Tuesday, 11 October 2016

Insanity and First World War COs: Questions in the House

"A matter of great public concern"

Many questions were asked in the House of Commons after the introduction of conscription about the treatment of conscientious objectors, with a number of MPs raising, in particular, cases of brutality, neglect and death at the hands of the military and civil (prison) authorities that had been brought to their attention. A main focus of concern was the effect of their punishment on COs' mental as well as physical health, and whether some of them might actually be, or had already been "driven mad" by their experiences.
This fear - or awareness of a real risk - was shared by a number of COs and their relatives and supporters, as shown by examples in Ann Kramer's 2014 book:

References from Conscientious Objectors of the Second World War: Refusing to Fight by Ann Kramer (Pen & Sword, 2014): 

p.80 “My mind I will destroy rather than allow the military cult to take it.” – J B Saunders in Tribunal 20-9-17

p.81 “Already I am half mad.” – James Brighthouse, Cleethorpes, June 1917

p.82 … one young CO, S Cooper of Leeds, had actually gone in sane because of the treatment he received 

p.93 Prison conditions – physical and mental damage         

p.103 Silence combined with isolation and the attempt to destroy personal identity could shatter a man, and some COs did go mad in prison.

p.108 (Fenner Brockway) Sinn Feiners "saved his mind" during solitary confinement (by smuggling papers etc.)

p.115 Harold Blake, suffering dreadfully in prison and fearing he was going insane.

p.143 … some died in prison, some went mad… 

p.151 “MO informed me I was a lunatic…padded room, straitjacket." – Tribunal 23-1-19

(Tribunal was the paper of the No-Conscription Fellowship which collated information on COs).

In a debate on COS on 28 November 1916 (vol 88 column 134) - 

Mr. SNOWDEN* "asked the Secretary of State for War if he is aware that Thomas Sidney Overbury, a conscientious objector, was handed over to the military on 2nd October, 1916, court-martialled on 9th October, and sentenced to twenty-eight days' imprisonment, which he served in Wormwood Scrubs; that on the expiration of his sentence on 6th November he was sent to Fulham Military Hospital, and will he say if he is still in that hospital; if he has been on hunger-strike practically the whole time since his arrest; if he has been forcibly fed; and if it is intended to let the man die rather than give him the exemption from military service to which the Central Tribunal has decided he is entitled as a genuine conscientious objector?
The response was brief and does not tell the whole story:
"This man has been discharged under paragraph 392 XVI., King's Regulations."
*Mr Philip Snowden, one of the most assiduous MPs in the cause of the COs: 1864 - May 15, 1937; 
Constituencies Blackburn January 12, 1906 - December 14, 1918; Colne Valley November 15, 1922 - October 27, 1931. In House of Lords: Viscount Snowden 1931 - May 15, 1937

Amplification is provided by the Pearce Register record:
Timothy Sidney Overbury           
Marital status    Married (1)
Occupation         Church worker
Age        36
Birth year            1880
Year       1916
Address               21, Marley Street, Beeston
Address 2            West Hunslet (Ward)
Local authority  Leeds CB
County Yorkshire
Service number                37790
No-Conscription Fellowship        Leeds
Motivation          Brotherhood Church, Beeston; NCF (No-Conscription Fellowship);
Military Service Tribunal  MST (Military Service Tribunal) Central Tribunal at Wormwood S. 16.10.16 - refused to accept HOS (The Home Office Scheme, administered by the Brace Committee) conditions
Central Tribunal                Central Tribunal Nos. W.1914
War Service        2.10.16 York; 4 W.Yorks.; CM (Court Martial) West Hartlepool 9.10.16 - 28 days Wormwood S.; 14.12.16 Discharged as no longer physically fit for service KR 392 (xvi)
War Service comments Refused to sign or to answer any questions; Q in H 28.11.16
Magistrates Court   Leeds 2.10.16 arrested and handed over - began hunger strike as soon as arrested*;
Magistrates Court comments     DoRA and Absentee (See: T. H. Ferris)
Prison   Wormwood S. 12.10.16 continued hunger strike - Fasted and refused food - Force fed from 18.10.16 to 6.11.16 - to Fulham Military Hospital - discharged by army 2.12.16 weighing 4 stones*
Work Centre comments Rejected HOS (The Home Office Scheme, administered by the Brace Committee)
WO363 true
Notes    [Keyword: Hunger Strike] After release from army arrested for distributing literature likely to prejudice recruiting 10.12.16. *Hunger strike for 36 days. NA/WO364 Medical Board report - 'Is of low mentality and obsessed with religious ideas against war but not certifiably insane'.
Sources    Tribunal 7.12.16; Cumbria RO(Carlisle)D/Mar/4/13; NCF (No-Conscription Fellowship)/COIB Report LII; FH/FSC(1916/20)SER32 - case file; COH 14, 7.12.16, p.171; NA/WO86/72/14; Letters Nov.1916 re.hunger strike in T.E.Harvey MP (Military Prison) Correspondence FH/ Temp.Mss.835 Box.5; NA/MH47/1 Central Tribunal Minutes; NA/WO364 - Pensions, on line; FH/SER/VOPC/Cases/6(2867)
Record set          Conscientious Objectors' Register 1914-1918

From online images of the relevant (War Office) WO364 Record (7pp.) - 
Refuses to sign. Refuses to answer any questions.
Wilful defiance of authority & lawful command. Arrested, refused all food from that moment. Fed forcibly in W Scrubs 18-10-16 to 6-11-16. Is emaciated. Pulse poor but has improved in last 3 days.
Is volubly full of fixed notions as to the immorality of military service.
Is of low mentality & obsessed with religious ideas against war but not certifiably insane. Total incapacity expected to last probably a few days.

Although Overbury apparently was spared consignment to an asylum, his case illustrates what such men could be up against, and how their principled stance was often viewed, as military medics tried to work out, or wilfully contrived to misunderstand, what made COs tick.

The following year
HC Deb 14 March 1917 vol 91 col.1109, Mr. CHANCELLOR  asked the Secretary to the Local Government Board whether he is aware that Alfred Eungblut, a conscientious objector who voluntarily gave himself up on 12th September last, was court-martialled at Salisbury, sentenced to two years' hard labour, sent to Wormwood Scrubbs [sic], and from there to Epsom lunatic asylum; and, seeing that this man was driven insane by the ill-treatment that he received at the hands of the military, and is now in a serious state of health and possibly dying, will he say what action he proposes to take?
§Sir G. CAVE My right hon. Friend has asked me to reply to this question. This man was sentenced by court-martial on the 28th September last to 112 days' imprisonment. On the 10th November he was certified to be insane and removed to an asylum. I have no reason whatever for supposing that his insanity was due to ill-treatment by the military, but if the hon. Member has any evidence to support this very serious allegation he should submit it to the Army Council. The case is one for their consideration and not one that comes within my purview.

Alfred E Eungblut 1895- 1917      Conscientious Objectors' Register 1914-1918   —
Occupation         Piano Tuner
Age        22
Birth year            1895
Year       1917
Address 2            St Pancras
Local authority  St Pancras MB
County London CC
Motivation          Presbyterian
Military Service Tribunal                MST (Military Service Tribunal) May 1916 St Pancras - CO refused; Central Tribunal at Wormwood S. 18.10.16, CO class A, to Brace Committee
Central Tribunal                Central Tribunal Nos. W.1833 Class: A - Genuine
War Service        1 (R) London CM (Court Martial) Hurdcott 28.9.16(at Fovant Camp, Salisbury?) - 6 months HL (With hard labour) com.to 112 days, Wormwood S.
Magistrates Court            Arrest reported 15.9.16
Magistrates Court comments     Absentee
Prison   Wormwood S.; Dec.1916 - mental illness - went mad - sent to Epsom Asylum and died there in June 1917*
Work Centre comments               Q in H 14.3.17 [got]
Notes    *Died in insane asylum after arrest but not in prison
Sources                NCF (No-Conscription Fellowship) Souvenir; Tribunal 28.6.17; The Friend 13.7.17(Report); COH 23, 22.3.17, p.285; NCF (No-Conscription Fellowship)/COIB Reports XLIV 15.9.16, LXXVI 29.6.17 - report of his death; NA/MH47/1 Central Tribunal Minutes; FH/SER/VOPC/Cases/3(2394)
Record set          Conscientious Objectors' Register 1914-1918

ALFRED A A EUNGBLUT [as listed in this record set]
Gender Male
Birth day              -
Birth month        -
Birth year            1894
Age        23
Death quarter   2
Death year          1917
District  EPSOM
County Surrey
Volume                2A
Page      92
Country                England
Record set          England & Wales deaths 1837-2007
Category              Birth, Marriage, Death & Parish Records
Subcategory       Deaths & burials

HC Deb 13 November 1917 vol 99 cc193-194
Mr. KING* asked whether John Taylor, a conscientious objector at the Wakefield work centre, recently attempted suicide by cutting his throat; whether this man is the John Taylor, No. 23,162, D Company, 3rd Battalion, Essex Regiment, who was granted a non-combatant certificate by his tribunal, was forced into a combatant regiment, ordered to do rifle drill, and afterwards subjected to field punishment No. 1; whether it is owing to this and subsequent treatment that the man was driven to attempt suicide; whether he has now been certified insane; and whether inquiries will be made into this case with the view to fix responsibility?

§The SECRETARY of STATE for the HOME DEPARTMENT (Sir G. Cave): The answer to the first part of the question is in the affirmative. I have no information as to the allegations contained in tithe second part, which should be addressed to the War Office. As regards the third part of the question, six of Taylor's friends among the men employed at Wakefield have voluntarily supplied a report on the facts of the case and on Taylor's mental condition. It is not suggested in this report that his condition was in any way due to his treatment while in the Army or in prison: on the contrary it is mainly attributed to anxiety caused by an explosion near his home and by subsequent air-raids in London. Taylor has now been certified insane. I see no ground for further inquiry into the matter.

§Mr. KING; Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that this man is now in a dangerous condition and that his friends have been sent to see the last of him?
§Sir G. CAVE: I have not heard that, but I am sorry if it is so.
§Mr. KING: Will the right hon. Gentleman make inquiries? […]
* Joseph King was another of the MPs who consistently spoke up for COs, and he seems to have made cases of "insanity" among them a particular concern.

{The debate continued, with other cases and questions, ending in a good one from Commander WEDGWOOD}:
Would it not be as well for the Home Office to cease this prosecution and the manufacture of anarchists?

If the right hon. Gentleman did make inquiries, they were of little benefit to John Taylor, whose name came up again within 3 months, in HC Deb 05 February 1918 vol 101 col.2070:

Mr. LAMBERT asked the Home Secretary whether John Taylor, a conscientious objector, has recently died in Wakefield Work Centre; whether an inquest was held; if so, what verdict was returned; and whether lie will have an independent inquiry by persons other than officials concerned into the circumstances of the deaths of the various conscientious objectors who have died during the last twelve months?

§Sir G. CAVE This man died on the 20th January at the West Riding Asylum, of which he had been an inmate for over two months. His death was the result of wounds which he inflicted upon himself [see above] on 2nd November while he was an inmate of the Wakefield Work Centre. As regards the causes leading up to the suicide, I would refer the hon. Member to my reply to a question addressed to me by the hon. Member for North Somerset on the 13th November, from which it appears that at the time when he committed the act he was in great anxiety as to the effect of the air-raids upon his home in London. An inquest was held on 25th January, and a verdict of felo de se [suicide] was returned. I see no ground for any further inquiry.

John Taylor
Address 2            Custom House and Silvertown (Ward)
Local authority  West Ham CB
County Essex
Service number                23162
Motivation          NCF (No-Conscription Fellowship);
Military Service Tribunal                MST (Military Service Tribunal) Central Tribunal at Wormwood S. 26.12.16, CO class A, to Brace Committee
Central Tribunal                Central Tribunal Nos. W.2603 Class: A - Genuine
War Service        Private 23162 D Company, 3rd Battalion Essex Reg. CM (Court Martial) Felixstowe 13.12.16 - 1yr.HL (With hard labour) com.to 28 days
Prison   Wormwood S.
Work Centre      HOS (The Home Office Scheme, administered by the Brace Committee) Q in H 13.11.17 re his attempted suicide while at Wakefield - Mental illness - declared insane and transferred to Wakefield Asylum. Q in H 5.2.18 re his suicide on the 20th January*
Notes    *'Died after arrest but not in prison'
Sources                NCF (No-Conscription Fellowship) Souvenir; COH 47, 22.11.17 p.566, COH 57, 14.2.18, p.681; NA/WO86/73; NA/MH47/1 Central Tribunal Minutes;
Record set          Conscientious Objectors' Register 1914-1918

Taylor's case was raised in the context of a wider debate (HC Deb 05 February 1918 vol 101 col.2068) which had begun with this highly relevant exchange:

Mr. WHITEHOUSE asked the Home Secretary whether he has caused any inquiry to be made into the Report presented to the Labour Congress at Nottingham stating that a considerable number of imprisoned conscientious objectors had become insane through their sufferings; and what steps he proposes to take?

§Sir G. CAVE I have not seen the Report referred to, but the matter has been carefully examined by the Medical Commissioner of Prisons. There have been twelve cases in which conscientious objectors have developed symptoms of insanity in prison, and it is clear that in all of them the insanity was due to causes and conditions existing before their conviction, and was not caused by the imprisonment, though the imprisonment gave opportunities of observing their mental condition which did not exist while they were at liberty. This is indicated by the fact that in each case symptoms of insanity were observed shortly after their reception in prison. I see no ground for taking any further action.

§Mr. WHITEHOUSE Will the right hon. Gentleman state what action he has taken with regard to those cases in which insanity has occurred or developed?
§Sir G. CAVE I asked for full particulars and for a full report, and my answer is based upon the result of my inquiries.
§Mr. WHITEHOUSE Are there any prisoners who have developed insanity and who are still in prison?
§Sir G. CAVE I should think that it is very unlikely. No doubt they are being looked after in the proper place.
§Mr. WHITEHOUSE It is a matter of great public concern.

The subject was dealt with more fully in HC Deb 10 April 1918 vol 104 col.1461-4, when Joseph King continued his efforts and obtained a more informative response (for what the official statistics were worth):

Mr. KING asked the Secretary of State for the Home Department how many cases of insanity have occurred during the past two years of conscientious objectors in Wormwood Scrubs and all other prisons, in Dartmoor work centre, in Wakefield work centre, and all other work centres, respectively; whether the percentage of insanity in the cases of conscientious objectors in prisons and work centres compares advantageously or otherwise with cases of insanity in the other prison population and the male population of the country between twenty and forty years of age; and whether the friends of insane prisoners are allowed to visit them, to complain to the Lunacy Commissioners, or under proper conditions to remove them for care and treatment elsewhere?

§The SECRETARY of STATE for the HOME DEPARTMENT (Sir George Cave)
The numbers of persons claiming to be conscientious objectors who have been certified insane are:
In Prison              …             …             …             13
In Work Centres               …             …             …             3
In all cases there was reason to believe that the insanity was due to conditions existing before their imprisonment. The ratio of these cases to the number of conscientious objectors under detention is, as to prisons 1.6, and as to work centres,.6 per 1,000, as against a general average for male prisoners from twenty-one to forty of 3.2, and for the male population of England and Wales between twenty and forty-four, of.8 per 1,000. As regards the last part of the question, a prisoner who is certified insane is removed as soon as possible to an asylum and his friends are informed. He does not come under the jurisdiction of the Lunacy Commissioners until he is received in the asylum. There have been cases where the sentence of an insane prisoner has been remitted, and he has been handed over to the care of his friends, but this is necessarily exceptional.

Did I understand the right hon. Gentleman to say that these persons came under the care of the Lunacy Commissioners as soon as they were removed to an asylum?
§Sir G. CAVE
Yes, Sir.

Then King turned to another individual case:
Mr. KING asked the Home Secretary whether Bertram French, a conscientious objector, formerly at Knutsford work centre, is at present in hospital at Macclesfield through attempted suicide, and a previous attempt at suicide was hushed up; whether he was driven to this action by the conditions and treatment at the work centre; whether inquiries have been or will be made; whether he is aware that medical authorities, including prison doctors, state that the reduced prison rations so lower the nerve-strength of prisoners that they are more likely to break down, and that the increased numbers of prisoners in hospital confirm this view; whether it is intended to reconsider the dietary allowed to all prisoners and workers in work centres and other institutions; and what action he intends to take?

§Sir G. CAVE
French is in the county asylum at Macclesfield, having been removed there after his first attempt at suicide, which occurred during his temporary absence from the work centre. Upon the recommendation of the medical officer he had been excused work at the centre and had been allowed to go out as he pleased during working hours. He has attempted suicide again while in the asylum; nothing is known of any other attempt. There is nothing in the facts of the case to justify the suggestion that he was driven to his action by the conditions and treatment at the work centre.
The dietaries of the work centres have been carefully settled with medical advice, and the medical officers have power to allow increases in individual cases where they think it necessary. The question of the prison dietaries hardly arises, as French was in prison for three weeks only, and as long ago as in 1916.

Bertie French
Marital status    Single
Occupation         Upholsterer
Age        19
Birth year            1897
Year       1916
Address               1, Dudley Road
Address 2            Haverhill
Local authority  Haverhill UD
County Suffolk (West)
Ordnance Survey reference        TL660450
Service number                2696
Motivation          -
Military Service Tribunal                MST (Military Service Tribunal) Haverhill local 14.4.16 - ECS (Exemption from Combatant Service) only; Central Tribunal at Wormwood S. 27.10.16, CO class A, to Brace Committee
Central Tribunal                Central Tribunal Nos. W.1921 Class: A - Genuine
War Service        NCC (Non-Combatant Corps) 29.8.16 Bury St Edmunds, (7 Eastern); Posted to NCC (Non-Combatant Corps) 4 Southern and to NCC (Non-Combatant Corps) 5 Southern; Red Barracks, Weymouth; (4 Southern) CM (Court Martial) 9.10.16 - 2yrs.HL (With hard labour) Wormwood S. Discharged 28.5.18 from Cheshire County Asylum, Parkside, Macclesfield.
War Service comments Refused to sign
Prison   Wormwood S. 3.11.16 released to Wakefield work centre and transfer to Class W
Work Centre      HOS (The Home Office Scheme, administered by the Brace Committee) Transfer to Army Reserve Class W, Wakefield work centre; Knutsford Work Centre - Macclesfield Hospital - Q in H 10.4.18; Q in H 10.6.18 re his having attempted suicide at Knutsford - now in Cheshire County Asylum at Macclesfield - mental illness
WO363 true
Notes    *Listed in NA/WO363 on line as 'Bernard French' [on file docs. consistently Bertie/Bertram]
Sources                COH 65, 18.4.18 p.755, 73, 20.6.18 p.943; NA/WO363/F844 - detailed collection of papers concerning his time in Parkside asylum; NA/WO86/72/13; NA/MH47/1 Central Tribunal Minutes; FH/SER/VOPC/Cases/3(2300)
Record set          Conscientious Objectors' Register 1914-1918

Bertie French
Age        19
Birth year            1897
Service number                2696
Regiment            Non Combatant Corps
Unit / Battalion 5th Southern Company
Year       1916
Residence town               Haverhill
Residence county            Suffolk
Residence country          England
Series    WO 363
Series description            WO 363 - First World War service records 'burnt documents'*
Archive The National Archives
Record set          British Army Service Records
Category              Military, armed forces & conflict 

* In WO363 online, this record is listed [at time of writing] as being for a Bernard French, although the images of what remains of the file show that he was consistently called "Bertie".  It confirms his being granted Exemption from Combatant Service 14-4-16 and being sentenced to Detention 4-10-16, then release 3-11-16:
“Man in asylum” 19-6-18. June 1918: Incapable of managing his own affairs.

Two months further on:
HC Deb 10 June 1918 vol 106 col.1852: Mr. T. RICHARDSON asked the Home Secretary whether he is aware that Harry Burgess, a conscientious objector, was sentenced to his first term of imprisonment in August, 1916; that he, subsequently, was transferred to a work settlement; that he was afterwards recalled and sent to prison; that he has since broken down mentally and is now in an asylum; and if he will say whether his present condition is a result of the treatment he has received while in prison?

These facts are as stated in the question except that Burgess has recently been discharged from the asylum. There is no reason for thinking that his insanity was in any way attributable to the treatment he received in prison.

Henry Burgess
Marital status    Single
Occupation         Shorthand writer
Age        36
Birth year            1880
Year       1916
Address               37, Barry Road
Address 2            Dulwich
Local authority  Camberwell MB
County London CC
Service number                2306
Fugitive                Yes
No-Conscription Fellowship        Dulwich
Motivation          Occasional Quaker Attender (Peckham); NCF (No-Conscription Fellowship); Wesleyan Methodist
Military Service Tribunal                MST (Military Service Tribunal) Camberwell - ECS (Exemption from Combatant Service) Cert.No.208; Central Tribunal at Wormwood S. 17.8.16 - CO class A, to Brace Committee
Central Tribunal                Central Tribunal Nos. W.1260 Class: A - Genuine
War Service        Camberwell 31.7.16; Posted to NCC (Non-Combatant Corps) (5, 7, Eastern etc.)Warley;CM (Court Martial) Newhaven 5.8.16 - 6 months;CM (Court Martial) Att.Depot Devon 16.7.17 - 2yrs.HL (With hard labour) Exeter CP (Civil Prison). Discharged from army as 'no longer fit for service' 27.3.18. Transferred to Devon County Lunatic Asylum (19.2.18) Mental illness (KR 392 xvi)
Magistrates Court            Re-arrested after rejecting HOS, 9.7.17
Magistrates Court comments     Absentee
Prison   Newham Detention Barracks; Lewes CP (Civil Prison) 8.8.16; Exeter CP (Civil Prison) 21.7.17 to 22.2.18 'Certified insane and removed to Exminster Asylum' Q in H (?) 10.6.18 re his mental state - Is he now in an asylum?
Work Centre      HOS (The Home Office Scheme, administered by the Brace Committee) Transfer to Army Reserve Class W 1.11.16; Warwick, Dartmoor; recalled to colours 6.7.17, re-arrested 9.7.17
Work Centre comments               Rejected/rejected by HOS (The Home Office Scheme, administered by the Brace Committee)
WO363 true
Sources                Dulwich NCF (No-Conscription Fellowship) Leaflet July 1917 in Cumbria RO(Carlisle)D/Mar/4/97; FH/FSC(1916/20)/SER28 Case file;COH 73, 20.6.18 p.943; NA/WO363/B2032; NA/WO86/71/71, 77/2; NA/MH47/1 Central Tribunal Minutes; NA/WO364 (Pensions) - on line; Exeter CP (Civil Prison) Registers, Devon RO (Exeter); FH/SER/VOPC/Cases/2(2025); Western Times 17.7.17 re.CM (Court Martial);
Record set          Conscientious Objectors' Register 1914-1918
The disclaimers as to responsibility for damage to mental health being in any way that of the military authorities were more or less standard, as might be expected, and are repeatedly asserted in the surviving War Office documents, WO363 (records of war "service") and WO364, relating to Pensions (for entitlement to which it obviously mattered whether the discharged man's condition should judged the result of or to have been aggravated by his military service - questions almost invariably answered by "No"). Thus, among other diagnoses, several men of evident intelligence were described as being "feebleminded", and their condition as congenital, although this had not prevented their forcible recruitment in the first place or their normal functioning before the war. 

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