Sunday, May 11, 2008

“Come on the Bolsheviks” - The First British Soviet?

If you have ever been on the A55 while on holiday in North Wales or driving to catch the ferry to Dublin you would have passed the famous “Marble Church” (St. Margaret's), in Bodelwyddan. The A55 is now a fast dual carriageway for much of the way, but when I was a lad, the road used to pass much closer to the church and you could clearly see lines of White British Military crosses in the graveyard.

On route to visit relatives in Conwy, my father would occasionally mention these graves and would tell me the local rumour that these graves were of Canadian Servicemen who mutinied shortly after the First World War and tried to form the first ever communist Soviet (workers Council) in the UK.

This “Soviet” was crushed by the British Army high command that feared that a “Revolution” was taking place and many of the mutineers were “shot”. There was supposed to be a cover up and it was pretended that the mutineers actually died from the flu epidemic instead of the firing squad.

I only found out a few years ago that the truth is actually less romantic and perhaps even more brutal. There was a military camp at Bodelwyddan (Kinmel Camp), across the road from the Marble Church. Even today it is still I think a military training ground. In 1919 it was a “holding camp” for 20,000 troops, including many Canadians waiting to be sent home after the end of the war. There was a riot on the 4&5th March 1919 by many of these soldiers because ships that were supposed to have carried them home to Canada had been diverted or cancelled. Conditions at the camp were thought to be “rough” with shortages of food and overcrowding.

The report by the London Times does mention that the ring leaders were “not true Canadians, but men with Russian blood” and that the Standard bearer (who waved a “red flag”) was “of Russian extraction”.

A local historian records that a William Tarasevitch was vilified as a 'leader of the mutineers'. On 4th March, a meeting was called by the soldiers of Camp Montreal (part of the camp). A strike committee was formed with Tarasevitch who was a member.

Tarasevitch was one of the mutineers who was later killed, bayoneted in the stomach.

Check out this “bolshie” account of the Kimnal Park “Soviet” (in the true sense of the word). This report claims that the cry “Come on the Bolsheviks” was heard.

5 soldiers died during the “disturbances”. One was probably shot by mistake by the mutineers, while 4 mutineers were bayoneted to death in desperate hand to hand combat with “loyal” units.

Please stop off at the Marble Church (look out for the sign for the nearby Bodelwyddan hospital). The site is incredibly peaceful despite the noise of the nearby duel carriageway. It is difficult to imagine the violence and horror that took place nearby 90 odd years ago. In the grave yard there is also the final resting place of a Welsh guardsman, L/Cpl Burke, who died in Buff Cove during the Falkland War in 1982.

I think that there was actually no “revolution” in Kemnal Park in 1919. It was no doubt horrible, but the dispute was mainly over camp living conditions and the timetable over the return home to Canada. The soldiers were obviously aware of what had happen in Russia (so was the authorities!).

This incident never seemed to affect the attitude of Canada to the “home country”. In the Second World War arguable we would never have defeated Hitler and fascism without the sacrifice of the Canadians Navy, Air Force and Army. The Navy in particular saved us from starvation due to Nazi U-Boat’s while the Army proved themselves in the invasion of France.

Something which I do not think we properly recognise in this country at all. We are not very good at saying "thank you".


Dan said...

Very interesting article, never heard about Kinmel before.

Couldn't help but hear "Come on the Bolsheviks" in a sing-song, football chant voice in my head.

Anonymous said...


A few early Soviets in Ireland

Limerick and Monaghan

Anonymous said...

Well done, John-- good piece.

I've spoken to you about this before, but your readers might also like to know that a year after the riots, part of Kinmel camp was absorbed into a new school right next door at Bodelwyddan Castle. It was an exclusive all girls public school called Lowther College, which remained there until cashflow problems forced it admit boys in 1980 and ultimately close in 1982.
What the Kinmel soviet would have made of all, we can only speculate...

John Gray said...

thanks comrades - check out