Riot at Sling Camp, March 1919 - Telegram from General Stewart
The First World War Armistice of November 1918 may have silenced the ‘guns of August’, but conflict continued amongst the ranks of soldiers keen to return home. Frustration about demobilisation spilled over into protests and riots across the Allied forces. Three days after Armistice, on 14 November 1918, a riotous throng of men from the New Zealand Division gathered in the town square of Beauvois, France and demanded answers from their commanders.
Tensions flared again on 14-15 March 1919, when over two hundred New Zealand troops rioted at Sling Camp on Salisbury Plain. After causing £10,000 worth of damage, or $1 million in today’s money, delegates were put forward to present a list of questions to their superiors. Despite winning many of their demands, the ringleaders were arrested and charged with mutiny. Three sergeants were reduced to the rank of private and sentenced to up to six months’ hard labour, while guilty privates received terms of up to 100 days.
As Dave Lamb notes, the widespread mutinies across the Allied forces broke out too soon after armistice for delay in demobilisation to be the sole cause. ‘Antagonism towards officers, hatred of arbitrary discipline, and a revolt against bad conditions and uncertainty about the prospect of being sent to Russia all combined with the delay, confusion and uncertainty about demobilisation.’ Revolution in Germany was also a factor, as revolutionary soldiers and workers agitated amongst the masses of restless men still in camp.
These archives come from two military files on the riot, and include the first telegrams of the disturbance, the demands put forward by the delegates, a list of punishments handed down, and a summary of the event. A revolutionary pamphlet distributed to New Zealand and Allied troops in early 1919 can be found here: www.flickr.com/photos/archivesnz/31883932348
Archives New Zealand references: WA133 Item 124/ ZG 28/64; AD10 Box 1/ 2/1; ACID 2495 Box 1/ 28
More information on the riot and its aftermath, including photographs, can be found at ww100.govt.nz/bulford-kiwi