RFA Naval Discipline in WW1
Deserters and Absconders
Crew records show that between the period 27 May 1916 and 1 January 1920 while subject to Naval Discipline 148 crew members (both Officers and Ratings) were registered as having deserted. A further 16 were shown as being absentees without leave while 6 were just noted as having ‘failed to return to their ship’.
The ships with the worst record were RFA Fortol and RFA Petroleum both having recorded 19 crew members as having deserted.
A few records show that when arrested the deserter faced imprisonment. Deserter James Sutton, a Stoker from RFA Servitor was sentenced to 42 days hard labour when he was arrested on 27 April 1917. Others are noted as being sent to Naval Detention Quarters (DQ’s).
Three soldiers, who had signed on RFA ships during World War One, were found to have deserted from their Army Regiments.
During World War 1 discipline formally enforced against RFA Officers resulted in trials by Court Martial. Both RFA Officers and Rating charged with serious offences also faced the prospect of a Court Martial.
Between 29 May 1916 and 11 October 1919 44 Court Martial’s were convened where 39 RFA Officers (one twice) and 5 RFA ratings appeared as defendants.
Prison and Detention
RFA crews in WW1 faced prison or detention for a variety of offences other than being sentenced by Court Martial.
The Crew records have 8 being sentenced to prison while 25 received sentences in cells or in Naval Detention Quarters for matters other than desertion.
In most cases the reason for the punishment is not shown however Switchboard Operator George Ed. Jesson of RFA Reliance was, on the 7 May 1918, sentenced to 14 days detention for sleeping on watch.
Some were recidivist offenders with Able Seaman L. Henderson of RFA Reliance in Malta being sentenced to 7 days in the cells of HMS Egmont on the 2 April 1918 and a further 60 days in DQ’s being awarded to him on the 18 April 1918. His misdemeanours are not recorded.
Another seaman plainly didn’t like the thought of returning to his ship - Able Seaman Lewis Hogan of RFA Dredgol at Gibraltar, was sentenced on the 28 June 1919 to 42 days detention. On his release he deserted.
The longest period of punishment in DQ’s shown as awarded to RFA crew members was 90 days each to three engine room ratings at Malta.
The notice below was outside the Detention Quarters at Portsmouth and is obviously post WW2 but similar notices were outside all Detention Quarters which held those sentenced to Detention from RFA's both at home and overseas and would have referred to the King George V