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Disturbance in Calais 24th July 1918


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I am researching a soldier who served with 1st Battalion East Lancs Regiment in 1918 and came across an intriguing entry in the WD for July. Two companies were sent to Calais on 24th July to deal with a "disturbance". The WD entry is very vague so I wondered if anyone knew any details. The WD mentions a mob and the need to block exits to the M.M.P billets. It also mentions P.O.W. company. Were POWs giving them trouble? The Brigade orders only mentions a disturbance without giving details

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This was probably one of the continuing well reported mutinies an unrest in the British Army as disgruntled soldiers complained about the pace and selection for demobilisation The major event was in January

https://libcom.org/history/1919-the-calais-mutiny

No doubt there were other disturbances although I’m not aware of the specific event in July 1918.

 

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2 minutes ago, kenf48 said:

This was one of the well reported mutinies in the British Army as disgruntled soldiers complained about the pace and selection for demobilisation 

https://libcom.org/history/1919-the-calais-mutiny

 

 

Thank you very much. That would explain why the WD entry was very brief

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Dai Bach y Sowldiwr

Your thread title says the war diary entry was 1918 not 1919?

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6 minutes ago, Dai Bach y Sowldiwr said:

Your thread title says the war diary entry was 1918 not 1919?

 

 It may well have been 1918, these events were and are often are unreported, or brushed under the carpet.

The Etaples Mutiny referred to above is probably the best known, probably because of the deaths and subsequent trial and the general reputation of the place.  The question is perhaps why did the British soldier not mutiny like the French, or Russians? 

As one source suggests perhaps the class structure of Britain meant there was no predisposition to unrest, "Donkeys led by Lions".

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TullochArd
9 minutes ago, kenf48 said:

The question is perhaps why did the British soldier not mutiny like the French, or Russians? As one source suggests perhaps the class structure of Britain meant there was no predisposition to unrest, "Donkeys led by Lions".

 

I suspect that particular source neglected to research the very different treatment of French and Russian troops within their respective military structures and in the case of the Russians the very different treatment of the vast proportion of the population within the their society. I'd further offer that the suggestion made by that the source that the British have no predispostion to unrest is certainly not supported by historical fact.

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FROGSMILE

I think there was a disturbance among the Chinese Labour Corps working as stevadores in Calais, but I'm not sure what year it was, might that have been it?  

I recall that British troops had to be sent in to deal with it and some Chinese were shot and killed.

Edited by FROGSMILE
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15 minutes ago, TullochArd said:

the British have no predispostion to unrest is certainly not supported by historical fact.

I perhaps overstated the lack of predisposition to unrest, nevertheless this was a society where everyone knew their place.  Out of respect for the OP this is a bit off topic but organised labour was in its infancy and certainly any attempt by the 'Soldiers Councils' were swiftly quashed and the ringleaders transferred.  I would agree the Russians were treated miserably and the discipline structure in the British Army was more paternal, but again that said the fear of Revoloution within both the Civil and military authorities was a genuine concern. 

The historical fact is that between 4 August 1914 and 31 March 1920 1,807 British soldiers were convicted of mutiny.  Most of them abroad and most cases involving relatively few men. Out of an Army that involved millions that is a very small proportion.

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49 minutes ago, kenf48 said:

 

 It may well have been 1918, these events were and are often are unreported, or brushed under the carpet.

The Etaples Mutiny referred to above is probably the best known, probably because of the deaths and subsequent trial and the general reputation of the place.  The question is perhaps why did the British soldier not mutiny like the French, or Russians? 

As one source suggests perhaps the class structure of Britain meant there was no predisposition to unrest, "Donkeys led by Lions".

It was definitely 1918. See below

calais.jpg

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2 hours ago, TullochArd said:

........ and another at Mutiny At Etaples Base in 1917 | Military History Forum (militarian.com)  that concludes with a paragraph on the striking PWs in Calais in 1918.  Clearly not an isolated incident. 

 

That was an interesting read thanks. It actually mentions a clash between resting 51st Division troops and Red Caps.at Calais in 1918. I wonder if this links to the reference to the MMP billets in the WD?

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Just noticed  you’re researching and they deployed a’regular’ battalion.  
Appreciate the distinction had largely broken down by 1918 but can’t help wondering if this was by accident or design. Whatever the event, as Charles Messenger noted in Call To Arms records were destroyed after the war and he even notes, as in your example the war diary entries gloss over the events, “for obvious reasons”.

It is a shame as it deprives us of a complete picture of the ‘Tommy Atkins’.  Though many of the recoded instances seem to have been sparked by relatively minor grievances which a more enlightened officer could and did resolve.

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corisande

There is an academic JSTOR Article - click - that I cannot access, that covers all the disturbances. This is the Preview page

 

etaples.JPG.d2252ac4c6c27cbbec0f6f1982543568.JPG

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Some potential reasons for a disturbance at Calais are given here:-

 

Among overseas troops, the fervour of dissent was equally pronounced. At Le Havre, Royal Artillery units rioted on 9 December 1918, burning down several army depots in the course of the night. The most sustained mutiny by troops took place at army camps surrounding Calais. Unrest within the units stationed there had been building up for several months beforehand over issues such as cruel and humiliating punishments, the censorship of news from home, and bad working conditions in the Valdelièvre workshops.

There was also discontent over the savage ten-year sentences imposed on five teenage soldiers for relatively minor breaches of discipline, and the harsh regime in Les Attaques military prison, where detained soldiers were flogged and manacled for trivial offences such as talking to each other and were only issued with a single blanket, even during the severest of winters.

In January 1919 these grievances exploded into agitation for improved conditions and speeded demobilisation.

https://www.petertatchellfoundation.org/ww1-the-hidden-story-of-soldiers-mutinies-strikes-riots/

 

My highlight as to timescale which presumably works back from January 1919.

 

The reality may have been different but as is often the case perception and rumour (aka "fake news") can run rampant if not actively addressed.

 

There were exchanges in the House of Commons in April and May 1919 for example addressing the conditions at Les Attaques, (stated to be near Calais), following a report in the Daily Herald which set out the allegations in the second paragraph above.

 

LES ATTAQUES MILITARY PRISON (PUNISHMENTS).

HC Deb 26 May 1919 vol 116 cc822-3 822 45.

Lieut.-Colonel Sir F. HALL asked the Prime Minister if his attention has been called to the report which has been published in the "Daily Herald" with regard to the conditions obtaining at Les Attaques Military Prison, near Calais; if, as there stated, men are confined in this camp for trivial offences such as the over staying of leave for a few days; if they are supplied with only one blanket each in the coldest weather and are flogged and placed in irons and handcuffs for conversing with each other; and, if there are no grounds for these charges, will he consider as to the taking of criminal proceedings for the publication of such reckless and libellous statements for the purpose of bringing the Army into disrepute?

Mr. FORSTER

The Report from France has now been received, and it shows that the allegations referred to by my hon. and gallant Friend are quite unfounded. The men are supplied with the same number of blankets as all other troops on the lines of communication living under canvas. No men are put in irons unless the governor of the prison is satisfied that it is necessary on account of violence. As regards the offences for which men are confined in the camp, these are of all descriptions, and include the most serious criminal offences, as well as comparatively small offences for which short sentences have been awarded.

Sir F. HALL

Will the Government forthwith take steps against those who have circulated these reports, which are detrimental to the interests of the British Army and will the right hon. Gentleman take immediate steps in the matter, because this question has now been on the Paper for fourteen or sixteen days waiting for this Report?

Mr. FORSTER

We will consider it.

Sir F. HALL

Is not all this libellous? Does the right hon. Gentleman not appreciate how libellous it is on the British soldiers and officers, and surely, under the circumstances, they are entitled to the protection of this House and of the country?

Mr. FORSTER

I say that the matter will be considered.

Sir F. HALL

Will it be done?

Colonel C. LOWTHER

Surely the character of the governor of this prison should be cleared?

Mr. FORSTER

I hope I have cleared it.

An HON. MEMBER

Were any of them flogged?

Mr. FORSTER

No, Sir. So far as I know there were no cases of that sort.

https://api.parliament.uk/historic-hansard/commons/1919/may/26/les-attaques-military-prison-punishments

 

There has been a forum post before about the location of Valdelievre:-

A Chapter of Dangerous Work: The Memoir of Private George Weeks of the Labour Corps 1917-1919 covers August 1918 , and starts with him on his way home for leave at the start of the month via Calais. However an air-raid prevents boats from sailing (night of 6th/7th) and they are forced to stay in the camp. He and others in a similar position are paraded and given small clubs to hide up their sleeves and then sent out to patrols the streets of the town. This was "rumoured" to be in reaction to events at Valdelievre where there had been a mutiny of A.S.C and A.O.C men over food, pay and hours. It seems like these poorly armed strikebreakers were never explicitly informed of what to do. When encountered the rebels were found to be armed with handguns and bayonets. The officer in charge of the patrol beat a retreat after ordering them to block the street, but the patrol just stood aside and let the strikers through - it wasn't their fight

The relevant pages are available as a preview on Google Books. https://books.google.co.uk/books?id=rIRJBQAAQBAJ&pg=PT106&lpg=PT106&dq=Valdelièvre+workshops+Mutiny+1918&source=bl&ots=LNnWWEH3Ik&sig=ACfU3U08XKtN1pFoZDch43O9FpaEeqFeZA&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwj3h5LFmojxAhXIRkEAHV8SCMsQ6AEwD3oECBUQAw#v=onepage&q=Valdelièvre workshops Mutiny 1918&f=false

 

Cheers,

Peter

 

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FROGSMILE
6 hours ago, kenf48 said:

Just noticed  you’re researching and they deployed a’regular’ battalion.  
Appreciate the distinction had largely broken down by 1918 but can’t help wondering if this was by accident or design. Whatever the event, as Charles Messenger noted in Call To Arms records were destroyed after the war and he even notes, as in your example the war diary entries gloss over the events, “for obvious reasons”.

It is a shame as it deprives us of a complete picture of the ‘Tommy Atkins’.  Though many of the recoded instances seem to have been sparked by relatively minor grievances which a more enlightened officer could and did resolve.

You make really excellent points, but I personally wouldn’t equate the majority short-service citizen soldiers of 1918 with ‘Tommy Atkins’, I think they were quite different beasts.  I realise there’s a whole thread of debate in that notion, but I don’t wish to digress too far from this one.

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ilkley remembers
12 minutes ago, FROGSMILE said:

I think they were quite different beasts.  I realise there’s a whole thread of debate in that notion, but I don’t wish to digress too far from this one.

 

Yes @FROGSMILE  it would make an interesting thread

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9 hours ago, FROGSMILE said:

I think there was a disturbance among the Chinese Labour Corps working as stevadores in Calais, but I'm not sure what year it was, might that have been it?  

I recall that British troops had to be sent in to deal with it and some Chinese were shot and killed.

 

It may be a coincidence but on 23 July 1918 a Chinese labourer by the name of Cheng Shan Kung was executed for the murder of one of his countrymen.

 

20 minutes ago, FROGSMILE said:

I realise there’s a whole thread of debate in that notion

Thinking about it

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FROGSMILE
2 hours ago, kenf48 said:

 

It may be a coincidence but on 23 July 1918 a Chinese labourer by the name of Cheng Shan Kung was executed for the murder of one of his countrymen.

 

Thinking about it

Yes I think that was the incident I was thinking of as there were definitely casualties.  I understand there was also rioting in October 1917.

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5 hours ago, FROGSMILE said:

Yes I think that was the incident I was thinking of as there were definitely casualties.  I understand there was also rioting in October 1917.

I found reference to members of the CLC being executed following a disturbance with NZ troops in Calais in December 1917. 
I also found mention of resting front line troops being involved in disturbances in Calais in summer 1918 but no dates or details. In one case the MPs were the target as seems to be the case in this instance ( the WD mentions that the MMP billets were a potential target of the mob).

interestingly the WD for the 183rd Brigade who issued the order to 1st EL Regt makes no mention of the order or the incident. I guess that the real story will remain a mystery.

 

calais3.jpg

Edited by Stevejm
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FROGSMILE
3 hours ago, Stevejm said:

I found reference to members of the CLC being executed following a disturbance with NZ troops in Calais in December 1917. 
I also found mention of resting front line troops being involved in disturbances in Calais in summer 1918 but no dates or details. In one case the MPs were the target as seems to be the case in this instance ( the WD mentions that the MMP billets were a potential target of the mob).

interestingly the WD for the 183rd Brigade who issued the order to 1st EL Regt makes no mention of the order or the incident. I guess that the real story will remain a mystery.

 

calais3.jpg

It’s certainly quite intriguing isn’t it, I would be surprised if the task involved dealing with other British troops, especially if those troops might be armed.  It would in effect be ordering an armed confrontation.  If it had been to deal with 51st Highland Division troops I’d have imagined the staff organising other Scottish units to deal with it, else they’d run the risk of an English/Scots dynamic, and even back then I think there’d have been a common sense perspective to try and avoid that if at all possible.  If it had been in India it might’ve been more difficult with limited British troops available, but there were plenty to choose from in F&F, albeit that July 1918 was still a troubled time following the chaos of the German Spring offensive and its after effects.  One other aspect that seems a little puzzling is that the order is not responding to something that’s already occurred, but anticipating an “incident” and taking precautionary action to deal with it in advance.  This suggests intelligence information of something due to happen (perhaps a meeting or protest) or the prior open declaration of an organised event.  I would’ve expected slightly different wording if it was to deal with the fall out from something that had already taken place.

 

NB.  It did make me smile to read the order written in typical Army fashion and using language that’s crossed many decades.  I’ve received and written many such orders myself and when reading it, it struck me that it could just as easily have been written within the last two decades, as written over a hundred years ago.  Plus ça change!

Edited by FROGSMILE
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4 minutes ago, FROGSMILE said:

It’s certainly quite intriguing isn’t it, I would be surprised if the task involved dealing with other British troops, especially if those troops might be armed.  It would in effect be ordering an armed confrontation.  If it had been to deal with 51st Highland Division troops I’d have imagined the staff organising other Scottish units to deal with it, else they’d run the risk of an English/Scots dynamic, and even back then I think there’d have been a common sense perspective to try and avoid that if at all possible.  If it had been in India it might’ve been more difficult with limited British troops available, but there were plenty to choose from in F&F, albeit that July 1918 was still a troubled time following the chaos of the German Spring offensive and its after effects.  One other aspect that seems a little puzzling is that the order is not responding to something that’s already occurred, but anticipating an “incident” and taking precautionary action to deal with it in advance.  This suggests intelligence information of something due to happen (perhaps a meeting or protest) or the prior open declaration of an organised event.

 

NB.  It did make me smile to read the order written in typical Army fashion and using language that’s crossed many decades.  I’ve received and written many such orders myself and when reading it, it struck me that it could just as easily have been written within the last two decades, as written over a hundred years ago.  Plus ça change!

Yes it is interesting isn't it? The war diary page that I posted earlier also seems to be talking about anticipating  possible problems rather than ongoing trouble. It says " The task of groups 1,2,3 and 6 is in the event of any mob attacking the MMP billets the exits to be closed and the people rounded up"

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FROGSMILE
9 minutes ago, Stevejm said:

Yes it is interesting isn't it? The war diary page that I posted earlier also seems to be talking about anticipating  possible problems rather than ongoing trouble. It says " The task of groups 1,2,3 and 6 is in the event of any mob attacking the MMP billets the exits to be closed and the people rounded up"

I think that suggests an organised protest of some kind that it is known might target MMP billets that were either known to be nearby the proposed site of the protest, or would be passed by a moving mass of bodies.  In other words to provide a protective cordon sanitaire.

 

NB.  POW companies were Labour Corps units I think and organised to put POW to work on organised labour tasks largely within French infrastructure, in order to compensate for French manpower in uniform.

Edited by FROGSMILE
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1 hour ago, FROGSMILE said:

I think that suggests an organised protest of some kind that it is known might target MMP billets that were either known to be nearby the proposed site of the protest, or would be passed by a moving mass of bodies.  In other words to provide a protective cordon sanitaire.

 

NB.  POW companies were Labour Corps units I think and organised to put POW to work on organised labour tasks largely within French infrastructure, in order to compensate for French manpower in uniform.

Thanks. BTW the place where I saw reference to the 51st division throwing red caps into the sea is: http://www.militarian.com/threads/mutiny-at-etaples-base-in-1917.7050/. I am posting a screenshot below for convenience

51st.JPG

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FROGSMILE
47 minutes ago, Stevejm said:

Thanks. BTW the place where I saw reference to the 51st division throwing red caps into the sea is: http://www.militarian.com/threads/mutiny-at-etaples-base-in-1917.7050/. I am posting a screenshot below for convenience

51st.JPG

Thank you.  I think that the final comments in that extract epitomise how dangerous it could be to use troops with another cultural and ethnic identity and a history of past conflict, even if many years before, to confront one another with arms.  A wise staff officer would bear that in mind when contemplating constructive remedial action.

Edited by FROGSMILE
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