The 1901 Census on Ancestry.co.uk shows that the Gillan family were living in Drygate St. Lanarkshire, The family consisted of Head, John Gillan aged 32, a Miner by trade. His wife Emily was aged 26 and their two sons were John 3 and David 4 months.
On 25th April 1903 the family emigrated to Halifax in Canada on the S.S. Mongolian.
The 1911 Census for Canada recorded the Gillan family living in Cape Brereton, North Victoria, Nova Scotia. John Gillan was Head of the household. He was 42, and had been born in 1868. He was a Miner by trade. His wife Emilywas 36 and was born in 1875. Their listed children were John14, David 10 and Robert 4.
(The Family Tree on Ancestry shows us that a daughter called Emily was born on 15th April 1912 but she died in August 1912)
David Gillan’s Army records tell us that he enlisted into the Cape Brereton Highlanders, 85th Battalion on 13th March 1916, at Sidney Mines, Nova Scotia. He was a Miner by trade and gave his father, John Gillan as next of kin with an address of Florence C.B. Nova Scotia.
David embarked from Canada on board the S.S.Olympia on 13th October 1916 and arrived in Liverpool on 19th October 1916.
He was posted to Whitley camp until 23rd February 1918 when he was sent to Bramshott and left for France on 28th March 1918.
On David’s return from France on 30th January 1919 he was posted to Ripon as a Miner. He was then posted to Kinmel Camp Rhyl on the 25th February 1919 to await repatriation to Canada.
On March 4th- 5th 1919 a riot took place at Kinmel park Army Camp. Unfortunately David was on guard duty at the time of the outbreak of the Kinmel Park Riots on March 5th 1919 and sustained a fatal bullet wound to the neck.
(From the Library and Archives of Canada. Soldiers of the First world war 1914-1918).
Kinmel Park Camp was a segregation camp used to house Canadian Soldiers awaiting repatriation to Canada after the end of WW1. Unfortunately the conditions at that time were extremely harsh with a lack of every kind of commodity, the camp was overcrowded and the services were poor, there were shortages of clothing, food and blankets.
There is a Family Tree on Ancestry.co.uk called The Sneddon Tree that includes John’s family, so I contacted the owner and the following information was supplied to me. The owner of the tree has collected information about the family over the years and has asked me to advise the reader that some of the information comes from family members and some from her research on the internet.
The following text is provided from the owner of the Family Tree. There are some extracts from various newspaper articles, information from family members and excerpts from The Kinmel Park Riots 1919 by Julian Putkowski ISBN 0-9512776-1-8 which can be obtained from St. Margaret’s Church, Bodelwyddan.
Private 85th.Batt.Canadian Army(Nova Scotia Regiment).Service No.877467.Killed 5Mar 1919 Kimmel Park,Flintshire,Wales.Age 20.Buried Bodelwyddan(St.Margaret)Churchyard,Flintshire.
Son of John Gillon and Emily Grey of Florence,Cape Breton,Nova Scotia and gt.gt.gt.grandson of John Gillon and Grace Simpson.
Canadian soldiers’ deaths a mystery. The Kinmel Park riots, a deadly secret in North Wales
By Kevin Ward– The Canadian Press Bodelwyddan Wales (CP) —
The March wind whips through the Marble Church graveyard. Bitingly cold and from the north, it gusts off the rolling grey Irish Sea, pushing a steady rain sideways. After surviving slaughter amid the mud of the trenches of the First World War, this part of North Wales was the last place Canadian soldiers eager to return home wanted to spend the winter of 1918-19. Yet for 83 Canadians, Bodelwyddan would be their final resting place. Most of the men who lie in the graveyard alongside the bustling A55 highway were victims of a deadly outbreak of influenza. But the deaths of five of the veterans are not so easily explained, and even 82 years later are shrouded in mystery.
It’s known they were killed in a mutiny that ended on March 5, 1919, a sad and bloody episode in Canadian history. But how Canadian soldiers ended up shooting their comrades in anger still raises many unanswered questions. Over the years the stories that have been told and retold locally of the Kinmel Park riots have had a tenuous link with the truth. “It’s a Chinese whisper sort of thing,” says Rev. Berw Hughes of St. Margaret’s Church, also known as the Marble Church because of the amount of marble lining its interior. For a long time it was thought that the Canadians had been executed for their role in the mutiny. According to church history, this story was first dispelled by a Toronto lawyer who, on a visit to Wales, heard a tour guide tell of how the Canadian soldiers were sentenced to death for their role in a mutiny. When he returned to Canada, he did his own research to get to the truth about the deaths of the 83. While mutinies among British and Canadian soldiers were not unknown, Kinmel Park was unusual because it ended in bloodshed and death in an uprising among largely white troops.
“If it’s white troops against white troops, or white troops against white officers, it’s very rare that anybody is punished or dies,” says Julian Putkowski, a lecturer at Kings College in London who has studied military mutinies.
SOLDIERS EXECUTED? “You can pick the number who have been executed off the fingers of less than one hand…. If you look at black troops, well it (death toll) runs into the hundreds.”
Stretching across a low hill overlooking the village of Bodelwyddan (pronounced boh-del-WIH-dehn), the camp at Kinmel Park was ill-suited to handle a shifting population of 19,000 soldiers from the Canadian Expeditionary Force. The men were itching to board boats for Halifax and St. John. They were told there weren’t enough boats to transport them, but many waited longer than seemed fair. In Canada there were worries over unemployment and doubts about the railway’s ability to cope with the demobilized soldiers fanning out across the country. Putkowski says the men knew the longer they were kept in north Wales, the worse their chances of finding work, adding to their anxiety about being held back. American troops, meanwhile, were getting boats bound for the United States straight from France without having to go through Britain, despite the fact they hadn’t fought as long as the Canadians.
The old military training camp was an unhappy place. Canadian soldiers, well paid compared to their British counterparts, were gouged in the civilian-run temporary shops, known as Tintown. The weather was bad and the men, on the cusp of civilian life, still faced a disciplined military routine of marches and inspections. Then, a couple of days before the riots, ships meant to carry men from the camp to Canada were reassigned to another division.
“Many men were broke and couldn’t buy cigarettes or soap but were all looking forward to get away home,” one soldier told a court inquiry into the riot. STUCK IN WALES Then came the cancellation of the sailings…. On the day before the riot it was on everyone’s lips.” Putkowski says the men were bolstered in their resolve by British troops who had won early demobilization by going on strike three months before.
“That’s the little spark,” he says. “The authorities had given way.” The riots began on the night of March 4 in a wet canteen among about 60 men, then grew as gangs broke into the sergeants’ and officers’ messes. Later, Tintown was looted, the target of a revenge attack against the profiteers. By 3 a.m., six hours after the trouble began, the camp was quiet. “As dawn broke on 5 March, Kinmel Park Camp must have seemed a melancholy sight to military eyes,” Putkowski wrote in his book on the riots. “Thousands of pounds worth of food, drink, tobacco, clothing, bedding and equipment had been stolen or destroyed.” Camp commanders organized soldiers to help keep the peace the next day, but they were soon confronted by gangs of men who set about freeing prisoners from the night before. To ease tensions, the prisoners were ordered released, but it did no good. Cavalry also failed to quell the rioting and was met with volleys of rocks and sticks from the mutineers. As the fighting intensified, more men were injured and the first fatalities were recorded.
Sapper William Tarasevitch, 30, was bayoneted in the abdomen and died. Corp. Joseph Young, 36, died in hospital after being hacked in the face with a bayonet. The third man killed was Pte. David Gillan, 22, who had been enlisted to defend the camp. He was shot in the back of the neck. The final two fatalities were Signaller William Haney, who was hit by a bullet in the face, and Gunner Jack Hickman, hit in the chest by a ricochet bullet. When it was over, 28 men had been injured, eight of them suffering gunshot wounds, including the three who died. 41 faced Courts Martial. Putkowski believes the shots that were fired that day were largely indiscriminate. Questions also remain about where all the firing came from, especially since all ammunition in the camp was ordered locked up. Forty-one soldiers faced courts martial for mutiny. Seventeen were acquitted. The longest sentence among the convicted was 10 years in prison, although most of the men had their sentences reduced, and even the man facing 10 years was allowed to return to Canada by November 1919. None of the inquiries held into the riots produced conclusive findings on who was responsible. That’s no surprise to Putkowski. “There is a shared interest in not disturbing the dust too much,” he says. For mutineers, uncovering the truth could mean convictions, and officers feared proof that they had lost control of their troops. “Kinmel Park is part of the small unfinished business of the First World War,” says Putkowski. David Gillan’s gravestone at St. Margaret’s stands out from the others, erected in “proud memory” of the young man from Cape Breton. It rises close to two metres high, is topped with a large cross and is inscribed with the words “killed at Kinmel Park on March 5, 1919, defending the honor of his country.” The stones of the other four men killed in the riots resemble the low white markers bearing the Maple Leaf seen at Canadian war graves across Europe. On Joseph Young’s gravestone is the message: “Sometime, sometime we’ll understand.”
STILL ATTRACT LOCAL ATTENTION The riots still attract local attention. Bus tours stop by the church and tourists wander between the neatly kept war graves. The village council holds an annual Remembrance Day service. Two plastic poppy wreaths sat undisturbed last week at the foot of Gillan’s gravemarker. Richard Bunny, a member of the council, thinks the many stories surrounding the deaths add to people’s curiosity. “It probably makes a better story than the reality of it,” he says. The vicar, Berw Hughes, says visitors often want to make sense of what happened. “They can’t understand why.” Wally Forster is the caretaker at what’s left of Kinmel Park, now used for cadet training. During his 35 years at the camp, he has maintained a keen interest in the events of March 5, 1919. “I don’t think the truth has ever been told,” he says between sips from a pint at the village pub. “There’s a lot that was never said.” But there is one thing of which he is certain. The whole thing would have been prevented if the men had been allowed to return home. “They were only young boys,” he says with a sigh. “It’s a hell of a tragic story.
David Gillan born 2.12.1898 Larkhall. A miner, he joined the Cape Breton Highlanders on 13.3.1916 and served in the 85th Battalion. He was killed in a riot on 5.3.1919 in Wales. “Stretching across a low hill overlooking the village of Bodelwyddan, the camp at Kinmel Park was ill-suited to handle a shifting population of 19,000 soldiers from the Canadian Expeditionary Force. The men were itching to board boats for Halifax and St. John. They were told there weren’t enough boats to transport them, but many waited longer than seemed fair. The old military training camp was an unhappy place. The weather was bad and the men, on the cusp of civilian life, still faced a disciplined military routine of marches and inspections. Then, a couple of days before the riots, ships meant to carry men from the camp to Canada were reassigned to another division. The riots began on the night of March 4 in a wet canteen among about 60 men, then grew as gangs broke into the sergeants’ and officers’ messes.” A soldier wrote home “Headed by a few fools they started at their own canteens and got the eats and some beer. When daylight came the looting continued, and they got a couple of carloads of beer on the track right at the camp. They took it in mess tins, jugs and fire buckets, they drank it and even bathed in it, naturally there was the deuce to pay. They appropriated all the tobacco and emptied the central canteen stores. They took all the Quartermaster’s stores and looted and smashed the YMCA. It was the booze that did damage.” Camp commanders organized soldiers to help keep the peace the next day, but they were soon confronted by gangs of men who set about freeing prisoners from the night before. To ease tension, the prisoners were released, but it did no good. Cavalry also failed to quell the rioting and was met with volleys of rocks and sticks from the mutineers. As the fighting intensified, more men were injured and the first fatalities were recorded. The third man killed was Pte. David Gillan, 22, who had been enlisted to defend the camp. He was shot in the back of the neck. When it was over, 28 men had been injured, eight of them suffering gunshot wounds, including the three who died. Forty-one soldiers faced courts martial for mutiny. None of the inquiries held into the riots produced conclusive findings on who was responsible. David Gillan’s gravestone at St Margaret’s is in “proud memory” of the young man from Cape Breton. It rises close to two metres high, topped with a large cross and is inscribed with the words “killed at Kinmel Park on March 5, 1919, defending the honour of his country.” His younger brother Robert collected the newspaper from the local store. He read the paper on the way home and found out his brother had been killed. He was just a young lad. He was scared to go home and tell his mother. David’s mother Emily was said to have never really recovered from the shock
Parents of David Gillan. John Gillon born 15.3.1869 at Glengowan, Larkhall at school in 1881. A coal miner, he worked in Keighly, Yorkshire, where he married Emily Gray in 1896, daughter of John Gray, a preacher and union organiser and Louise Lupton. In 1901 they returned to Scotland and John was a coal miner hewer at Drygate St, Larkhall. John and his brother Robert also became organisers of miners’ unions and were blacklisted. Unable to find work, he migrated to Cape Breton, Nova Scotia on 6.5.1903 on Mongolian and settled in Guy St, Sydney Mines. John died on 11.3.1938, aged 68 and Emily on 2.2.1956
I would like to thank and acknowledge the help and contribution of information received from the relatives of David Gillan.
David is buried in St. Margaret’s Cemetery, Bodelwyddan.
David is commemorated on the Canadian Virtual war memorial.