Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Mutiny; Etaples 1917.

The untold Ballade of Percy Toplis

It was at Etaples in Nineteen Seventeen
At the Bullring Base Camp where training was extreem
Behind the Western Front oh boys it was not fun
Yet here it was the British Army‘s mutiny began

The official records do not tell the tale
Yet for those concerned their memories did not fail to
Remember Percy Toplis the outlaw in disguise
Who lead the men in mutiny and broke Brittania‘s pride

Several thousand soldiers all absent without leave
And driven to a hatred by what they had received
From Redcaps and Canaries and Military Police
Who‘d made their lives a misery, yet got their relief

Watch out for the Master of Disguise

You risked a court marshall and firing squad at dawn
For desertion, cowardice or staying home too long
But mutiny was the card that Private Toplis played
And mutiny was had and might just have saved the day

Posing as an officer was something he did well
Though from a colliery town you would never tell
He took on High Command and gave them merry hell
And without any compromise he bent them to his will

Lions led by donkeys had been said of the British
Fighting wars colonial a picture that fitted
Commandante Brigadier General Andrew Graham Thompson
Whose Nemesis was Toplis and so that General failed

Lets hear it for the Master of Disguise

A tiny hump in Flanders known as Passchendaele Ridge
Was where the British Captains planned their next offensive
But from there the Germans proved impossible to wrest
And in the mud one quarter million met their deaths

Storms had blown away all British Hospital tents
When Germans dropped seven bombs which killed some U.S. heads
America went crazy but Britons were dismayed
For they had been dying there for years and never fuss was made

Morale was very low but one thing made it snap
When at the Base Camp a lad talked to a lass
His tunic was unbuttoned, this was improper dress
A Military Policeman shot the soldier dead

So a murder sparked this whole skaboosh

The lad had been a Scotsman, the lass from Aberdeen
This set the Gordon Highlanders up a head of steam
A piper blasted out their Regimental Tune
And to the Bridge the raving rebels moved

Second Lieutenant James Davies Royal Fusiliers
Faced them off under orders and heard their riotous jeers
But many of those behind him were friends of the mutineers
The piper reached his step and made intentions clear

"We got nothing against ye Sir, but I must ask ye tae step aside
But we ll turn the machine guns against ye if you dont comply"
So Davies wisely stepped aside and so was took the bridge
Other officers followed suite, no resistance did they give

So mutineers swept up others like the tide

"Down with the Redcaps! Release the prisoners!"
Shouted a Canadian, echoed by his men
Orders came to fire but obey they would not do
So officers held Three Arch Bridge and fist fights ensued

Advantage was to the officers, two soldiers thrown on the track
That took soldiers daily to the Front Line and back
But this did not last for long, advantage it turned round
And fifteen hundred mutineers roared into town

Cafes were smashed into, beer and wine rolled to the streets
Soldiers were hunting down terrified Military Police
And those hated Redcaps and Canaries, trainers at the Bull Ring
Hid in peoples houses but still got their heads kicked in.

Mutineers had crashed the town and left police for dead

The centre of Etaples soon became a wreck
With a bonfire of the barrels, soldiers out of check
For New Zealanders, Australians, Scotsmen, Irish, Welsh and English
It must have been a bloody Sunday very much relished

However the report that General Thompson made
Mentions some stones being thrown but little gives away
For soldiers from all round the world who stayed at that Hell Camp
The time had come right there and then to have some of their own back

One hundred mutineers crashed an officers meeting
To give them their ultimatum or else get burned that evening
Thompson and twelve others were stuffed into a truck
And pitched into the river, told to go to ....

From that point mutiny spread like a wild fire

Bolsheviks in Russia, failed mutiny in France,
Deserters in Camiers chalk pits, the Somme and other parts
All now fanned the fires of an insurrections blaze
And so it was the rioting lasted for five days

Not all the actions of the mutineers were on course
Such as gang-raping the women of the WAAC Corps
So a special guard was set up to sentinel their quarters
And a father harpooned a soldier raping his daughter

Many mutineers linked up with the deserters
Living in the woods of nearby Paris Plage
Percy Toplis too had gravitated down there
Where they called him "The General" and so they all fell to

Toplis said get the police not the girls and was obeyed

The second day of mutiny saw Toplis and One Hundred
Marching to Etaples in the late afternoon
Where they met with Thompson touring in his staff car
Trying to get order and pretty desparate too

His vehicle was rocked till Toplis held up his hand
Then the Commandante begged that he stop the riot
Up on the cars running boards Toplis gave conditions
For which General Thompson would soon come to give permission

The Revolt would end when Etaples was thrown open,
Military Police removed, the Bull Ring closed down,
Food and the conditions had to be much better
He stepped down from the running boards and let Thompson go

'Private' Toplis had dressed for the occasion

All the conditions that Toplis made were met
The Bull Ring was closed down and men got better pay
General Graham Thompson was taken out of office
In his place came Field Commander General Haig

Of course this did not stop the War that took some more time
But by all reports soldiers preferred the Front Line
With incompetent leaders that mendacity endorsed
Sure the course of history could have been much worse

Francis Percy Toplis melted into the scenery
Continuing his sublime line in confidence trickery
He was caught one time and put inside a prison
But he easily escaped through a hole he had been digging

Percy Toplis the master of Disguise

After escapades of much audacious skill
The force of High Command moved in for the kill
With his wanted poster everywhere and being framed for murder
The papers had the best fugitive story ever to occur

He was ambushed and shot by a church in Cumbria
But on what authority was never made too clear
His post humus trial passed over much felt not fit or right
And a thorough enquiry did not greet the light

And so I ask you as a jury of your time
Who was it here did the most heinous crime?
Toplis : 23, a racketeer, mutineer, piano player and conman
Or officers who killed by proxy millions in these lands?

(no chorus, just guitar chords)

I say lets hear it for the monacled mutineer
An accessory he wore as a badge of his career
A Master of Disguise so complete as to fool them all
A disguise that he used so well to fool the makers of that war

Percy Toplis Master of Disguise
Percy Toplis Master of Disguise

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