Tuesday, June 7, 2011

A Tempest In A Teapot

In November 1915 there was a riot in London, Ontario. Or so it has been portrayed in some historical reference books. When one looks at it closer one wonders if it was in fact a riot - or a drunken brawl.

At this time there were two battalions training in London - the 33rd. at Carling Heights, and the 70th. at Queen’s Park. There was some discontent. It was centered largely around the inability of the Canadian Ministry of Militia to decide when to send these battalions overseas. The boys were ready - or so they thought.

On November 19th in anticipation of orders to proceed overseas leave was given to the soldiers of the 33rd. On Saturday evening the 20th. a Pte. John McCann was taken off of a trolley, and arrested for drunk and disorderly conduct. As he said to the judge, “I was drunk, sir. I spent my time drinking as hard as I could from 5 to 7 on Saturday evening”. (1)

His arrest was witnessed by other soldiers who tried to intervene to protect one of their own. Five were arrested, and charged - Charles Beckerson, George Reid, Sidney Jones, John Ferguson, and McCann. Each were bound over for the sum of $100 dollars with an admonishment from the judge that “You are British, not German”. Also the judge stated that he did not want to prevent any man from going to the front, if he desired to do so. (2) However, there was more.

On the evening of the 21st.. Some soldiers apparently decided that they would rescue those who were in jail. Naturally they were in a bar at the time. The soldiers marched on the police station in downtown London. There was a punch up with police both civil and military, and there was some damage to downtown businesses. Pickets from the two battalions moved in from their respective camps to maintain order. There were some civilians milling around with the soldiers, and apparently not above handing out bricks for the soldiers to throw. (3) Five more soldiers, and two civilians, were arrested - Walter Cowley, Charles Tatham, Patrick Crowley, Henry Hawes, William Brennan, Charles Bell, and Ross Grover. There was a great deal of finger pointing which laid most of the blame on the 33rd. battalion. Also there was conflicting evidence about who did what from the soldiers, police, and the Home Guard military police.

“The London Advertiser” (whose editor had little use for conservatives in general, and Sam Hughes in particular) did not see the soldiers as the problem.
“Hughes caused all the trouble. Let him set it right again. The Sir Sam Hughes system of having the men in training policed by home guard military police is all wrong - we say this at the risk of offending the divine censorship of Sir Sam Hughes.” (4)(5)

Sir Sam Hughes replied with what can only be called a Samism. (There were dozens of these Samisms throughout 1914 to 1916).
“It is up to the men to trim the officers who have disgraced the regiment rather than vent their feelings on the police, and it is the business of the honest and self-respecting officers to purge themselves of those who have proved dishonest. There is going to be a grand shake-up in the regiment.”(6)

Was there a “grand shake-up”? No.

“Any person who expected Sir Sam Hughes, minister of militia, to eat raw beef and break a lion’s jaw with his hairy fist when he came to London, would have seen this morning a gentleman as wild as the famous sucking dove.” (7)

Little or no comment from “The London Free Press”. Did I mention that it was a Conservative supporter?

Note: I have included a link to the attestation papers of those soldiers that I could find in a very quick search. Two of the soldiers I have linked to - Beckerson and Ferguson - were in the 70th. battalion.

(1) “The London Free Press”, November 22, 1915.

(2) “The London Free Press”, November 26, 1915. All of the soldiers were released  to their battalions, and served in the trenches. Both the battalions were broken up and used as reinforcements. As far as I can assertain none were killed.
(3) This is not surprising. Londoners have always enjoyed street theatre. If that means windows being broken, or a building on fire, even better. Today a party thrown by college students involve more people with much more damage being done. The value of it as street theatre is pretty much the same though.
(4) “The London Advertiser”, November 24, 1915.
(5) Troops looked at the Home Guard as at the worst cowards or at the least - as we would say today - draft dodgers in uniform. At least while in uniform they avoided the white feather. Mind you after casualty lists began to be published in the papers there were very few white feathers handed out.
(6) “The London Advertiser”, November 23, 1915.
(7) “The London Advertiser”, November 25, 1915.

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