Postwar Period

Postwar Period

Canadian Troops Embarking for Canada on SS Olympic

The Film

Year
1919

Running Time
02 min 26 s

Producer
Topical Film Company

This clip documents scenes from the huge demobilization effort, as Canadian soldiers board the RMS Olympic at Southampton, England. (RMS stands for Royal Mail Steamer.) An initial segment showing Canadian infantrymen walking up the gangplank is followed by wide shots of the vessel at dock and images of officers posing for the camera alongside the ship’s staff. The final images show Australian troops celebrating on the dock.

The dearth of adequate ships was a problem for those responsible for bringing the troops home, and the scandal over the S.S. Northland made things worse. In December 1918, returning troops got off the ship in Halifax, complaining bitterly of conditions during the crossing. The incident caused a scandal, sparking a commission of inquiry that set out basic standards for troopships — a commendable goal but one that slowed repatriation.

The RMS Olympic was a sister ship of the Titanic and one of the few big liners to survive the war. Another sister ship, the RMS Britannic, had been converted to a hospital ship and was subsequently torpedoed in the Aegean Sea in 1916.

However, Canadian authorities were concerned that rail connections in Halifax could not accommodate the large numbers of disembarking passengers from such vessels, and were initially reluctant to use these “monster ships” in repatriation. Furthermore, in the interests of Anglo-American relations, the British were complying with US demands to use the big liners to repatriate American units.

In March 1919, a riot at the Kinmel Park camp brought a new sense of urgency to repatriation. Tired of waiting and angry about poor living conditions, a group of Canadian troops went on a rampage that culminated in five deaths. The incident caused a sensation in the British press, straining Canada-British relations, and put additional pressure on Canadian authorities to speed up repatriation. With this in mind, previous concerns over the Halifax facilities were set aside, and the British offered the RMS Olympic to the Canadian government for a single transatlantic crossing.


Pieces of History

Dissolving Canada’s Great War Army


Images

Olympic with Returned Soldiers Canadian Troops Returning from Europe Aboard H.M.T. Olympic, Halifax, NS, ca. 1919

Other Materials

Demobilization


Teaching Materials

Wartime Dilemmas