Lower Deck Reforms from 1900 - 1919

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The Brock Committee

Prime Minister Asquith gave the young politician Winston Churchill the post of First Lord of the Admiralty in 1911. Although Admiral Fisher left the Admiralty in 1910, Churchill was to rely heavily on him for advice throughout the next three years. Shortly after taking up his post, Fisher introduced Churchill to Yexley. Following this introduction, Churchill developed a plan called the 'Mates Scheme' to allow ratings to become officers. Another important measure was the formation of the Brock Committee in 1912 to investigate the Discipline system, which was the last great 'plank' of Yexley's most desired naval reforms. Yexley felt passionately that the Disciplinary system was old fashioned and not in line with the needs of a modern, technically advanced fighting service. Yexley published a book 'Our Fighting Sea Men' stating his case in 1911. Unfortunately while many good commanding officers were flexible in their interpretation of the rules, some COs unquestioning adherence to them and use of unofficial and unreported punishments made their men's lives a misery. Yexley strove to bring this to the Admiralty's attention. He also drew the Admiralty's attention to the need that Petty Officers should be tried by Court Martial rather than by their Commanding Officers if their offence stood them in danger of being dis-rated.

Pay Day HMS Royal Sovereign 1913
Pay Day HMS Royal Sovereign 1913 (RNM)

The Brock Committee investigated the Discipline system but they felt that there was little wrong with it as it stood. The tone of its report remained repressive and traditional. It did accept the need to simplify leave and allow a means of making representations but it refused to contemplate the granting of trial by Court Martial to Petty Officers partly on the grounds that the Navy's mobility would not always permit it. However, Churchill was to over-rule it in this matter. Yexley felt in the main that the Brock Committee Report was no more than a cosmetic exercise.

Fortunately the small changes brought about by the Brock Committee reduced some concerns, as did the award of the first pay increase to ratings for over 50 years. However, this increase of 3 pence (pre-decimalisation) from 1s 5d to 1s 8d per day for an Able Seaman, was only paid to men with more than 6 years service. Thus a man had to be over the age of 24 to qualify for it.

Although it is clear that reforms had begun, by 1912 a considerable amount of discontent had built up on the lower deck. Letters to the English Review and the Naval and Military Record show that low pay had led to a low standard of living for married men. The Admiralty drove a hard bargain with men who were unable to escape from their employment.

To learn how World War One helped to bring about changes in the treatment of sailors, select Next


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