The following letter to New Zealand’s Otago Daily Times dated February 1922 is the first substantial witness account of the mutiny at Etaples printed anywhere in the world. I believe it to have been mailed in by Archibald Benjamin Newland, a volunteer with the Church Army whose hut at Etaples Camp was next door to Lady Angela Forbes tea-room. However, in view of the statement about copies of execution orders (which are accurate), I dare say that an Officer of significant rank or someone whose colleagues had access to war office records (possibly Lady Forbes) may have played a part in its composition (the court-martial of Jesse Short, the ‘Corporal in the Northumberland Regiment’ were only made available to the public in the late 1980s).
At this time of the Etaples Mutiny the Church Army Hut was under the management of Ada Dorothy Blacklock, stepdaughter of Baron Henry Horne and Kate McCorquodale (Lady Horne). Dorothy was a friend of Lady Forbes, whose book, Memories and Base Details was published that same year.
There reference made to Horatio Bottomley and the role he played in satisfying the demands of the troops is especially intriguing.
TO THE EDITOR. SIR,—
Although I have nothing but commendation for Colonel Stewart’s excellent book on the New Zealand Division, I cannot help expressing my surprise that certain important happenings in 1917 have not been recorded, especially as matters of far less importance and therefore of far less interest have found a place in the book. For instance, on page 53, mention is made of a New Zealand deserter going over to the enemy. The lapse of this soldier is insignificant compared with the mutiny in which 40,000 or 50,000 men were involved, composed chiefly of New Zealanders. Colonel, Stewart may have thought that the publication of full details of the affair would serve no useful purpose, but historians must be faithful to their task, how-ever disagreeable some incident may be.
It is impossible to say what effect this mutiny would have had on the course of the war had it not been speedily and discreetly dealt with by the officer commanding and all his subordinate officers in camp at the time of the outbreak.
As the origin of the trouble took place within a few yards of my canteen (Church Army) at Etaples, I am in a position to give your readers authentic particulars of what led to the trouble, and how it was settled and hushed up. The mutiny originated (as great events very often originate) from a little cause. On every road and bridge leading into the camp sentries and “red caps” (military police) were posted. On this occasion a “red caps” challenged a New Zealand soldier for some breach of the regulations. This the soldier resented, and unwisely he began an argument with the policeman.
The matter would have blown over had the latter used a grain of common sense, but instead of that he drew his revolver to shoot down the New Zealander, but missed his aim and shot down an unfortunate “Jock” who happened to be passing at the time. The soldier hurried back to the New Zealand camp and reported to the troops the action and insolence of the “red caps”.
It was unfortunate that the troops just at that time were “fed up” with grievances. There was constant friction between them and the military police. There was also the torture of the “bull ring” where trained men had to go through the farce of sham fights and other strenuous performances, and then the unnecessary and irritating regulations of placing parts of the Etaples area out of bounds. The ‘men evidently thought the time had come to “do something”
They began by laying ‘down their arms, and soon the whole camp was in a state of uproar and excitement. Thousands of soldiers—a seething mass of infuriated men—headed by the Maoris, hunted the “red caps” in all directions for their lives, and I doubt if any have been seen in Etaples from that day to this. Here was an awful state of affairs just at a time when everything was so black, and the Empire was passing through some of its darkest hours.
There was only one way to put a speedy end to this appalling state of affairs, and that course was happily adopted. All the demands of the men were granted—the removal of the A.P.M. (assistant Provost Marshal [Strachan]) and all red caps from Etaples base, the cancelling of the out-of-bounds orders, a modification of the “bull ring” torture (I use the word “torture” because I have seen New Zealand soldiers returning to camp after a day there, under a tropical sun, utterly exhausted and almost unable to drag one leg after the other, and returned soldiers will bear me out that this is no exaggeration) ; and last, but by no means least, the assurance that no man was to be court-martialed for taking part in the mutiny. Numbers of men were court-martialed and shot at various times for inciting others to insubordination, so that it was not at all likely that the men would come to terms without this assurance.
I have a copy of “army orders” sentencing Corporal of the Northumberland Regiment, to be shot. His offence may have been less serious than any committed by those who took part in the revolt at Etaples. I believe I am correct in saying that Mr Horatio Bottomley (who had very great influence with the troops) took an active part in persuading- the men to return to duty. At that time he was regarded as one of the soldiers’ truest friends. The chances are that he is no longer their idol!
I do not know Colonel Stewart’s reasons for not recording this remarkable revolt at Etaples. He must have had access to the official report on the subject. Besides, when all the circumstances are taken into, ac-count, the mutiny leaves no stain on the reputation of the New Zealand Division, any more than a stain rests on men who have been involved in some of the great industrial disputes of the past, and who felt that their only chance of securing fair play and just treatment was to “down tools.”
In most cases there was ample justification for their action. It will never be possible for the British public to realise fully the continuous and tremendous difficulties which had to be overcome about, midway through the war. That discipline and order was, on the whole, so well maintained was largely owing to the example, courage, and devotion of the officers. It must have been a very great relief to them when peace and obedience were again restored in the camp. Although the men had the town and camp at their mercy, very little looting and damage was done. Permit me to say, in conclusion, that my intercourse with New Zealand soldiers at Home in the Old Country, on the high seas with the 14th Reinforcements, in France and in Italy, is a happy memory.
—I am. etc. A. B. NEWLAND, SEN. Roxburgh, February 24 1922.