“DEMOBILISATION STRIKE” OR “MUTINY”

NOVEMBER 1946

 

The Peaceful Strike:
The events of the strike itself can largely be gathered from the Petition presented on behalf of those not acquitted at their trial but only as a result of the Petition:

“Tel-el-Kebir Garrison was a large permanent camp, containing approx. 3,000 British troops, mostly RAOC and REME, engaged largely on industrial work….From Thursday 7th to Monday 11th November 1946 there was unrest among the British troops as a result of announcements to delays in demobilisation. This unrest was manifested solely in abstention by British troops from their industrial work. In the eye of military law, no doubt, such abstention amounted to mutiny; to the troops, it was devoid of any criminality; and there might almost be said to have been a conspiracy to keep the troops in that dangerous ignorance. During those 5 days of tension and anxiety there was no disorder, no violence, no insult to or assault on any officer or NCO, no injury to property and no failure to fulfil any military duty of any kind-if a distinction car fairly be drawn between military and industrial duties, as Lt. Col. Strong said that it could.

Inducements to Witnesses:
The strike came to a peaceful end, and ‘investigations’ began, the principal investigator being Major H; 89 men were questioned, including the 10 men defended at the Court-martial. Statements were ‘obtained’ from many of them by dubious methods. One of the main ‘inducements’ given was confinement in a place called Tahag, the facts as to what happened there were mostly sworn to on oath at the Court-martial.

A Black Hole
The description of Tahag, taken partly from the article in ‘Reynolds News’ and partly from a debate in the House of Commons on 13th March 1947, is as follows: In the course of the 3 weeks beginning 11th November, dozens of men were arrested and taken to the detention cells of an abandoned German prisoners’ camp at Tahag. There was plenty of room for them in various guardrooms in TEK itself, plenty of room in other camps nearby, and plenty of room again in relatively habitable hutments in the PoW camp at Tahag itself. But dozens were put in these cells - cement boxes, some 5ft x 10ft, others 6ft x 8ft. Light & ventilation was through slits 4” x 2” high up in the wall, 10ft or more from the ground, and through ‘Judas’ holes in the doors. They were completely unfurnished, except for cockroaches, bugs & mosquitoes; they were extremely dirty, the seats were crawling with lice. The sanitary conveniences supplied for use at night were 7lb toffee tins; which often leaked onto the floor where the men were sleeping, one was so full of putrescent matter that the man threw it out of his cell. The washing facilities was one tap and a wooden bench without even a basin. They had nothing to clean their cells with, let alone the latrines. 8 days elapsed before a medical officer visited the cells, and 6 more before the latrines were condemned. The men were kept in these cells, sometimes two to a cell (although other cells were vacant) for 23 hrs out of every 24; they slept on palliases, with cockroaches dropping from the roofs. They had no lights, nothing to read, and nothing to do. In darkness for 13hrs of the 23; they ate their evening meal in the cell in darkness, or out on the sand, around one of the two lamps provided for their guards. Food brought from a distance; inadequate in quantity and served almost cold; served by German PoW’s, who laughed when they asked for more-which they didn’t get. The reason for this treatment seems clearly to have been to induce them to make ‘voluntary’ statements. Some who agreed were released, or removed and put under open arrest. Quite a number made statements. Some appeared as witnesses at the Court-martial, and a few were as accused. Many had been threatened and bullied in the effort to get statements before they went to Tahag. One some-what sensitive lad of 21 was first given 5 days solitary confinement in TEK and then over a fortnight in Tahag, stood his trial at Court-martial, was acquitted, and posted to Tripoli within 2 hours of his acquittal. “So far, all the officers responsible are still in their posts, except for one or two who have been promoted”.

How Were The Defendants Chosen?
How the 10 men were selected was as great a mystery as the question why they were accused of conspiracy entered into on the 3rd & 4th days of a strike, to cause a strike on the 5th day. All were young industrial workers, only one of them over 22. Whatever the process of selection of these 10 young men-against whom there was neither less nor more evidence than any other men picked at random, for all the REME & RAOC men had taken part in the strike, and there was nothing to show that these men had done more than that. They managed to communicate with the Attwood Defence Committee, and that body asked me to go out. I said I would go out without a fee but that it was not possible to conduct such a case without a solicitor being employed to prepare the case and assist me in the defence. There was a really good English solicitor in Alexandria-he asked for a fee of £1000, but when attempts were made to collect the money from the rank and file at TEK garrison they were stopped by the officers there with the false assertion that it was unlawful to collect money for such a purpose; this was one of many illegal and oppressive tricks worked off on the strikers in this case, but the money was found largely in Scotland

The Defence
There was little evidence against any of the accused. As the cross-examination of prosecution witnesses developed, it became ever more clear that the allegations of improper conduct on the part of Major H-whom had been allowed to go to England before this trial and, despite adjournments so he could be brought back to give evidence-he never appeared. The case went on, and 4 were acquitted - the other 6 convicted. As I drove back to TEK with the 4 acquitted, I asked one of them-a Glasgow boy-how he was going to celebrate his victory. He replied; “I’m going to bash a corporal.” I told him that, whilst that might be the greatest conceivable human joy, it would only get him into trouble, but he merely repeated that he was going to bash a corporal. However, even that was denied him, he had not been back in TEK two minutes, nor got beyond the main entrance, when he learnt that he and the other 3 were being posted that evening to 4 distant and lonely stations in another part of North Africa. A 22 page Petition was then presented direct to the Judge Advocate-General in England and it secured the quashing of all convictions within about 2 months of their date, on the ground that the statements were inadmissible. When one of the acquitted men, thinking as most men thought, that men who were acquitted after being in custody for some time were entitled to a short spell of leave, applied for it, he met with refusal. And their pay, which had been stopped pending their trial, was still being held up.
Taken from the Court-Martial Proceeding TEK Strike 1946
Sent in by Joe Kelly RAOC 5 BOD TEK


Alan Goodinson also remembers:
THE TROUBLE AT TEK 1946

I have some recollections of the unrest at TEK army base in 1946 described by reader Joe (Pat) Kelly in the August newsletter. I was at ‘L’ Camp which housed the personnel for 32 Base Workshop and other REME units. Surreptitious notices had appeared on notice boards; soon removed by the duty officer, but these incited personnel to protest against the rumoured delay in demob even though WWII was ended. A final notice announced a mass protest at a nearby football pitch (probably 5 Base Ord. Depot). Some of the men in our hut decided to go and have a look but purely on an observation basis. A few of us set off after workshop duties, it was early evening and as far as I remember several hundred personnel had gathered and I believe we joined them as it all seemed fairly inoxious and we waited for the next act of the drama.

It happened; over on the far side vehicles pulled up and infantry or M.P.s leapt out and soon an officer’s voice with the aid of a loud-hailer was ordering all to disperse quickly. We made our way back to ‘L’ Camp, it was dark by now and when vehicles came along with headlights on we nipped into a wayside hut, part of another camp, to avoid being recognised. A few days later we were interrogated and had to admit being there. However our plea of just being nosey was accepted. Personnel from other units who were implicated in this affair were dealt with severely I believe, but I can’t remember details.

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