Encyclopedia of Trotskyism On-Line: Revolutionary History, Vol. 8 No. 2

IV: Disaffection and Dissent
in the British Armed Forces

The first two pieces in this section consider mutinies amongst the armed forces in colonial possessions around the time of the First World War. Julian Putkowski has been analysing material associated with discipline and dissent in the British and Imperial Armies since the 1970s. We are grateful to him for allowing us to publish documents that shed light on the situation of the military in the British colonies. We begin with the transcript of negotiations at Simla in 1919 between delegates representing around 20,000 British army mutineers and the Indian Army General Staff. This mutiny has passed largely unremarked, apart from Julian Putkowski’s analysis in his British Army Mutineers. We preface extracts from the transcript of negotiations with an introductory essay that places the event in context.

Julian Putkowski has published widely in the area of mutinies and dissent, and he has also been a consultant and researcher for museums and the media. Here is a partial bibliography of relevant work.

Books: Shot at Dawn (with Julian Sykes), Pen and Sword Books, 1989; British Army Mutineers 1914–1922, Francis Boutle Publishers, 1998; Unquiet Graves: Guide (with Piet Chielens), Francis Boutle Publishers, 2000; Unquiet Graves (with Piet Chielens), Francis Boutle Publishers, 2000; British Army Officers’ Courts Martial: 1914–1924 (with Gerry Oram), Francis Boutle Publishers, 2000; Military Criminals (with Mark Herber), Francis Boutle Publishers, 2001.

Articles: Percy Toplis and the Etaples Mutiny, Stand To!, no. 18, Autumn 1986; Postscript on PMS2, Intelligence and National Security, Spring 1987; The Kinmel Park Camp Riots, 1919, Flintshire Historical Society Journal, 1989; Pardon Ruled Out: The Case of Harry Farr, Gunfire, no. 27, 1993; A2 and the “Reds in Khaki”, Lobster, no. 27, April 1994; “The Best Secret Serviceman We Had”: Jack Byrnes, A2 and the IRA, Lobster, no. 28, February 1995; “Those Nasty Crawling Things”: A2 and the Labour Movement, Part 1, Lobster, no. 29, August 1995; “Those Nasty Crawling Things”: A2 and the Labour Movement, Part 2, Lobster, no. 30, February 1996; Le Camp Brittanique d’Etaples 1914–1918 (with Douglas Gill), Musée Quentovic, Etaples 1997; Les cours martiales britannique et la campagne de rehabilitation des fusilles, La Grande Guerre, no. 24, Summer 1999; Le destin d’un trainard. La condemantion a mort du soldat Thomas Highgate, 6 Septembre 1914, La Grande Guerre, no. 26, Spring 2000; British Army Executions in the Ypres Salient During the First World War, Proceedings of the Unquiet Graves Conference 2000, In Flanders Fields Museum, November 2000.

First World War Mutinies in the Media: The Monocled Mutineer, a BBC television series screened in the autumn of 1986. Julian Putkowski was an advisor for this historical drama. He was also consulted for the following: Mutiny at Kinmel Park, Granada, news feature, 1978; Going Home, OPIX/BBCTV historical drama feature, 1987; Killing Ground, CBC historical documentary feature, 1988; Ballot on the Battlefield, TVSW historical documentary feature, 1992; Rifleman Jimmy Crozier, BBC Radio Northern Ireland, historical documentary feature, 1992; In the Firing Line, BBC Northern Ireland, historical documentary feature, 1992; Men in Battle, Barraclough Carey, documentary series, 1992; Texts in Time, BBCTV Education, historical documentary series, 1992–93; It Is With Very Great Regret, BBC Radio 4, historical documentary feature, 1993; Shot at Dawn, Dreamscape/BBCTV, historical documentary feature, 1993; WW1 Executions, BBC Radio/Wales Tonight, news feature, 1993; People’s Century, Barraclough Carey, historical documentary series, 1994; Wartime Evacuees, Starry Night Productions/CBC, historical documentary feature, 1994; The Quiet Man, BBC Radio 4, historical documentary feature, 1995; They Wrote Diaries, BBC Radio 4, historical documentary feature, 1997; Shot At Dawn, BBCTV Wales, documentary feature, 4 November 1997; Battle for the Mind, Blakeway Productions/Channel 4 TV, First World War documentary feature, 8 November 1998; Shot at Dawn, Carlton, First World War historical documentary feature, 8 November 1998; Mutiny, Illuminations/Sweet Patootee/Channel 4 TV, First World War documentary feature, 10 October 1999; The Kinmel Park Mutiny, Andy Brice Productions/CBC, First World War documentary feature, December 2000; The Singapore Mutiny 1915, Sweet Patootee, September–October 2000.

Annotated Bibliography of Mutinies: Julian Putkowski has kindly provided an annotated bibliography of books written in English that are commonly cited sources of information about mutinies which have occurred in the British Army during the past hundred years.

  • P. Adam-Smith, The Anzacs: The True Story of the Young Men Who Went to Gallipoli, Thomas Nelson, Melbourne 1978, a nostalgic nationalist perspective, includes brief account of September 1918 mutiny by ANZAC troops.
  • William Allison and John Fairley, The Monocled Mutineer, Quartet Books, London 1978, an overblown account of the 1917 Etaples Mutiny and biography of a rapist, thief and murderer.
  • T. Ashworth, Trench Warfare 1914–1918: The Live and Let Live System, Macmillan, London 1980, a scholarly analysis of trench warfare focussing on non-aggression, fraternisation and the ‘quiet front’.
  • Anthony Babington, The Devil to Pay: The Mutiny of the Connaught Rangers, India, July 1921, Leo Cooper, London 1991, a comprehensive account of the mutiny in 1920 of the Connaught Rangers at Jullunder in the Punjab on hearing of the execution of the leaders of the 1916 Easter Uprising, but generally unsympathetic to the mutineers.
  • A. Baxter, We Will Not Cease, Victor Gollancz, London 1939, an autobiography of an NZ ‘conchie’, details army punishments in France and Flanders during the First World War.
  • I.F.W. Beckett (ed.), The Army and the Curragh Incident 1914, Army Historical Society, London 1986, a collection of primary documents relating to mutinous subversion by officers.
  • D. Birmingham, et al. (eds.), World War 1 and Africa, Journal of African History, Volume 21, no. 1, 1978, scholarly essays, some referring to mutinous action by African soldiers and military labourers.
  • N. Boyack, Behind the Lines: The Lives of New Zealand Soldiers in the First World War, Allen and Unwin, Wellington 1989, a critical account of NZ troops, includes references to mutinies and ill-discipline, fully referenced.
  • R. Boyes, In Glass Houses: A History of the Military Provost Staff Corps, Military Provost Staff Corps Association, Colchester 1988, ill-written, poorly edited and over-defensive, but useful for references to revolts by military prisoners.
  • M. Brown and S. Seaton, The Christmas Truce: The Western Front, December 1914, Leo Cooper, London 1984, 1994, empiricist, explicitly rejects Marxist interpretations, but good narratives and well referenced.
  • S. Brugger, Australians and Egypt 1914–1919, Melbourne University Press, Carlton 1980, includes references to ‘Wazza’ pogroms, good bibliography.
  • C. Corns and John Hughes Wilson, British Military Executions in the Great War, Cassell, London 2001, includes chapter on mutinies, makes use of material in Putkowski, 1998, to advance a conservative view of military dissent; politically reactionary, unoriginal, sloppy annotation, shoddy index.
  • Dallas Gloden and Douglas Gill, The Unknown Army: Mutinies in the British Army in World War 1, Verso, London 1985, a scholarly political appraisal, sympathetic to mutineers, well referenced, good bibliography.
  • David Duncan, Mutiny in the RAF: The Air Force Strikes of 1946, Socialist History Society, Occasional Papers Series: No. 8 (also available online: http://www.uea.ac.uk/~v655/shs/duncancontents.htm), 1998, brief, stimulating accounts by one of the Drigh Road RAF mutineers.
  • K.D. Ewing and C.A. Gearty, The Struggle for Civil Liberties: Political Freedom and the Rule of Law in Britain 1914–1945, OUP, Oxford 2000, a scholarly work that includes prosecution of the CPGB for incitement to mutiny.
  • J. Fergusson, The Curragh Incident, Faber and Faber, London, 1964, the officers’ mutiny.
  • J.G. Fuller, Troop Morale and Popular Culture in the British and Dominion Armies 1914–1918, OUP, Oxford, 1991, concerns sport and leisure, refers to officers, ill-merited self-esteem, mutinies viewed as insignificant.
  • B. Gammage, The Broken Years: Australian Soldiers in the Great War, ANUP, Canberra 1974, refers to the 1915 anti-Egyptian pogroms and September 1918 mutinies.
  • D. Gill and Julian Putkowski, The British Base Camp at Etaples 1914–1918, Musée Quentovic, Etaples sur Mer, 1997, includes a brief account of the 1917 mutiny, dismisses the ‘Monocled Mutineer’ thesis.
  • B. Glenton, Mutiny in Force X, Hodder and Stoughton, London 1988, Second World War.
  • F. Grundlingh, Fighting Their Own War: South African Blacks and the First World War, Ravan Press, Johannesburg 1987, makes reference to mutinies by the black military labourers of the South African Labour Contingent.
  • R.W.E. Harper and H. Miller, Singapore Mutiny, OUP, Singapore 1984, recounts February 1915 mutiny by sepoys of Fifth Battalion Light Infantry, but generally discounts the political significance of the outbreak.
  • L. James, Mutiny: In the British and Commonwealth Forces 1797–1956, Buchan and Enright, London 1987, mostly about post-1914 period, many useful references but a whiggish interpretation of mutiny.
  • Walter Kendall, The Revolutionary Movement in Britain 1900–21: The Origins of British Communism, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, London 1969, anti-CPGB, anti-Comintern, contains brief references to the 1919 demobilisation crisis.
  • T.P. Kilfeather, The Connaught Rangers, Anvil, Dublin 1969, a journalist presents a sympathetic account of 1921 protest, no references or bibliography.
  • A. Killick, Mutiny!, Spark, Brighton 1968, reprinted 1976 by Militant, an autobiographical account by a participant in the 1919 Calais mutiny.
  • R. Kisch, The Days of the Good Soldiers, Journeyman Press, London 1985, a survey of CPGB members involvement in Second World War mutinies and protests.
  • David Lamb, Mutinies 1917–1920, Solidarity, London 1979, a libertarian left appraisal of mutinies as political, exaggerates the mutineers’ impact.
  • P. Liddle (ed.), Passchendaele in Perspective: The Third Battle of Ypres, Pen and Sword, Barnsley 1997, a chapter by P. Scott on law and order ascribes low level of dissent to deferential attitude of Tommies.
  • S.P. Mackenzie, Politics and Military Morale: Current Affairs and Citizenship Education in the British Army 1914–1950, OUP, Oxford 1992, references to Etaples 1917, April 1918 Soldiers’ and Workers’ Council, and Cairo 1944.
  • D. Omissi, The Sepoy and the Raj: The Indian Army 1860–1940, Macmillan, London 1994, devotes a chapter to mutinies by the sepoys of the Army of India, good bibliography.
  • R.J. Popplewell, Intelligence and Imperial Defence: British Intelligence and the Defence of India 1904–1924, Cass, London, 1995, refers to ‘Ghadr’-inspired mutinies in Army of India during 1914–15, excellent references.
  • S. Pollock, Mutiny for the Cause, Leo Cooper, London 1969, a journalistic hagiography of the 1920 Connaught Rangers mutiny.
  • D.N. Pritt, The Autobiography of D.N. Pritt, Part 2: Brasshats and Bureaucrats, Lawrence and Wishart, London, 1962, Labour MP and soldiers’ advocate (and inveterate Stalinist), active defending mutineers during 1944–45.
  • C. Pugsley, Gallipoli: The New Zealand Story, Hodder and Stoughton, Auckland 1984, describes the ‘Battle of Wazzir’, an anti-Egyptian pogrom due to NZ troops’ ‘pent-up frustration’, see also Boyack.
  • C. Pugsley, On the Fringe of Hell: New Zealanders and Military Discipline in the First World War, Hodder and Stoughton, Auckland 1991, nostalgic nationalism, refers to several mutinies, including December 1918 Surafend anti-Arab pogrom (‘cannot be condoned but can be understood’), contrast with Boyack.
  • Julian Putkowski, The Kinmel Park Camp Riots 1919, Flintshire Historical Society, Hawarden 1989, 2001, the Canadian Army mutiny in Wales, see also D. Morton Kicking and Complaining, Canadian Historical Review, no. 61, September 1980.
  • Julian Putkowski, British Army Mutineers 1914–1922, Francis Boutle, London 1998, relates stories of four mutinies and records details of all men charged with mutiny.
  • A.P. Ryan, Mutiny at the Curragh, Macmillan, London 1956, a narrative account of officers’ mutiny.
  • T.R. Sareen, Secret Documents on the Singapore Mutiny, 1915, two volumes, Mounto, New Delhi, 1995, includes Court of Enquiry papers and other items associated with the outbreak.
  • David Saul, Mutiny at Salerno: An Injustice Exposed, Brassey’s, London 1995, a fluently written, comprehensive account of September 1943 mutiny and trial.
  • G. Sheffield, The Redcaps: A History of the Military Police and its Antecedents from the Middle Ages to the Gulf War, Brassey’s, London 1994, an official history, only Etaples 1917 outbreak cited, but useful references to battlefield ‘stragglers’.
  • G. Sheffield, Leadership in the Trenches: Officer–Man Relations, Morale and Discipline in the British Army in the Era of the First World War, Macmillan, London 2000, refers to several mutinies but eschews ideology and opts to maintain a ‘Soldiers’ deference + Officers’ paternalism = good officer–man relations’ line, excellent bibliography.
  • M. Summerskill, China on the Western Front: Britain’s Chinese Workforce in the First World War, Summerskill, London 1982, includes references to mutinies by Chinese Labour Corps serving with the British Expeditionary Force.
  • Tom Wintringham, Mutiny: Being a Survey of Mutinies from Spartacus to Invergordon, Stanley Nott, London 1937, relies on Daily Herald news reports for the First World War period, but passably presents a class analysis of mutiny and mutineers.

Further Materials: In addition, other relevant journal materials on the subject of British armies and mutinies in the First World War include the following.

  • Andrew Rothstein, The Soldiers’ Strikes of 1919, Journeyman Press, 1985; reviewed by Clive Heemskerk, Militant International Review, no. 30, Autumn 1985.
  • Wildcat, no. 1, 1974, includes Disaffection, 1797–1974; Open Letter to British Soldiers, reprinted from Sheldrake’s Military Gazette, Aldershot, 1 March 1912, the leaflet for which Crowsley, Bowman and Tom Mann were arraigned for anti-war propaganda among the troops; Philip Sanson, Revived ’45: Anarchists Against the Army, his speech at his trial; Colin Ward, Witness for the Prosecution, events in 1945.
  • Douglas Gill and Gloden Dallas, Mutiny at Etaples, Past and Present, no. 69, November 1975.
  • William Allison, Inadmissible Memories of a Suppressed Mutiny, Guardian, 22 September 1986.
  • Peter Tatchell, The Monocle That Blinds Us to the Many Other Mutinies, Guardian, 19 September 1986.
  • David Englander, Mutiny at Etaples Base Camp, The Bulletin for the Society of Labour History, no. 52, 1987.
  • David Englander, Troops and Trade Unions, 1919, History Today, March 1987.
  • John Field, The Kent Coast Mutinies of 1919, Cantium, Volume 4, no. 4, Winter 1972–73.
  • Chanie Rosenberg, 1919: Britain on the Brink of Revolution, Bookmarks, London 1987.

The second article in this section is an intriguing document from the archives. Sir Basil Thomson’s Report on Revolutionary Organisations in the United Kingdom, no. 79, dated 4 November 1920, reproduces the text of the British Red Army Red Officers’ Course. The original probably no longer exists, and the text, which is contained in Thomson’s report, is probably a police fabrication. According to Thomson’s report, the text was in a little red book borne by the Comintern emissary, Errki Veltheim, who was arrested outside the house of Colonel L’Estrange Malone MP in October 1920. Malone, Thomson claimed, had drafted the text, and Veltheim was providing organisational support and funding for the establishment of a British Red Army. Veltheim was jailed for six months and deported, and Malone came within an ace of being charged with treason. The context in which this occurred has been chronicled by Walter Kendall in The Revolutionary Movement in Britain 1900–1921, pages 246–8. For various reasons, Kendall’s account, and his interpretation of some other incidents dismisses the rôle of agents provocateur – in this case a notorious, near-reptilian turncoat named Josef Nosivitsky, at the time employed by Thomson himself.

Material of related interest includes the following. On This Day, 17 November 1925, Reds and the Navy, The Times, 17 December 1991, official disquiet over Communist leaflets circulating among the fleet; A. Neuburg, a variety of authors, writing around a theme suggested by Trotsky, Armed Insurrection, London 1970, original German edition, 1928; reviewed by Régis Monneret, Lutte ouvrière, no. 95, 17 June 1970; On This Day, 7 July 1930, Conviction under Incitement to Mutiny Act, The Times, 7 July 1995, indictment of a Communist for distributing leaflets signed by ‘The Communist Group of British Soldiers’ appealing to the troops not to serve in India; D. Englander, Military Intelligence and the Defence of the Realm: The Surveillance of Soldiers and Civilians in Britain during the First World War, The Bulletin for the Society of Labour History, Volume 52, no. 1, 1987; Tom Wintringham, Modern Weapons and Revolution, Labour Monthly, Volume 15, no. 1, January 1933; Tom Wintringham, Mutiny, published for the Labour Book Service during the Second World War.

Julian Putkowski, Mutiny in India in 1919

Report on Revolutionary Organisations: Red Officer Course

Updated by ETOL: 17.10.2011