HC Deb 22 December 1919 vol 123 cc1018-9
Lieut.-Commander KENWORTHY (by Private Notice)

asked the First Lord of the Admiralty whether he is now in a position to announce the decisions of the Admiralty on the cases of the Royal Marines in Bodmin Prison for offences alleged to have been committed in Russia; and what. action is contemplated with reference to similar cases among naval ratings?

The FIRST LORD of the ADMIRALTY (Mr. Long)

I am grateful to the hon. Member for Bishop Auckland (Mr. Spoor), and other hon. and gallant Members for postponing their questions till I should be able to deal with these cases as a whole.

The Admiralty profoundly regrets the occurrence of these isolated instances Of insubordination on the part of men of the Fleet or of the Royal Marines, who have given such splendid and devoted service throughout the whole length of the great War. We have given these cases our most. careful and anxious consideration, and have decided to deal with them in what we believe the House will regard as a spirit of clemency.

About ninety men of the Royal Marines. in North Russia were found guilty of insubordination and refusal to obey orders while engaged in active operations. They were serving with the Army in the field and were sentenced by military courts martial.

Subject in all cases to good conduct in prison, we have decided on the following reductions in the sentences:

Of thirteen men sentenced to death—commuted by the General Officer Commanding-in-Chief to five years' penal servitude—twelve to be released after one year; one to be released after two years.

Twenty men sentenced to five years' penal servitude, to be released after six months.

Fifty-one men sentenced to two years' imprisonment with hard labour, to be released after six months.

Special consideration has been given to the cases of men under nineteen years of age at the time of the commission of the offence in. question, in view of the Army instruction that young soldiers were not, if possible, to be employed in front-line operations. Two of those who continued in a refusal of duty when others obeyed, will, in view of their youth, be released after serving six months. The remainder—six out of eight—have been released.

The extent to which it could be urged that bad leadership on the part of officers contributed to these incidents has been fully considered, and, where merited, disciplinary action is being taken.

I now turn to the Fleet cases.

A number of men broke out of their ships which had received orders unexpected by them to proceed to the Baltic, with a result that the sailing of the flotilla was jeopardised. The sentences on the ringleaders were as follows:

One leading seaman to two years' hard labour, and dismissal and forfeiture of medals; his imprisonment will be reduced to one year.

One leading seaman sentenced to one year's hard labour, dismissal and forfeiture, will be released after three months and retained in the Service.

One sentenced to one year's hard labour, dismissal and forfeiture, will be released after six months and his medals restored.

In addition, seven ratings who broke out and deserted, and refused to coal ship. Six of these men, sentenced to two years' or eighteen months' hard labour, will be released after six months; and one ordinary seaman, sentenced to a year's detention, will be released after three months.

The last case I have to deal with occurred in His Majesty's ship "Vindictive"in the Baltic, and the men concerned were dealt with summarily except two of the ringleaders who attempted to stop the fan engines, thus endangering the lives of their shipmates below. They were sentenced to five years' penal servitude; and the Admiralty will review the cases of these men after two years and one year respectively.