The Merchant Navy. What a good option it had seemed, for those venturesome Edwardian lads, - the generation whose parents aspired to have them photographed in sailor suits. Some of them, at least, have been working Mr Bazeley’s coasters for several years.
But now, after the first winter of what will soon be called the Great War, those lads are not so sure. And in Penzance, on February 18th 1915, matters have come to a head. They know that, should they be drowned or blown to smithereens, their families will be given ample compensation. But that doesn’t seem like enough. The men, whose regular pay is 25 shillings [£1.25p] a week, want more “danger money” up front – another ten shillings [50p] a week on top than the paltry “five bob” [25p] on offer.
The Mercutio is due to head out for London at 7.00 pm. The men go in to see the captain, Daniel Edwards. The officers are not present, but all the crew are there. They will not work the ship even as far as Torquay without the extra pay. They will be happy to proceed to Bristol, but not into the Channel. There are perishables on board, valuable foodstuffs – probably fish, vegetables, perhaps meat. But Mr Bazeley feels that he must stand firm, German blockade or no.
Justice will be unusually swift. Tomorrow the men will be up in court, and given 24 hours to re-consider their position. They will stand firm. The next day – Saturday – they will appear again, formally with refusing “without reasonable cause” to go to sea, and thus in breach of the Merchant Shipping Act, although Mr Bazeley has opted to bring charges under a clause that carries only light penalties. The ten men will be fined two days’ pay and costs, and that is the worst the magistrates – to their chagrin - can do.
Reasonable cause? Opposite the newspaper account of the Saturday court case will appear a headline: “Two Ships Torpedoed”. One of them, a Norwegian vessel plying from New Orleans to Amsterdam, worked by a crew with even less stake in the War than Bazeley’s crew.
Cornish Evening Tidings 19th February 1915 p 3, 20th February 1915 p 3