Extracts from a letter to Sir Clive Wigram, Private Secretary to the King from Sir George Chetwode, the Naval Secretary, 16th September 1931 (ADM 178/129)
16th September, 1931
My dear Wigram,
I have just been telephoning to Mitchell and have given him a resume of the state of affairs existing in the Atlantic Fleet, and the decisions that have been arrived at by the Board to deal with this emergency.
The Fleet arrived at Invergordon on Friday, the 13th, and shore leave was given that night. There was some disturbance in the Canteen and several men addressed the other men present on the subject of the reductions in Naval Pay. On Monday, the 14th, the WARSPITE and the MALAYA proceeded to sea to carry out Exercises. On Monday night further meetings and disturbances took place in the Canteen and the men present agreed that the Fleet should not be allowed to go to sea the next day. On Tuesday morning [in some ships] the men fell in when ordered and carried out the normal work of the day and prepared for sea, but in other ships the men refused to fall in.
When the signal to weigh was made on Tuesday morning, a large number of the men in each ship mustered on the Forecastles and refused to allow the anchors to be weighed.
As soon as the Commander-in-Chief realised that his orders would not be obeyed, he cancelled the order that the Fleet was to proceed to sea and recalled the ships who were then at sea – the WARSPITE, the MALAYA and the REPULSE.
He also ordered all Captains to make a full investigation into the grievances and arranged for the Chief of Staff to come to the Admiralty to report. The Board of Admiralty met at nine-thirty this morning, all the members being present and also the Chief of Staff who had travelled down in the night. After full discussion, the First Lord decided to request the Cabinet to sanction an extension of one month – from the 1st of October to the 1st of November – before the Cuts in pay should come into force. It was also decided that the Fleet should be ordered to proceed immediately to their Home Ports, and that Committees should be set up under the local Commanders-in-Chief to investigate the matter fully.
The First Lord proceeded to the Cabinet Meeting and took with him the First Sea Lord and the Chief of Staff of the Atlantic Fleet. The Cabinet refused definitely to sanction any extension or to alter the date on which it had been decided the cuts were to become operative, their reason being that, to do so, would inevitably mean that all the poorer classes of the community, who were affected by these cuts, would demand similar treatment.
The Board have no reason to suppose that the Fleet will fail to carry out the order to return to their Home Ports, but are now engaged in drafting orders to deal with such an emergency, if it should arise. The Chief of Staff emphasizes the fact that the attitude of the men to their Officers has been, if anything, more respectful than usual, and there has been no interference with essential services – such as running of dynamos, pumping machinery, etc.
(Sd.) GEORGE CHETWODE