NOSTALGIA: The order that triggered a riot and made Royal Navy history

Believed to have been taken on Whale Island, sailors celebrate the outcome of the riot.  (Robert James collection)
Believed to have been taken on Whale Island, sailors celebrate the outcome of the riot. (Robert James collection)

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An order that was given in Victory Barracks reverberated in the navy for many years after.

Here is an abridged version of events.

Another postcard parodying the incident in Victory Barracks, Portsmouth.  (Robert James collection)

Another postcard parodying the incident in Victory Barracks, Portsmouth. (Robert James collection)

In November 1906, serious riots occurred among stokers at the Royal Naval Barracks. The story still has some importance today.

On Sunday, November 4, the seamen, stokers and signalmen were paraded for evening quarters at about 4pm when heavy rain began to fall.

The inspection was all done in a hurry and the sailors were given the order to dismiss by Lieutenant St. George Collard.

Stokers started to grumble and they were ordered to fall in again in the gymnasium.

A cartoon of the time with a cynical look at Stoker Moody on his knees. (Robert James collection)

A cartoon of the time with a cynical look at Stoker Moody on his knees. (Robert James collection)

Lt Collard, decided to speak to the stokers due to their unrest. Leading up to talking to the stokers he gave the order, ‘On the knee’ which was a basic order for the front few rows to kneel down so that those at the back could see and hear what was going on. Lt Collard was somewhat short in stature.

‘On the knee’ was an order only given to gunners as an exercise instruction and not used on a parade ground.

The disgruntled stokers, called out, ‘Don’t obey!’

Lt Collard repeated the order and it was then that the men obeyed and they were reprimanded.

Damage to Southsea Esplanade December 1910. Could a heap of sand as suggested really stop damage like this? (Robert James collection)

Damage to Southsea Esplanade December 1910. Could a heap of sand as suggested really stop damage like this? (Robert James collection)

Afterwards, Lt Collard reported the incident to the barrack commodore by telephone and told him it was a one-off incident and would not happen again. He was badly mistaken.

That evening about 300 stokers gathered in the canteen discussing the afternoon’s events.

At 9.30pm the canteen was being cleared when pent-up feelings boiled over and some of the stokers began smashing everything they could lay their hands on.

It was said that a sailor had entered the canteen and shouted ‘On the knee’ which caused the affray.

The stokers poured out onto the parade ground in an angry mob.

Three had been arrested and when the commodore arrived he addressed the men in the best way he could amid the tumult of noise and shouting.

The stokers insisted on the release of their mates and the commodore said they would be when calm was restored.

This caused calm to be restored and the three were released.

It is recorded that 11 stokers taking a leading part in the disturbance all had bad records of service.

A Stoker Moody said in evidence that Lt Collard had in fact ordered ‘On the knee, you dogs’ but it was not proved.

He was found guilty of riot and sentenced to five years penal servitude as an example to the rest, no doubt.

n There was a suggestion by someone in The News last week that a large sand dune placed along the seafront would stop floods coming in.

Below, we see what happened to the concrete on the esplanade in December 1910. I don’t think a pile of sand would repel any storm, do you?