A Ghost Hunt with Real World Discoveries
In fairness, there’s little way of knowing whether Toplis was at the mutiny or not. No official documents have survived that can verify his whereabouts at the time of the Mutiny in Etaples in September 1917. Like that other famous impostor, Jay Gatsby, Toplis was a man with an elusive history. There are no service records, and the camp diary only records the names of those responsible for triggering the initial riots. It mentions the Red Cap, Harry Reeve by name but it doesn’t men like Jesse Short who were executed for sedition. The oral histories provided in the book by John Fairley and Bill Allison are inadequate and the story told by Edwin Woodhall is inconclusive. It’s frustrating, but that’s just the way it is.
Despite all that, it was a truly momentous time in history and the broader narratives that emerge from taking a closer look at the famous manhunt in May 1920 may help us to understand the revolutionary changes taking place in Britain, America and Russia at this time. And because of the way that the 1920s chime with 2020s, it may just be possible to get a clearer understanding of the challenges we face today, one hundred years later. I like to think of it as a ghost hunt with modern, real world discoveries.
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