The following is a report by Alfred Jackson Brigham of his time as Secretary of the Dover Branch of the Royal Fleet Reserve, from 28th July 1919 to October 1922. This covered the time immediately following World War 1 when many men found themselves looking for work.
The first meeting held in Dover of R.F.R. men was arranged by Mr Stickells & Mr C Davis on July 28th with a view to supporting a few R.F.R. men in Portsmouth who, unable to gain recognition from any other body to consider their first claims, decided to seek mutual interest and protection generally for all R.F.R. men. This meeting, not being well attended, it was decided to advertise another meeting more extensively; at the same time a voluntary collection was made to support the work.
The second meeting on Aug 4th 1919 gave a better attendance; and it was decided to adopt the programme of requests for better conditions in the R.F.R. than those there prevailing. Mr James of Portsmouth, the actual pioneer of the movement, invited Dover to appoint one of their number as a representative on the then "Joint Representatives Committee". Mr Brigham was proposed and seconded and accepted office, also as Secretary to the Dover Branch. At this period, although the Admiralty had been approached through the Dockyard Parliamentary Committee; they would not recognise R.F.R. men as a body, and it was therefore decided to gain recognition through various MPs up and down the country. Mr Brigham undertook to interview Sir W Crundall, the Parliamentary Secretary to Lord Duncannon, and placed the whole cause of R.F.R. men before them on behalf of the Dover Branch, after much correspondence it was a pleasing fact to recall that "Lord Duncannon" together with other MPs met the Board of Admiralty, who eventually agreed to accept a deputation of R.F.R. men, it will thereby be seen that recognition of R.F.R. men by the Admiralty, was brought about by the Joint Representatives Committee who had worked so diligently in conjunction with Mr James of Portsmouth. At this period steady recruiting had been going on throughout the country, and where no Branch had been formed; representatives were busy recruiting; Representatives having been appointed to the Joint Representatives Committee; which met together on Nov 1st 1919 at the Fratton Hotel Portsmouth; and set up the R.F.R. Mutual Benefit and Protection Association, declaring the Association to be as formed from Nov 11th 1919, to commemorate the day of the loss of HMS Good Hope & Monmouth, in which a large number of R.F.R. men lost their lives. The members who met on the Joint Representatives Committee, appointed Mr C Harris of London as the President of the Association, Mr A E James of Portsmouth was appointed as General Secretary; the remaining representatives were appointed by the President to the Executive Council, all offices provisionally for 12 months, thus the formation of the present association.
The eventual recognition by the Admiralty of the Association was established on Nov 14th 1919 when the Board of Admiralty represented by the then 4th Sea Lord Captain Chatterfield, Dr Macnamara Sec to Admiralty, & the Assistant General and other Admiralty officials met a deputation of R.F.R. men, Mr Brigham was sent to the deputation to represent the Dover Branch. Each item of the programme of requests for better conditions of service were laid before the Admiralty representatives, during which period of interviews bitter words passed with Mr Mac and the leader of the deputation, which resulted in drawing a kindly word from the 4th Sea Lord, who upon the retiring of the deputation, congratulated the Representatives upon the splendid manner in which they had put forward their case, and expressing his most sympathetic consideration to all our requests, when the Board met to consider them.
The result of this deputation was not received till March 1920, briefly as follows:
- The pension of £12 a year increased to £24 a year at 55 age.
- The Gratuity of £50 at the age of 40 was increased to £100.
- £5 a year for each years continued service for men invalided from the Royal Fleet Reserve up to a maximum of £95 otherwise referred to as proportionate benefit todate, all these concessions were dated back to 4th Aug 1914.
- Owing to the shutting down of Admiralty establishments and the consequent unemployment of R.F.R. men, the Admiralty allowed under certain conditions Seaman and Stokers of the R.F.R. to re-join the Royal Navy Active Service for Pension or other periods of service.
During this period early 1920, meetings were badly attended but the sociability of those present kept the Branch together, and dull evenings were brightened up by music and song, by employing the Best Mason and other talented artists, the Committee, whose heart and soul was in the movement, authorised Recruiting and Propaganda work as far as Branch funds would permit; and a Sub-Branch was formed in Canterbury at the Butchers Arms. The meeting was small, but enthusiastic, and subsequent meetings were held, but through the actions of one member who was too impulsive and wished to take things in his own hands, those present would not put up with it and declared their intention of retiring. The Dover Committee considered it advisable to withdraw this Sub-Branch, at Canterbury, and try and form one at Whitstable. A meeting was arranged at the Rose-in-Bloom Whitstable, only a couple of R.F.R. men being present, it was decided to abandon Whitstable, and try Margate for a Sub-Branch. At this period the social manner of the members took the form of an outing, and whilst visiting Margate, the Secretary Mr Brigham met Mr Gidy living in that town who was a R.F.R. man, he arranged to correspond with him, with a view to forming a Branch, which was formed and ran successfully under Mr Gidy for a period of 2 years, ending March 1922, Mr Gidy leaving Margate, the Branch failed to keep together, although everything was done to retain the members.
A meeting of the Executive Council was called on the 21st Aug 1920 at the Fratton Hotel Portsmouth, to formulate a fresh programme, review the work of organisation and propaganda, to complete Rules, decide upon design for Association Badge, etc. Trouble with certain members of the London Branches arose, but was amicably settled. The heavy organising expenses had left a debt balance of £30 to the General Secretary up to this date, this amount it was decided should be made good by levy on Branch funds, Dover Branch forwarding the sum of £2:8:4 to help wipe out the debt. During this first year Branch membership was never higher than 35, several members re-joining the Active Service. Several gifts from past R.F.R. men who had attained benefit of the increased £100 gratuity were made and otherwise Branch levies, maintained the work of the Branch.
The commencement of the second year faced the Branch with unemployment of several members, and increased considerably owing to the closing down of the Admiralty Dockyard, however most members obtained employment with the ship-breaking firm who had leased the dockyard from the Admiralty, others were helped by the Grand Fleet Fund to find employment and one found employment at the pits. Many matters concerning the welfare of the Association, left over at the last Executives Council meeting, caused the General Secretary to summon an Executive Council meeting in January 1921 at the Veterans Club in London, the chief concern at the time being the large number of members in various Branches becoming unemployed, it was decided to place the matter before the Admiralty at the earliest opportunity. About this period the country was being faced by grave dangers, both national and international, resulting in the calling up of the Reserves in April. During this period April to June whilst mobilised, Mr Brigham & Mr Preston of the Dover Committee arranged meetings of R.F.R. men through the Battalion in which they were stationed at Hull, subsequently arranging meetings at Aldershot amongst the 5 Battalions of R.F.R. men transferred there, in conjunction with Mr James Gen Sec, the result of these meetings recruited 471 new members, for all Branches of the Association; forwarding the sum of £71 to General Funds.
The demobilisation left Mr Brigham in hospital; and although attempts were made by the Chairman Mr C Davis to revise the Dover Branch; it was not until the return of the Secretary; that propaganda and a Grand Rally was commenced that the Dover Branch returned to normal, finding many more members unemployed, chiefly through a lock-out in the Dockyard, and in other cases loss of employment through having been called up. The Admiralty, having been asked to receive another deputation, this took place on Oct 3rd 1921, the question of unemployment of R.F.R. men was dealt with at considerate length as the most urgent problem to be solved, the deputation being received by the 2nd Sea Lord Admiral (illegible name) and the Parliamentary Secretary to the Admiralty and other representative officials of the Admiralty. Various schemes were put forward by the representatives of the deputation, Mr James Gen Secretary making a special appeal to the Admiralty to undertake ship-breaking in the naval yards, also the requests not previously granted by the Admiralty were again put before the Admiralty representatives, the 2nd Sea Lord promising to do all in his power to assist R.F.R. men to obtain employment, congratulated the representatives upon their clear manner of conducting their case.
The result of this deputation was a special offer made by the Board of Admiralty of 1,000,000 tons of shipping for sale, on easy instalment plans to firms of good standing who would expressly undertake to employ a number of R.F.R. men, stipulated in the contract notes. This offer was made public on Oct 8th, 5 days after the deputation had been received by the Admiralty representatives. Immediately Mr Brigham got in touch with the Stanlee S&S Co, who taking advantage of the offer, were putting in tenders for 200,000 tonnes of shipping to break up at Dover & Felixstowe. Interviews with the Joint Managers, led the Dover Branch Committee to seek assistance from all Branches to back up the Stanlee Cos tenders, and resolutions were forwarded to the Sec of Admiralty, and interviews arranged with the Director of Naval Contracts, and 2nd Sea Lord, Mr James & Mr Brigham making a special journey to London to impress the advantages of this contract being signed, resulting in a total tonnage of 130,000 tonnes allocated to the Stanlee Co. A further result of this deputation was the granting of the Proportionate Benefit todate of £5 a year for each years continued service, in case of death before qualifying, to be paid to the next-of-kin, dated back in April 1921.
This brings us to the third year Nov 1921-22. As the ships were made ready by the Admiralty for removal to Dover and Felixstowe, Mr Brigham found the crews from unemployed R.F.R. men to fetch the ships round, eventually absorbing all the unemployed members permanently on the ships to break them up in the Dockyard. The only unpleasant incident which took place was when the Vengeance broke adrift in the Channel from her tugs, it being known of the scarcity of food onboard, Mr Brigham made a special and urgent appeal to the Company to send out a provisioned search ship, the Dudge belonging to the Salvage Section of the Company was provisioned and dispatched, news being received shortly afterwards of the safety of the Vengeance, a representative of the firm was immediately sent to Cherbourg to look after the interests of the men, which was done, the safety of those onboard being communicated by Mr Brigham to their relatives. Several new member were recruited during this period chiefly of the A class and past members of Bel. most of which were unemployed; the means of getting these members work was slow; but gradually every unemployed member was employed 56 in all.
A very successful social evening was held at Christmas 1921, ably drawn together by Mr J Davis & Lawson, of talented artists, the object of which was to give a benefit to the Sec but owing to the heavy expenses which the Branch had had to face; the Sec surrendered the Benefit to the Branch Funds. Many new schemes about this period were entered into with the Grand Fleet Fund to obtain employment for R.F.R. men; all the principal employers of labour in Dover being solicited to co-operate, unfortunately nothing has been gained up to the present from these sources. Negotiations were opened up with Stevenson & Co ship-breakers of Dover; who were anxious to obtain some small craft to break up in Dover, tenders were obtained and ready to be forwarded, awaiting a financial backing, which at the very last minute failed, thus ending any help for R.F.R. men from that direction.
A meeting of the Executives Council was called by the General Secretary on Aug 19th 1922 in Birmingham, to formulate a new programme to place before the Admiralty; the falling off in membership gave the E. Council considerable anxiety, but it was considered that when drills were resumed R.F.R. men would meet together again and to encourage them to join or re-join it was decided to reduce the Substance Fee to 1/- instead of 2/- as hitherto.
A special deputation was decided upon to draw their Lordships attention to the unemployment of R.F.R. men and their admitted responsibility to find employment for them; also to deal with the matter of the increased retainer, although a new programme was drawn up & decided upon, these two questions were to be dealt with specially. It was with regret that the Executive Council learnt of the debt of over £70 to Mr James for wages, very little having been paid into General Funds; Mr James made an offer to wipe out the debt, as writing down his wages by £1 a week, this was agreed to, and he was permitted to find part time employment to help him along.
For some unknown reason the sociable side of the Branch began to fall away about March 1922 and although a social evening and also an outing was arranged, both falling through for want of support; it is hoped by the Committee it is only of a temporary nature, and consider it may be caused through the drop in wages which is taking place throughout the country, much good work lays ahead of those about to take over the Branch offices as Chairman, Secretary and Committeemen. When drills are resumed in April 1923 many R.F.R. men will have just grievances to recite, which if handled properly through the Association will result in a general benefit to R.F.R. men as a whole. It should always be borne in mind that whenever financial matters arise in requests to the Board of Admiralty; it is not always that Board who refuse these; that the Treasury who will not grant the money to finance the Board with to carry out their recommendations, it has always been from a Service point of view that a service man has no politics; this point is borne on R.F.R. men through their own Association being non-political; but it should be borne in mind that under past Conservative Reign or Government the Senior Service has always received most consideration. The future therefore is to all intents and purposes more hopeful for R.F.R. men getting greater consideration on the question of Retainer, LS & GC Medal Gratuity and a solution to unemployment questions, than in the past.
In concluding I must say I am sorry to leave the happy connection with Mr James General Secretary; who has always been willing to assist me whenever asked to do so, and who has visited the Branch on several occasions, it is impossible to expect him to be able to do the work of the Association when insufficient to pay his own wage are forthcoming to the General Funds from all Branches which has been the case lately. Although we have not always agreed our various things together, I can assure you no-one has the heart and soul of Fleet Reservemen more at heart than Mr James.
My chief desire is to see Mr J publish or otherwise print a quarterly letter and send out to every Branch, the object of this is to keep one Branch in touch with another, knowing the whole work of the Association and not only local work of each Branch.
Upon retiring with my colleagues I wish to express my appreciation for constant co-operation with the Chairman Mr C Davis, Mr Preston, Smith, Hullest, Twist, J Davis & Mr Wordsall, members of the Committee who have served continuously with me during the past 3 ½ years and have always been ready and willing to assist me to carry on the work of the Dover Branch. I also thank all the members for their support during this period.
I now have much pleasure in passing a hearty vote of confidence in our new Chairman Mr Reynolds, Hon Secretary Mr Lelliot, and in the following members of the new Committee: Mr Naylor, Maple, Sualy, Laugley, Twist, Tones, Burr, C. Davis, Presertt & Castle.
A few facts and figures in 3 and a half years work:
- 141 General Meetings have been held in Dover
- 38 Committee Meetings
- 10 meetings held during mobilisation
- 189 Total meetings
- 2 Deputations have been attended to Admiralty
- 1 Deputation with Mr James at Admiralty re ship-breaking
- 6 meetings of the Executive Council have been attended in Portsmouth, London and Birmingham
- 25 contributed articles by the Sec have appeared in Dover Express
- 8 East Kent News & Canterbury Chronicle
- 5 Thanet Times
- 1,041 letters have been written
- 129 newspapers have been sent out for Propaganda
- 62 cases have been taken up concerning service matters, prize money, clothing allowance, medals, etc representing at least £350 recovered for members
- 41 cases of distress have been forwarded to the Grand Fleet Fund, representing £175 distributed by this Fund up-to-date
- 180 quarterly reports have been forwarded to outlying members
- 119 jobs have been found for 56 members not including 14 members recruited back to the R. Navy
- 135 members have been enrolled, total number not more than 3 months in arrears at the end of 3rd year: 49