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New book profiles Canadians at World War One military camp

The cover of Riots, Death and Baseball — The Canadians at Kinmel Park Camp 1918-19.

The Marble Church, whose yard contains the graves of many Canadians who died during World War One.

Mike Mountain Horse

Robert H. Griffiths of Wales has written a new book about Canadians at Kinmel Park Military Camp in World War One.

A Welsh author has written a new book about the Canadian presence at Kinmel Park Military Camp — the largest military training camp in World War One in Wales.
Robert H. Griffiths explores the adventures of soldiers, Canadian Nursing Sisters and even war brides in Riots, Death and Baseball — The Canadians at Kinmel Park Camp 1918-19.
“This story of the nearly 12 months presence of the Canadians at Kinmel Park Camp needs to be told,” Griffiths said. “It is the story of great diversity, including ethnically.”
Southern Albertans are featured in the new book, including Mike Mountain Horse from the Blood Tribe, who served in France and Flanders with the 50th (Calgary) Battalion, Canadian Expeditionary Force.
Joseph Crow Chief, also of the Blood Tribe, fought in the trenches in France and Flanders with the 50th Battalions
“In my book I point out how strange it must have been for most of the First Nations Canadian soldiers to wear the restrictive clothing, with restrictive army regulations, in the English language of the almost exclusively white Canadian Expeditionary Force,” Griffiths said. “Also, coming from quiet reserves what must they have thought of the bright lights of Paris, to where many of them went on week or two- week furloughs from the Front. What did they think of Kinmel Park Camp, northern Wales and its surrounding area?”
Griffiths, a former police officer, comes by his interest in World War 1 and Kinmel Park Military Camp through family connections.
Griffiths’ grandfather fought on the Western Front with 4th Battalion, The Royal Welsh Fusiliers. His grandmother rode a white horse near the front in France delivering messages.
Griffiths’ wife’s great uncle, Robert Owen, who enlisted in the Royal Welsh Fusiliers and was sent to Kinmel Park Military Camp for training in January 1915.
Less than three months later the 18-year-old Owen was dead, having contracted spotted fever.
Griffiths’ wife’s paternal grandfather, Thomas Jones, was also trained at Kinmel Park and served with the South Wales Borderers on the Western Front.
Jones was bayoneted in the neck by a German soldier in hand-to-hand fighting but survived the injury.
Griffiths has researched Kinmel Park through local archives, the National Library of Wales, newspaper accounts and on-line military records.
His first book, The Story of Kinmel Park Military Training Camp 1914-1918 was published in June 2014.
“I purposely dated it 1914 to 1918, always intending to have published a second book on Kinmel Park Camp featuring the vast Canadian presence at the camp from September 1918 to late June 1919,” Griffiths said.
Griffiths wrote a second book titled Welsh Soldiers, Civilians and Eisteddfodau in WW1.
That was followed by a third book titled The Enemy Within — German POWs and Civilians in North Wales during WW1.
Hot off the press is Griffiths’ fourth book, Riots, Death and Baseball — The Canadians at Kinmel Park Camp 1918-19.
Griffiths writes about the riots inside Kimmel Park Camp happened March 4-5 1919.
After war’s end Canadian soldiers were being repatriated quickly back to Canada but that slowed due to a number of factors: a shortage of ships; a dock strike at the nearby Port of Liverpool; one or two ship transports on inspection being found unfit to cross the Atlantic.
“Stupidly, some Canadian soldiers who had not fought at the Front, indeed had only just arrived in Europe, were on their way back home before the ‘old sweats’, some of whom had spent three or four years fighting,” Griffiths said. “Many of the Canadian ‘old sweats’ found out about this and were angry.”
Those “old sweats” were also angry about poor conditions at Kinmel Park Camp, including bad food, crowded conditions in the wooden huts in which they lived, and concern there would be no jobs left when they got home.
With a lack of information from military leaders in London, the Canadian soldiers began to feel they were forgotten men. That dissension boiled over, leading to some looting and wrecking messes and bars at the camp and eventually it turned into a riot.
Five people died and many others were injured, and the riot had the desired effect of officials quickly paying attention to the Canadian situation and shipping the men out.
“When I set out writing it I intended it to really be about two things,” Griffiths said. “Firstly, the riots and disturbances at the camp of March 4-5, 1919 and secondly, about the 79 other Canadian Soldiers and one Canadian nursing sister who are buried locally at the now-famous St. Margaret’s Churchyard, Bodelwyddan — better known as ‘The Marble Church,’ who died of influenza, the Spanish Flu pandemic, or through other illnesses and two sadly through suicide.”
As Griffiths researched the military records of those Canadians who died, spending 10 to 12 hours a day for weeks, he realized the story of the Canadians at Kinmel Park camp was about so much more.
“A number of First Nations Canadian soldiers were at Kinmel Park Camp, a number of them decorated war heroes,” Griffiths said. “Sadly, several young First Nations Canadian soldiers are buried at ‘The Marble Church.’ They did not die in battle but from the Spanish Flu which swept through the camp.”
Griffiths also learned about the now iconic No. 2 Construction Battalion — The Black Battalion’ with their now quite famous, fine chaplain, Rev. Captain William Andrew White – the son of slaves who was the first black officer ever in the Canadian or British military.
“Canada’s last known surviving World War One veteran was here — John Henry Foster Babcock — who died aged 109 in 2010,” Griffiths added. “Also, the last of Canada’s ‘old sweats’ who had actually seen battle in World War One was here — Charles Clarence Laking, known as ‘Clare’ who died in 2005, aged 106.”
Canadian Victoria Cross recipients Tommy (Thomas William) Holmes and Alexander Picton Brereton were also at Kinmel Park. Photos of Babcock, Laking, Holmes and Brereton are in the book.
Griffiths included a chapter about Canadian Nursing Sisters who were at Kinmel Camp, as well as a chapter about Canadian war brides.
“The book is a tribute basically to the men and women, white, First Nations and black, who served in the Canadian Expeditionary Force during the First World War, with many, many of them spending time awaiting their repatriation to Canada post-war from Britain and the UK,” Griffiths said.
Riots, Death and Baseball — The Canadians at Kinmel Park Camp 1918-19 is available on Amazon.ca.

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