Tweedsmuir Camp 1942-1947 (4 of 5)

The Black Market

With thousands of personnel passing through the camp it is no surprise that petty thievery existed in Tweedsmuir Camp. On 4 March 1942, for example, cigarettes and parcels were stolen. But it was in 1946 that the phrase 'black market' was first used in the 1 NETD Diaries, reporting a wide range of products being taken.

Reading the diaries, it is clear that this objectionable behaviour was much disliked by camp command and an embarrassment to them.

"Yet the fact was that a significant part - perhaps even the majority - of the respectable middle class, and indeed of the respectable working class, simultaneously condemned and used the black market, without which they would have been hard pressed to maintain an even barely recognisable quality of life."

{Professor David Kynaston, Austerity Britain: 1945 - 51, Bloomsbury 2007, page 111}

In brief, the thieves were feeding an insatiable market that extended beyond the camp's boundaries.

The situation in Tweedsmuir became so firmly entrenched that the "SIS" (Secret Intelligence Service) and the "civilian police" were called in to investigate and "ascertain" whether the thieves were "part of a black market ring gang (sic) responsible for the extensive thefts from this depot" (Tweedsmuir Camp). The authorities' opinion was that if the more serious cases were checked, the petty thievery would also stop. However, the list of items taken from the confines of Tweedsmuir suggests that this was much easier said than done.

Below are examples of the wide range of items that were targeted by the thieves.

Date Item Taken Notes
14 August 1946 Staff car The car was stolen in the early hours of the morning. It appeared that "the culprits" cut "the wire fence below the Officers' Mess" to remove the car from the camp.
3 September 1946 Two valuable stage curtains Presumably the same curtains as those mentioned before under 'Fatigue Duties'.
27 August 1946 A chesterfield (man's overcoat) was stolen from the Sergeant's Mess The theft was reported on the 28 August.

"Unidentified soldiers" again tried to break into the Sergeants' Mess in the early hours of 28 August, were chased but not caught. "Within the past three weeks there has been an epidemic of stealing staff cars, typewriters, civilian motorcycle parts, kit and cigarettes."

5 September 1946 20 tyres of different sizes and a number of inner tubes The diarist reported that thieves entered a store through a broken window. The prevailing opinion was that an "organised gang was at work" and that "such acts" had "reached serious proportions."
6 September 1946 Petrol "RSM Puddicombe, WH caught two [...] PE privates siphoning petrol into a two gallon can." Investigations were proceeding to ascertain whether they were part of a "black market ring."
10 September 1946 "Nothing of a serious nature." "Epidemic of thieving has not stopped." It was "fairly evident" that "the majority of thefts" had been "done by an organised gang."
9 October 1946 "Various articles ranging from a bottle of whisky to boots and dressing gowns [...]. During the evening bulk stores were broken into and at least one radio and 20 pairs of boots stolen. A radio was also taken from one of the PE officer's rooms." The civilian and military authorities continued to be of the opinion that "an organised ring" was at work "in or around the camp" and that they (the ring) were "familiar with the layout and routine of the camp."

On 1 November camp command received "information that Ford staff car CM 4234911 was recovered by Scotland Yard after a month's search. It had a brand new black paint job."

Diary entries regarding the black market reduced in number during the last two months of 1946. By that time all repatriation camps except Tweedsmuir were disbanded and personnel were being returned to Canada as quickly as possible. The focus now was on the recording of personnel for the "repatriation stream" and on events that were being held for the last time.

Preparing for Home

When CMHQ received confirmation that WWII hostilities on mainland Europe had formally ceased, orders were issued to put into play the last act of a repatriation programme that was six years in the planning.

"Canada had been at war with Germany only a few months when a special Cabinet Committee on Demobilisation and Rehabilitation was set up at Ottawa by P.C. 4068 1/2 of 8 Dec 39. This seemed to be looking very far ahead; but in view of the subsequent events, which sent nearly 300,000 Canadian soldiers overseas, such long time planning was wise policy. [A] policy had to be drafted and kept up to date as the war progressed through its different phases. [All] requirements had to be considered when the question arose of demobilising the armed forces. It meant that no really firm policy could be determined until each situa tion had arisen and been dealt with in the light of its effect on demobilisation."

{Major Stacey's 177th Report: Date unspecified. However, because the report includes events from 1947, it was probably completed between the last few months of 1947 and the first few months of 1948}

In his 177th Report, Stacey mentioned that "in the early stages of planning by the Reorganisation and Demobilisation Committee and Sub-Committees, the matter of accommodation in the United Kingdom for repatriation had come to the fore." At its first meeting on 19 March 1943, the Transport and Accommodation Sub-Committee suggested that

"as the area around Aldershot and Bordon is always likely to remain a Canadian Area, the accommodation available there should be used as the basis of a plan for holding and evacuating through the United Kingdom."

{15 / Demob 1, Report of Demobilisation Sub-Committee on Transportation and Accommodation, 26 May 1943. Reproduced in Major Stacey's 177th Report.}

The "accommodation" referred to by Stacey consisted of the army camps dotted in and around Surrey (including, needless to add, Tweedsmuir) that were occupied by the Canadian military at the time. "It would only be a matter of reversing the order of movement from reinforcements going forward to that of an army being repatriated." (Stacey)

At 10.00 am, EDT (in the USA and Canada EDT is an abbreviation for 'Eastern Daylight Time'), on Friday, 11 May 1945, the Department of National Defence (Army) in Ottawa, Canada, released a "Public Relations" communique, outlining plans for the "reallocation, repatriation and demobilisation of the Canadian Army overseas." The communique, promulgated by Lieutenant-General Murchie, Chief of General Staff at National Defence Headquarters, comprised a pamphlet entitled 'After Victory in Europe' and included an introduction by General HDG Crerar, C-in-C, First Canadian Army. While the pamphlet did "not cover all points [...] it (did) contain all the important details with which the soldier (was) immediately concerned."

Meanwhile, Canadian army camps in southern England were being prepared to function as repatriation centres, or depots, as the Canadian military called them. First, however, "a reshuffling of units was necessary to initiate the repatriation plan." This amounted to the movement of reinforcement personnel from barracks that were earmarked for vacant possession by repatriation units. On 24 April 1945, in advance of the plan coming to fruition, Tweedsmuir Camp's title was changed from 1 Non-Effective Transit Depot to 1 Repatriation Depot. By 5 May the depot expanded to four wings that included Tweedsmuir Camp (1 Wing), Superior Camp (2 Wing), Huron Camp (3 Wing), and Ontario Camp (4 Wing), "with additional nursing sisters and CWAC personnel in Bramshott Hospital." Henceforth, Tweedsmuir Camp was referred to as 1 Wing 1 Canadian Repatriation Depot. While Colonel Gordon became overall Commanding Officer of 1 Canadian Repatriation Depot with Lieutenant-Colonel JR Barber as second i/c, Liuetenant-Colonel MacIntyre became Commanding Officer of 1 Wing.

In view of the "fast moving events" in Europe, on 12 May 1945 CMHQ stressed the importance of swiftly approving, and publicising, the repatriation programme.

"Agreement was reached that initially seven Repatriation Depots should be provided, with others to be added at a later date as they might be required. These changes would be initiated as the movement of reinforcements forward permitted the necessary adjustments to be made; the order of priority depended on future developments."

{Major Stacey's 177th Report: Date unspecified}

The seven Repatriation Depots were to be "grouped for command under the existing local group headquarters as follows:"

Unit Location Under Command
1 Cdn. Repat. Depot Thursley / Bramshott Area (Surrey) "E" Group HQ
4 Cdn. Repat. Depot Witley Area (Surrey) ---------"---------
2 Cdn. Repat. Depot Blackdown / Woking Area (Surrey) "B" Group HQ
3 Cdn. Repat. Depot Cove Area (Hampshire) ---------"---------
5 Cdn. Repat. Depot Aldershot Area (Hampshire) "A" Group
6 Cdn. Repat. Depot --------------"-------------- ---------"---------
7 Cdn. Repat. Depot --------------"-------------- ---------"---------

The establishment of all seven repatriation depots became effective by 30 May 1945, "with an approximate accommodation for 30,000" troops and 50,000 potential places on ships heading for Canada. Unexpectedly, however, within three months shipping quotas had increased in number, necessitating the formation of additional repatriation depots. As a consequence, by 20 July, a further four depots came into existence. They were,

"This completed the reorganisation of CRU (Canadian Repatriation Unit), and except for 7 Cdn. Repat. Depot moving from Aldershot to the Horsham Area and minor expansions of some of the Repatriation Depots as nearby accommodation later became available, there were no further changes. It was not, however, until 30 Aug 45 that HQ Canadian R einforcement Unit was officially redesignated."

{HQ Canadian Repatriation Unit (1 / Org RU / 1/ 5, CMHQ Admin. Order No. 110, 4 Sep 45) - Reproduced in Major Stacey's 177th Report}

Only when a large percentage of Canadian troops had been returned home could the process of disbanding the repatriation depots begin. The official dates of disbandment were as follows:

So, at the start of March only 1 and 4 Canadian Repatriation Depots were left in existence. While 1 Repatriation Depot continued to repatriate transient personnel, 4 Repatriation Depot "looked after the repatriation of 3 Canadian Infantry Division, Canadian Army Overseas Force" (CAOF). Having fulfilled its obligations in the summer of 1946, 4 Canadian Repatriation Depot was disbanded on 13 July. This left 1 Repatriation Depot (camps Tweedsmuir, Superior, Huron and Ontario) to repatriate "the 9,000 Canadians still composing the Canadian Army Overseas at this date." (Stacey)

In the remaining months 1 Canadian Repatriation Depot's personnel carried on with their duties, repatriating Canadian soldiers as quickly and smoothly as possible. But not all Canadians wanted to return home. On 15 April 1946, under the heading "TROOPS BECOME FOND OF ENGLAND, DECIDE TO STAY", the Hamilton Spectator, a Canadian newspaper, reported from Tweedsmuir Camp, stating that

"some of the 45,000 Canadians who married British girls during the war have chosen to stay in Britain because their wives don't want to begin life anew in Canada. Many stayed because of employment openings [...]."
For example, on his return from the Continent in 1945, Jack Ruggles of Kenora, Ontario, bought a catering business at Bexhill in Sussex. Harry Frensham decided against returning to "his native Vancouver" after he bought a half-share in a poultry farm. And Fred Burling of Toronto stayed in England "on the strength of his post-war experience as an accountant; he obtained a job with a London insurance firm." Burling had a "nice home in Wimbledon, Surrey" the paper reported. (Today Wimbledon is a London suburb.)

Other Canadian soldiers decided to stay in the UK "because they had fallen in love with England."

Despite Major Stacey's assertion that the demobilisation and repatriation process "was, on the whole, most efficient," the Spectator's account was very different.

"Whatever their reasons for staying in England, Canadians demobilised in England are agreed on one point: The demob process is painfully slow and irksome.

There are long tedious waits while documents are sent to Canadian military headquarters in London for approval and rechecked, while kit is being inspected, while the soldier is being interviewed, interrogated, examined (physically and mentally), while he is filling out a multitude of blue, pink and yellow forms for storage in Ottawa."

{Hamilton Spectator, 15 April 1946}

As the repatriation plan progressed, Britain saw its worst weather for 70 years in March 1946. Some areas of Kent were isolated by heavy snow drifts and in Tweedsmuir freezing temperatures created perilous roads conditions; "all except essential vehicles were grounded during the morning" of 2 March. Strong winds stirred the snow, giving "a good example of a Canadian blizzard."

As summer approached, Colonel Gordon and his subordinate officers were mindful of what needed to be done at 1 Repatriation Depot before its disbandment. At the top of their list was the return of Canadian soldiers to Canada. Then there was the question of ensuring that the Repatriation Depot itself reduced in strength as ordered by CMHQ without compromising the day-to-day routines. On 11 April 1946, for instance, the diarist reported that the consequences of trimming administrative staff to the "permitted" number were "heavily felt." The matter was so problematic that the Lorne Scots Unit experienced difficulty "in being able to nominate [...] one officer and eight other ranks for the Victory Parade" of 8 June. When, on 8 May, the "quota" of representatives for the Parade was "raised to ten" the unit endeavoured "to obtain them from the transient personnel" [...] but with "little success." Additionally of course issues such as preparing the camp for hand over to the (British) War Office, keeping the men occupied and continuing to liaise with the local community also had to be attended to.