One of the most unsavoury incidents in Aldershot’s past was recalled in a presentation at Aldershot Military Museum on Saturday (May 28).
Author Penny Legg visited the museum to promote her new book entitled Crime in the Second World War: Spivs, Scoundrels, Rogues and Worse.
The book includes an account of a riot in Aldershot in 1945, by Canadian troops disgruntled over the conditions in which they had to live as they waited to return home.
Mrs Legg researched this event using the museum’s records and the archives of the Aldershot News, which are stored at Aldershot Library.
During her talk, she explained that Aldershot was home to Canadian Forces in the 1940s.
Their relationship with the town’s population was good. Canadians married local girls and laid on birthday parties for children, while many men stayed in Britain after the war.
It was not until the war in Europe was over that this happy state of affairs changed.
Aldershot Garrison became a repatriation barracks as troops flooded back to Britain from the battle arenas in Europe. There, they waited to be sent home.
Records show that 400,000 Canadian troops passed through Aldershot in June and July 1945.
The troops, who had been living on adrenaline while in the thick of fighting, found themselves penned in with poor pay and food and little to do.
To add insult, local shopkeepers and publicans cashed in on the Canadians’ lack of understanding of the local currency and fleeced them unmercifully.
The Canadians’ joy at their imminent return home gave way to impatience and resentment.
On July 4, 1945, a large group of Canadian soldiers met on Hospital Hill for what the Aldershot News later called an "indignation meeting".
A rumour spread that there were three Canadian soldiers being held in police custody.
Despite pleas to disperse from a senior police officer, 500 Canadians converged on the police station in support of their comrades.
As they approached along Union Street, Wellington Street and Victoria Road, they smashed the windows of businesses they passed.
In Union Street, the amusement arcade fared badly, with machines dumped in the street in addition to the damage to the windows.
A senior Canadian officer finally diffused the situation, by showing a three-man delegation that the cells were empty.
After damaging 25 shops and 87 windows, the mob quietly returned to their barracks.
Extra military police (provosts) were drafted in to keep order and, the following evening, Canadian officers patrolled Aldershot in vans fitted with loud speakers.
Major General DC Spry, the senior Canadian officer in the area, spoke to the men about their grievances and promised to mend what he could.
On July 5, a mob once again formed. The frustrated Canadians marched in Union Street, smashing those windows not damaged the night before.
Shopkeepers trying to defend their properties were faced with threats of violence and, on one occasion, a gun was drawn.
The Canadian Military Police clamped down harshly, reportedly replacing their truncheons with bottles at one point, according to the Aldershot News.
After two days of rioting, 200 shops had been targeted, causing £15,000 worth of damage.
Courts martial sentenced more than 100 Canadian soldiers for riot offences, sending five to jail.
In his letter of apology to Aldershot Borough Council, General Montague, the senior Canadian officer in Britain, condemned a "small, irresponsible group of Canadian soldiers".
There was no lingering animosity, however, as the Canadians were later awarded the Freedom of the Borough.
Crime in the Second World War: Spivs, Scoundrels, Rogues and Worse by Penny Legg, published by Sabrestorm Publishing, is available to buy now priced £19.99.