Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Another hidden Mutiny? 'COs' and the RAMC in Egypt in 1918-19

For many conscientious objectors (COs) the war was not over in November 1918, any more than it was for vast numbers of men awaiting demobilisation from the armed forces. Valuable work has been done by radical historians on the mutinies and soldiers' strikes of 1919 (as well as on mutinies during the hostilities), while peace activists have not forgotten the 'two-year' men still stuck in prison months after the Armistice. One little-known story which brings the two strands together concerns what was happening in the British forces in Egypt from the summer of 1918 through into 1919, the details of which are yet to be researched.

The EEF (Egyptian Expeditionary Force)
The Egyptian Expeditionary Force (EEF) was a British Army formation that conducted campaigns in Sinai, Palestine and Syria during 1916-18, and its battlefield successes played a prominent role in the destruction of the Ottoman Empire in the Levant.  
In March-April 1919, a large bulk of the EEF was committed to the suppression of the Egyptian Revolution, restoring control through the liberal use of force. The shift from wartime operations to post-war imperial policing proved unpopular with the EEF’s rank and file as it delayed their demobilisation, leading to large-scale unrest in many units in May 1919. Following the rapid demobilisation of most of its British and Anzac units the remnants of the EEF, by then largely an Indian army formation, acted as an army of occupation in the former Ottoman Levant until mid-1921, being replaced by the new civil authorities of the Syrian and Palestinian mandates.
 - James E. Kitchen, Royal Military Academy Sandhurst

The RAMC (Royal Army Medical Corps)

"At the outbreak of the Great War, just 16 years after its formation, there were 9,000 Warrant Officers and Men of the RAMC; this grew to 113,000 by 1918. The British Army had never before fielded a field ambulance in conflict... 
"It has been documented that on the Western front alone, the wounded that returned to the firing line, represented a manpower saved of 1,600,000. It has been acknowledged that this enormous amount of men conserved to fight again was almost enough to turn the scale of war in the British Armies['] favour."
"The RAMC was not a fighting force but its members saw the full horror of the war... Warrant Officers and men performed their duties unarmed...

The Non-Fighting Volunteers 

The 17,426 records on the Pearce Register include the names of many men (and a few women) who were not, strictly speaking, COs in the sense of having been accorded that status, or claimed it, on the grounds, 'F', of having a conscientious objection to participation in the war, within the meaning of the Military Service Acts of 1916 and after. Some were not subject to conscription but supported the resistance of those who were; some were driven by conscience to take a principled stand, with its attendant risks, when they realised what their participation involved; some volunteered early for non-combatant service before anyone was conscripted. At least 11 men, most or all in the latter categories, found themselves court-martialled and sentenced to hard labour in Egypt in 1918.

These records came to attention as a result of a keyword search for 'Walthamstow', not the home area in these cases, as it turned out, but the place where volunteers enlisted in the 3rd East Anglian Field Ambulance (RAMC). A striking similarity of phrasing became noticeable, on the lines of "CM (Court Martial) for refusing to take up a weapon" in the RAMC, in Egypt, in June-July 1918. Further searching using 'Gabbari' (prison) and 'Kantara' (base) found those similar details in more cases. 

Names and Extracts edited from the records 

John Byrne 12406 (Soldier Number*)  RAMC 'a soldier of the Regular Forces', in Egypt, Kantara 
30.7.18 refused to take up a rifle
FGCM (Field General Court Martial) 5.8.18 - 2yrs. HL (with hard labour)
Gabbari MP (Military Prison)
Reference to FGCM (Court Martial) in Harold Ingram NA/WO363 - on line
* Also 12480, Royal Irish. Medal card (TNA - http://discovery.nationalarchives.gov.uk/)

Harold Edward Humphreys  7337876* 14 Sackville Gdns. The Drive, Ilford  
(At) Walthamstow, joined up 12.5.15 3rd East Anglian Field Ambulance
RAMC Kantara, Egypt 
CM Egypt 25.7.18 for refusing to take up a weapon 
- 5yrs.Penal Servitude, commuted.to 2yrs. 
Gabbari Military Prison, Egypt, 25.7.18 to 28.10.18 
Sentence suspended on authority of letter from GHQ dated 24.10.18
After release, compulsory transfer to 1/5 Bn. Essex Regiment. 
Demob.5.10.19 Re-enlisted in RAMC 24.6.21   
*(Also nos. 2408 in 1915; 253273 in 1919; 7337876 in 1921.) 
A panoramic view of Kantara base, Egypt
Harold Ingram 253274 (1919) Grimsby  Watchmaker  b.1895  United Methodist 
RAMC enlisted at Grimsby 23.11.14, Notts and Derby Mounted Brigade Field Ambulance (RAMC)
Posted to EEF (Egypt) Kantara 30.7.18 refused to take up a rifle 
FGCM 5.8.18 - 2yrs.HL 
Gabbari MP - unexpired portion of sentence suspended 4.9.19  
WO363 image online (on right).
Demob. 8.9.19     Also 204 in 1914 and 416099 on Smith file.
(His brother Edward William Ingram also enlisted in the RAMC. He was returned to it as a CO after an earlier 'transfer', but was only in Egypt for 5-6 weeks in early 1919).

E (B) Smith  68725  RAMC - 'a soldier in the regular forces' 
90th Battalion Field Artillery RAMC
Kantara 30.7.18 refused to take up a rifle; FGCM 5.8.18 - 2yrs.HL 
Gabbari MP (Military Prison); 
Reference to FGCM (Court Martial) in Harold Ingram NA/WO363 as above 

(Note: Ingram and Smith 'refused' on the same day and were court-martialled together. Recurring dates will be observed elsewhere in the list).

Archibald George Mori  63557/253157 49 St.Mary's Rd. Ilford  Baptist  Bookbinder
Attested* 8.5.15, Walthamstow, 3rd East Anglian Field Ambulance, RAMC, Egypt EEF 
Kantara CM for refusing to take up arms, 25.7.18 
- 5yrs.Penal Servitude com. to 2yrs
Citadel Military Prison, Egypt; transferred to Maidstone CP (Civil Prison).
Transferred to Essex Regiment 6.7.18.  Discharged and released 9.7.19 
* 'Attested' means he indicated willingness to join the forces if called up, although he may well have intended this to be conditional..The vast majority of COs were 'Not attested'.

Norman Harris Stafford  69915 NCF (No-Conscription Fellowship)  
Grocer's assistant  Hyde, Cheshire  Corporal RAMC, 1/7 R.Welsh Fusiliers
RAMC (EEF) Egypt
CM Kantara 24.7.18 for refusing to take up a rifle - 5yrs.Penal Servitude, com. to 2yrs.
Gabbari Military Prison, Cairo, serving 1st sentence 9.5.19
Died in Egypt after arrest but not in prison; buried in Port Said Memorial Cemetery
93103 in 1919. Medal.
(His brother Wilfrid Malins Stafford was a CO, acknowledged to be 'genuine', who served time in prison and work camps.)

Joseph William Tanter477202 West Ham  Milkman 
Volunteered 23.9.14, Walthamstow, 3(R) East Anglian Field Ambulance
RAMC Egypt (EEF) CM 25.7.18 for refusing to take up a weapon 
- 5yrs.Penal Servitude, com. to 2yrs. 
Gabbari Military Prison 26.8.18 to 8.2.19  Sentence suspended
Discharged from prison. Illness, dysentery, to Gabbari prison hospital 7.12.18 to 8.1.19
Sentence suspended, transferred to Essex Regiment. 
To guard duty at Heliopolis POW camp and waived his right to an early Demob. 
Discharged 21.4.20.  (Also nos. 2204, 253276). Medal.
Douglas Hasler Thorn  424621 Civil service clerk  Clapham  
Volunteered 12.5.15 Chelsea Barracks
RAMC Egypt (EEF) CM 24.7.18 for refusing to take up a weapon 
- 5yrs.Penal Servitude, com. to 2yrs
Gabbari Military Prison, discharged 18.1.19 to London Regiment.
Transfer to London Regiment, working as an Education Instructor. 
Illness, contracted malaria, May 1919; Invalided to UK from Alexandria 4.1.20
Demob.5.3.20 - Disability (aggravated) due to his army service.
 (Middle name may be transcribed as 'Haster' on some records.)  

Frederick Thomas Tiller 0394  Okehampton  RAMC Egypt (EEF) 
Transferred to 1/4 Duke of Cornwall's Light Infantry, 
CM 6.6.18 for refusing to take up a weapon - 1yr.HL (With hard labour)
Gabbari MP, Alexandria, died there 30.3.19
Buried at Alexandria (Hadra) War Memorial Cemetery (image below).  
Q in H  (Question in Parliament) 14.5.19   Grave & Medal. Also nos, 66665, 67189.
(The case being raised in Parlaiment may have had a bearing on his shorter sentence)

The alleged offences of the remaining two are not specified, but the date, location and outcome of their court martial strongly suggest that they fit the same pattern.

Ernest Norman Johnson  Soiuthport  RAMC with EEF, Egypt
Transferred to 1/6 R. Welsh Fusiliers, CM (Court Martial) 6.6.18 - 2yrs.HL
Gabbari MP (Military Prison), Alexandria, died there 26.10.18
Buried at Alexandria (Hadra) War Memorial Cemetery  
QinH  14-5-19 (see below)

Charles W Kapeller  2211/6/14566 Bow  b.1896  'India rubber man'  
RAMC with EEF in Egypt, transferred to 2/19 London
CM (Court Martial) 6.6.18 - 2yrs.HL 
Gabbari MP (Military Prison), Alexandria 
Q in H 6.11.18  

Questions in the House 

Among the many questions posed by concerned MPs about the treatment of opponents of the war were the following, about three of the above.

6-11-18  Oral Answers to Questions. Food Supplies: Gabbari Military Prison, Egypt
HC Deb 06 November 1918 vol 110 cc2097-8
30. Mr. KING 
asked the Under-Secretary of State for War whether he is aware that Private C. W. Kapeller, No. 477205, Royal Army Medical Corps, now in Gabbari prison, Alexandria, Egypt, enlisted in September, 1914, as a non-combatant, went through the Gallipoli campaign as a stretcher bearer, later was fourteen months a stretcher bearer in Egypt, and did duty at the 65th casualty clearing station in Palestine; is he aware that on 23rd February, 1918, this man was sent to Cairo against his will for Infantry training, and was there threatened with trial and the death penalty for mutiny; why was the man after two years and nine months in the firing line court-martialled and imprisoned; whether he is aware that a promise had been made to his parent that Private Kapeller should be sent home; and why has that promise not been carried out?
I am making inquiry into this case, and I will write to my hon. Friend as soon as possible.
14-5-19  Oral Answers to Questions: Gabbari Prison, Alexandria
HC Deb 14 May 1919 vol 115 c1577
30. Colonel WEDGWOOD 
asked the Secretary of State for War whether he will have investigations made into the treatment in Gabbari Prison, Alexandria, of men who had volunteered for the Royal Army Medical Corps and refused transference to combatant units; whether he will give the dates of the death of Private N. Johnson and Private Tiller in this prison; what was the cause of their death; whether they were treated according to the regulations of the prison; and whether he will state the number of men who have died in this prison since January, 1917? 
Captain GUEST 
This matter is being inquired into, and I will communicate with my hon. and gallant Friend as soon as I know the result. 
Questions that Remain 

It seems likely from the recurrent dates and phrasing that some kind of collective discussion and decision-taking had taken place to coordinate refusal of forced transfers from non-combatant to fighting units, so that this episode (or series of events) forms part of the recovered history of resistance to militarism during the war. It would be interesting to know whether these men's defiance was sparked off by one or two individuals, with others joining in solidarity, or incited by the more committed and politically active, whether they were planned or ad hoc and so on - too late to  find out from the participants, unless any have left family stories or other testimony. 

It would also be interesting to know more about the motivation for the sudden overriding of the terms of their enlistment, after years of service. Perhaps it had something to do with the volatile situation in Egypt, which was to erupt in 1919? By then most of the refusers were moving on, one way or another, apart from three who would never get their lives back in any form.

The inscription is headed by the name of his mother, Elizabeth Tiller, who died in 1925.

It looks as though she had asked to be buried with her son, and thus ensured that he would have a memorial.


1 comment:

  1. For information about COs with connections to Walthamstow, see the latest Smothpubs post: http://smothpubs.blogspot.com/2019/03/conscientious-objectors-in-first-world.html