BBC HomeExplore the BBC
This page has been archived and is no longer updated. Find out more about page archiving.

Accessibility help
Text only
BBC Homepage
BBC Radio
BBC Radio 4 - 92 to 94 FM and 198 Long WaveListen to Digital Radio, Digital TV and OnlineListen on Digital Radio, Digital TV and Online

Radio 4 Tickets
Radio 4 Help

Contact Us

Like this page?
Send it to a friend!


Making History
Go to the Listen Again page
Making History banner
Listen to the latest editionTuesday 3.00-3.30 p.m
Vanessa Collingridge and the team answer listener’s historical queries and celebrate the way in which we all ‘make’ history.
Programme 2
8 April 2008
Vanessa Collingridge and the team discuss listeners' historical queries and celebrate the many ways in which we all 'make' history.

Listen to this programme in full

The Murmansk Mutiny

Alan Wenham contacted Making History after discovering that his grandfather, Leonard, served in the Royal Marines at around the time at around the time of the Murmansk Mutiny of 1919. Could Leonard have been involved?

Leonard Somerville Wenham
Leonard Somerville Wenham

Making History consulted Major (Retired) Mark Bentinck, the Royal Marines historian, at the Naval Historical Branch. Here he sets out the context of the Murmansk Mutiny and what happened:

The material conditions at this time certainly justified a mutiny. Between 1852 and 1917, for example, sailors had received only one pay increase, amounting to a penny a day, in 1912. Wartime inflation had reduced the sailors' nineteen pence a day to a mere pittance. Another two pence a day was granted in 1917, plus a miserable separation allowance of ten shillings and six pence a week, for wives.

1919: 'An uneasy year for the admiralty'

After the Russian Revolution the British Navy was sent into action against the Russians. It proved ineffective, but this ineffectiveness had less to do with the efforts of the Bolsheviks than with the unwillingness of the British seamen to fight. The extent of these mutinies can be measured by reference to the following comment made in the House of Commons by G. Lambert MP, on March 12 1919:

'...undoubtedly there was, at the end of last year, grave unrest in the Navy... I do not wish to be violent, but I think I am correct in saying that a match would have touched off an explosion.'

There were mutinies on a number of ships: in the UK refusals to weigh in for ships destined for Russia,and mutinies in the Baltic, near Copenhagen and Russia. Between October 12 and November 21, 1919 some 96 offenders had been arrested and punished, ten by imprisonment. It should be remembered that the government had repeatedly pledged that only volunteers would be sent to fight against the Russians. It is clear that this was not the practice employed by the Admiralty. Those who did not intend to 'volunteer' had little choice but to mutiny and face the consequences.


Mutinies in the forces of intervention were not confined to the Navy. There was a large mutiny in a Marine battalion at Murmansk. The 6th Battalion of the Royal Marines, formed in the summer of 1919 at a time of unrest over demobilisation, were originally intended to police Schleswig Holstein. But, at short notice, the Battalion had been diverted to cover the evacuation of Murmansk. They were sent to the Lake Onega region, a further 300 miles south of Kem. In August 1919 two companies refused duty: 90 men were tried and found guilty of mutiny by a court martial. Thirteen men were sentenced to death and others to up to 5 years imprisonment.

None of the death sentences were actually carried out. The 90 mutineers were shipped to Bodmin prison, where they continued their resistance to arbitrary authority. Continued resistance paid off. The ninety men arrested after the Murmansk incident had their sentences reduced as follows: the 13 sentenced to death were commuted to five years, but 12 were released after only one year, and the other after two years. Twenty men, originally given 5 years, were released after six months. 51 men sentenced to two years were also released within six months.

Many other mutinies occurred in North Russia. One took place in the 13th Battalion of the Yorkshire Regiment, which ended with death sentences being passed on two sergeants whilst the other mutineers were cowed by White Russian machine gunners called in by the English officers. News of these mutinies was suppressed. They highlighted the reluctance of British sailors to fight against Russia when the government was theoretically committed to a policy of peace.

As for Leonard Wenham, its clear from his records that although he may have been caught up in some of the bad feeling between the troops and their commanders in Russia at this time, he had left before the mutiny by the 6th Battalion of the Royal Marines.

Useful contacts:

Naval Historical Branch
Admiralty Library,
Naval Historical Branch (Naval Staff),
No 24 Store (pp 20),
Main Road,
HM Naval Base Portsmouth,
PO1 3LU.
Tel: 023 92 724327 or 725300
023 92 724003

The National Archives
Gaelic Mapping

Talitha MacKenzie contacted Making History to ask:

I was wondering if you could confirm the following story.

A team of mapmakers came up from England looking to take down the Gaelic placenames on the Island of Lewis. While staying at a B&B in Kirkhead, they asked their landlady 'What does the Gaelic word 'kirk' mean?' Of course, kirk is not a Gaelic word at all, but the Scots word for church. Not wanting to embarrass her guests, she gave them the translation of the closest word in Gaelic to the word kirk--'cearc' (or 'circ'), which means chicken.

So, is there a headland (with a once famous church) now called Chickenhead in Lewis?

Making History contacted the place name specialist Professor David Munro at the Royal Scottish Geographical Society in Glasgow and Paedar Morgan, a Gaelic language expert in Inverness.

David Munro told us that Chicken Head is marked on assorted maps. Early Bartholomew's and OS maps have a Chicken Head / Ceann na Circ at the southern tip of the Eye Peninsula / An Rubha to the east of Stornoway. James Johnstone in his 'Place Names of Scotland' also suggests there was a confusion between kirk (church) and circ - Gaelic for a hen. Modern OS maps have Chicken Head / Gob na Creige. This Gaelic rendering suggests beak-shaped (Gob) cliff (Creige). Just of Chicken Head is an islet with a lighthouse called A'Chearc (modern OS maps). Older maps also have it as Chicken Rock.

Paeder Morgan advised consulting the relevant Ordnance Survey Object Name Book for this name. These are a great source for the study of topographic names in particular and, for Scotland, held in Edinburgh. He argues that the Ordnance Survey in particular did a lot for the Gaelic language by going to quite extreme lengths to ensure that they got the right name for a particular place.

He says that the history to this name is simple enough, with an English translation of Gaelic cearc 'hen'. The ceann 'head' may be a recent back-translation from English head(land) - it is not common in this sense in Scots Gaelic. One study, or rather collation of earlier studies, both reliable and not, gives the very plausible comment:

Chicken Head (Lewis), A' Chearc.

The Gaelic name of this headland is simply "the hen", so called because of its shape.
(Iain Mac an Tàilleir 2004, 42)

Following last week’s piece on William Walker, the man who almost single-handedly helped shore up the foundations of Winchester Cathedral by diving on its foundations, listener Greg Forde contacted the programme to tell us that Winchester was also the scene for the development of a famous wood treatment called Wykamol. Professor Philip Stott from the University of London filled in the details.

The story begins with the need to save Westminster Hall. In 1914, Sir Frank Bains asked H. Maxwell Lefroy, Professor of Entomology at Imperial College, London, to find a solution. He came up with a mixture of cedar wood oil as the carrier fluid; a metallic soap as the poison; dichlorobenzine as the fumigant; and parafin wax to hold the mixture in the timber. It was pretty lethal and others also tried various solutions.

The search was then taken up by a Winchester chemist, Stanley A Richardson (who looked at old 19th Century recipes, and who had also been an entomologist, working in West Africa). He initially employed cedar wood oil, paradichlorobenzene, and soft soap. This too was pretty lethal, but he ultimately refined it to produce 'Anobol', employing rotenone from the root of the 'Derris' plant.

It is this last, more successful mixture, which became known as 'Wykamol'. 'Wykamol' provided the basis of an early company (Richardson and Starling Ltd) that indeed worked for the Winchester Diocese. By the 1960s, Stanley decided to concentrate on manufacturing, but the R&S branches continued as independent Accredited Wykamol Users, while, through mergers and growth, the manufacturing company has become a much bigger company dealing with all aspects of building renovation and treatment, but employing the old 'Wykamol' name.
The Ladies Bridge

Filmmakers Karen Livesey and Jo Wiser contacted the programme to ask if any listener ever worked on the restoration of Waterloo Bridge in London during the Second World War. The story, kept alive by tour guides on Thames river cruisers, is that the bridge became known as the ‘Ladies Bridge’ because women replaced male workers who had gone to fight. However, there is little evidence written down for this – so can Making History listeners fill in any details?

Making History is grateful to the Imperial War Museum for its help sourcing archive and other information for our item on The Ladies Bridge. Much more can be seen in The Ladies Bridge directed by Karen Livesey and produced by Jo Wiser for Concrete History –

Were you a navvy on Waterloo Bridge during the Second World War, or do you know someone who was? If so we’d like to hear from you.
    Contact  Making History
    Use this link to email Vanessa Collingridge and the team: email Making History

    Write to: Making History
    BBC Radio 4
    PO Box 3096
    BN1 1TU

    Telephone: 08700 100 400

    Making History is produced by Nick Patrick and is a Pier Production.
    Listen Live
    Audio Help

    Making History

    Vanessa Collingridge
    Vanessa CollingridgeVanessa has presented science and current affairs programmes for BBC, ITV, Channel 4, Channel 5 and Discovery and has presented for BBC Radio 4 & Five Live and a regular contributor to the Daily Telegraph and the Mail on Sunday, Scotsman and Sunday Herald. 

    Contact Making History

    Send your comments and questions for future programmes to:
    Making History
    BBC Radio 4
    PO Box 3096 Brighton
    BN1 1PL

    Or email the programme

    Or telephone the Audience Line 08700 100 400

    Making History is a Pier Production for BBC Radio 4 and is produced by Nick Patrick.

    See Also

    Elsewhere on

    BBC History

    The BBC is not responsible for the content of external sites

    Don't Miss

    In Our Time

    Melvyn Bragg

    Thursday, 9.00 - 9.45am, rpt 9.30pm
    Melvyn Bragg explores the history of ideas.
    Listen again online or download the latest programme as an mp3 file.

    About the BBC | Help | Terms of Use | Privacy & Cookies Policy