HC Deb 18 October 1916 vol 86 cc568-9W

asked the Secretary of State for War if he is aware of the inhuman barbarities inflicted in the presence of his wife and sister and a crowd of spectators on George Beardsworth, a compulsorily enlisted conscientious objector, in the public park, Birkenhead, on Thursday, 31st August; whether this treatment was inflicted by order of Major Roddey after a court-martial had been demanded and refused; whether it created such horror amongst the soldiers that on the following day two of them were punished with seven days' confinement to barracks for refusing to repeat such brutalities on Mr. Beardsworth; whether a court-martial can legally be refused to a soldier who demands it; and whether the officer under whose orders these atrocities were committed is still allowed to wear the King's uniform?


Representations were made to the War Office that ill-treatment was being meted out and irregularities taking place in regard to three soldiers named Beardsworth, Dukes, and Benson, belonging to the 3rd Battalion Cheshire Regiment. Inquiries were immediately instituted, and it was clear that irregularities had taken place. As soon as this fact was established, a telegram was sent to the General Officer Commanding-in-Chief, Western Command, stating that it had been reported that men of the 3rd Cheshires who are conscientious objectors and refusing to obey orders and committing acts of insubordination were not being dealt with under King's Regulations, paragraph 475, and that if this were so that he should order that this should immediately cease, and that they should be dealt with by immediate confinement exactly as any other insubordinate soldier. As a result of these instructions the irregularities ceased, and the three men concerned were remanded for trial by court-martial. Inquiries into allegations of ill-treatment are still proceeding, and several reports have already been received in the War Office from the General Officer Commanding-In-Chief, Western Command, but they are not considered to be conclusive. In view of the fact that the court-martial proceedings have not yet been received in this Department, I am not in a position at present to give the hon. Member a complete reply to his question.

I might add that instructions have been issued to the General Officer Commanding-in-Chief, Western Command, not to proceed with his inquiries until the promulgation of the court-martial proceedings. This action was taken as it was considered that the matter should be held to be sub judice in view of the fact that in all probability the allegations of ill-treatment would be alluded to during the conduct of the trials by court-martial, and the attendance of these three soldiers as witnesses at any inquiry would delay the trials by court-martial.

In regard to the hon. Member's question as to whether a court-martial can legally be refused to a soldier who demands it, I would refer the hon. Member to Section 46 (8) of the Army Act.

I might add, for the hon. Member's information, that a deputation has recently been received in the War Office in response to a request to be permitted to produce evidence in regard to these allegations. Unfortunately, however, the deputation were only able to produce general statements which were already in possession of the War Office, and upon which the original inquiries had been instituted. The deputation have been requested to be good enough to forward statements of witnesses, upon which further investigation can be made.

The hon. Member may rest assured that full inquiry will be made into this case in due course.