Court Martials during World War 1

Court Martial

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.

In the main the offences related to being drunk onboard or ashore however some allegations were of a totally different character: –

On 12 July 1917 the Captain of RFA Barkol was charged firstly that he ‘Negligently or by default stranded his Majesty’s Royal Fleet Auxiliary ‘Barkol’ and secondly being drunk on board. The record doesn’t show if the stranding was caused by the Captain’s drunkenness. The charges were proved and he was ‘Dismissed his Ship’.

On 18 January 1918 two seamen from RFA Rapidol were charged with sodomy. In one case the allegation was not proved and the accused was acquitted while in the second the offence of sodomy was not proved but Able Seaman and Signalman George H. Constable was convicted of an offence of indecent assault and sentenced to 3 years penal servitude.

On 9 August 1918 a Sub-Lieutenant on RFA Ruthenia was charged with ‘Guilty of a scandalous action in derogation of God’s Honour and corruption of good manners’.  The case was not proved and the accused was acquitted. While no facts were shown in the Admiralty monthly record of Court Martial’s this offence was provided for in the second paragraph of the Articles of War.

On 11 October 1919 four officers – Engineer Sub-Lieutenant James Woodhouse, Assistant Engineer William Cowden, Engineer Sub-Lieutenant George R. McOnie faced allegations that they “stated that they refused to take RFA Serbol to sea” and Engineer Lieutenant William M Shaw faced an allegation that “he wilfully disobeyed the lawful command of his superior officer when ordered to steam RFA Serbol to sea”. The first three were dismissed their ship while Lieutenant Shaw was severely reprimanded.

The Officer to face two Court Martial’s was Engineer Lieutenant Charles P. Vickerman of RFA Philol who appeared before a Court Martial on the 16 January 1919 when he faced three charges – Improperly leaving his ship, using insulting language to a Sub-Lieutenant and being absent without leave. The Lieutenant was convicted of the first and third offences and was dismissed his ship. On 3rd April 1919 Lieutenant Vickerman while now serving on RFA Petroleum was charged before a Court Martial with two offences – Absent without leave and improperly leaving his ship. The officer pleaded Guilty to both offences and was adjudged to forfeit 12 months seniority, to be dismissed his ship and to be severely reprimanded.