Remembered Today:

Sign in to follow this  
Followers 0
burlington

Post War banditry on Western Front

37 posts in this topic

In his book on battlefield tourism 1919-1939, David Lloyd mentions gangs of deserters from all armies, living in holes and cellars, preying on isolated groups in the wilderness of the Western Front (I paraphrase his quotes)

Was this really so much of a problem, and if so how was the problem dealt with?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I am unaware of the issue opf post war banditry. Henry Williamson in his tour of the battlefields in 1929 "The wet Flanders Plain" makes note of tourists and souvenir sellers. However a pulp fiction novel of 1929 set during war suggets such things may have gone on. WF Morris 'Behind the Lines' tells the tale of an officer shamed by misunderstanding who is drawn into the nether world of criminal deserters living behind the lines- in the abandoned 1916 trench systems of the Somme. Cheap fiction, but clearly written by someone who was there. You'll find it on Abebooks.com or bookfinder.com

Neil :)

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Stories of gangs of marauding deserters roaming no-man's land and parts of the rear areas are quite common. Is Lloyd saying that they continued to operate post war? Sometimes the stories take on a supernatural aspect with the deserters lapsing into semi-human savagery. There is a short section on these stories in 'Myths and Legends of the First World War' by James Hayward (pp 99-101) but he doesn't come to any conclusion about their veracity. He has a good quote from a cavalryman's memoir from 1920 'The Squadroon' about this phenomenon, and mentions that the legend forms the basis of the novel 'No Man's Land' by Reginald Hill, written in 1985 (can't say I've read it). Deserter gangs crop up in both 'Anzacs' and 'The Monocled Mutineer' if my memory serves me correctly.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Mark

One source Lloyd mentions is Edith Bagnold, The Happy Foreigner (1920) p239.

No other accredited source is mentioned though it seems to me that he was drawing on more than Bagnold's comment.

Martin

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Several children of early (1919-1920) labour corps and IWGC workers told me that their fathers used to take guns and watchdogs with them while operating as 'mobile gardening parties' who would take off from Boulogne-sur-mer or Bethune on monday morning for several days of work in isolated corners of the battlefields, as these were considered unsafe. No one actually remembers any incidents though. I think the official history of the IWGC talks about this as well.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Sounds like another factoid for Tom Morgan.

Ian

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Just about to post a similar topic until I did a search as I've just read Dr Dunns awesome The War The Infantry Knew again- not cover to cover I must admit- but relevent to my current fascination with 1918....- anyways- theres an interesting entry for January 9th 1919, states

'At 3 in the morning we were ordered to send at once two companies armed with Lewis guns to Sailly Laurett. A nest of Australian deserters, who had been terrorizing and living in the neighbourhood was reported to have been located on an island in the Somme west of that place. A and B companies sprang a surprise on the picnickers, two in number, who were found in snug dug-outs sleeping in pyjamas of striking pattern. They were led back to camp and handed over to Australian authorities.'

So I guess 'banditry' was a reality?

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

When I was at the Australian War Memorial earlier this year I read the diary of Captain Daniel Aarons MC & Bar of the 16th Battalion AIF. In this he describes how the 4th Australian Brigade were called upon to surround a certain area of land to capture both British & Australian deserters known to be operating in the area.

If I remember correctly this occured in November/December 1918.

They did capture some and it was mentioned that one of the deserters was shot.

Regards

Andrew

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Desertion wasn't a capital crime in the AIF. If the captured man was shot it must have been for something else - murder? Shot someone during the capture? If so, there should be something in the Australian Memorial.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

He was shot because he attempted to fire on those trying to capture him.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

I've never been able to buy into the "post-war bandits" theory. The devastated areas were very devastated and very small. They also became re-populated very quickly.

The idea of a large area of wilderness, cut off from the outside world for a long time, with no law, just doesn't fit in with the facts.

Tom

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Doesn't Henry Williamson mention an unpleasant postwar encounter with locals at Hill 60 in 'Wet Flanders Plain'? Don't think it qualifies as banditry. The mention of the possible execution of the Australian deserter brings up once again one of the persistent First World War rumours that has been mentioned previously on the forum-that the Aussies did actually shoot deserters, but unofficially after, pardon the phrase, kangaroo courts.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Belgium. According to local newspapers there were some problems with soldiers, or former soldiers in Wytschate -Kemmel- Nieuwkerke - Dranouter. (1918 - 1919) (Belgium). there were still war camps in the region until end of 1919... even war-prisoners camps..

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

They reckon now that Percy Toplis "The Monacled Mutineer" was mainly fiction

Based on a lad who took the rap at Etaples

A Geordie Lad Lance Corporal Jesse Robert Short 26/626. 24th (Tyneside Irish) Battalion Northumberland Fusiliers from Felling on Tyne

Shot at dawn for standing up for what he believed in

Thank God for people like him

I'll rephrase that "The Lord works in mysterious ways"

Regards Geordie

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
I've never been able to buy into the "post-war bandits" theory. The devastated areas were very devastated and very small. They also became re-populated very quickly.

The idea of a large area of wilderness, cut off from the outside world for a long time, with no law, just doesn't fit in with the facts.

Tom

Thanks Tom... There is a similar thread to this one out there. I had never heard of this banditry before, but I can picture it happening. With only my limited knowledge in this area you explanation makes the most sense.

Andy

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

So what happened to all the renegades and deserters after the war? Was there an armistice for them as well? There must have been a few hundred lurking around Etaples and on the old battlefields so where did they go?

BTW Percy Toplis isn't a myth and the Monocled Mutineer did exist. There are photos of him impersonating an officer, newspaper accounts of his exploits and when the Cumbrian coppers had shot him, they found a monocle in his pocket.

Whether he was at the Etaples mutiny is conjecture but he was most likely in the area with other deserters.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Thats what Ive been reading on sites like Shot at Dawn

Well if he did exist

Good on yi Percy

Regards Geordie Lad

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
BTW Percy Toplis isn't a myth and the Monocled Mutineer did exist. There are photos of him impersonating an officer, newspaper accounts of his exploits and when the Cumbrian coppers had shot him, they found a monocle in his pocket.

Whether he was at the Etaples mutiny is conjecture but he was most likely in the area with other deserters.

I'm pretty sure that research after the TV prog came out proved that P. Toplis was never at Etaples at any time during his war service.

Tom

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Tom is right - there have been a number of threads on Percy Toplis in the past. When the Etaples Mutiny took place, Percy Toplis was serving in Salonika with the RAMC. He did desert however.

An individual like this attracts many stories and weighing up the fact from the fiction is really interesting.

On the subject of deserters in general, many were on the run in the UK, others took passage on ships abroad and went to live in foreign countries. There was however a genral amnesty for deserters in the 1950s, whcih allowed them to return home without fear of prosecution.

To give you some idea of the length of the MOD's memory, during a short spell at Bordon in the 1980s, I remember the MPs bringing in a man caught by the civil Police trespassing on a nearby Railway. He turned out to be a National Service deserter from 1951. He was promptly sent off to Colchester. Whatever happened to him I do not know.

Ian

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

There must have been a problem because Cooks were warning their customers about the hazards.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Not strictly related .. but a gruesome vision is conjured up of the hordes of rats which must have totally infested these old battlefields and trenchworks in the immediate aftermath of the war.

I take it that the anti-vermin squads had to work 'double time' for quite a long period afterwards?

IF one was inventive enough there's a truly great novel which could be written describing how nightmarish conditions on the Western Front were ... as seen through the eyes and smelled through the snout of one of these monstrosities.

Rather horrific - I fear I'm reading too much about World War 1!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

That's interesting. Do you have any idea of the actual wording of their warning?

Tom

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Bloody Disgrace isn't it Desmond

You would think it was the dark ages were on about

Especially as nowadays they have cemeteries for the pets, cats, dogs, even budgies

I think if our families had of known this was going on 85 years ago to there sons bodies there would of been lynchins goin on with those that run the military and country

Christ if only they had of known

Regards Geordie Lad

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

It is only a legend, according to Fussell, I think it is. He is mentioning this legend together with other as for example the The German Corpse-Rendering Works and the Angel of Mons etc.

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites
Well if he did exist

Good on yi Percy

Are you serious?

Percy Toplis, your latterday hero, was wanted for the murder of a taxi driver on the A303 at Thruxton Hill. Previous convictions included fraud, larceny, and attempted rape. A delightful character!

Share this post


Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!


Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.


Sign In Now
Sign in to follow this  
Followers 0