The Canadian Corps served admirably in World War I. One thing, however, marred its reputation: the Kinmel Park riots.
After Armistice, there was no official policy to send the troops home. The Canadian army and government disagreed over 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 military unit. Currie’s view won out.
Canadian Corps was moved to England and Wales. There, the men waited months for demobilization and the return voyage back home.
The return-home strategy 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 monthly.
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.
In Canada, there were infrastructure problems. Ships had only two ports to enter the country. Other ports were either ice covered or too small. The railroads would only commit 25,000 spaces to transport the soldiers and their families.
It would take an estimated 18 months to get everyone 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. This caused resentment. Men kept busy with military drills, Khaki University and playing sports, but eventually they grew restless.
The riots were the proverbial straw that broke the camel’s back.
Kinmel Park Riots
There were 13 incidents of unrest among Canadian troops after Armistice.
The worst was the Kinmel Park Riots in Wales. At Kinmel, 17,400 service troops awaited repatriation. Combat troops were housed at other camps.
The men were upset for several reasons:
- Overcrowded facilities
- Being fed half rations
- No pay in a month
- Price gouging 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 men at Kinmel were scheduled to leave, but the 3rd Infantry was sent home before them
At every camp, Canadian troops were upset because:
- 30 different forms, totaling 360 questions, needed filled out before returning home
- Ships were reallocated to take home the Americans who had been in Europe for a significantly shorter time
- The availability of ships in February had been inadequate with some voyages being either postponed or cancelled
The Kinmel Park Riots began March 4, 1919 and continued into the following day. It began as looting before growing into a riot of 200 men.
When it was over, property was damaged, five men were dead and 23 were wounded. Some were arrested. 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 means to return a larger number of troops home.
Updated: 23 October 2020