HC Deb 04 July 1916 vol 83 cc1347-51

asked the Under-Secretary of State for War if he has yet obtained a report as to the allegations of brutal ill-treatment and cruelty perpetrated on 17th June and other days by Lance-Corporal Barker and others upon a number of conscientious objectors at Prees Hill Camp, near Whitchurch, Salop; if he will say what was the nature and conditions of the inquiry that was held; whether the men themselves were questioned and examined; and whether any independent person from outside the Army took part in the investigation?


I will read to the House a report which has been made by the General Officer Commanding-in-Chief, Western Command:


28th June, 1916.

1. On 19th.June, 1916, a telegram was received from Mr. Bland, 203, Barkerbouse Road, Nelson, to the effect that certain conscientious objectors in 17th Battalion Cheshire Regiment at Frees Heath Camp were being ill-treated by a Lance-Corporal Barker.

2. A copy of the telegram was at once sent to the General Officer Commanding Frees Heath Camp, for full inquiry and report.

3. The report has now been received, and is as follows: 'Private Carradice arrived in camp under escort, and was placed in the guard-room. He stated that, as a conscientious objector, be could obey no orders. The next day be was sent to his own tent, and when ordered to turn out on parade would not do so. Lance-Corporal Barker then seized him by the back of the neck and ejected him. As he would not march anywhere, Lance-Corporal Barker cuffed him along. Private Carradice was next taken to the bath cubicle, and, refusing to wash, was bandied somewhat roughly by Lance-Corporal Barker—having his ear pulled.

The case of Private Ingham is practically similar.

The Commanding Officer states that these men (with five others) were seen by him on arrival. They refused to answer any questions, were most disrespectful in manner, and stated they were conscientious objectors. He consequently directed that they should be handed over to a N.C.O. who was a good disciplinarian. On visiting the tent where these men were first placed he found it in a dirty and disgraceful state. The men absolutely refused to clean up. He then directed Lance-Corporal Barker to have the tent cleaned, and as is done with all recruits) to see that they had a bath. He (the C.O.) states he has never seen any violence offered to these men, nor have they ever made any complaint to him.

It is undeniable that undue force was used by Lance-Corporal Barker, who was carried away by excess of zeal in his efforts to carry out the instructions of his superior officers. No permanent injury was inflicted, however, and what roughness he used was under very great provocation, as the men appear to have been in league to disobey all orders given to them. As Lance-Corporal Barker has crippled fingers, it would appear to be physically impossible for him to have struck severe blows.

It may be added (a) that disciplinary action has been ordered to be taken against Lance-Corporal Barker for his treatment against these men, and that he is not in future to be placed in charge of conscientious objectors.

(b) Mr. Bland has been written to informing him that disciplinary action has been taken in this case.

(c)Orders have been given that in future no attempt is to be made to compel soldiers physically to obey orders, but that, if insubordinate, they are to be forthwith remanded for trial by District Court-Martial.'"

24 and 25. Sir STEPHEN COLLINS

asked the Under-Secretary for War (1) whether his attention has been called to the case of a conscientious objector named Sydney Cooper, of Leeds, who, on or about Monday, 29th May, at Richmond, was roughly handled, then frog-marched until blood rushed from his mouth; whether he will use his best endeavours to put a stop to such treatment; what steps he proposes to take; and (2) whether he will inquire into the allegations that have been made with regard to the treatment with certain conscientious objectors, including Fred, Charles, and Harry Walker, are believed to have undergone at the lower barracks, Chatham, on or about 18th May, and in particular if he will ascertain whether these men were-knocked about in such a manner that one of them fainted twice; and whether he proposes to take any steps in the matter?


If the hon. Member will forward me definite statements upon which inquiry can be based, I shall be happy to have the same instituted.


Was not the first case brought before the House a month ago by the hon. Member for York, and full details then given?


I do not know. I could' not be expected to put the two things together.


asked the Under-Secretary of State for War whether the investigator whom he sent down to inquire into the alleged complaints of Private Ithel Davies as to his treatment in the Mold Detention Barracks for refusing to obey military orders on conscientious grounds saw and examined Private-Davies; whether the staff-sergeant and the corporal who are accused of having ill-treated Private Davies have now been removed from Mold Detention Barracks; whether the investigator saw and examined these two non-commissioned officers; and whether, in order that he may not be imposed upon or placed in a false position before coming to a final decision as to the facts alleged by Private Davies, he will cause the investigator to obtain from Private Davies himself an account of the treatment which he received from the staff-sergeant and the corporal during the first three days which he spent in the Mold Detention Barracks?


In the supplementary answer I gave on the 27th June, where I spoke on an independent investigator, I was referring to the detention barrack visitor mentioned in paragraph 45 of the Rules for Military Detention Barracks and Military Prisons. My hon. Friend will realise from my former answer that an exhaustive inquiry has been made into this case. The main facts elicited are: That Davies, though given ample opportunity for making a complaint to the visiting officer, made none; that four non-commissioned officers state that, so far as they are aware, Davies was never struck or ill-treated in any way; that there were no marks of ill-usage to be seen upon Davies; that the sergeant-major took him aside, talked to him, endeavoured to give him good advice, but could exert no influence over him; and, finally, that Davies told the medical officer that he had no complaint to make. I trust the House will agree that this is a complete answer to this question.


Will the right hon. Gentleman answer the questions I have put down, namely, whether the staff-sergeant and the corporal who are accused of having ill-treated Private Davies have now been removed from Mold Detention Barracks—


The answer to that is in the negative.


And whether the investigator asked a single question of Private Davies?


I gave my hon. Friend a very complete answer to his question.




Whether the visitor actually cross-examined Davies or not I cannot say—


He did not.


There was no necessity for him to do so, absolutely none. Under the Rules of Detention Barracks if a visitor goes along and asks if there are any complaints, and no one makes a complaint, it is not the business of the visitor to go round to each individual and ask, "Have you any complaint?"


Will the right hon. Gentleman cause inquiries to be made of the colour-sergeant who rescued Davies from the brutality?


asked the Under-Secretary of State for War if he can give any information with regard to Llewellyn Hughes, a conscientious objector, who was tried by court-martial at Chatham on 1st June and transferred to Wandsworth on 9th June; whether he has been kept for some weeks in solitary confinement; whether he has suffered severely in health; and whether he will soon be transferred to civil custody under the Army Order of 25th May?


This man was admitted to Wandsworth on the 9th June and on 10th June was awarded punishment for refusing to obey orders. He was in hospital from the 13th June to the 26th June and was visited in hospital by his mother as a special case. On the 27th June he refused to parade and there is reason to believe he is a malingerer. I understand the man has been remanded for trial by court-martial, in which case he will doubtless come under the conditions of Army Order No. 10 of the 26th May. My hon. Friend's suggestion that he has been kept some weeks in solitary confinement, unless he regards hospital treatment as solitary confinement, appears to be without foundation.

44. Mr. KING

asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department whether the thirty-four conscientious objectors sentenced to death in France have now been brought to England; if not, when are they expected; whether it is his intention to recommend the exercise of the Royal prerogative so that the commuted sentences of penal servitude shall not be carried out; or whether they will be treated under the scheme announced on 29th June?


The hon. Member may rest assured that all prisoners sentenced to penal servitude are sent to England as soon as the necessary arrangements for their movement have been made. The hon. Member is doubtless aware that sentences of penal servitude cannot be carried out in France. It is not the intention to recommend the exercise of the Royal prerogative, and the conscientious objectors under discussion will be treated under the scheme announced on the 29th June.