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Mark A

Etaples rebellion

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Hi there and a happy new year to one and all. My mum passed by Etaples this new year and stopped at the cemetary. I was relating what to her what I knew about it and then remembered something about the "Bull Ring" and a mutiny. Can anyone fill me in about what the Bull Ring actually was and where it was (was it a discipline centre?) and was there ever a revolt there? Or is that myth?

Cheers,

Mark

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I think the Bull Ring was an R&R/training camp ... bayonet practice, field work, parade drill, that sort of thing - not much R&R. The Military Police there were particularly brutal as far as I am aware and the "mutiny" was partly caused by a military policeman killing a Cpl Wood. As the mutiny developed Percy Toplis came to the fore as a leader of the "rebellion" - amazing as he was only about 21 at the time. It did really happen and Percy Topliss really did exist. I am sure there must be something on the net to give you full details or try reading The Monocled Mutineer by William Allison and John Fairley - centred on Toplis but a good account as I remember (its been about 15 yrs since I read it).

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Jon - Percy Toplis served with the RAMC in Salonika - his involvement with the mutiny is a myth I'm afraid. This was perpetuated by the book and series the 'Monocled Mutineer' starring Paul McGann.

Cheers - Ian

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There is an account of the mutiny here.

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Etaples was the site of the British Army's biggest base camp, housing up to 50,000 men.

At the heart of the camp was a large, sandy, beach area, used for Infantry training - the 'Bull Ring'.

It was used to house and train men newly arrived in France, whether they were raw recruits or experienced men returning from England after being wounded, sick etc.

The regime was very harsh and took no regard of a soldier's previous experience. The base NCO instructors were almost brutal and, most of them having never been near the front lines, were looked upon with some disdain by experienced soldiers.

As a consequence of the mutiny in Septemebr 1917, Cpl Jess Short, 24th Northumberland Fusiliers, was executed.

The Monocled Mutineer was apparently a work of complete fiction and should not be relied upon. For a good account of the mutiny at Etaples, I would recommend 'Blindfold & Alone', by Cathryn Corns & John Hughes-Wilson.

Ken

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The Bull Ring was used to put fresh troops arriving from England through there paces and then send them up to yhe line even recovered soldiers going back to rejoin the army were made to take 'refresher' cources. As the technology in war changes this was very important to train them in new skills before re-joining their regiments.

For the mutiny that took place in Etaples on the 11th of September 1917 Cpl Jesse Short from the 24th Battalion Northumberland Fusiliers was executed on October 4th 1917 he is buried in Boulogne Eastern CWGC Cemetery.

This quote is from Blindfold and Alone by Cathryn Corns and John Hughes-Wilson which has a lot of details about the mutiny.

Cpl short was charged with

Endevouring to persuade persons in His Majesty's Forces to join in a mutiny, in that he at Etaples on 11th September 1917, endevoured to persuade a picquet not to listen to their officers but to lay down their arms and go with him, reffering to the officer in charge of the picquet, said to the picquet, 'You ought to get a rope tie it around his neck with a stone and throw him in the river,' or words to that effect.'

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Once again the forum comes up trumps! Cheers, I thought the "monicled mutineer"might have been fiction but I wasn't sure. And I wasn't really sure what the Bull Ring was used for, so thanks very much.

Does anything exist of it? If it was on the beach I suppose not.

Mark

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Jon - Percy Toplis served with the RAMC in Salonika - his involvement with the mutiny is a myth I'm afraid. This was perpetuated by the book and series the 'Monocled Mutineer' starring Paul McGann.

Cheers - Ian

Thanks for putting me right. Obviously this is the first time I have heard the participation of Toplis at Etaples is a myth.

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For a soldier's view of Etaples see the Diary of William Dea on the main site.

Aye

Malcolm

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Jon - Percy Toplis served with the RAMC in Salonika - his involvement with the mutiny is a myth I'm afraid. This was perpetuated by the book and series the 'Monocled Mutineer' starring Paul McGann.

Cheers - Ian

Thanks for putting me right. Obviously this is the first time I have heard the participation of Toplis at Etaples is a myth.

Jon,

Tom Morgan put me straight on the story a while back - I believed the Toplis part myself for many years :huh:

Cheers - Ian

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Does anything exist of it? If it was on the beach I suppose not.

There are some traces - it wasn't on the beach, but in the dunes around the town and in the woodland. I haven't been across to check for a couple of years, but in the dunes on the other side of the road from the cemetery was a line of WW1 barbed wire pickets and other items amongst the sand.

The local museum also has a display relating to the camp, which is very interesting. I believe it was a temporary display, that has become semi-permanant. It is located in the centre of Etaples.

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Paul, thanks for that. I'd like to go some time, it's an interesting story. Maybe my next trip over. And Etaples has some great fish restaurants which is doubly tempting.

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I find the CWGC cemetery one of the most depressing ever visited: it gives me the shudders. Am I unique in this?

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Here's a plan of the base camp at Etaples. I've deliberately left it a bit big so that people can read the names of the buildings, areas, etc.

Undereath the word "ETAPLES" you can see the various parade-grounds of "No. 2 T.C." - Number 2 Training Camp. This was the Bull Ring. It wasn't one specific site, but a collective name for the whole training area.

As Paul says, there isn't much to see, but at least you can see where it all was.

The cemetery, by the way, is on the left-hand edge of the map, almost level with the "ETAPLES" title.

Tom

post-4-1073303238.jpg

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I find the CWGC cemetery one of the most depressing ever visited: it gives me the shudders.  Am I unique in this?

I know what you mean. I think one reason apart from the fact that it is, I believe, the largest CWGC cemetery in Europe, is that all the graves are marked. These are mostly men who were wounded, but survived the battlefield, the ADS and CCS, and a long train or canal journey only to die from complications at a later date, usually gas gangrene. They should have lived. Many probably imagined that they had a nice Blighty one.

I find the sheer number of men who died from wounds one of the great tragedies of the Great War.

Tim

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Once again (see Paul Reed on the Boy General), Henry Williamson has a fascinating couple of chapters on this in Love and the Loveless. Fictionalised, of course, but he seems to have been there and generally seems to be true to the history, judging by his accounts of Passchendale, Cambrai etc etc

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I can't say whether Etaples is a depressing place or not. Mill Road on the Somme was always my "bad spot". I'm not talking about ghosts, just, I don't know, an overall feeling of smothering gloom.

Anyway, could anyone point me in the direction of other, not necessarily British "rebellions"? I know there's a story of French soldiers bleating like sheep on the sacred road up to Verdun but wasn't there a more general rebellion in the ranks with the French? What about the Germans?

Yours, in interest,

Mark

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I know what you mean. I think one reason apart from the fact that it is, I believe, the largest CWGC cemetery in Europe, is that all the graves are marked.

I though Tyne Cot was the largest CWGC cemetery, or does that include

the missing.

Geoff

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Yeah, I thought Etaples was the largest in France, but eclipsed by Tyne Cot in Belgium. (?)

M

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Yes as far as CWGC cemeteries are concerned, Etaples is the largest in France and Tyne Cot the largest in Belgium.

Bob.

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Bob is right.

CWGC measure cemeteries by number of burials rather than ground area.

Tyne Cot is the largest Commonwealth war cemetery in Belgium and the world with 11957 burials. Etaples is the largest in France with 11559 burials inc some WW2.

The only other CWGC cemetery to make five figures is Lijssenthoek, Belgium with 10786

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I think Etaples Cemetery is one of the very best. The symbolism of the folded tents is most impressive. I think some do not agree that is what the sculptures on the high ground represent.

When I was there I stayed in a motel a mile or so away; there was a group of British golfers there and none of them set foot in the cemetery. Amazing.

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For a good account of the mutiny at Etaples, I would recommend 'Blindfold & Alone', by Cathryn Corns & John Hughes-Wilson.

For the very best account of the Etaples "mutiny" and the lack of any part played by Toplis, you should sit at the feet of the real master of the subject, namely Julian Putkowski.

Apart from the short article on the"Shot at Dawn" website (mentioned above),

Julian visits many WFA branches to give a comprehensive talk on this subject.

As Tom Morgan says, the "Bull Ring" is situated to the North of the Cemetery at Etaples.

In Birmingham it is situated directly in front of New Street station!

Basrrie Dobson

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wasn't there a more general rebellion in the ranks with the French? What about the Germans?

Mark

The appalling losses in Nivelle's abortive Chemin des Dames offensive precipitated an outpouring of the generalised discontent that was growing in the French Army. Some units mutinied but most just refused to obey any orders to attack. They remained in position and the Germans had no idea about what took place. Ultimately, the situation increased the pressure on the British to take over all offensive actions. Petain replaced Nivelle and restored the situation with better pay, leave, etc.

The Germans largely held together on the Western Front in the last 100 days. However, there were concerns about units that contained people from Alsace and Lorraine - these tended to be kept from active duties. Also, I have read accounts of Germans surrendering early in a British advance, while the officer was clearly angry that they had disobeyed him. This type of reaction became more common. I have not read of German officers being shot.

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The Bullring.

Part of the caption reads:

...The Base camps at Etaples housed over 100,000 men in 1917...

post-4-1073430700.jpg

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