From email@example.com Tue Jul 4 14:59:22 2000
Canada's shame lies hidden by a tribute to the fallen mutiny cover-up
By Andrew Mullins, The Independent, 24 June 2000
In a small cemetery in North Wales lies a tribute to a fallen soldier of the First World War. A large sandstone crucifix marks the grave of David Gillan, a 22-year-old Canadian who answered the call to arms and fought for his King and country on the Western Front.
The simple inscription: "Died defending the honour of his country" would seem all too typical were it not for the date of his death, four months after the end of the war.
The young survivor of the horrors of the Flanders trenches was killed on Welsh soil at the hands of a fellow Canadian.
A short distance from his grave in the church of St Margaret's, Bodelwyddan, there is another enigmatic inscription, from the townspeople to mark the circumstances that led to his death. It reads: "Sometime, sometime we'll understand."
Tonight a documentary on S4C television in Wales sheds light on a mutiny that shamed the Canadian Army and embarrassed the British government. Even now, more than 80 years later, the relatives of David Gillan are unable to accept his death because their government has never revealed the circumstances.
But researchers have uncovered the events of 4 and 5 March 1919 when thousands of battle-weary veterans turned on their officers. After four years of slaughter, of being shelled and gassed in brutal trench warfare, the frustrations of 20,000 Canadian soldiers boiled over.
The mutineers wanted nothing more than to go home. They could not understand why they were not being shipped home from France and Belgium as were American troops. But a shortage of transport ships and a reluctance by the Allies to demobilise too quickly meant David Gillan and his comrades from the 1st Division were taken to a transit camp at Kinmel Park, North Wales.
Conditions were hard. The winter of 1918-1919 was the coldest in living memory, strikes meant infrequent coal for heat and a flu outbreak was sweeping the globe. Nearly 80 of the soldiers died in a pandemic that killed 20 million worldwide. They were buried in threes in the churchyard.
The discipline, the parades, the route marches, forced on the men by their officers, seemed pointless and rankled with the battle-hardened troops. The bureaucracy of the army was as bad. Men had to fill in 30 documents, answer 363 questions, and collect eight signatures before they could leave.
Five ships had been assigned for them but they were appropriated by Sir Arthur Curry, commander of the Canadian forces, to take home the 3rd Division. That had distinguished itself in battle, but the casualty-depleted ranks had been filled with conscripts who had seen little or no action. As they departed they were lauded in the press as "heroic fighters".
For the men in Wales, who had fought far longer, it was hard to bear.On 4 March 1919, the insubordination began. As troops in ranks were ordered to start another route march a call came from the back: "Stand packed!" Nobody moved. That night rioting broke out amid temporary buildings known as Tin Town, civilian- owned shops outside the camp. Looting spread to the camp as men drunk on stolen alcohol rampaged through it, smashing canteens, officers' messes and YMCA buildings.
The camp's senior officer, Colonel Malcolm Colquhoun, ordered beer kegs smashed and moved among the men, trying to stop the rioting. He was treated with respect but the rampage continued. Next morning, military police arrested those they believed to be ringleaders and Colonel Colquhoun ordered all ammunition collected and locked in a bunker. The men stormed the prison and rescued some of their comrades.
Col Colquhoun ordered the rest set free but, without his knowledge, one of his officers, Lieutenant-Colonel J P French, assembled 50 men, armed them and, against orders, gave them ammunition. He marched them to a stockade where a crowd had gathered to await the release and ordered his men to fix bayonets and charge.
Two men were bayoneted to death and the atmosphere was heavy with menace. Officers made themselves scarce as three dozen men marched through the camp, waving a red flag and banging on an improvised drum. The revolt of the masses was then the greatest fear of governments across the Western world, so soon after the bloody revolution in Russia.
A keen new young officer, Lieutenant Gautier, set up armed snatch squads. David Gillan was among them. As they faced the rioters a shot rang out and he fell. The men with him opened fire on the crowd. Two more men died and five were wounded.
David Gillan's family was robbed of the war veteran's customary telegram and medal. His mother collapsed when she learnt of his death through newspapers. He had been shot in the back, possibly by another member of the squad.
The Canadian Army did not offer the coroner much help. Forty-one men faced court martial, and 24 were sentenced to between 90 days and 10 years. Most were freed within six months. Years later official military historians sent a questionnaire to the few soldiers still alive. One survivor wrote: "It wouldn't have happened if the officers had only treated us like men."