|CAST||Czech And Slovak Things|
|WORLD WAR 2|
In July of 1940 Czechoslovak servicemen arriving in Britain after the fall of France were sent to a camp at Cholmondeley Castle to the west of Nantwich, Cheshire. They had been required to sign up before embarkation as volunteers for new Czechoslovak units to be formed. Many weren't happy with their officers or with the politicians who were recognised by the allies as the government in exile. Communists among them immediately contacted Communist Party of Czechoslovakia (KSČ) organisers already in Britain and mounted a campaign among the soldiers, with a view to refusing to serve under the reactionary leadership. After several days they stated that the socially aware and progressive part of the unit was prepared to leave the Czechoslovak forces.
The military command moved first. On 23rd July 1940 they gathered the men and called for those who refused to obey the orders of their commanders to make themselves known. More than 500 men, including communists and former International Brigade members who had fought in the Spanish civil war, did so. They were disarmed, separated from the others, and billeted in an isolated area of the camp where they selected their own officers.
Bene visited Cholmondeley on 26th July and tried to calm the situation. The officers ordered a welcoming parade, while the 'mutineers' remained on the sidelines. One of the 'mutineer' officers then placed himself at the head of these men and led them in their own separate parade past Bene. British Officers present noticed nothing out of the ordinary. Afterwards, Bene spoke with an 8 man 'mutineer' delegation and tried to persuade them against their decided course of action, but in vain. The next day, the order was given that the 'mutineers' were expelled from the Czechoslovak forces with immediate effect.
On 28th July the group of 539 'mutineers' were removed from the camp at Cholmondeley, handed over to the British authorities, and transferred to an internment camp at Oswestry. After several days they were transferred to another internment camp at York, then in late August to another at Sutton Coldfield.
At the start of September officers came from Cholmondeley with a list of those considered 'less guilty', and offered them a return to the Czechoslovak units. Only 2 men did so. At about the same time, the British camp commander offered all the internees the opportunity to join the British forces. Many agreed to enlist, but about 180, mostly ex-International Brigade members, refused.
Then, from the London organisers of the KSČ, came the news that those who refused to join the British forces were threatened with being transferred overseas. Therefore at the end of September the 'International Brigaders' decided to end their passive resistance and join the Pioneer Corps along with the others. They travelled to the Pioneer Corps training centre at Ilfracombe on 10th October 1940.
A 'hardcore' of over 70 men, mostly communists, continued with their refusal and were transferred to a camp at Knapdale near Lochgilphead in Scotland. Here they remained until released as civilians at the start of 1941.
The removal of the 539 'mutineers' from Cholmondeley left a remaining total of 3,276 men from which the Czechoslovak Brigade was formed, based to begin with at Leamington Spa.
It should be noted that there was also serious dissatisfaction among some of the officers, although for very different reasons. Factors affecting the evacuation from France meant that there were considerably more officers available to the new Czechoslovak Brigade than there were positions for them. The surplus Officers remained with the Brigade unposted. One of the solutions tried was to have units composed of Officers performing the duties of ordinary soldiers, commanded by senior Officers. In November 1940 there was "further trouble" with these Officers serving in the ranks, leading to 29 of them being sent away. The matter was under the consideration of the Czechoslovak Brigade HQ and the Ministry in London. On 8th March 1941, 29 Officers arrived at Leamington to appear before a Military Court. There is no mention of what happened to them. In August 1942, two years after their arrival, the Brigade had 218 Officers plus another 373 still unposted.