"Dr. Halliday Sutherland is a born writer, especially a born story-teller. Dr. Sutherland, who is distinguished in medicine, is an amateur in the sense that he only writes when he has nothing better to do. But when he does, it could hardly be done better” – G.K. Chesterton
This post continues on from “Tuesday, 4th August 2014” below. One hundred years ago this month, Dr Halliday Sutherland was serving in the Royal Navy on the RMS Empress of Britain, somewhere in the Atlantic…
Number One joined us after we had been three days at sea. He left a cruiser and crossed to us in a boat. As he climbed on deck someone remarked: “There’s temper, if you like.” Next day he got busy, and we visited he stokers’ quarters. “By God,” said Number One, “I would not keep an animal here. They shall have the third-class cabins.”
The stokers liked the change, but grumbled bitterly when he stopped the “Black Pail.” When the ship had been an ocean liner, the unused food from the first-class saloon had been placed in pails and sent down to the stokers. Be it said that in this way the stokers had very good food without the trouble of cooking it. That was not the way of the Navy. The stokers, like all other ratings, had to draw their rations and have them cooked. Number One was out to reform the stokers, and, at the end of their commission, one of the roughest of them said: “‘E was fair, and acted according to ‘is lights.” They were degraded men. In times of peace when on shore between voyages they lived in a slum, and many went abroad drunk. Within twelve hours they were sober and stoked the ship. In Canada they were kept on the ship. Then home to be paid off, and return to a Liverpool slum and drink.
One forenoon, as we were cruising slowly in the tropical heat, the ship began to move at full speed, and on looking at the after-compass I saw that we were heading for our base, two hundred miles away. An hour later I was called to the bridge and found Number One white with rage.
“These damned stokers are throwing in their hands. Ten are on the way to the Sick-bay now – to report sick. Tell them the Sick-bay is closed, and that if they don’t go back to duty I’ll call out the marines and have the ringleaders shot at sight.”
I saluted. “Very good, sir.”
On my way aft, I thought of what I would say. In the Sick-bay I found ten sullen men, to whom I spoke: “I’m not going to ask you men to do anything for England. I don’t think England has done much for you, but unless there is a head of steam, you and four hundred other people in this ship will be at the bottom within a few hours. I think it’s five miles deep here. Also , if you don’t obey, the marines will shoot the ringleaders at once. You know the marines have never yet disobeyed an order. Go back to the stokehold. If any of you collapse I shall come down.”
The went. I returned to the bridge, and reported the result, but not what I had said. All that Number One said was, “Yah-ha.” Two hours later we met a battleship, the Albion, who cruised with us for two days. So there had been urgency. It may have been the Karlsruhe on our track.
Link to HMS Albion on Wikipedia here.
Link to RMS Empress of Britain on Wikipedia here.
Post-script: Marie Stopes also sailed on The Empress of Britain on 1st April 1911, following her marriage to Reginald Ruggles Gates in Montreal