Titan Books have just released Charley’s War: The Great Mutiny by Pat Mils and Joe Colquhoun, the seventh volume of their Charley’s War collections from Battle Picture Weekly.
Opening in September 1917, Charley is caught up in the mutiny by troops against harsh treatment at Etaples and faces divided loyalties as the rebellion gathers pace. Eventually, back on the front line, he faces death once more as a stretcher bearer – a precursor to an encounter with a German soldier who will, later in life, strike terror into millions of people.
Included in the book is a feature by Steve White on another little-documented mutiny – by French troops – and a forthright commentary on the British mutiny at Etaples from Charley’s War co-creator and script writer Pat Mills.
“It’s still incredible and very gratifying to see an army mutiny as the most popular story in a British war comic,” he writes. “It was inspired by the book and the TV series The Monocled Mutineer, and also by other accounts that confirm the mutiny at Etaples took place in September 1917.
“However, since the excellent TV version by Alan Bleasdale (also writer of Boys from the Black Stuff) appeared, there have been desperate attempts by right-wing historians to challenge its authenticity. Any search on the web will now suggest to you it’s a dubious work of fiction. Even the BBC DVD states the drama, ‘based on supposedly true events’, is adapted from ‘the novel’ and notes that the ‘the BAFTA award winning series provoked intense political controversy on its broadcast in 1986 and, after an initial repeat, has not been shown since on British television.’
“I’ve read the source book carefully many times and whilst there are sections that are legitimately speculative, as in a novel, they are relatively few,” Pat notes. “Nowhere does it state it is a work of fiction.”
Pat’s comments are bound to provoke debate among war historians but the writer meticulously researched the story from available resources at the time.
“Supposedly, a full account of what happened at Etaples will be released by the Ministry of Defence in 2017, one hundred years after the events. So there’s seven years to go – but don’t hold your breath. As the Daily Record noted only last year, the British government did not even concede there had been a mutiny at Etaples until 1978.”
• Charley’s War: The Great Mutiny is available from all good bookshops.