Pirbright 1918 – Mutiny in the Ranks

Early in 1918 there was a mass walkout by Guards’ Machine-Gunners stationed at Pirbright, between Woking and Aldershot. The origins of this mutiny are obscure, yet for three days every private soldier refused duty. Instead they organised voluntary route marches along the lanes near the camp, in defiance of their officers, returning only for meals. The strike was eventually called off when a colonel of the Welsh Guards arrived and, giving an assurance that there would be no victimisation, asked for a spokesman from each of the five regiments involved. ‘Five old soldiers agreed to come to the front, though to my knowledge they were by no means ringleaders. They were taken off to London under close arrest, court-martialled and sentenced to two years each in a military prison. The breach of faith may have come about because the colonel was overruled by the GOC London District. But I think we were naive to expect the public school code of honour to be extended to ‘mere lower rankers’.

The rest of the rebels – they must have numbered a couple of hundred or so – were split up into their original regiments, and a detachment sent to its reserve battalion for a short time before being put on a draft for France again. This incident was a major embarrassment to the military higher echelons that units from the Guards could be involved in such demonstrations, lead the powers to be to review the unit and consider an appropriate action. This lead to the decision to the disbandment of the Guards Machine Gun Regt and return all soldiers to their parent regiments shortly after the war ended.

Item compiled by R. Bell, Surrey Fire & Rescue Service, Drill Section newsletter (2011)

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