Prestol

In 1918 British Naval Forces were sent to the Baltic to keep the sea lanes open to the newly independent states of Estonia, Latvia and the Free City of Danzig enabling them to secure their freedom. Danzig had been created on 10 January 1920 in accordance with the 1919 Treaty of Versailles.

To support the Royal Navy, Royal Fleet Auxiliary ships were deployed and these included the 2,000 ton Belgol class tanker RFA Prestol.

 

In 1918 British Naval Forces were sent to the Baltic to keep the sea lanes open to the newly independent states of Estonia, Latvia and the Free City of Danzig enabling them to secure their freedom. Danzig had been created on 10 January 1920 in accordance with the 1919 Treaty of Versailles. 

To support the Royal Navy, Royal Fleet Auxiliary ships were deployed and these included the 2,000 ton Belgol class tanker RFA Prestol.

  

Prestol-01

  

The Prestol had been in the Baltic since December 1918 with the Royal Navy. From her crew lists she did not appear to be a happy ship with one officer appearing before a Courts Martial charged with being absent without leave and six of the crew being logged for desertion. 

On 27 March 1920 Captain Frederick W Rae RFA was appointed as Master 

On 15 November 1920 the ship was alongside in the Port Of Danzig and Bosun George Mitchell brought thirteen members of the crew to the Master as they wished to make a complaint. The Master was not prepared to see them without the Chief Engineer being present and so Mr Charles A Smith RFA who had been the ship’s Chief Engineer since 6 June 1917 was called to the Master and the group of men aft. 

The thirteen men started their complaint by using the most insulting language directed at the Chief Officer Henry S Martin RFA and then threatened that if the ship was not kept alongside, that they would quit the vessel. The men also refused to return to their work. The same men, while the ship was alongside at Neufahrwasser, Danzig had been absent from their duty and had quit the ship without permission on a number of occasions. 

The Captain stated that the ship would move from alongside to the anchorage at Danzig in the early afternoon and to a question from the Bosun advised that there would be no liberty boat. One of the men – Stoker Charles Curd – stated he would “do the Chief Officer in”.

 

 CurdIBITSONHalkerston

      Stoker                                  Leading Seaman                           Ordinary Seaman

     Charles Curd                              William Ibitson                             Robert Halkerston

 

Stoker John Duthie told the Chief Engineer that "he would be a dead man in the morning". Duthie, it was further claimed had also said to the Chief Engineer – “I will get 5 or 6 revolvers and I will shoot you”.

 

The men concerned were: -

 

Stoker Charles Curd

Stoker John Duthie

Stoker P Cullin

Stoker J Newlands

Able Seaman William Ferdinand Ibitson

Able Seaman D J McFarlane

Able Seaman A Cameron

Able Seaman W Hay

Able Seaman B Petersen

Ordinary Seaman Robert Halkerston

Ordinary Seaman J McKee

Ordinary Seaman W Hogg

Ordinary Seaman J Bain

 

The Master reported the situation to the Senior Naval Officer at Danzig – Captain Cecil H Pilcher DSO Royal Navy

  

 Captain Cecil PILCHER RN

Captain Cecil H Pilcher DSO Royal Navy 

the Commanding Officer of HMS Dauntless, a Danae Class Light Cruiser, which was also in port.

 

HMS_Dauntless

 

HMS Dauntless provided a Guard and RFA Prestol, with the help of the Bosun, the Carpenter and the Signalman assisted the Guard to move the ship from alongside to the anchorage. 

The Guard remained on Prestol to protect the Officers and those of the crew who were still working. 

On 19 November 1920 Captain Cecil Pilcher Royal Navy convened a Naval Court under the provisions of Section 480 Merchant Shipping Act 1894 onboard HMS Dauntless. Captain Pilsher nominated and appointed to be members of the Court: - 

Cecil Horace Pilcher, Esquire, Captain, Royal Navy

B H Fry, Esquire, His Britannic Majesties Consul at Danzig

John Henderson, Master of RFA Burma

 

All the defendants contested the charges that they had: -

  1. Quit the ship without leave
  2. Combined to disobey the lawful command of the Master of RFA Prestol

both on or about 15 November 1920

 

The prosecution called the Master, the Chief Officer, the Third Officer and the Chief Engineer Officer 

The defendants, as well as giving evidence on their own behalf also called the Bosun, the Second Cook, the Donkeyman, a Greaser, Lieutenant B Sim Royal Navy the Officer commanding the Guard, Acting Lieutenant William A D Twysden Royal Navy and also finally Leading Seaman Hume of HMS Woolston – the fleet postman, who had arrived onboard on the 15 November just as things were becoming rather heated. His evidence provided little support for the defendants as he reported he had heard the threats to shoot the Chief Engineer Officer and that at least one of the defendants was under the influence of alcohol at 0915hrs

Able Seaman McFarlane while denying the charges corrected the Fleet Postman as he advised the Court two of the defendants were drunk, not one.

At the end of the evidence the Court adjudged that all of the defendants were guilty of quitting the ship without leave and all the defendants were guilty of disobeying the lawful command of the Master with the exception of Ordinary Seaman J Bain who was found not guilty of that offence. 

The Court sentenced the men to:- 

Stoker Charles Curd – that he forfeit one month and two days pay and to be imprisoned for twelve weeks

Stoker John Duthie – that he forfeit twenty three days pay and be imprisoned for eight weeks

Stoker P Cullin, Stoker J Newlands, AB William F Ibitson, AB D J McFarlane, AB A Cameron, AB W Hay, AB B Petersen,  OS Robert Halkerston, OS J McKee, OS W Hogg – each forfeit sixteen days pay and be imprisoned for eight weeks

OS J Bain – that he forfeit fourteen days pay

Those sentenced to imprisonment were returned to the United Kingdom, in custody, on another ship to serve their sentences in a UK prison.

The Board of Trade records of this matter classified the incident as one of mutiny.

In December 1920 the daughter of Stoker John Duthie approached the Merchant Seaman’s League which was affiliated with the National Sailor’s and Fireman’s Union claiming that Duthie had not received a fair trial. It was further claimed the penalty suffered was extreme. Nothing further appears to have been taken forward by the League or the Union once they had been made aware of the evidence given to the Court

Ordinary Seaman Robert Halkerston's career in the RFA continued after his imprisonment. On 12 July 1921 he signed on as an Ordinary Seaman on RFA War Afridi followed in September 1921 by his signing on RFA Appleleaf (1) again as an Ordinary Seaman

Copyright © 2008 – 2017 Christopher J White

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