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Remembered Today:

A medal of a mutineer!

Phil Eyden

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I recently obtained a RN WW1 Victory medal of a Stoker and, researching his service records, was shocked to find out he was guilty of mutiny. I've done some research into him and circumstances - here is the story. 

Alexander Black Hailey was born on the 5th January 1900 at Wallsend, South Shields. He was son of John Hailey, a shipbuilding plater, and the fifth of eight children. He followed his father into the ship building profession and became an apprentice plater. 

At the age of 17, on the 1st November 1917 he enlisted at Newcastle into the Royal Marines Light Infantry.  He was described as 5’6, 36” chest, brown hair, grey eyes, fresh complexion, scar on right shin. He was assigned to the Depot at Deal for training.

At Deal, he turned 18 and passed courses in swimming, bombing, musketry, physical training and in using the bayonet. On the 23rd May 1918 he was assigned to ‘A’ Company at Portsmouth and in September was assigned to HMS Vindictive, a heavy cruiser converted into an aircraft-carrier. 

On the 1st June 1919 Hailey transferred from the RMLI to the Royal Navy whilst onboard and was assigned a role as A/Stoker Class I down in the engine rooms shovelling coal. 

On the 2nd July the Vindictive was despatched to the Baltic to provide aerial support to the White Russians who were fighting the Bolsheviks. The ship sailed to Copenhagen at the end of July and whilst there launched attacks on Kronstadt. 

Resentment started to grow onboard the Vindictive and other ships. Matters came to head in the November when a protest took place on board. There were a number of reasons. 

Firstly, the men had been denied shore leave since arrival in July, despite watching Rear Admiral Cowan, Captain Grace and other senior officers take extended breaks ashore.  Secondly, no War Gratuity was being paid, technically no war had been declared against Russia so the men were on basic pay which had increased by just one penny since 1852. Thirdly, unlike the army who individually volunteered to go to Russia, the Royal Navy was given no option and the men were simply ordered. Fourthly, winter was coming and there was no provision for cold-weather clothing and inadequate stores. Fifthly, quite simply most of the men had had enough. They had been engaged for four years against Germany and were now forced to engage in a peculiar action against an enemy who were zero threat to Britain.

On the 11th November forty men, mostly stokers, paraded on the quarterdeck demanding to see Captain Grace. Grace agreed to see representatives individually, but the crowd refused to disperse, demanding leave.  Two were arrested. Grace ordered the RMLI detachment to fall in, this forced to sailors to disperse, they then reassembled in the Mess Deck where they sat down and sung. The Vindictive then put to sea to head to another Baltic port.

Whilst at sea Stoker Henry Charles Makeum Moore and Stoker Percy Horseman tampered with a fan engine and thereby endangering the ship and were promptly arrested. The following morning virtually no one turned up for duty. This provoked Captain Grace to arrest five more ringleaders. They were condemned to 90 days hard labour before a dishonourable discharge. Another six were arrested, but resistance continued. The next morning 14 crewmen were still refusing duty and were arrested. That evening another two arrests were made. All were transferred to other ships to he taken back to England.

Shore leave was then granted for all the crew excepting the 40 who had assembled on deck. This seemed to be the end of the trouble. Moore and Horseman were sentenced to five years penal servitude, and the other 25 men were sentenced to 90 days Hard Labour on arrival back at England. Hailey was amongst this group of men.

Hailey was sentenced under Naval Law 126/30 and Discharged in February, Services No Longer Required. He was classed as ‘Indifferent’, the lowest possible rating.

On December 29, 1919, following a series of acts of militancy, a review of the sentences of those convicted of naval mutiny was announced by the First Lord of the Admiralty. Sentences of up to two years were halved. So were one-year sentences. The men serving such sentences had their medals restored. Sentences were later commuted to two years for Moore, one year for Horseman and medals reinstated for all the mutineers.

In 1924 Hailey married Mary Cuggy at Tynemouth, Northumberland and the following year had a son, Alexander J Hailey. Tragically Alexander died at the age of two.

In 1932 Mary died. In the 1939 Register, Hailey can be found living at 483 Newport Road, Middlesborough and listed as Plater in Shipbuilding and Construction. In Oct 1941 he died at Middlesborough.





Edited by Phil Eyden
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An interesting piece of research. The incident looks to have gained prominence in the Admiralty with a review of proceedings and the men's medals re-instated. 

Apologies for the pedantry, Wallsend is on the north bank oy the Tyne, South Shields on the south bank. Two different places. 


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1919 was certainly an uneasy year for the British Government and for the Admiralty*, and as you say there were a series of acts of militancy involving RN ships stationed in the Baltic and Northern Russia.
Point no. 3 on your list was particularly significant factor, it being a fact that the Government’s publicly professed promise that only volunteers would be involved in the Russian intervention certainly didn’t hold true as far as the navy was concerned.

After enduring the long and painful ordeal of protracted war against the Central Powers (and finally winning through) ordinary sailors didn’t quite understand why they were now being asked to take part in an entirely new conflict, and what exactly the purpose of it all was (for it wasn’t the fight that they’d signed-up for).

Political consciousness had been heightened by wartime experience, and ordinary folks were no longer naive and unquestioning concerning matters of State authority to wage war.


* Between 12 October and 21 November 96 naval offenders were arrested and punished, ten by imprisonment (excluding 6th Bn RM at Murmansk).

Edited by KizmeRD
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Fascinating where medal research takes you.

I noticed this additional comment when it was discussed in the Commons Dec 1919. Do you know the result for the Vindictive?


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It is interesting to ponder how Black's service career might have progressed had he not transferred from Private RMLI to Special Service Stoker on 2 June 1919 while serving in VINDICTIVE. Had he not transferred he would probably have found himself in the RMLI party which dispersed the mutinous assembly, rather than as a mutineer.

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What a great story from a humble, knocked about Victory Medal.

Captain Grace's account:

On the following morning, many of these men did not turn to, so I arrested five of the worst, charged them, and sent them off to England for 90 days hard labour, after which I trust that they will be discharged from H.M. Service. I arrested six more, and followed the same procedure. Next morning, 14 men still refused duty; these were at once arrested. Finally, late of Thursday evening, two seamen refused duty. I dealt with them at once. There has been no further trouble.

The incident on HMS Vindinctive was not the only one in the RN Baltic Fleet and there were similar mutinies of troops in North Russia.

Even Cowan's flagship HMS Delhi experienced a 'refusal'.

Years later Cowan wrote: ‘When I commanded a squadron [in the Baltic] I made the mistake of expecting too high a standard of discipline.'

Many men had enlisted for the duration of the war, which had long since ended. Men under 19 years of age were not supposed to be sent but were.

The government was flat out lying to the public that only volunteers were being sent to Russia to fight.

I used to own the medals of one the 6th Royal Marines Battalion mutineers in North Russia. He had bee sentenced to 5 years internment with hard labour.

After a campaign by family members and embarrassing questions asked in Parliament as to why Marines who had not volunteered were sent to Russia and why Marines under 19 years of age were sent on active service despite claims by the government that only volunteers over 19 were being sent, sentences of the nearly 100 Marines were commuted to 6 months served and eligibility to war medals restored.

Edited by wrightdw
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