Two consecutive posts concerning graveyards may seem a bit excessive, but hey, we are on the Gothic Heroine page here, and sometimes we have to renew to our gothy credentials.
Anywey, the same day, having visited the pirate grave I was heading home down the A55 and stopped off at the Marble Church at Bodelwyddan.
The marble Church rises high and white, right by the side of the dual carriageway, it stands out for miles around, and is a clear waymarker on the route across the North Welsh coast road. I always judge my progress by it, always look out for it, and had often planned but never actually, until now, stopped to visit.
Walking around the churchyard I was immediately struck by the number of war grave. i have visited the war time cemeteries in France, where the vast number of identical white grave markers bring home the sheer scale of the destruction of life in the first World War in a way that no history book or film ever can.
But, untl now, I had rarely seen anything similar in Britain. i examined the inscriptions and two things immediately struck me, one that nearly all the dead remembered in this cemetary were Canadian but mainly the dates of the deaths. Many of these boys had died in 1919. The war ended in 1918 didn’t it ?
Puzzled, I went back home and headed for google to try and find an explanation. The result was surprising and heartbreaking. Just when you think the stories you hear about the war can get no worse, you realise that in November 1918 they didn’t all just pack their bags and return to some kind of civilian normality. Although winners and losers had been declared, and people had danced in the streets, for many the horrors went on.
Canadian forces were sent to camps, such as Kinmel Camp in North Wales, awaiting repatriation, but this wasn’t an automatic process. The Canadian government had been virtually bankrupted by its involvement in the war, the cost of shipping its forces home was high, and problems at home led to social unrest and strikes back in Canada. Thousands of victorious soldiers were left in Europe, half forgotten and with no hope of immediate repatriation and no idea when it may happen.
Throughout the winter of 1918-19 they were kept in massive camps, food was short, as was fuel for heating.
In 1919, it was filthy, over crowded, had a lack of bedding, soldiers slept on damp earth, food was described as pig swill, and the troops were continually under military order, drilling, parades, forced marches etc despite the majority of them being ‘duration’ men – ie soldiers for the duration of the war. Many resented the fact that newly arrived troops were shipped home earlier, there was also resentment that they had not been given a victory parade, etc.
The 1918 flu pandemic swept through Europe, and was particulalry virulent in these camps. Grave after grave showed boys of 19 and 20, died in January and February 1919, who having survived the horrors of war would have died of flu in the cold mud of North Wales.
But this wasn’t the end. Unrest grew until March of 1919 when the camp rioted.
“The mutineers were our own men, stuck in the mud of North Wales, waiting impatiently to get back to Canada – four months after the end of the war. The 15,000 Canadian troops that concentrated at Kinmel didn’t know about the strikes that held up the fuelling ships and which had caused food shortages. The men were on half rations, there was no coal for the stove in the cold grey huts, and they hadn’t been paid for over a month. Forty-two had slept in a hut meant for thirty, so they each took turns sleeping on the floor, with one blanket each.”
Gallant Protesters – Noel Barber (1975)
During the riots five were killed, and 21 injured. whether the deaths were the result of fighting between soldiers, or the result of attack from troops brought in to quell the fighting was never conclusively determined. These five too are buried in graves close to the memorial in the photos. One soldier, Corporal Joseph Young died as a result of a bayonet wound to the head, his stone states simply , ‘Someday, sometime, we’ll understand’
I never imagined, when I broke my journey in the Autumn sunshine last weekend, that I would uncover the horrors that occurred one autumn and winter almost 100 years ago.
Once again it reinforces my thesis on living in an old country, absolutely whereever you go there is some fascinating history to dig out, good or bad, the passage of time has left no part of these islands untouched.