I was in the village of Tomintoul in 1989. With my school group was an assistant named Jeremy Ramsbottom. He was on a year off from the Royal New Zealand Air Force. He read us aloud a sign about the well known mutineer Toplis who was there after the Great War. Until this year that was the only time I heard of him.
I just saw the Monocled Mutineer. It excited lots of controversy when it came out in 1986. It led to accusations of left wing bias at the time. These accusations are very well grounded in fact.
The war is presented as pointless. The officers and right wingers are presented without exception as snobbish, inhumane and bigotted.
The accusations that the film makes have some merit but they are much exaggerated.
Officers are said to hate Australians. I have no reason to believe there was an anti-Australian bias. There was much less of a distinctive Australian identity at the time. Australians were of British stock in 9 cases out of 10 at the time. The others were all whites at the time apart from the Aboriginals who had no rights and did not serve in the military. Australians called the UK the Mother Country at the time and it often was literally their mother’s country. Part of the reason that a separate Australian identity emerged is the Great War. Australians went to war singing, ”if England wants a hand well here it is.”
The only decent men are working class private soldiers. I say men because Lady Angela Forbes is shown to be compassionate and self-sacrificing. She uses her connections with the elite to help the ordinary soldiers. She serves them personally. The only reason that she gets access to the general is her social rank.
NCOs are shown as sadists and bullies.
Few dispute that conditions in the Great War in general were hard. Further, most acknowledge that the treatment of soldiers in Etaples training camp were harsher than the situation warranted. The government acknowledged this by removing some unsuitable staff who were deeply unpopular. Notably, the records of the Board of Inquiry into the mutiny were burnt. The files relating to it were closed until 1917.
Percy Toplis was not in Etaples at the time. This is not something that is a triviality. He is shown as the ringleader of the mutiny. Moreover, his previous crimes are said to be theft. One can have a thief as a hero, to brush theft aside and say it was only money, it never really hurt anyone. He was poor and only took from the wealthy. It is not a piece of pedantry to point out that he was gaoled for attempted rape at the age of 15. No one has a rapist as their hero.
Socialists are the only honourable people.
The policeman tracking Strange and Toplis is shown to be an agent of the Tory Party and not someone working to uphold the law and justice.
The film contains some glaring falsehoods at they all point the same way.
I am very glad that I was never a soldier. I am pleased that I have never experienced war and never wish to. An army has to be tough especially in wartime and above all in a war of that magnitude. I think that the British Army was unnecessarily harsh.
About 600 British military were executed in the Great War. Executed that is by their own side. One must never do justice by statistics but this number did not need to be anything like this high. The Germans had tremendous discipline right until the end and they only executed 28 men in a larger army.
Australians often brag that the Australian Imperial Force did not put a single one of its men to death. However, Australian military discipline was appalling. Their tendency to mutiny and desert was huge. I praise those Aussie soldiers who were loyal of course. The desertion rate was 7 times that of the British. Remember that getting home to Oz was virtually impossible while getting back to Blighty by desertion was very possible.
I do have great sympathy with the shot at dawn in most cases. The officer cries when he is being executed. I would probably do the very same.
The film does show that he committed a double murder at the end. He probably was the man who murdered the taxi driver that he was selling stolen petrol to.