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Remembered Today:

James Moody Cantley, WW1 Royal Navy Records 1915-1919


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Hello all, I am a complete newbie here, so please bear with me.  For the last few years, I have been doing some family history and genealogy research.  Over this time, I did not find any relatives who had done any military service; most of my family were in the shipbuilding industry - someone explained to me that perhaps because of this, it was unlikely that any of them had been drafted, as it was a critical industry during wartime.

Anyway, my surprise this week was that apparently one of my ancestors, James Moody Cantley, a marine engineer, did in fact sign up during WW1 to the Royal Navy... i managed to find his record, but its pretty difficult to make much out of it, partly due to the general messy/faded writing, but also due to the terms and acronyms used which I am not familiar with.

Reading through what I can, it seems like he signed up rather than was drafted, or rather, transferred from the RN Division, on 8th Feb 1915. It also says he was "mobilised before training undergone" which seems odd... There is a list of where he served, although having read through other posts, seems like those are on-shore depots rather than actual ships:  Sabrina/Erasus (13.02.1915) then Vivid (1916), then Gunner (1916-1017), then Pekin (01.08.1917), Pembroke (14.08.1917), Osiris 2 (1917: Lizzie Flett?, Hannibal? from Egmont?, looks something like Port Said?) and the final one I cannot read.

The other really interesting bit I could glean from records, although not his finest hour at all, is that it appears he deserted from Gunner on 17 November 1916 and was then reinstated back to Gunner in July of the following year... My understanding was that desertion was a capital offence during warfare however, It says he was sentenced to 28 days in Calton prison before being reinstated but I cannot find any records of that. 

Anyway, apologies for the very long post... I wonder if anyone can help with any further detail or advice on additional online resources I can check... Many thanks in advance.

I read here that I am not supposed to attach the file, so here is a link to the full record below, and I have attached some screenshots of some of the above.



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1 hour ago, JillM said:

My understanding was that desertion was a capital offence during warfare however, It says he was sentenced to 28 days in Calton prison before being reinstated

Welcome to GWF.

My understanding [I'm more familiar with the the Army] ... Desertion in the face of the enemy was a potentially capital offence [but not always implemented - records show that there were those Shot at Dawn but most Soldiers got commuted sentences, commonly with hard labour but they could also then return to service] and I guess that desertion under such circumstances was not always easy in the Navy whilst at sea!  Whilst at Home a custodial punishment, without pay, was more likely. [Some credit was given if a man voluntarily returned/handed himself back in rather than if he had to be apprehended].

One or more of our RN experts likely to be along soon.


Edited by Matlock1418
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I note the “Transfd from RN Division” stamp but I am confident that he never saw RND time. The mobilisation people may have considered him for RND but, instead he was entered into the RNR as an Enngineman.

His desertion led to forfeiture of his 1914-15 Star but post-war he claimed and was issued with the British War and Victory medals.

The record of ships is, indeed, messy and difficult to untangle. Here is my best shot:-

First sea service in HMS ERASTUS, hired drifter, Adty No 2474. Built 1908, 100grt, Fraserburgh-reg FR.272. Armament: 1-6pdr. In service 2.15-1919 as net vessel. Based on HMS SABRINA the Milford Haven base.

He then spent time in various shore bases between May 1916and September 1917: HMS VIVID (Devonport), HMS GUNNER (Granton – from where he deserted), HMS PEKIN (Grimsby) and HMS PEMBROKE (Chatham).

He then was drafted to HMS LIZZIE FLETT, hired drifter, Adty No 2116. Built 1911, 88grt, Buckie-reg BCK.87. Armament: 1-3pdr. In service 1.15-1920 as net vessel. She was based on the depot ship HMS OSIRIS II at Mudros Harbour, Lemnos in the Aegean off Gallipoli but moved to the Malta base (HMS EGMONT) on 1 October 1917.

His movements thereafter are a bit of a jumble. He served ashore in HMS HANNIBAL (Alexandria base) and in the RN Depot at Port Said. He also served at sea off Egypt in HMS CARMI III, hired drifter, Adty No 2122. Built 1908, 88grt, Kirkcaldy-reg KY.300. Armament: 1-3pdr. In service 2.15-1919 as net vessel.


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It may be overstating the facts somewhat to suggest that he ‘deserted in the face of the enemy’.
His record simply states ‘Run’ which in navy terms means that he absented himself from duty without leave (whilst serving at Granton), and without good and sufficient reason. The fact that the period of absence was greater than seven days clearly shows an intention not to return, which then aggregates the offence turns it into desertion (punishable under Section 19 of the Naval Discipline Act).
The severity of the punishment awarded would aim to be proportionate to the gravity of the offence (sufficient for the maintenance of proper order and discipline) but would also take into account the circumstances of the individual case (of which we know nothing about). Desertion wasn’t ordinarily a Capital Offence in the Royal Navy, and in this case the punishment awarded was 28 days in prison accompanied by forfeiture of pay, loss of medal entitlement and a reduction in conduct.




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Since Cantley served his 28 days for desertion in Calton Prison, it suggests to me that he didn’t voluntarily surrender himself to naval authorities and was most likely apprehended by the police up in Edinburgh, where he was imprisoned by the civil powers prior to him being sent back to the Navy *.

On his return to Granton (Gunner) he would have been subject to summary investigation by a naval Captain, in order for the case against him to be finally disposed of. It seems likely that after interviewing the man (establishing his reasons for deserting and whether he was still a flight risk) it was judged that the time he’d already served in prison was sufficient for purposes of good order and discipline, and he was permitted to rejoin ship, subject only to consequential naval punishment (i.e. loss of pay, medal entitlement and reduction in conduct).

Apparently conditions in Calton Prison during WW1 were probably harsher than he would have experienced in regular naval detention quarters. One prisoner (Willie Gallacher - imprisoned in Calton during the same period) wrote: 'It was by far the worst prison in Scotland; cold, silent and repellent. Its discipline was extremely harsh, and the diet atrocious. The one hour's exercise in the morning was the sole opportunity we had of seeing each other, when desperate attempts were made to exchange a whisper or two. For breakfast, we had thick porridge and sour milk. For dinner, soup and a piece of dry bread. And for supper, thick porridge and sour milk.'


* The procedure to be followed in respect of the arrest and subsequent disposal of deserters and absentees is governed by the provisions of Section 9 of the Act 10 & 11 Viet. cap. 62 ; and by Section 50 of the Naval Discipline Act.


Edited by KizmeRD
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@horatio2 and @KizmeRD - I'm not surprised you pitched in - Thank you both for your detailed replies which support my post and clarify for the OP

And I too have learned more. :)


Edited by Matlock1418
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Thank you all so much for your time and the information given.  Super interesting and I am going to try and do a bit more digging into his service, and see if I can find any reason for his going on the run... his service and conduct were rated as satisfactory and VG/very good up until that and indeed once he was returned so I wonder if there was anything family related...

If anyone has anything further to add, or can direct me to any other potential sources of information that would be great...

Much appreciated.

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