WW1 British Army mutiny?

Discussion in 'Military History and Militaria' started by Micawber, Feb 7, 2012.

Welcome to the Army Rumour Service, ARRSE

The UK's largest and busiest UNofficial military website.

The heart of the site is the forum area, including:

  1. I'm still hacking my way through Chris 'Leftie' Harman's People's History of the World' and have now reached WW1.

    He talks about growing disillusionment with the war among soldiers and the 1917 mutinies among the French and Italian armies.

    He then goes on to state flat out, in 1917, '....and five days of bloody rebellion by up to 100,000 soldiers in the British base camp at Etaples, near Boulogne. The British Generals ended the rebellion by making concessions and then executed its leaders, keeping the whole affair secret'.

    I'm aware there was a bit of monocled mutineering going on but 'bloody rebellion' '100k soldiers'?

    What was all that about then? Is he right about what happened, or wildly innaccurate?
  2. does leave considerable scope for license. The camp population may well have been around that figure, but he provides no evidence to support the contention that they unanimously decided to go on the lash together.
  3. This is news to me.

    His source appears to be a communist/anarchist website article published in 2006 (albeit with citations):
    1917: The Etaples mutiny | libcom.org

    The HAC came the the resuce and crushed the uprising, although no mention of 100,000 men.
  4. My tuppence worth.... the first world war is now at the same stage as the Old West was in the sixties... ie just going out of living memory.... thus, it is a golden age of fables, before it, too receedes and becomes "book" history (like the civil war, or medieval England) rather than "I knew a bloke who told me" history.

    we only know the past through memory, documents/media, and artifact.... and these means of knowing all have their faults.
  5. '....and five days of bloody rebellion by up to 100,000 soldiers in the British base camp at Etaples, near Boulogne. The British Generals ended the rebellion by making concessions and then executed its leaders, keeping the whole affair secret'.


  6. Sounds like good old leftie myth-making.

    The Etaples Mutiny is well-documented - the basic facts are there on Wikipedia.

    However many men were at Etaples, only about 1,000 joined the mob, of which just a few were the ring-leaders.

    A crucial point Chris Harman seems to deliberately not mention is that the French/Italian mutinies were to do with refusing to fight the enemy, whilst the Etaples mutiny was simply over local grievances to do with discipline and the training regime at Etaples. There was no great tide of pacifism and/or Bolshevism amongst the British public or armies during WW1 and its immediate aftermath, despite the fond imaginings of the Left's propagandists...
    • Like Like x 6
  7. It's all news to me as well, though a lot of things are these days.

    The book was published in 1999, so pre dates that website, but it looks like he's rounded up the Etaples soldiers disgruntlement with conditions with the striking labour units, and shooting of same, in Boulogne at roughly the same
    Time to make it a bloody few days.

    Still over-egging it a bit if you ask me.

    The book is a great read which I thoroughly recommend, but oooh he does hate the British establishment and in some parts that gets in the way of his history telling.
  8. Alternatively, how did they keep 100,000 quiet?

    FORMER_FYRDMAN LE Book Reviewer

    Because there wasn't a lot to talk about and the blokes that formed the superb fighting force that was the British Army (plus excellent Commonwealth forces) in 1918 probably thought the 1,000 were all cnuts and deserved everything they got. We were much more grounded in those days.
  10. Grounded, or gated?
  11. I believe that he's very critical of the ruling classes, whether you want to construe that as hate is another matter. Chris Harman was one of the finest folks I ever had the pleasure to meet as a member of the SWP. However, on the sad occasion of his death in 2009, I posted a thread that was not well-received at all:



    FORMER_FYRDMAN LE Book Reviewer

    If he truly represented Etaples as others have claimed, he's no loss as an historian and even less a loss as a human being. Part of the reason the sacrifices of 14-18 are so little understood and less appreciated is because the evil twins of Nazism and Socialism twisted the history for their own purposes. Harman's view of Etaples rates right alongside the dolchstoßlegende and was probably generated for the same purpose of political advantage. The proponents of one should be treated with the same contempt as the proponents of the other.

    SWP you say. Who did he leave his fortune to?
    • Like Like x 1
  13. Bugsy - I've found Harman a great read, he writes at exactly the same speed as I can take it in, with a style that makes me think he'd havebeen a fascinating bloke to go for a beer or a dinner with.

    But right from the start I've been wondering if he was playing things entirely straight down the middle and when it comes to the British establishment he doesn't which is a shame.

    It's a bit like reading a newspaper, you jog along untill every now and then they write about an incident you know about and they get it all wrong. It makes you think very hard about how accurate the vast majority of stuff is that they report about which you know nothing.

    He has written at length about the development of Europe without mentioning Nelson by name or The Battle of the Nile or Trafalgar, and in conspicuously not even naming the Peninsular war he describes that bit of history 'eventually they were driven out by remnants of the Spanish Army with British support' which is bloody perverse.

    I'm not saying he should have the same jingoistic view of these things as most of us, but they did exist and they were important and no to even mention them in half a sentence is a failing.

    He also sees the Victorian introduction of schools as a plot by capitalists simply to trach the poor 'obedience and timekeeping'.

    When he settles down and sticks to the Fall of Rome, the French Revolution and the American Civil War he's excellent, but his prejudice seems to overwhelm him sometimes.

    On the origins of WW1 he says Britain declared war on Germany 'using the movement of German troops through Belgium as an excuse'.

    I reckon that's a bit bloody wide of the mark as well.
  14. Etaples was a shit hole, this is what Siegfried Sassoon thought of it and it's training staff,

    The base canaries:

    If I were fierce, and bald, and short of breath,
    I’d live with scarlet Majors at the Base,
    And speed glum heroes up the line to death.
    You’d see me with my puffy petulant face,
    Guzzling and gulping in the best hotel,
    Reading the Roll of Honour. ‘Poor young chap,’
    I’d say—‘I used to know his father well;
    Yes, we’ve lost heavily in this last scrap.’
    And when the war is done and youth stone dead,
    I’d toddle safely home and die—in bed.
  15. I spent an evening or two with Chris Harman and he's a fascinating fella with an incredible range of knowledge. I must say that even though I explained why I joined the British Army, he could never quite understand it and he loathed the military in any form - which I thought was a bit close-minded - but does explain his rather dismissive attitude to the whole complex; a complex I believe you can only fully understand if you've been a part of it. So yes, I agree with you that his treatment of military affairs left a lot to be desired.

    Funnily enough, he also visited the GDR on a number of occasions and was appalled at the regime there, denouncing it as the worst example of State Capitalism in the Eastern Bloc. On that point we also had to agree to disagree, since my stay there was much longer than his and, in spite of the real shortcomings of the system, I had the opportunity to see how it benefited most of the population.

    I was shocked at his sudden and unexpected death and I believe he did much to clarify the genuine ideology of Socialism in the minds of many folks.

    Mit sozialistischem Gruß