Jailed with hard labour for striking during war

Dockyard workers aboard HMS Reliance in 1918
Dockyard workers aboard HMS Reliance in 1918

THIS WEEK IN 1993: Ballet shoes put on show in museum

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Charlie Cox sent me the picture at the foot of the page of men aboard what was then HMS Reliance.

She had started her intriguing life as RFA Reliance but was converted at Devonport in 1912 into a repair ship and was commissioned under the White Ensign as HMS Reliance. Two years later she switched her home port to Portsmouth.

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Charlie, of Emanuel Street, Buckland, Portsmouth, says the 1918 picture was found in a family album but no one can identify anyone in it. Can you?

In February 1915, with the First World War raging across Europe, she took on dockyard workers from Portsmouth, Devonport, Chatham and Sheerness as ‘passengers’ on three-month contracts to work on British warships at Mudros, a small Greek port on the Mediterranean island of Lemnos.

A total of 170 dockyard workers were taken on to be paid their dockyard rates of pay and they would, in addition receive 6d a day extra pay and an afloat allowance of 1/6d a day for a seven-day week. All their accommodation and food would be provided free.

But problems arose when those working at Mudros refused to renew their three-month contracts and the Admiralty was unable or unwilling to bring them home.

In July 1915, 17 of the workmen refused duty and it was discovered they were not subject to naval discipline, and naval courts under the Merchant Shipping Act were at first considered inappropriate.

However, they were removed under armed guard and detained on HMS Agamemnon.

On July 30, 1915, a court was convened on board HMS Cornwallis.

All 17 defendants pleaded not guilty to combining to disobey orders under the Merchant Shipping Act 1894 to 1906. But they were all convicted.

Each man was sentenced to serve between four and eight weeks in prison, all with hard labour.

Their sentences started on July 30, 1915, and they were returned to prisons in the UK to serve any remaining time of their sentences on arrival.