Chapter 11

When the War Cabinet met at 10 Downing Street at noon on Monday, 10 September 1917 – the day after the start of the mutiny at Etaples – the twelfth item on the agenda was ‘Disaffection amongst British troops’. It provoked a long discussion which took up most of the meeting.

Had the Cabinet been privy to the situation at Etaples, it would certainly have been item number one. As it was, the discontent they talked about was among soldiers stationed at Shoreham in Sussex. The Cabinet had not been informed about Etaples. It never was informed officially, though the Lady Angela Forbes affair certainly was to alert individuals like Lord Derby, the War Secretary. It studiously ignored hints such as those contained in a letter from the Bishop of Oxford; this drew attention to mutinous rumblings at Shorebam, but was a curiously guarded communication which was pointing a finger at Etaples as well as Shoreham. The bishop referred to a similar situation at ‘another place’ and ‘elsewhere’, and urged that inquiries should be made at ‘the other place’. No one, it appears, took the trouble to ask where that other place was. The bishop had written his letter to Lord Curzon and marked it ‘Private and Confidential’:

I am writing to you as a member of the War Cabinet. It is most probable that what I am to say will be no news to you: and in that case no harm will be done. You will simply destroy my letter.

But it may be otherwise. The subject of my communication is the serious disaffection which appears to exist among the troops, and which is supposed to be widespread. A friend of mine, a sensible and capable layman, who has been working for a year with the YMCA at the great camp of Shoreham (Sussex) has just been to see me, full of apprehension of the most serious kind. Another friend, a young officer, has said similar things about another place.

The disaffection is reported as growing rapidly. Its manifestations in the camp I have spoken of, are such as these – refusal to work in the evening without more food – persistent continuous refusal to sing ‘God Save the King’ in church and in concerts – secession at night of a company out of the camp leaving a placard to say they were going to imitate the Russian soldiers: and more than any of these particular incidents, open sedition in speech with a growing determination to carry it into action.

This information concerns a convalescent camp, where the men are being recovered for renewed service. They have suffered and been wounded, and it seems to be resented that they are under a Commandant who has not left the country.

The grounds of objection appear to be

(i) Insufficiency of Food – especially their having nothing after 4.30 tea:

(ii) Refusal of Leave – the grounds of this are intelligible: but it is put upon the absence of sufficient railway accommodation. Yet the soldiers see constant empty trains pass along the line, and when they go into Brighton (without a railway pass by walking four miles and ‘bus’), they see crowds of trippers who have been brought by train:

(iii) The low rate of pay – ‘not nearly enough to keep them in cigarettes’

My other friend from elsewhere spoke of the enormous number of deserters they see when they do go on leave.

I daresay you know all this, But I imagine the Officers in Command are not willing to report such things. What I would suggest is that the War Cabinet should send and make careful inquiry in this particular camp and at the other place. at Forgive me if this is all needless.

There was, of course, nothing ‘needless’ about the bishop’s letter as events were to prove. But that part of it relating to ‘the other place’ was rendered useless. His suggestion that it required on-the-spot investigation was ignored. The Cabinet chose to concentrate on Shoreham. As the minutes of the Cabinet meeting, drawn up by Acting Secretary Lieutenant-Colonel W. Dally Jones, read:

Attention was called to a letter received by Lord Curzon from the Bishop of Oxford, relative to the grave discontent which existed amongst the troops stationed at the Command Depot at Shoreham, the grounds of objection being stated to be insufficiency of food and refusal of leave owing to the absence of sufficient Railway accommodation.

Director of Organisation, Major-General Hutchinson stated that similar reports had been received before the letter from the Bishop of Oxford had been brought to his notice. The grievance as to leave (a) was primarily due to the restrictions in the use of trains running to Brighton, an Order having been issued by the Army Council, as the result of a War Committee decision on the 29th November, 1916, that train-travelling was prohibited and that men going on leave from Shoreham must travel by motor-buses. These, owing to the petrol shortage, had since ceased to run.

Another grievance was the question of pay (b), the low rate of which caused irritation to our men, owing to the fact that Canadian troops, with their high rates of pay, were quartered in their vicinity. A further grievance was the food question (c), for which he thought there was no foundation, as the men had practically the same food ration as if they were camped in France.

He stated that the men stationed at Shoreham were sent there to harden up for further service, after being wounded, or sick, and that their daily work was progressive until they had been rendered fit for service once more.

As regards (a) the War Cabinet requested-

The Army Council to make the necessary arrangements to provide accommodation for the troops going on leave in the trains running between Shoreham and Brighton and vice versa.

With regard to (b) the War Cabinet requested –

The Military Authorities to go into the matter of regrouping the Convalescent Camps so that Dominion soldiers were not quartered in the same Command Depots with British soldiers As regards the actual rate of pay of the latter, the War Cabinet directed the Secretary to put on the Agenda at an early date the Report of Sir Edward Carson’s Committee on Increased Rates of Pay for Soldiers.

As regards (c), complaints with regard to food, the War Cabinet were unable to concur with the view expressed by the Military Authorities, that the food ration was adequate, having in view that the men were convalescent, and the suggestion that the diet was not equal to that consumed by the average working man in England.

They therefore directed –

The War Office to enquire into the food supply not only at Shoreham, but at all Command Depots, and to furnish a report on the subject as soon as possible.

Director of Personal Services, Brigadier-General Childs was of the opinion that though there was a certain amount of discontent in certain units it was not in any way general. That the conditions which had been discussed contributed towards discontent, but that the real great cause amongst men at Command Depots was that they were being hardened up for service again at the front, having perhaps been wounded two or three times, whilst there were thousands of fit men in the United Kingdom in protected industries earning very high wages who had never been called up for military service.

He knew that Lord Derby and the Adjutant-General had been lately giving serious consideration to the problem of the wounded soldier, and he thought that he heard the word discharge’ mentioned.

He added that absence was a somewhat common offence at Command Depots, but that as regards desertion there had been no increase in the percentage. He mentioned that the efforts to create a Workmans’ and Soldiers’ Council in this country, had been a complete failure so far as the Army was concerned.

The Bishop of Oxford had come out into the open by stating that sedition was at the point of physical rebellion at one of the biggest troop camps in Britain. It seems strange that he did not come completely clean about ‘the other place’. The Bishop wanted his letter to be destroyed, an apparently odd request.

The probability is that, influencing his nervous approach, was the wish to protect himself and his informants should the information prove incorrect. The Defence of the Realm Act had an entire section devoted to dealing harshly with those guilty of spreading false reports and making false statements’, especially a report as serious as the one he had embarked upon.

However, if the Bishop behaved in a coy and odd manner, then stranger still was the behaviour of the Cabinet. Although the letter was a peculiar mixture of hesitancy, diffidence and alarm, it was more than a broad hint that matters were seriously amiss at the mysterious ‘other place’. It invited, even begged, for further investigation, but none was forthcoming. A whole succession of people – Curzon, Childs, War Office chiefs and members of the Cabinet – either did not spot the obvious warning or decided to ignore the problem in the hope that it might go away.

The bishop’s letter had been written on 3 September and must have been in the hands of War Office officials, as well as in those of Ministers, for the better part of a week. Had someone bothered to lift the telephone, the call would have answered the vital question: what other place? Had that phone call been made, it is extremely unlikely that Brigadier-General Thomson would have ever written in his diary: ‘Owing to the police being unable to cope with the situation, Major J. Henderson, officer commanding No. 25 Infantry Battalion Division, was ordered to take charge of the town of Etaples and to command any guards and pickets.’

The War Cabinet that day consisted of Bonar Law, Viscount Milner, Lieutenant-General Smuts and Sir Edward Carson as well as Lord Robert Cecil, the acting Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, General Sir W. R. Robertson, the Chief of the Imperial General Staff, Vice-Admiral Sir R. E. Wemyss, the Acting First Sea Lord and Chief of the Naval Staff, and Brigadier-General A. W. F. Knox, the Military Attaché to the Russian Embassy.

It would already have been too late by then for them to prevent the mutiny, but it could have been avoided had it not been for the similar neglect shown by many others in the days immediately prior to the Cabinet meeting. The consequences were already proving serious. And, had it not been for a momentous decision at Etaples made late the previous night by Lieutenant Davies ironically, one of the rebels referred to by the bishop these consequences could have been completely and bloodily disastrous.

Indeed, the War Cabinet was being less than well served that day of 10 September. Brigadier Childs implied that there was little desertion. Yet newspaper reports of soldiers being charged with desertion were about as common as the crime itself. The method of disguise most favoured by the troops was to masquerade as uniformed officers, thereby greatly reducing the risk of being challenged. Although he may have been the master performer, Toplis did not hold the exclusive copyright to that practice.

In the week of the mutiny, and throughout the entire month of September, Bow Street Court had its fair share of desertion cases and allied crimes. One man was sentenced to six months imprisonment for wearing the uniform, decorations and badges of a lieutenant-colonel. Samuel Westaway of the East Kent Regiment was collected at Bow Street Court by military escort and taken back to France from where he had deserted. And Merchant Seaman George Douglas, who had swapped the dangerous ocean waves and the U-boat menace for luxury living on land at an army base and then at a naval base in the North of England, received six months’ hard labour for posing as an engineer lieutenant of the Royal Navy. He should have gone on wining and dining in the army officers’ mess, because it was only after he transferred to the naval base that he was found out. The officer in command there had detected that the gold and purple stripes on Douglas’s uniform were not the precise distance apart.

On the Saturday before the 10 September Cabinet meeting, The Times had reported the case of Thomas Smith, alias John Hill, alias George Savage, who had returned home in true Toplis style, though with less success.

The prisoner who was found as a stowaway on board a ship stated that he had been coal trimmer on a boat trading between this country and Boulogne.

The police now said that the man’s real name was Thomas Smith. He had deserted the Army in France and got aboard ae the ship at Boulogne and been found at Gravesend. He was sentenced to three months imprisonment with hard labour and ordered to be handed over to the Military Authorities afterwards.

This type of case was being repeated over and over again in courts throughout the country, An extraordinary hearing took place in the same month at Lambeth Police Court, where Benjamin James Casey, aged 15 (a statistic not disputed by the army), was charged with desertion from the RAMC in France The magistrate, Chester Jones, said the lad’s mother had sent his birth certificate to the authorities two months previously, but no notice had been taken of it. Casey would have to go with the military escort awaiting him, but Mr Jones did not think the military would keep him.

Young Ben Casey plainly regretted the earlier enthusiasm which had prompted him to lie about his age when he voluntarily enlisted. But if he ever was, in fact, allowed to return to civilian life, then he would have been merely exchanging one form of disillusionment and disenchantment for another. For the seeds of discontent were being scattered among the British civilian population as well as the army in the late summer of 1917. In Russia a more clearly defined ideological struggle would lead to the final collapse of the Russian war effort and the October Revolution. The average Briton – both on the home front and in a military sense — was simply tired of the struggle, War-weariness was never more evident than during this particular period.

At home, strict petrol rationing had virtually caused the disappearance of private cars, but the price of bread was one of the biggest grievances. At 1s. a loaf it was more than twice the pre-war price. In addition to the austerity hardships, London and south coast towns were being continually bombed during September, although the worst raid had occurred on 13 June 1917, on London, when 162 people had been killed and 432 injured.

The government had appointed a Commission of Enquiry into Working Class Unrest in June 1917, with instructions to announce their findings within three weeks. The commission found that high food prices, particularly in the north-east, caused most resentment. There was also the belief that these prices were mainly due to profiteering.

Wages had, at their highest, increased by about 40 per cent, but some incomes had not increased at all, while the cost of food had soared by 102 per cent and the cost of living generally by 75 per cent. Beer was weak and housing was poor, the commission reported. And there was a feeling of a loss of confidence, indeed, a lack of trust, in the government.

In May 1917 the weekly meat ration had been reduced to three-quarters of a pound. Tea and butter rationing had been introduced, and – shades of Shoreham – rail services had been drastically cut while rail fares had doubled. Newspapers had doubled their prices. Housing conditions in some areas were described as scandalous. As if all this was not enough, despair had also set in that the war would never end. Military reports from General Headquarters in France of Allied successes had become highly suspect. They were being judged against the daily death-toll from France. Britain was beginning to believe that it was bleeding to death.

Many newspapers, The Times included, listed the names of dead officers in separate columns under the heading, ‘Roll of Honour’. Death below the rank of lieutenant meant being listed, often on a different page, under the title, ‘Losses in the Ranks’.

There was also strong resentment at the rigorous manner in which the Conscription Acts were being applied by an overzealous military authority. An example of this was reported in The Times of Saturday, 8 September: At Camberwell Tribunal, the Military Representative applied for the withdrawal of a conditional exemption certificate granted to a greengrocer aged 36, who had nine children, eight of whom were under 12 years old.

The Military Representative – You seem a bit doubtful as to their ages?

Applicant – It wants a bit of keeping in your head.

The Military Representative held that the man’s family would be better off financially if he joined the Army as his weekly profits were only 50s.

Mr S. Sayer said this was a one-man business, with nine children dependent on it. They had given the son of a German, passed for general service, three months’ exemption, that morning, and he saw no reason why they should treat an Englishman in a different way.

‘The man was granted three months’ exemption, The Military Representative said that he would appeal against the decision, ‘

The suicide rate was escalating. Lilian Hazard, 43, wife of Louis Hazard, insurance clerk, Dyncourt Gardens, Essex, was one of the many who had had enough. She was found, with her throat cut and a razor by her side, in a clump of rhododendrons in Brookwood Cemetery close to the grave of her sister. Her husband told the inquest that her nerves had been shattered by air-raids and general war.

General Thomson recorded that, in France, Captain F. Roche and a Second Lieutenant J. E. Kina had tried, but failed, to find a less drastic way out of their troubles. Both had died of self-inflicted wounds in hospital at Etaples. This was an all-too common entry in the General’s diary. Although suicide among the fighting soldiers was also in the increase, it was not always the motive behind self-inflicted wounds. If they went undiagnosed as such, they were often the means of being invalided away from the fighting. The usual method was to shoot off some fingers or toes, but in their attempts to pretend that they were genuine war wounds, many went even further. Often the wounds were so serious that they did not respond to treatment, and this was believed to be so in the cases of Captain Roche and Second Lieutenant Kinna. Their calculated risk had not paid off.

In the first week of September, 57-year-old Ziegfried Franz Paul of Delverton Mansions, Gray’s Inn Road, London, dramatically demonstrated that he still preferred life in depressionladen England. Ordered to return to his native Germany, he poisoned himself and left a suicide note, saying, ‘Being forced to choose between going to Germany and death, I chose the latter.’

In a sad, perverse way, the story of Ziegfried Paul’s death – headlined in newspapers throughout Britain – fleetingly reminded the population that, though life had become very difficult, there were some who judged it to be worse in the land of the enemy. In August 1915, the weekly John Bull had become the British serviceman’s mouth and earpiece when its editor, Horatio Bottomley, pledged, ‘No case of hardship or injustice, no instance of beggarly treatment or mean cheeseparing, shall go unchallenged and unremedied.’ And although the average British Tommy’s trust in John Bull was diagnosed as a pathetic faith by many, there was no doubt that the reported complaints, both from the battlefields and base depots, met with some positive response, helped morale a little and kept the complacency and indifference of authority in check.

In September 1917, Bottomley decided that the moment had come for him to lighten the deepening gloom still further, both at the front and at home. He became a crisis crusader. He received special permission to tour the battlefields of France during the first two weeks of September, and his dispatches, datelined ‘Somewhere in Hell’, were so ecstatic and wildly optimistic that in subsequent issues he had to admit he was getting letters from soldiers of the ‘Were we at the same football match?’ type. The message in Bottomley’s first centre-page, four-column spread on 22 September was not only that all was well, it was also that the war is won, Germany is beaten. This is part of what he wrote:

And now for what I have learnt. We will have the truth from the trenches, at last, The war is won. Germany is beaten. On every front she is weakening and weakening – and it is now only a question of the psychological moment to strike.

That momentous decision rests with one man – at least, hope to God it does. If the politicians will kindly keep out of the ring Haig will very soon administer the knock-out blow.

I know what I am saying: I do not profess to speak as any military expert or prophet. I say that which I have learnt, I mention no names – I disclose no secrets – I abuse no confidence.

From Field Marshal Commander-in-Chief, right down to the rawest Tommy in the trenches, there is but one spirit – that of absolute optimism and confidence. And there is not a German prisoner who does not tell the same tale. ‘Es ist fertig’, said everyone of them with whom I talked – ‘It is finished’. Russia, of course, has been a big disappointment – but, Russia notwithstanding, we have won. But for the fact that our Near Eastern Ally suddenly went mad, there is no question whatever that August would have seen a combined offensive on every front, which here now would have got the Hun on the run. Of course, her temporary defection was a serious blow – but happily, it has not proved a mortal one. Indeed, from some points of view – provided I am right in the assumption that the end is near – the hands of the Allies may have been strengthened by what has happened.

At any rate, I have learned this – that, except for the inevitable delay of the final Offensive, the High Command are in no way distressed by the so-called Russian Revolution, the true nature of which you may take it, is quite understood out at the Front.

Bottomley’s repeated and near-hysterical claims in his widely read newspaper that the war was won may have been part of the price he felt was expected, or what he had to pay, for the privilege of dining and wining with General Haig, whom he described as ’a great and shrewd man’.

It may even have been that his prolonged visit to the front – an invitation not extended to other editors of the day – carried an unwritten condition that his reports should contain elements of raging enthusiasm. Authority was desperately seeking to raise the low morale of the period, and this was one of the ways open to it. It was an exercise in propaganda that did not merely fail. It rebounded badly. Even Bottomley’s Army Command backers must have felt he had overdone it.

For one thing, there was a main obstacle that all the editor’s screams of triumph could not hurdle. And this was the fact that, contrary to Bottomley’s version, the war was still going on in its desperate, weary way. Continuing to be confronted with this irrefutable evidence that he had got it wrong, having been challenged by much of his Western Front readership on the grounds of inaccurate and incomplete reporting, and having personally encountered the Etaples mutineers, Horatio Bottomley started to shift his ground. By 6 October he was writing:

I asked the boys to jot down the main matters of complaint; and I think they are summarized under the headings of Leave, Pay, Field Punishment, Military Policing, Short Rations, and Cushy Posts at the back which might be filled by wounded officers and others – thus releasing able men for the trenches.

I discussed these, and other questions, with Sir Douglas Haig and various officers – and I am hopeful that good results may follow.

I have also made it my business, since my return, to see Lord Derby personally upon the subject, and I have his assurance that every legitimate complaint – especially in the matter of Leave – shall receive immediate and sympathetic consideration. And I am certain that he is sincere. At any rate, I am proud to be Tommy’s Ambassador.

‘Tommy’s Ambassador’ had listed some of the causes of the Etaples mutiny. But a combination of censorship – despite a later claim that he was set apart from such restrictions – and his own intense desire to push Haig’s line meant that in his first two dispatches from the front he had chosen to keep quiet about the revolt.

However, in the John Bull issue of 13 October, Bottomley, challenged in the interval in letters from incensed soldiers to defy the censor, decided on a course of action that would make it appear that he had done so, One particular letter had dared him to write about the mutiny, his meeting with Toplis and the five other mutiny leaders at Etaples. In a short outburst that broke all the rules of the war game, except those of exact identification, Bottomley let just a hint of the truth slip out.

This is what he published: Amongst the many letters from soldiers which my recent articles have brought me is this one: ‘Why are you keeping back such a lot? In our Division we all know that you know things that you are not telling us. We know WHERE you went, and with WHOM you talked, and WHAT you saw.

Out with it and damn the Censor. You know WHAT I mean.’

My friend is right. I DO know WHAT he means, and I assure him that if the censor were the only thing in the way, I would get over that difficulty somehow. As a matter of fact, I never trouble that mysterious official to read my articles before publication – my view being that if I am incapable of determining what is proper to publish during the war, then I don’t understand my job as editor of this Journal. But that attitude, unique, I believe, in the journalistic world, imposes upon me a serious responsibility of being my own censor.

Consequently, I have been constrained to hold back much that I have seen and heard. All the same, that letters haunts me, I don’t like the idea of Tommy thinking that I am Keeping anything back’. He must remember, however, that John Bull is very keenly followed in Germany. Every line is scrutinised – and I have reason to believe that, since my visit Ri ‘to the Front, the journal has been subjected to closer scrutiny than ever, I am bound, therefore, to exercise considerable caution in what I say.

Then, under the sub-heading, ‘What I Must Not Tell, Bottomley proceeded to list innocuous events he had witnessed in France, under separate paragraph introductions reading, ‘I should like to tell you . ..’ The seventh one read, ‘I should like to tell you how a German plot to spread mutiny in a certain Reinforcement Camp was squelched.’

It was less than half a truth, calculated to restore his standing in the eyes of his mass soldier readership, and at the same time keep faith with their tight-lipped generals, If there had been a suggestion from Whitehall, which there was not, that a mutiny would first have to exist before it could be ‘spread’, Bottomley,

‘4 pompous expert in semantics, would simply have retorted that on reflection he should have used the word, ‘create’.

In the event of awkward questions, Bottomley had left Haig with a clear way out, but the first part of his gamble had failed.

‘Too many troops knew the real truth. The high esteem in which the editor had been held, and the circulation of his journal, both started to plummet. Five years later in peacetime England those same troops demonstrated their bitter sense of having been let down. Bottomley, sentenced to six years’ imprisonment for fraud, boasted that at least 25,000 ex-servicemen would march on Whitehall in protest. Not one veteran troubled to turn out.

In October 1917, they knew that Bottomley’s allegation that the Germans had either plotted or attempted to spread the mutiny was false. To this day there is no evidence that the Germans even knew about the mutiny at the time it happened. Even had they done so it is unlikely that they would have been in a position to stir things up further. In the particular week beginning 9 September they were too busy quelling their own mutiny at Wilhelmshaven where German sailors were shot for throwing officers from four warships overboard.

Altogether, the 13 October issue of John Bull was a disastrous one. Having enraged his military readers with a casual dismissal of their mutinous activities, Bottomley went on to depress his civilian readership with a further change of emphasis away from his original, ridiculous standpoint that the war was already won. He wrote:

I should much like to tell you the date at which, and the cir-

‘cumstances in which, in the opinion of Sir Douglas Haig, the war will end.

But to do so would clearly be giving the enemy a hint as to both the time and the nature of the further blows which are in preparation. And I have gone as near as I felt safe in going when I said that nothing has occurred to modify the Field Marshal’s confidence, of a complete, and early victory. For the rest, you must read between the lines and look at those other ‘Lines’ where our boys are making mincemeat of the foe.

Bottomley’s change of tense when referring to the state of the war completed his climb-down. The use of the words ‘will end’, plus a very vague prophecy about a Christmas peace, meant that the growing suspicion of his readers was firmed. They could settle back again into their state of deep despair. But the talent for self-delusion and the policy of attempting to visit it upon others was not exclusive to Bottomley. The War Cabinet had to keep up its own spirit in those dark days.

It had been the practice of Haig’s personal staff when he visited the front, which was far too seldom, to select thin and hungry-looking German prisoners-of-war for him to inspect. Tough, well-nourished, hard-fighting Prussians were kept well in the background, so creating the impression that the German fighting machine was creaking.

Although Haig played along with this little game by pretending ignorance of it, it was precisely the ploy he adopted when General Sir ‘Wullie’ Robertson, Chief of the Imperial General Staff, and the Prime Minister, David Lloyd George, visited Flanders between 24 and 26 September. As the minutes of the War Cabinet meeting of 27 September recorded, ‘The Prime Minister remarked on the poor condition of the German prisoners-of-war he had seen on the 26th instant, and upon the very good spirits which prevailed among all ranks of our own army that he had seen and conversed with.’

Haig had every right not to want the very alarming story of Etaples to Jeak to the enemy, or even to his own army in general, but he had no justification for concealing information about the state of morale of his troops from the Prime Minister and the Cabinet. The bishop had suspected correctly when he wrote to the Cabinet, ‘I imagine the Officers in Command are not willing to report such things.’

However, Haig did have very strong personal reasons for taking the risk that his cover-up from the Cabinet en masse might be found out. Lloyd George was still angling for Haig’s dismissal, and seeking support from within the Cabinet towards that end. The Etaples mutiny might have made a platform from which the Prime Minister could have launched a new assault. And Haig knew it.

What he did not know was that he almost certainly owed his continuation in command to the absence of Lloyd George from the Cabinet meeting of 10 September. On that day, Haig, from his headquarters half a dozen miles up the road from Etaples at Montreuil, was restricting himself to setting up an Etaples ‘Board of Enquiry to collect evidence as to the occurrences on 9th September’. Confronted with serious unrest at Shoreham and elsewhere, the Cabinet was at that moment contenting itself with resolutions calling for train space for troops on the Brighton run, separation from Dominion comrades, and an improvement in the amount and quality of bully beef. A renowned stickler for detail, the chances were that the Prime Minister would have demanded further information about that ‘other place’.

But Haig’s luck held. The Prime Minister was again absent when the minutes were approved at a Cabinet meeting on 12 September. And when he visited France and Belgium later in the month, there was no way in which he would be allowed to catch up on the information.

Like the Prussian prisoners, the Etaples mutineers were kept well to the rear on the day. They were not among the high morale troops whom David Lloyd George ‘saw and conversed with’,

In Haig’s view all attempts at truth could be abandoned in the cause of war effort, coupled with the necessity of preserving his own image at all costs. Before the Prime Minister landed in France the Commander-in-Chief had seen Commandant Thomson safely off the premises and then issued two public statements denying ‘that any discontent exists in our ranks’ and that armed force has ever been used in France to compel the Chinese labourers to do their work or to remain in any locality’.

Even by his own high standards those two denials amounted to monumental mendacity.