Kinmel Camp in World War 1.
18 October 2023
The History of Kinmel has been well recorded elsewhere. Mr. Griffiths' talk, arising out of his extensive research, focussed on the human stories overlooked by other histories.
So, here is...
A Brief History of the Camp.
The camp was established as an important Army training facility during World War 1, on land from the Kinmel and Bodelwyddan estates. Developed by Robert McAlpine, hundreds of wooden huts housed a maximum of nearly 20,000 people at its peak, placing it among the largest population centres of North Wales.
As local civilians saw the economic potential of a camp of this size, the legendary 'Tin Town' grew beyond the camp boundary, offering a number of 'shops' and services for the soldiers.
A 2ft. gauge railway was constructed from the main line at Foryd Junction near Rhyl to a station in the camp, for both personnel and supplies, with 6 or 7 trains running each weekday.
Much of the military training featured preparation for trench warfare, and traces of the training trenches can still be seen in the grounds of Bodelwyddan Castle.
After September 1918 the camp changed its function, to become a holding camp for overseas troops (mainly Canadian) awaiting transport hone and demobilisation. As time dragged on and frustration mounted as shipping home failed to materialise, tempers started to run short and the famous riots of 4th / 5th March 1919 have been well recorded elsewhere. Tin Town was wrecked as were parts of the camp. There were a few fatalities and some charges of mutiny, though sentences turned out to be lenient.
A Selection of the Human Stories
Robert Graves, the author, (from Harlech) spent over a year at Kinmel after active service,. On Armistice Night he threw his medals into the Afon Clwyd at Rhyl! Some 500 soldiers danced the Conga through Rhyl that night.
John Jenner , a 19-year old from Cardiff, was committed at Ruthin Assizes to 10 years in prison for manslaughter within the camp.
Conscientious Objectors were held in a section of the camp. Some of these were Absolutists, who would have nothing to do with the war, some were Alternativists, who were prepared to do civilian work, others were Non-combattants but served as ambulance staff and stretcher bearers - for which great courage was required. Some disobedience by Absolutists resulted in courts-martial and prison sentences.
Tonto - of Lone Ranger fame - (Harold Preston Smith, stage name Jay Silverheels) had an uncle at Kinmel. Pictur4ed below. Mr Griffiths provided some interesting details on this family.
Benjamin Hagan was a black soldier - many black soldiers, and First Nation Canadians, were sent home earlier to avoid tensions among prejudiced whites. However Mr. Hagan stayed, married a Rhyl girl and was for a while the only black person living in Rhyl. Again, details of this family were provided, one being that Mr. Hagan cycled daily to Bodelwyddan to visit the churchyard where six of his white friends, who did not survive the war, are buried.
'Coloured' soldiers were rarely assigned to combat - as the poster above shows, they were oftrn formed into construction battalions.
This takes us on to:
Deaths in the camp. The 84 graves of Canadian and other soldiers in the churchyard at Bodelwyddan are well-known. Only one had her remains repatriated - a nurse, Rebecca McIntosh.
Of the 85 recorded deaths, 73 were from Influenza (Spanish 'Flu), 4 died in the riots (by birth, 2 Scots, a Russian and an American!), 2 were by suicide, 1 was hit by a stray bullet, and 6 died from other illnesses. This is probably not a bad record, considering the number of people in the Camp.