|AFO 3657/1920.-Lower Deck Benefit Societies.
There is reason to think that it will be of assistance both to Officers and men to have some indication of the views of the Admiralty in regard to the associations known as the Lower Deck Benefit Societies.
2. These Societies were founded for the purpose of promoting thrift by securing to their members, in return for regular contributions, specified benefits for themselves or their representatives in the event of disablement or death. Some of the Societies have been in existence for many years, and they have behind them an honourable record of useful work.
3. The management of such organisations by the men of the Navy on their own behalf is in accord with the policy of the Board, who have at present under their consideration a scheme for the formation of a Royal Naval Benevolent Trust which will provide for various benevolent funds intended for the benefit of the Navy being managed by representatives of the men on behalf of the whole Service.
4. Their Lordships therefore desire it to be known that they fully recognise the great advantages that have accrued to Petty Officers and men by the formation of Benefit Societies, and that such Societies have the full support and approval of the Admiralty so long as they confine themselves to their original and legitimate objects.
5. At the same time the Admiralty think it necessary to point out that a great responsibility rests on those having the management of the Benefit Societies to see that the activities of the Societies are restricted to their proper sphere, and do not develop on lines that are inconsistent with the discipline of the Service.
6. The importance of the maintenance of discipline in any Armed Force is abundantly proved by history, and the experience of the recent war has shown conclusively that discipline is at the root of fighting efficiency. It is no less clear that discipline is essential in peace time to a Force which has always claimed, and with justice, that it is ready to meet any emergency in any part of the world.
7. Discipline, which requires the co-ordination of individual wills in order to achieve a single purpose, can only be brought to a high state of efficiency by Officers and men being in close touch with each other.
8. It is essential, therefore, that Officers should carefully look after the interests of their men in order that discipline may not be impaired by disaffection ; and that the men should have confidence in their Officers not only to direct them in action or the daily routine of the ship, but also to take a personal interest in their welfare.
9. To this end it is provided by the King's Regulations that the requests and grievances of individuals should be represented to their Officers and, in particular, to the Captain of their ship, an appeal to higher authority being in certain cases permitted. Stress has also been laid on the importance of Officers, especially Officers of Divisions, studying the well-being of those under their orders by assisting their men in preferring legitimate requests.
10. The Admiralty have been careful to preserve the same principle of the close association of Officers and men when establishing machinery for enabling general questions (or such as affect large classes of men) to be discussed between Officers and men and reported on by the former for the consideration of the Board. Experience will no doubt make it possible to improve upon this machinery, but whatever form it may take from time to time, the association of Officers with the men in formulating and preferring their requests must be maintained as being essential in a disciplined Service.
11. For this reason, and because of the expressed intention of the Admiralty to make an efficient machinery to enable them to be informed fully as to the aspirations, grievances and disabilities of the Lower Deck from time to time, their Lordships are unable to recognise such matters as coming within the proper sphere of the Lower Deck Benefit Societies. It is of course not to be supposed that when these Societies meet for their legitimate purposes, the opportunity will not be taken by members to exchange views on non-disciplinary Service matters affecting them, and the Admiralty have no wish to apply the strict wording of the King's Regulations to moderate and reasonable discussion of this kind on such occasions. But it would be a clear infringement of the Regulations for such matters to be permitted to become the main concern of the Benefit Societies. In particular, proposals that have appeared in the Press for a general amalgamation of such Societies, or for the establishment of a Periodical in connection therewith could not, in the opinion of the Board, serve any useful object connected with the legitimate purposes of the Benefit Societies, and would be regarded by the Board as contravening both the letter and the spirit of the Regulations.
12. The Admiralty have thought it right to give this clear expression of their views, because they have documentary evidence showing that outside influences which are hostile to the discipline and good order of the Service have fixed upon these Societies as a possible channel through which to work. Their Lordships are satisfied that these influences have had no success whatever, but it is obviously necessary that those connected with the Societies should be on their guard and should see that the activities of their organisations are kept within the proper limits.
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