alien as a Catholic priest propagating voodooism.
So Captain Prickett stuck to his line of argument, occasionally appealing for confirmation of his points to the paymaster commander. Very soon I saw that it would develop into the poor man begging the local philanthropist to intervene on his behalf with the heartless landlord. Actually it was because of Prickett’s behaviour at this meeting that I eventually refused to go before the Admiralty commission who pursued the same lime in their `investigations`. That it was a policy deliberately pursued I am convinced, because I caught Prickett taking a surreptitious glance at my letter, which was hidden under other papers on the table. When he saw that I had noticed the move he immediately covered it up again. It was not a benefactor’s interest that Prickett had in me. He was, I think, looking for `ringleaders`. (It is curious that a college student at the head of a movement is a `leader`, but a worker similarly placed is inevitably a `ring-leader`.)
The authorities knew quite well that it was the Admiralty which had inspired the strike and kept it alive, but they persisted in looking for something deep underground, a politically motivated person or, better still, a group. To begin with all jobs were shifted around. I for instance had had, before the strike, a so-called `quiet number`, which kept me away from daily surveillance by my divisional officer. That I hated this job, a trained seaman gunner who wanted to go to school again to advance my qualification was of no consequence either to the people who gave me the job. I had been taught a little about everything that shoots, from a 2.2 rifle to a fifteen-inch turret gun. I had actually come out top of the class, but with a job such as I was doing, I would soon forget which end of a gun did the shooting. In the meantime I could polish the metal legs of the mess table till my officer smiled and said `Well done`.
Almost immediately after the ship set sail for Devonport, however, I was shifted to an ordinary upper deck job and it was then I discovered that I was the object of surreptitious observation. Quite often our commander found an excuse to make some remark or other to me, but he spent more time looking deep into my eyes, no doubt searching for something he had not noticed in all the year and a half we had served on the same ship. Our commander was one of the most popular officers on the ship and we affectionately called him `Jigs`, after a strip cartoon character of the time. From behind he looked exactly like the real `Jigs`, even to the crease across the seat of his trousers. The nicknames that men give to their officers is more informative than many people think. If an officer is given a number of nicknames, and more and more are conjured up, it is a sure sign that he is far from popular. If on the other hand he gets one which sticks to him, one can be certain that he is respected. Commander Dunne was always `Jigs`.
He gave me quite a number of crystal-gazing stares, which did not worry me, while my own divisional officer kept clear of me. The unfortunate man had no doubt received a reprimand for not being able to detect my latent mutinous tendencies. When men were being sought to appear before the Admiralty Commission, my divisional officer approached a seaman standing a few yards from me, and asked him to ask me if I wanted to appear. Evidently the reprimand had been no light one. Evidently, too, the search for an underground organisation among the men was being paralleled by a campaign to find scapegoats among the junior officers, whose daily contact with us had failed to discover potential rebels.
If evidence were needed that no outside influence inspired the mutiny at Invergordon, that evidence was supplied by the Communist Party of Great Britain. When the news of the mutiny hit the world, many people and organisations reacted to it in their various ways. One of these was the British Communist Party, which had long harboured a desire for contacts in the Royal Navy but had up till then failed to realise its desires. This absolutely unexpected event offered, in their estimation, a splendid chance not only to get contacts but to achieve even more. Immediately after the ships arrived in home ports, the Communist Party sent two men to Portsmouth, obviously for the purpose of inciting the Fleet to further rebellious activity. It was an action which demonstrated the Communists’ complete ignorance of the lower deck, for the two men chosen were as unsuitable a pair as it would be possible to find. One was a miner and the other a woodworker, the sort of men described by sailors as not knowing the fat end of a ship from the thin end.
Their adventure was doomed to failure before it started, for, as anyone with even a butterfly-wing contact with leftist politics should have known, the moment the rumblings of resentment were faintly audible, all the organs of security were on the alert. Not so the CPGB. The miner and the woodworker set off for Portsmouth so deep in the grip of their important mission that they failed to hear the clanking of the handcuffs in the pockets of the policemen following them, and having plunged into the adventure head first, they hit bottom head first, as might have been expected.
Under the impression that Portsmouth was the place to go to, although Devonport was the centre of the mutiny, and still retaining the `drunken sailor` image in their heads, they began a political pub crawl. Even when a co-operative sailor met them in the very first pub they called at, they were not in the least suspicious. Why should they be? Had not the sailors mutinied? Were they not ready to heave their officers overboard, as the sailors of the Russian Fleet had done in 1917? All that was wanted now was firm political leadership, and these two men, who had recently come from the International Lenin School in Moscow, were here to offer it. So they made their offer. But, as it happened, the sailor they were talking to, who listened to their political lecture and drank their beer, was none other than Stephen Bousefield, the telegraphist `interviewed` by the captain of Warspite, under whose instructions he was now working. The seditious leaflets were handed over and straight away relayed to the intelligence service men, who, possessing all the evidence they needed, brought these two Communists to Winchester Assizes. There the same Bousefield appeared as the principal witness for the prosecution. The Communists were tried, convicted and sentenced.
From this story we can establish that informers were signed up from the first signs of trouble at Invergordon; that on the basis of their unreliable information responsible officers of naval intelligence made wild conjectures about events that had no place in the affair at all; and, most convincingly, that the Communist Party had no connection with Invergordon. Their belated attempts to make contact, at a time when the men considered victory theirs and meant to serve once more in the loyal manner they had always served, could lead only to the criminal courts.
Blinded by nightmares of revolution, dreamed up in their need for vengeance, the Admiralty had set all the security services of Britain on a massive search for hidden agitators, secret societies and all sorts of non-existent seditious groups that could never have found a square inch of fertile ground in the Royal Navy. Each security group engaged informers, agents provocateurs and casual snoops who invented what they failed to find. Even the man who ran the first meeting in the canteen on that Sunday evening, 13 September, was given at least three identities, and this despite the fact that the men on Norfolk knew who he was.
Whitehall demanded evidence of an underground plot and people, from the rank of captain down to the `white rats` on the lower deck, let their imaginations run amok to provide it, even to the extent of reporting that meetings, secret and otherwise, had taken place among sailors before the Atlantic Fleet arrived at Invergordon. It can only be concluded that the different reports, including those made by responsible officers, were the products of afterthoughts, once the incident had aroused suspicions of a plot. It is said that fear has large eyes, and it is possible that surreptitious glances between sailors engaged in some act against the regulations were remembered later and blown up to be read as sinister signals. It sounds childish, but it is only human: anyone can misinterpret the past in the light of the present, and I suppose this is what some of the officers did.
However, reading the reports assiduously collected by naval investigations overt and covert, by the dockyard police, public house scroungers and secret service informers, it is plain that the material is mostly half truths, distortion and just common or garden lies. Some of the shipboard informers seem to have been indulging in a grand leg-pull. I do not know who was responsible for organising the reports of preparations for further disruptive activity after our return to home ports. To call them the `Crazy Gang` would be to insult a popular comedy team, but clearly someone had grasped the chance to collect a goodly sum of taxpayers’ money whilst the panic lasted. Somehow I missed out on the shareout. Twice in those days I was in a pub and nobody offered me a drink. In one a group of working men called me over to their table and pointed to a chap in a soft hat standing at the other end of the bar. `Be careful, Jack,` they said, `that man’s a coppers’ nark`.
There were no plans for further disruptive action. We had gained our objective and saw no need to create some permanent illegal lower deck grouping. But the plot-searchers went on and fantastic stories continued to circulate about a planned enlargement of the strike. One incredible tale was that known elements, and I take it I was among them, were `agitating` on the lower deck for more serious, anti-government action.
The ridiculous fable of the `march on London`, or as it might be called the `Mangel-wurzel Banyan Party`, made its reappearance, and was solemnly carried to King George V. But the Admiralty was pulling nobody’s leg. When Sir Austen Chamberlain, First Lord of the Admiralty, informed the King on Monday, 22 September, that a dangerous situation still existed in the Fleet, he was not just following normal procedure. He knew very well that King George V had been a full naval captain, for when the Duke of Clarence was alive, his chances of becoming a king had been slim, and he had gone the way of second sons, into the Navy, where he was far from being a popular captain. For instance he had a reputation for severity. Punishment for misdemeanours of a serious character could only be administered by the admiral of a particular unit. The captain conducted the trial of the man, then sent his recommendation to the admiral. This procedure was better known to the lower deck as a warrant, and it was common knowledge throughout the Navy that the late King George V, when captain of a warship, had more of these warrants than any other captain in the Fleet.
By facing a man of the character of King George V, who bore no love to the lower deck, with the bogey of revolution from within the Navy, the Admiralty could not fail to produce the results it wanted. Given the public assurance of no victimisation, the Admiralty could not charge anyone with what happened at Invergordon; it therefore became necessary to invent something that happened after it, if they were to have their revenge.
Whilst these things were taking place elsewhere, for us routine went on in the same old way, except that our ship’s company did a stint on the rifle range, where I walked away with a first-class marksman’s badge, amongst my scores being five bulls from five rounds at five hundred yards: no mean feat. Moreover, and more heartening than the winning of any badge, was the fact that, at the very time when the powers that be were scheming, in their underhand way, to work up evidence against me, the lower deck of Norfolk unanimously elected me as their representative on the Canteen Committee. I never took my place but my election remained, a resounding reply to the band-of-agitators theory, and a proof that the lower deck as a whole appreciated my efforts on its behalf.
Almost three weeks had we been in home ports, with the commission working every day, when the surprise signal came. We knew the Fleet could not spend much more time in port, but the order to move was still unexpected. All ships were to put to sea and rendezvous at Scapa Flow. Two hours after this announcement and an hour before the ships were due to sail, the most outstanding men in the mutiny were collected together. From Norfolk Leading Seaman Richard Carr, Able Seaman James Shields, Able Seaman O’Toole, Able Seaman Frederick Copeman and myself were rounded up, along with one or two regular discipline breakers, thrown in to give the group a colouring favourable to the Admiralty. Here again the opportunity given by the official movement of ships had been seized, for, while we were to go to the barracks, our comrades in the affair were being despatched to sea, where for some three days on the way to Scapa Flow they would be ignorant of our fates. It was the move of people still scared by the Invergordon event. Although all available facts had firmly been established the complete lack of outside influence on the movement; although our behaviour after the strike was exemplary, they were still obsessed with the idea that action against us, whatever it was to be, should be carried out secretly, to avoid possible trouble. We were despatched to the barracks and left there until the General Election of 28 October 1931, which would bring a new Cabinet and new ministers, and therefore he who had made the promise of no victimisation would not be the one who broke it. The lessons of Invergordon had simply passed over their heads, not only of the politicians but also of those who were supposed to be our leaders.
When we arrived in the barracks we were joined by ratings from the many ships in the port, thirty-six men altogether, though Bond was not among them: the originator of the mangel-wurzel march on London was left in the Fleet to develop his talents. As was always the case when men entered the barracks after a period at sea, we first went through the `clothing class`, where our kit was inspected and we were `robbed` of a few pounds from our meagre savings. After a week of that we were attached to the `Introductory Course`. This was a well-known course intended mainly for supplementary ratings, cooks, supply assistants and such people who, whilst at sea, had forgotten how to turn right or left and which end a rifle fired from. The moment the course started, under the command of two specially-instructed petty officers, we knew we were in for a bad time. Till dinner break we ran around the barrack square, our rifles held high above our heads.
This action was the decision of Commodore Laurence of the Royal Naval Barracks. By virtue of our being so unexpectedly removed from our ships, we had been recognised as the leaders of a mutiny in the most powerful fleet in the world, yet Commodore Laurence DSO was here attempting to subdue us with petty sadism on the level of Dickens’s Squeers. If his aim was to make us refuse this disguised punishment and thereby leave ourselves open to a very serious charge, he failed. At the end of the first day I suggested that every man should individually write a complaint of unlawful treatment to the admiral of the port.
On the third day we were marched into the drill shed, all other groups and classes were sent out, all the doors but one closed. Then through the one open door appeared Commodore Laurence and probably every officer in the barracks. They lined up in an arrow head, the commodore making the point. He was a big man with a powerful frame. He stood there with his legs astraddle, clasping his gloves behind his back as if they were a hunting crop. In fact that is just what he looked like, an overseer of the last century confronting his colonial slaves.
`I hear,` he began, `that you have written a complaint against me.` (In fact we had not mentioned any name in our letters of protest.) `I have information that you are continuing your disruptive work and I, as commodore of this barracks, will take what steps I consider necessary in order to prevent your doing so`. He tried a little provocation, challenging anybody who had anything to say to step out, strangely adding `I am not afraid of you`.
Why a commodore DSO should be afraid of a group of ratings is difficult to imagine, but in those words we could measure the extent of his lack of understanding of the lower deck. We did not accept his offer to speak. Maybe it was genuine, but we could no longer trust him after such behaviour. With the words `Carry on` to the petty officers, he turned round and walked out, followed by his suite. Whether he was afraid of us or not, the sadistic drill ceased forthwith, and one by one we were invited to the division office to discuss our request with the lieutenant of the division.
I never knew the name of my interviewer but I knew what his instructions were as soon as ever he spoke. He pointed to my complaint and asked `who wrote this for you?` Of course a dull, half-literate able seaman could not write such a letter, there must be some `outside influence`, and here was a clue to this mysterious somebody lurking in the offing and urging sailors of His Britannic Majesty to seditious action. When I answered `I did`, perhaps I said it with such calm conviction that he really believed it. Anyway he switched to another tack and began talking about politics. All this, he assured me, was `high politics`, which neither he nor I knew anything about. He just blinked when I quietly said `it’s a pity, sir`.
Undoubtedly he knew I was to be discharged, but that I was being held until the end of the secret service investigation; for had it produced the desired results I would have been court martialled.
The fact that I was due to be discharged came to me by another source which the authorities had not taken into account. I was ordered to have a routine revaccination and because, with my first vaccination on entering the Navy, I had suffered very much, almost losing my arm after six weeks in hospital, I simply refused to have it. The surgeon-captain of the barracks interviewed me and said he would have to consult someone about my case and would I come back next day? I did so and he just looked at me and said `it doesn’t matter, you may go`. Then I knew I was to `go out`.
Nothing, of course, came of our requests, except that Commodore Laurence backed down and we joined up with all the other ratings in the barracks and waited. That we were due to `go outside` was not only known to us but, in a certain way, desired. It was a very risky enterprise, given the large number of skilled workers unemployed, but there was one consideration which made discharge imperative from our point of view. If any of us had remained in the service, the future would have been very bleak indeed. Should I, for instance, have been drafted, after two or three years, to a ship where some totally unsympathetic officer of the old school type was commander or captain, the inevitable result would have been a serious charge brought against me, and my consignment to the naval jail.
No one had the slightest desire to make a sojourn, however short, in the establishment just across the Tamar that bore a noble name, White City, and a terrible reputation: the place where ex-masters-at-arms with a penchant for brutality did their worst to men whose crime was sometimes no more heinous than a breach of pettifogging discipline. Carting a heap of bricks back and forth in the yard without a break whilst the warden yelled abuse, was just one of the reputed delights of the White City. The really choice item was the daily loader drill in gasmasks, with the warders goading their prisoners to break every record they had thought up. No prison reform society ever visited that hell on earth and the inmates did not make complaints about the texture of their pyjamas, as convicts, according to the press, do today. Evidently nowadays the more dreadful the crime, the more certain the complaints. I am sure that the next grievance will be lack of escape facilities provided through the good officers of the Society For The Care And Comfort Of Bloody Murderers, Gangsters and Dope Pushers.
Then, on 3 November, I was working in a barrack room, pushing a cloth over metal bag-racks for the lack of something better to do, when I saw Leading Seaman Richard Carr in the act of packing his bag under the supervision of a regulating petty officer. Without waiting for my inquiry he said `I am going out` and before I could gather further information, I head a voice calling my name. another regulating petty officer took me straight to the commander’s office. Behind the desk where he usually dealt with defaulters stood the commander of the barracks, holding an impressive looking document in his hands. Without any ceremony he began to read the Admiralty letter ordering my discharge to shore, and, as if by an afterthought, kindly informed me that I was entitled to unemployment benefit. In the next hour or two twenty-four of the thirty-six men removed from the ships were rushed round from office to office, finally to be passed through the main gates to the world at large.
By six o’clock I had signed all the documents, drawn my final pay (including thirteen shillings towards the purchase of a civilian suit), and received my naval papers. They read rather strangely: `Third of November 1931, Conduct: Very Good. Ability: Superior`. That was the last of my six-monthly recommendations, the highest possible for a lower deck man. Immediately underneath was: `Third of November 1931: Discharged to Shore, Services No Longer Required`. I still wonder which of these two entries, made at the same place on the same date, really reflects my character.