HISTORY: Kinmel Revisited – Robert James Bridge
The author moves into a house in Abergele and finds documents in his loft. They are the writings of Captain George Sawley about the events at Kinmel camp in 1919 where several thousand Canadian soldiers were waiting to go home. Ships to their homeland had been cancelled and the war weary soldiers felt resentful at the broken promises of returning to their families and leaving the camp. The Spanish flu pandemic was rife and fatal to many in the camp in which conditions were hardly better than the trenches. A riot ensued, leaving five men dead. The author tells the story in the voice of George Sawley, a decent and moral man, who had empathy with the Canadians and was suffering the effects of post-war trauma himself.
This was a fascinating yet tragic read. I thank the author for telling this story as I was unaware of it before I read this book. The cover shows the local church and the gravestones of some of the men who lost their lives. As with any story about events of the First World War it is very sad, but there is the added tragedy here that these were men that had fought bravely and survived front line action, yet were denied the right to go home. For me the tale highlights the power within the class system at the time and the powerless of ordinary people to be treated fairly. Foreign soldiers were seen as third class citizens and it is heart wrenching to imagine the men in the camp and their families waiting to see them.
I liked the character of George Sawley very much, through his voice the reader had a balanced view of events and an insight into the lives of different people at the time. Many soldiers in World War 1 were driven to fight as a result of being trapped in abject poverty. I liked the involvement of the George’s wife and also the wife of Ivan, who sadly saved her money to come to England just to view the grave of her husband.
I read this book on a reading device and sometimes found the format was confusing and grammatically strange. However, this could have been down to the reading device. Generally I thought the book was well written and I am glad I have read about these events; a story that needs to be told.
Review by Kate Riley