Witley Camp and the Canadian Army

1916, 6 December: Canadian soldier from Witley camp charged with murder.

1918, 28 February: Edward Priestly: The Staines and Egham News: At the Egham Police Court on Friday, before Mr Weller and other Magistrates, David James Andrews of the Canadian Army Medical Corps was charged with being in possession of a loaded firearm at Englefield Green. PC Butterfill said that at 9.30 pm, he saw the defendant proceeding towards Priest Hill. PC Butterfill asked him where he was going. The defendant, under the influence of drink, became very abusive and told him to mind his own business. After taking his name and number, the Officer told him to go away.

At 9.45 pm, the defendant returned to the police station and called for "the civil policeman to come out". PC Butterfill went up to the defendant who said: "What business had you to stop me?" He also raised an objection to the officer for having done so, because he was not a military policeman. By the aid of the moonlight, the officer saw that the defendant had something in his hands and asked him to show him. The defendant in doing so dropped a revolver and then got down on his hands and knees to search for it. PC Butterfill managed to pick it up first and found that it was cocked. He placed it in the safety position and arrested the defendant. Fined forty shillings.

1918, 11 November: First World War Riot on Witley Common at the Canadian Army Camp.

Canadian Army in Surrey: Before France – a memoir: After a run of some twelve hours from Glasgow, and long before daylight on the first day of the new 1918, several hundred very sleepy soldiers were routed out of the train at Milford, Surrey. We detrained in a cold drizzling rain onto cobblestones slippery with mud. The outlook was none too pleasant - just mud, and bushes, and trees dripping water. The up-look was no better. It had been raining for hours – maybe for days – and the earth had become a quagmire. After batteries were formed we "fell in", "right dressed", "counted off", "formed fours", and "by the right", moved away by sections.

We marched several miles through mud to a city of wooden huts set in, and surrounded by, more mud. As we sloshed along, the watery surfaces of shrubbery and buildings, walls and lamp poles, metal equipment, brass buttons and faces, reflected flashes of light from occasional road-lamps. Here and there a comforting contrast appeared taking the form of slightly more cheery glimpses of the bright green leaves and red berries of holly – the one midwinter bit of colour. Our destination (always "just around the next corner") was a quarantine section of the artillery area at Witley Camp. The distance marched was probably less than three miles, but seemed more like nine. Witley Camp!

With clothing and equipment heavy with moisture and our feet slipping in our shoes, we entered a barbed-wire enclosure to be assigned to wooden huts. We were issued three boards and two end-sections apiece, which, when properly assembled, were to keep us several inches off the floor when and if we slept. We brought so much mud and water into the huts that the floors became shallow lakes. The air, if there was any (and there must have been some for most of us continued to breathe) was so full of moisture that the walls and ceilings absorbed to the point of saturation. Later this became most annoying in the form of steady dripping on us (or on the floor, that splashed back up into our faces). Those who knew how, or were ingenious enough to guess, put the "Five piece bunks" together and rolled into their blankets. Those who could not make the tricky little bunks work just rolled into their blankets on the floor and slept where they lay. Although tired and cold and, I repeat, wet, and a bit "touchy" as we rolled into soggy blankets, most of us were also "healthy".25

Witley Camp

Witley Camp.

1918, 20 December: Witley Common: Petition received by Captain Sant from shop keepers on the camp complaining they were repeatedly threatened by soldiers. The matter was passed to the military authorities.

1919, 9 February: Witley Camp: Some soldiers had been arrested by military police. There had been rioting on Armistice Day and a good many other incidents which as a rule were not very serious. Those arrested were rescued who then wrecked the officer's quarters; the canteen was looted and all the drink stolen; then an attack was made on a number of shops known as "Tin Town". The police were mostly kept off the site by the military but this did not stop successful claims under the Riot Damages Act, much to the chagrin of the chief constable.26

1919, 16 June: Witley Camp, near Godalming, was the scene on Saturday night of a serious outbreak of violence among Canadian troops stationed there. Between thirty thousand and sixty thousand Canadian soldiers lived on Witley Common during the First World War with local police strength of a sergeant and three constables. Policing of the camp was by the military but on two hundred and thirty nine occasions in three years, prisoners were handed to the Surrey Constabulary. During the riot eighteen shops were looted and £9,000 worth of property stolen.

1919, Tuesday 17 June: Calgary Daily Herald: 1919: The greater part of "Tintown" as it is called locally was burned to the ground, and a part of "Little Tintown" about half a mile away was also destroyed by fire. Nearly twenty thousand Canadian soldiers occupy the camp. The trouble is believed to have arisen from irritation at delay in demobilising the men and shipping them home. The disturbance started when a large body of men assembled on one of the parade grounds to hold a demonstration against the delay. Whether the fire in Tintown was an accident is not yet determined. There seems no doubt however that the smaller fire was the result of a deliberate act of incendiarism. Many men strongly disapproved of the rioting and helped to extinguish the fires.

1919, May: YMCA Hut 4, Witley Camp: Letter to: Calgary Daily Herald:27 Dear Sir - It has been my great pleasure and privilege to have been associated with the Canadian YMCA in their work in this hut among the Canadian troops. Lately there has been a certain amount of rioting and disorder in some camps, but this has been greatly exaggerated, and though the men were not wise in doing what they did, they certainly had much provocation. What generally happened was that a very few men started in the riot and then many joined in just for amusement. Now I know that owing to the exaggerated reports which appeared in the newspapers a great many people both in England and in Canada have very mistaken ideas as to the discipline of the Canadian soldiers in camps. For three years I have lived in this hut, right in the midst of the men, and I can testify to the excellent order and discipline of the Canadian troops. In this country we have all greatly admired the magnificent bravery of the Canadian soldiers at the front, and it is greatly to be deplored that an utterly wrong impression as to their discipline and good behaviour in camps should have become prevalent. Maurice Acheson.

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25 Chapter IV: The Canadian Army-In British Isles, "Before" France, In Cate, Clifton J. and Cate, Charles C. (2005), Notes: A Soldier's Memoir of World War 1, Victoria BC, Canada: Trafford, ISBN: 1-4120-5355-2.

26 Durrant, A.J. (1951). A hundred years of the Surrey Constabulary, 1851-1951, p. 48.

27 Calgary Daily Herald (1919). (June 17). See also http://www.canadiangreatwarproject.com/transcripts/transcriptDisplay.asp?Type=L&transNo=557 [8 February 2010].

 

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