Kinmel Park Camp was built by McAlpine’s in the winter of 1914/15, prior to which troops had been billeted all over North Wales, including at a large canvas camp in St. Asaph. Although initially planned only as a military training camp, it was also used to house “aliens at large” and for the processing of conscientious objectors. By February 1915 it was expected that as many as 15,000 troops would arrive within the month.
The camp complex consisted of twenty sub-camps, each having their own canteens and messes; a small hospital, Post Office, bakery, 1,000 seat concert hall and cinema, bandstand, billiard room, places to worship and three YMCA buildings.
The camp was serviced by a 2 foot narrow gauge railway which connected with Rhyl at Y Foryd to join the main Chester to Holyhead line.
Practice trenches were built in the grounds. Some of them are still available to see when visiting Bodelwyddan Castle. To find out more about the practice trenches and trench warfare download the resource pack from Bodelwyddan Castle’s website here:
Practice Trenches at Bodelwyddan
The Kinmel Park Riots
Some of the most serious riots in British military history took place between the 4th and 5th of March 1919 at Kinmel Park Camp.
This is how the story was reported in “The Times” of March 7th, 1919:
THE CAMP RIOT
Casualties and Damage
(From our Special Correspondent.)
Rhyl, March 7.
The serious riot which began in the Canadian Camp at Kinmel Park on Tuesday night, and lasted through the greater part of Wednesday, had fortunately not all the aggravated characteristics which the first published accounts gave to it, and, happily too, the loss of life was not as great as yesterday’s report made it appear. The number of men killed is five, and the number of the injured is 23, including two subalterns.
The circumstantial story of a major who has gained the V.C. being trampled to death is also without foundation in fact. The major is alive and unhurt.
When the additions made by rumour have been deducted the grave nature of the riots is still very evident, and in particular it seems beyond doubt that its ringleaders were men with Bolshevist tendencies. These Bolshevists are not true Canadians, but men of Russian blood.
The Men’s Grievances
The best way to dispel any untrue ideas of the riot, and, at the same time, to convey a trustworthy account of what happened will he to give the event in narrative form, with a preliminary of the grievances which the men in the camp have felt. They have been annoyed at the delay in getting home. The sailing of several boats to Canada has been cancelled. It is stated on good authority that on five or six occasions boats have been taken off the sailing list, and, consequently, drafts that were duo to leave have been detained in the camp. Another cause of complaint, the substance of which it is not easy to ascertain, is that some conscribed men have been given precedence in demobilisation over volunteers of 1914. It. has been the definite intention at Kinmel Park to release first the men who had first joined the Army, but in France demobilisation is being carried out by units, and possibly the occasion of the men’s complaint may have arisen at a distance, and not on the spot. At any rate, it has been one of the causes of the unrest. That the commander of the camp, Colonel Colquhoun, was aware of the state of feeling is indicated by the fact that Colonel Thackrey had been sent to the Canadian Headquarters in London to represent how matters stood, and to bring back word what definite arrangements for transport were being made. There are over 17,000 men in the camp, and fully three-quarters of them are ready with all their documents complete to leave for home.
It is a mixed camp, comprising men from the fighting forces, the Railway Corps, the Labour Corps, and the Forestry Corps, and there is authority for the statement that the trouble began, and was mainly continued by the men in the auxiliary branches of the force, and by a comparatively small section of them. The opinions of two officers of high standing in the camp, which were given independently, agreed in putting the numbers of the rioters at about 600. The riot began in district, No. 7. It needs to be explained that the camp is manned out in wings and districts, and the districts correspond with the military districts in Canada. The men housed in district No. 7 at Kinmel belong, for example, to military district No. 7 in the Dominion, and so it goes, right through to district No. 20.
Sacking the Canteens
The first disturbance occurred about 9 o’clock on Tuesday night in the No. 7 canteen, which was looted. It spread from canteen to canteen, the rioters sacking one after another of the Navy and Army Canteen’s Board’s premises, and drinking the beer and appropriating the tobacco and cigarettes. It is not possible to give a consecutive account of the occurrences of the night and the next morning, and they may be mentioned here in the wrong order, but the state of affairs by the middle of Wednesday afternoon seems to have been that in nearly all parts of the camp the canteens and the officers’ and sergeants’ messes had been looted, The quartermaster’s stores had been broken open, a collection of shops known as Tin Town, on the confines of the camp, had been wrecked, and three gangs of rioters of about 200 strong, were roving about doing further mischief. A number of girls employed at the canteen were in the camp.
During the night most of them were in the hostel. Some men appear to have entered a room where two girls were sleeping, and to have taken away some overalls, but none of the girls was molested. The manageress responsible for the girls declares that not the slightest attempt was made, to interfere with any of them. A large quantity of stores was carried away or thrown about in the rioting, and many thousands of pounds worth of beer and tobacco was stolen. But perhaps a larger quantity of beer was thrown away by order of the Commandant when the seriousness of the disturbance was realised. He gave instructions that the camp was to be made absolutely dry, and so far as was then possible the order was carried out. There is a story which, however, lacks corroboration, that a brewer’s dray which arrived in the camp on Wednesday was looted. If that be true, it may account for the horrible turn of events in the course of that afternoon.
All this time the officers of the camp were trying to pacify the unruly elements. Colonel Colquhoun himself was going about among the men throughout Tuesday night and all the next morning, endeavouring to allay the excitement and to stop the disorder by the force of his personal influence and by appeals to their own sense of discipline. Whole sections of the camp were steadfast, but the unruly element from a number of districts acted independently, spreading the disturbance over a wide area. Colonel Colquhoun seems to have resolved that he would not resort to force to quell the outbreak unless absolutely obliged to do so as a last resource, and one of the earliest precautions he had taken was the removal of all the ammunition to headquarters. It should be noted that the damage to property is confined to the canteen, the shops, and to one of the Y.M.C.A. huts. Other buildings have suffered from stray missiles, but they were not the object of an organised attack. Although during Tuesday night 17 men were injured, their injuries were slight.
Russian with Red Flag
The new phase began in the middle of Wednesday afternoon. By then two or three of the orderly districts in this camp had resolved that they would not allow the rioters to overrun their areas. Districts Nos. 15, 19, and 20 came to this determination. A body of rioters advanced upon district No. 20 about 3 o’clock. It was noticed that they had a red flag, and that the standard-bearer was a man known to be of Russian extraction. The men of district No. 20 lined up with bayonets fixed, and the rioters broke and fled, but only to reform and come on again. As they marched the Russian appeared to be the leader, and as he approached he fired a rifle. The bullet entered a hut and shot through the heart a man named Hickman, who was writing a letter. That shot was the beginning of a miniature battle, but fortunately there was little ammunition. Colonel Colquhoun had said when he collected the ammunition, “There must be no casualties in this business,” but he could not provide against the possibility of individual men having a few cartridges. Shots were fired on both sides, not by volleys, but singly, with the intention of picking off particular men, and one of the first to fall was the Russian with the red flag.
Arrest of Ringleaders
The fight may have lasted twenty minutes or a little more. When it ceased the camp came to its senses and order was restored. The killing sobered the most mutinous. At 4 o’clock discipline was in force as usual. The Commandant ordered the arrest of the ringleaders of the disturbance, and between 50 and 60 men were taken. There is good reason for saying that a foreign element among the troops played a prominent part, both in stirring up the trouble and leading the riot, but to what extent the use of the red flag—it was a piece of bunting that had been flown at a canteen—signified a political impulse behind the unhappy business it is difficult on present information to say with any confidence. But in the camp itself there is a strong belief that Bolshevism tried to raise its head and was scotched.
General Sir Richard Turner, V.C., from the Canadian Headquarters in London, visited the camp, travelling by train, not by aeroplane, and addressed the men, mid was able to inform them that there would be four transports to Canada within a reasonable time. Colonel Colquhoun, after referring to the dissatisfaction of the men at cancelling of transport sailings, said that Colonel Thackrey sent word that four transports were to be provided without delay, and that if the camp had been patient for another twenty-four hours the cause of the grievance would have gone. The number of men killed outright was three, and two had died of their injuries. Of the 23 others injured some had been shot and others had been wounded by missiles, The two subalterns were struck by the missiles when they were going through the crowd. They were only slightly injured. The camp headquarters had not been touched, and the damage had been confined to such buildings as the canteens. No troops had been brought into the camp from outside to quell the disorder.