The Canadian Expeditionary Force served admirably in World War One. One thing, however, marred their reputation: the Kinmel Riots.
The riots were the preverbial straw that broke the camel’s back. After the war ended, the CEF was moved to England and Wales. There they waited for demobilization and the return voyage back home.
After Armistice, a method needed devised to send the troops home. The Canadian army and government disagreed on the best course of action. The government wanted a “first over, first back” system while Gen. Arthur Currie believed it was better for discipline and for the communities back home if repatriation happened according to units. Currie’s view was the one selection.
Things did not go smoothly. Ships were needed to transport 267,813 men and 54,000 dependents home; 50,000 people were supposed to be sent home per month. However, the first ships, provided by the British government, proved to be too small to meet this demand. Inclement weather and strikes in Britain only complicated matters.
Back home, there were additional problems. Ships had only two ports to enter Canada. The others were either ice covered or two small. The railroads would only commit 25,000 spaces to transport the soldiers and their families home. It was estimated it would take 18 months to get back to Canada.
The process of sending entire units home meant some soldiers who had never even served on the frontline went home before those who had been in Europe for four and a half years. Resentment grew, and while men kept busy with military drills, Khaki University and playing sports, they eventually grew restless and violence ensued.
There were 13 incidents of unrest among Canadian troops after Armistice. The worst was Kinmel Park in Wales where 17,400 soldiers awaited repatriation. These were service troops; combat troops being housed at separate camps.
The men were upset for several reasons:
- Being fed half rations
- Not being paid in a month
- Price gouging was occurring at the nearby “Tin Town” where they purchased goods and frequented pubs
- Harsh weather during one of the coldest winters in recent Welsh history
- The 3rd Infantry was sent home before the men at Kinmel who were scheduled to leave next
No matter what camp they were sent to, the Canadian troops were upset because:
- 30 different forms, totaling 360 questions, had to be filled out before returning home
- Ships were reallocated to take home the Americans who had been in Europe for a much shorter time
- The availability of ships in February had been inadequate with some being either postponed or cancelled
Rioting broke out March 4, 1919, and lasted into the following day. It started with looting before growing into a riot of 200 men. Property also was damaged.
When it was over, five were dead and 23 men were wounded. Some arrests were made. The dead were buried next to approximately 200 solders who had died of the Spanish flu pandemic.
The British press sensationalized the riots. Nonetheless, the event did help the government arrange for a more efficient way to return a larger number of troops home.
Do you think the ends justified the means? Leave a comment below.
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