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elliot#1

Witley Camp (Surrey) Riots CEF

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elliot#1

I thought a few forum members might be interested in a couple of photos I cam across in my collection after a recent sort out. I have a group of photos relating to an 'Uncle Harry' who was a Canadian soldier in the Great War. It's possible from the notes on the back that his name was E Walker and that he won the DCM. 

In this set of photos are two in-particular marked on the back as "Witley Camp after riot". I have found very little detail online about these riots, but they appear to have happened when war ended. Witley Camp was in Surrey and a Canadian only camp as far as I can find out. I thought the pictures may interest members who know more!

Witley Camp After Riot EDIT.jpg

Witley Camp Riot EDIT.jpg

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Moonraker

Wow! That is some damage. At first I thought it was a village in France that had been damaged in a battle. Not sure what the structures are in the lower photo? Googling does lead to a few websites with info about the problems at Witley, where the damage seems to have been more intense that elsewhere - including in "my" Wiltshire camps. After the experience of the First Canadian Contingent on Salisbury Plain  in the very wet winter on 1914-15, very few Canadians served in the county, but after the Armistice there were problems with troops of other nationalities - British and ANZAC.

 

Troops from overseas were very fed up with delays in shipping them back home and continuing "bull" that had little relevance to their present and future lives.

 

See this old thread for info about various riots, including that at Witley.

 

At the time, there was little coverage in local and national newspapers of many of the disturbances because the press was still subject to wartime censorship.

 

Thanks for posting.

 

Moonraker

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NigelS

There's a fairly comprehensive set of pictures of Witley Camp (mainly postcards), together with some images of related objects and some historical notes (including the riots) on this site 202nd Battalion Witley Camp   Also 'Surrey in the Great War: A County Remembers - Canadians and Witley Camp'

 

27 minutes ago, Moonraker said:

Not sure what the structures are in the lower photo?

 

Possibly refuse incinerators?

 

NigelS

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yperman

What was the reason for the riots? Delay in demob?

 

 

Yperman

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Stoppage Drill
2 hours ago, yperman said:

What was the reason for the riots? Delay in demob?

 

 

Yperman

 

Yes. Have a read of Moonraker's post #2 above.

 

The mutiny at Kimnel Park near Rhyl is usually considered the worst disturbance, as several (5?) fatalities occurred. At Epsom the local police station sergeant was murdered.

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Moonraker

As well as unrest among troops from overseas, British soldiers in this country also became restless.

 

See this thread.

 

Great photos, by the way, Elliot. Another GWF member has shown me unique photographs of a senior New Zealand officer trying to reason with his unhappy countrymen at Sling Camp on Salisbury Plain in 1919.

 

(I think I am correctly using the word "unique".)

 

Moonraker

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Stoppage Drill

Cutting The Kiwi was intended to give the New Zealanders at Sling something to occupy them, wasn't it ?

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atombowl

Hi. Godalming Museum and Surrey County Archaeological Unit have been doing a fair bit of work on Witley Camp in recent years. If memory serves there was a little bit of rioting on Armistice Day 1918 and two more extensive one ones in 1919 (Feb and June I think). Delayed de-mob was certainly a part of the problem, but it coincided with an outbreak of influenza which meant that the Canadians could only buy provisions from the in-camp encroachments. It seems that the shop-keepers took advantage of this and raised their prices. This is why 'Tin Town' was the focus of the rioting (including the Garrison Theatre). Photos of the riot and it's aftermath are pretty rare. Until recently I knew of about 5. Last year another 4 came online including one of a picket sent to restore order having stones thrown at them although I can't lay my hands on the link right now (will post here as soon as I relocate it). The two in your collection are excellent. The two tall structures in the background certainly look like incinerators but on the surviving camp plans they only appear singly alongside a Horsfall destructor. The most likely location for your first photograph seems to be Encroachment Area 3 to the north of the camp (AKA 'Little Tin Town). If you google Witley Camp you should find a copy of this. It may be part of the main 'Tin Town' but we have good photographic coverage of this are and there doesn't seem to be a small hipped-roof building as in your photo. The second one is more problematic but if the chimneys are incinerators this would support the idea that we're looking at Area 3 as there is an incinerator marked in about the right place on the plans whilst Tin Town has no incinerators nearby.

Whilst contemporary accounts vary, it is thought that the fire at the main encroachment may have been accidental but that the little Tin Town on was deliberate arson.

 

In 2019 the museum will be producing an exhibition about the end of the camps and the aftermath. If it was OK with you we would love to include digital copies of your photos, particularly as they are linked to an individual present at the time. We would obviously credit the images to you and would feed-back any further information we unearth that relates to them or 'Uncle Harry'. 

Edited by atombowl

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Simon Colbeck

Daily Chronicle for Monday 16th June 1919 has a front page report of rioting at Witley Camp on the preceding Saturday. It is attributed to dock strikes in Liverpool causing the cancellation of troopship sailings. It includes a statement by Canadian Forces HQ that Canadian soldiers helped to put out fires but that the theatre, a Salvation Army hut and 'at least a dozen shops' were severely damaged before the fire was halted by pulling down other buildings. On the Sunday morning 'a man was shot in the neck during a scuffle for possession of a revolver.' Canadian Chief of Staff General Turner travelled from London to address the troops but there were further fires on Sunday night causing closure of an adjacent main road.

[Above is based on reading a copy of the newspaper displayed at Snowshill Manor, National Trust property formerly owned by a wealthy collector Charles Wade who was a combatant in WW1. I photographed the front page but the report is continued on p 7]

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