#whitefeather diaries


Thursday 31 March 2016

Towards the end of the war there were large-scale mutinies in many of the armies involved. The British army experienced fewer mutinies than the French, Russian or German armies, but there was a spate of British mutinies in December 1918 and January 1919, shortly after the end of the war. Soldiers were angry that they were not being discharged and there was a widespread feeling of frustration with what the war had achieved – or failed to achieve. Left-wing and anti-war ideas were spreading.

One of the largest British mutinies took place in Folkestone in Kent in January 1919, when soldiers refused to sail back to France to re-join the rest of the British army. This is a slightly abridged version of an account that appeared in the Herald, a national newspaper that opposed the war.

On their own signal – three taps of a drum – two thousand men, unarmed and in perfect order, demonstrated the fact that they were fed up – absolutely fed up. Their plan of action had been agreed upon the night before: no military boat should be allowed to leave Folkestone for France that day or any day until they were guaranteed their freedom.

It was sheer, flat, brazen, open and successful mutiny. Pickets were posted at the harbour. Only Canadian and Australian soldiers were allowed to sail – if they wanted to. As a matter of no very surprising fact they did not want to. One officer tried to interfere. He leapt across the gangway and got a rough-house. “I am a relative of Douglas Haig,” one of the officers pleaded. “We are all King’s messengers,” said another party. But nothing of that kind availed them.

Meanwhile troop trains were arriving in Folkestone with more men returning from leave and on their way to France. They were met with pickets. In a mass they joined the demonstrators.

On Saturday an armed guard of Fusiliers was posted at the quays by the army authorities. They carried fixed bayonets and ball cartridges. The picket approached. One rifle made a show of going up: the foremost picket seized it, and forthwith the rest of the guard fell back.

On Saturday a great procession of soldiers, swelled now to about 10,000, marched through the town. Everywhere the townspeople showed their sympathy. At midday a mass meeting decided to form a soldiers’ union. They appointed their officials and chose their spokesmen.

Source: Daily Herald, 11 January 1919. 

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