The Kinmel Park Mutiny

20 Jun

The beautiful ‘marble’ church of St Margaret’s in Bodelwyddan is one of the most prominent landmarks on the A55 trunk road that crosses North Wales.  Every day thousands of motorists speed past unaware of the 117 Commonwealth War Graves that are situated in the immaculately kept churchyard.  Arranged in neat rows are the white Portland stone headstones of the 83 Canadian soldiers who died at the nearby Kinmel Park Camp.

Kinmel Park Camp was built in 1914 as a training camp for newly enlisted soldiers in preparation for active service in the First World War.  At that time it was the largest camp in Wales and even had its own branch railway line connecting it to the main line at Foryd Station in Rhyl.  Practice trenches were dug in order to try and prepare troops for the battles that lay ahead.  Some of these are still visible in the grounds of nearby Bodelwyddan Castle.

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At the end of the First World War Kinmel Park was used as a transit camp for Canadian servicemen and women as they waited to be repatriated back to their homeland after their service to the British Empire.  Tragically the global Spanish flu pandemic of 1918/19 swept through the camp and dozens of men succumbed to the illness and were buried at nearby St Margaret’s Church.

However four of the graves belong to soldiers who are believed to have died during mutinous riots at the camp in March 1919 when servicemen, dissatisfied by delays in demobilisation and other grievances, expressed their feelings through protest.  Originally senior officers had intended to send the Canadians home directly from France but many of these men had relatives in the United Kingdom that they wanted to visit and so transit camps were established across Britain in order to facilitate this desire.

The riots are understood to have occurred when the Canadian soldiers became angry when they discovered ships earmarked to return them home were instead transferring US soldiers, many of whom had apparently not seen action in the war, back to their homeland instead.  This caused understandable resentment and coupled with the very basic conditions in camp where food was in short supply and they were sleeping 42 to a hut in accommodation designed for no more than 30 it was understandable that tension built.

In the early hours of March 5th 1919 their discontent finally spilled over into direct action.  Fires were started and the officers’ and sergeants’ messes were looted.  The rioters had a few rifles but, in the main, they had to improvise weapons, strapping razors to broom handles or sticks.  When 20 of the rioters were seized the rest simply charged the guardroom and set them free.  Rifle shots were exchanged and, when casualty figures were later added up, it transpired that three mutineers and two guards had been killed in the affair.  Many others had been wounded or injured.  Four of them were buried at St Margaret’s while the fifths body was repatriated to Canada.  One soldier’s gravestone bears the inscription “Someday, sometime, we’ll understand.”

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Following the riots priority was given to repatriating the Canadian troops.  The affair was, as far as possible hushed up and by the end of March 1919 thousands of Canadians had been transported home.

 

 

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4 Responses to “The Kinmel Park Mutiny”

  1. 8055bell June 21, 2013 at 6:48 pm #

    Interesting story that has to be told. You have to feel sorry for the Canadians who just want to go home and who must have had quite enough of military conditions.
    http://17thmanchesters.wordpress.com/about/

  2. Gwyn Hughes June 21, 2013 at 7:15 pm #

    my grandfather was there at the time …I have his service record of that period ….he never spoke about the incident not even to my grandmother ……

    • homefrontmuseum June 21, 2013 at 7:46 pm #

      In what capacity was he there Gwyn?

      • Gwyn Hughes February 18, 2014 at 4:41 pm #

        after going off to Canada in March 1913 from Anglesey with a friend they found work in the wheat fields of Saskatchewan and Manitoba ….he enlisted into the 65th Saskatchewan Infantry in June 1916 , and was off to the western front with the 46th Sask Battln. with prior training on the Salisbury plains , although being wounded four times he survived and was stationed at Kinmel Park with the 15th Res. from 6th Jan 1919 with despatch back to Canada ….only to be discharged to the here the British Isles on the 19th May 1919 ….

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