Royal Australian Navy Bridging Train Mutinies
Photo: Lieutenant Commander Bracegirdle posed with those members of the 1st RANBT who had landed at Gallipoli the previous year.
On the 13th of January 1916, 189 men of the Royal Australian Navy Bridging Train (RANBT) mutinied over a lack of pay and refused to work. Then encamped at Mudros on the island of Imbros, the men were placed under arrest and an enquiry was held.
The RANBT had previously seen service at Gallipoli and the unit had recently been reconstituted in Imbros. During that time there was considerable unrest among its men. The weather at Imbros was cold with driving wind and rain and many men did not take well to carrying out route marches, rifle exercises and company drill in light of their recent service on the front line. Compounding this general unrest was an administrative oversight, of which few were aware, that resulted in the men not being paid for over five weeks.
At the time, the unit was under the temporary command of the brave but taciturn second-in-command Lieutenant Thomas Arthur Bond, DSO, RANR who had distinguished himself in German New Guinea in 1914. The unfortunate incident was quickly labelled a mutiny, a serious offence under naval law, and those involved were disarmed and placed under close arrest.
Eventually, the situation was resolved, due largely to the intervention and diplomacy of Admiral Rosslyn Wemyss, RN, who after carefully considering the charge of mutiny concluded it a ‘wash-out’. The pay issues were investigated and resolved after which the admiral addressed the men on the matter of discipline before complimenting them on their excellent work at Suvla Bay.
Although the first mutiny I’d heard of concerning the RAN, it was by no means the last – in 1919 HMAS Australia’s crew mutinied and in 1943 HMAS Pirie suffered the same fate.