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Conscription and criminals


Guest Sepulchre

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Guest Sepulchre

My first post and I'm hoping I can find out some information which my research so far has drawn a blank.

I'm research British Conscription in the Great War. Can anybody direct me to resources that may answer some questions I have on the topic? Specifically can they answer any of the following?

Were convicted criminals conscripted in to the Armed Forces?

If so, where can I find information on this?

If convicted criminals were not conscripted, again, any informaton?

Were sentanced prisoners conscripted or their sentances shortened?

Are there any accounts of criminals in the Great War and their role?

I'd be grateful for any replies on this matter.

Many thanks

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Welcome

I think some of this was discussed long ago on the forum so a search using the forum search tool is worthwhile. Much I suspect hinges on what you mean by convicted as this is not the same as serving a sentence. I have seen individual references to men who had done time being in the army.

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There is a book. " Conscripts", Ilana R. Bet-El. That will give you background and detail. There is anecdotal evidence to suggest that petty criminals in the early days were given a chance to enlist. Either by police before charging or by magistrates before sentencing. The Army did not encourage enlistment by criminals. In the excitement of the early weeks, some criminals may have enlisted who would have been rejected in peacetime and indeed, later in the war when the system of registration etc. was set up and running. Of course, a criminal who gave a false name and address would have found it fairly easy to enlist in an area where he was unknown and a lot would depend on how hard the police were looking for him.

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Yes but the question was over conscription. I can imagine that there would have been some mutterings at the very least if having committed a crime was a way of avoiding service - all the ex cons at home whilst honest men were sent to the front.

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I have seen service papers for early volunteers (so doesn't address the conscription question) who were discharged in late 1914/ early 1915, upon "Conviction of a felony a Civil Power"

Jim

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Like it or not, Centurion, the fact remains that committing a serious crime which carried a prison sentence, was a way to avoid conscription. I was merely giving a few background details about petty criminals being encouraged to enlist before conscription was introduced.

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Like it or not, Centurion, the fact remains that committing a serious crime which carried a prison sentence, was a way to avoid conscription. I was merely giving a few background details about petty criminals being encouraged to enlist before conscription was introduced.

Wasn't quite what I was saying. If you hade a conviction and had served time presumably you were liable for conscription when you came out. ie a criminal record was not a way of avoiding service.

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It barred you from enlisting but I don't know what the effect was with conscription. I know that post WW2. a bad record meant you might not be called up when you came out. The army did not like criminals and wanted no part of them. It was one of the reasons regular officers were not keen on conscription, they did not want the riff raff.

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There's an interesting bit of history to this. The old Mutiny Act of 1702 contained a provision whereby convicted criminals and debtors, quaintly referred to as "persons of blemished character or unsettled mode of life", could obtain their release upon agreeing to enlist. They didn't even have to serve in the army or navy providing they could find someone to do it in their stead.

I don't think the army was too fussy about men with minor criminal records and I'm not quite sure if a person, at liberty yet once convicted of a serious offence, would be rejected. Once a man had attested before a JP, and signed the declaration, he was, for all intents and purposes, a soldier. If he withheld the fact that he had a criminal record and it later came to light, he could be charged with fraudulent enlistment. All this is academic though as some army recruiters "encouraged" fraudulent enlistment, often by employing coercive tactics.

The army did not scour the prisons for volunteers and no pardons or reduction in sentence was offered to those already incarcerated. They would not be conscripted. There was no national criminal record database in Britain at that time so there was really no way in which enquiries could be made of each and every man called up. It would have been a logistical nightmare.

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Given the dates that are involved in this man’s story, he must have served time in prison before he volunteered; and then after he was discharged he served another month’s sentence before he was conscripted.

On Wednesday April 21st 1915, at special sitting of Holmfirth Police Court, James Sykes Thewlis, a millhand from Upperthong, was charged with being drunk and disorderly and assaulting Police Constable Lawton at Upperthong the previous day. The defendant asked for bail, which Inspector Foster said he did not object to as long as it was substantial. Bail was set at £5.

The following Saturday James Sykes Thewlis was brought up from custody in police cells before the Magistrates at Holmfirth Police Court. He had remained in custody having failed to find an approbate surety for the £5 bail set by the Magistrates the previous Wednesday.

In answer to the charge he said he knew nothing at all about the matter. Constable Lawton testified that he was called to Upperthong on Tuesday where he found Thewlis acting in a most disorderly manner, he had his coat and waistcoat off and was threatening to fight anyone and everyone. His mother showed the constable inside her house, were the furniture was smashed both upstairs and down. When he was arrested Thewlis kicked him repeatedly on the legs and it was only with great difficulty that he got him to the cells. When charged with assaulting a police officer the prisoner replied: “It serves thee right”. Herbert Marsden, an Upperthong wheelwright, corroborated the constable’s statement. The prisoner declined to say anything in his defence or to offer any extenuating circumstances.

Superintendent Hustler told the court of six previous convictions, four of which were for being drunk and disorderly. The others were for the theft of £26 for which he had received two months’ imprisonment, and the theft of a bicycle for which he was jailed for four months. His last fine, imposed in March, remained unpaid. The defendant had volunteered for the army shortly after the outbreak of the war, but had been dismissed for misconduct in February 1915 after serving 173 days. He was sentenced to one month’s imprisonment with hard labour. He was eventually conscripted back into the army and after a colourful army career he died of wounds on Sunday October 20th 1918, three weeks before the end of the war.

At Holmfirth Police Court on Monday November 12th 1917, James Sykes Thewlis of Upperthong was charged with being an absentee from the Duke of Wellington’s West Riding Regiment, he entered a plea of guilty.

Police Constable Dent testified that he had visited the home of the defendant at 3 p.m. and found him there wearing khaki, when asked to produce his pass he replied that he did not have one. He was then taken to the police station and when charged he replied that he had “Had a good do.” The Magistrates’ Clerk asked “When did you come away?” The prisoner replied “Six weeks since last Saturday”. The prisoner was ordered to be handed over to a military escort, and Constable Dent was awarded a five shilling reward for effecting the arrest.

January 1918: At Holmfirth Police Court James Sykes Thewlis was once again charged with being absent from his regiment. Inspector Whincup explained that at the request of the Military Authorities at Ripon, he had sent Constables Dent and Lawson to detain him. They found him in the smoke room of a local public house and took him into custody. In court the prisoner said that he had been seriously ill at Christmas and had asked the army for a pass three times, but had not received one. “He was in jail!” responded Inspector Whincup. “During the last six or eight months the bigger part of your time has been spent as an absentee. You have been more absent from than with your regiment to my knowledge.” The prisoner was ordered to be detained in custody to await a military escort.

James Sykes Thewlis lived at Upperthong, a Lance Corporal (203011), 1st 4th Battalion, Duke of Wellington’s West Riding Regiment. Born at Holmfirth he attended Saint John’s School and Upperthong Sunday School. The thirty-two year old son of James and Ruth Hannah Thewlis, of Upperthong, Holmfirth. He was employed at Prickleden Dyeworks and enlisted at Huddersfield in the early days of the war. He was discharged after nearly six months service but later recalled.

In October 1918 his mother received a telegram saying that he was seriously wounded and hospital at Outreau, Boulogne, this was followed by the news that he had died of wounds on Sunday 20th October 1918.

He is named on the Upperthong section of the Holme, Holmfirth and New Mill War Memorial.

Tony,

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Obviously what used to be called a 'King's bad bargain' but it does suggest that having various convictions and even being previously dismissed from the army were no protection from being conscripted.

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In Canada during 1917 - 1918 men charged with various relatively minor offences such as theft, vagrancy, and the like could and sometimes did go into the military at the discretion of the presiding judge IF the judge thought that the man might be physically fit, young enough and IF the presiding judge brought this up.

John

Toronto

Canada

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In Canada during 1917 - 1918 men charged with various relatively minor offences such as theft, vagrancy, and the like could and sometimes did go into the military at the discretion of the presiding judge IF the judge thought that the man might be physically fit, young enough and IF the presiding judge brought this up.

John

Toronto

Canada

What would the sentence of the court have been? I don't think that service in the army in lieu for a fine and/or prison would have been upheld. I suppose a conditional discharge - the condition being that the man joined up - would have worked. However, I wonder if the army would have been so keen to accept criminals, albeit unconvicted ones, into its ranks.

I take it that you mean petty larceny. Theft was something the army frowned upon. A man convicted of stealing from a comrade could expect to be dealt with harshly by a CM, in addition to the summary justice meted out by the other men.

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Suspended sentence or service in the army in lieu of sentence I believe are what I remember from the contemporary Toronto newspapers (2 of the 4 are online). In the spring of 1917 the military HQ in Ottawa seriously attempted to approach federal politicians with a view of probably having an Order-in-Council issued to have as many incarcerated men "voluntaryilly enlist." with most likely their sentence being suspended in full dependent upon completion of military service(s). However, the politicians balked at "emptying the prisons."

John

Toronto

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I remember from the contemporary Toronto newspapers (2 of the 4 are online).

Which are these and how does one access them, please? Is it a free service or subscription?

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  • 2 months later...
Given the dates that are involved in this man’s story, he must have served time in prison before he volunteered; and then after he was discharged he served another month’s sentence before he was conscripted.

On Wednesday April 21st 1915, at special sitting of Holmfirth Police Court, James Sykes Thewlis, a millhand from Upperthong, was charged with being drunk and disorderly and assaulting Police Constable Lawton at Upperthong the previous day. The defendant asked for bail, which Inspector Foster said he did not object to as long as it was substantial. Bail was set at £5. etc etc

Tony,

Hello Tony,

I was very interested in this piece about James Sykes Thewlis as he would be a relative of mine. Most useful information gained about his war service and his colorful past in 'Civvy street'. Apart from CWGC/SDGW details I don't have a great deal more. How did you come by this?

Cheers,

David Thewlis

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Which are these and how does one access them, please? Is it a free service or subscription?

My apologies for not responding sooner.

Toronto Star and

Globe (and Mail) have been completely digitized from fairly good older microfilms from when they started (Star 1892 onwards and Globe from 1844). However I am not sure you can access them outside Canada (the process) though I think you might be able to.

Try accessing the Toronto Public Library's website and see what you can get (though I do NOT think you will be able to get at these papers). Naturally only university members can access university paid for subscriptions and/or databases such as these 2 newspapers. Sorry I could not be the bearer of more encouraging news!

John

Toronto

Canada

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Hello David,

Most of the information given below comes from the Holmfirth Express. Were James and Walter related? I would appreciate any information I do not already have, especially photographs. The only ones I can get are from the old newspapers and they are very rough indeed. I have included links to the war memorial sites at the end of this post.

Tony.

James Sykes Thewlis was a Lance Corporal (203011), 1st 4th Battalion, Duke of Wellington’s West Riding Regiment. The thirty-two year old son of James and Ruth Hannah Thewlis, of Upperthong, Holmfirth, he was born at Holmfirth and attended Saint John’s School, Upperthong, and Upperthong Sunday School. He was employed at Prickleden Dyeworks, Holmfirth, Yorkshire, and enlisted at Huddersfield in the early days of the war. He was discharged for misconduct but later recalled. In the army he was not always where they wanted him to be, and had been arrested for being absent or overdue from leave. His mother received a telegram saying that he was seriously wounded and hospital in Outreau, Boulogne, this was followed by the news that he had died of wounds on Sunday 20th October 1918.

The Holme, Holmfirth and New Mill War Memorial: Upperthong section, and the Upperthong Memorial Plague at Saint John’s Church at Upperthong.

Walter Thewlis was a Gunner (152658), A Battery, 71st Brigade, Royal Field Artillery. He was born at Thongsbridge and brought up in Wooldale where he attended Lane Bottom School and was a member of the choir at the Wesleyan Chapel. A member of the Wooldale Association Football Club and the Thurstonland Cricket Club.

The twenty-eight year old son of Albert Thewlis, of West End, Wooldale, and husband of Ada Thewlis, of Hollow Gate, Thurstonland. Married for five years they had a two year old daughter named Amy. He enlisted at Huddersfield and went overseas on March 28th 1917, and was killed in action by shellfire on Friday 22nd March 1918. There is no known grave.

Major Willet wrote to Mrs. Ada Thewlis saying: “It is with the very deepest regret that I inform you that your husband, Gunner Thewlis, of this Battery, was killed in action on the 22nd of this month. He was hit by several pieces of shell while out mending telephone wires, and you will be glad to hear that he was killed instantaneously and suffered no pain.

“Your husband is a very great loss to the Battery, as he was good at any work he was given to do. He was an excellent gunner, and when he began to learn signalling about four months ago, he picked it up very quickly, so much so that after three months he was qualified as a first class signaller. In addition he was a most gallant soldier, and I shall find it most difficult to replace him in the Battery. His body will be buried in a British Military Cemetery, the location of which will be sent to you in due course. In conclusion, I can only assure you that no man ever did his duty in a better and more gallant manner than your husband. Assuring you of my deepest sympathy in your great loss.”

The Holme, Holmfirth and New Mill War Memorial: Wooldale section, and the Thurstonland War Memorial.

Thurstonland Memorial.

Holmfirth Area Main Memorial.

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Hello David,

Most of the information given below comes from the Holmfirth Express. Were James and Walter related? I would appreciate any information I do not already have, especially photographs. The only ones I can get are from the old newspapers and they are very rough indeed. I have included links to the war memorial sites at the end of this post.

Tony.

Hello Tony,

thank you for replying. Yes, they would be related but as to the exact connection I'm still trying to work that part out. I see they both enlisted at Huddersfield - was that a major enlistment centre? For a little while now I've embarked on researching the family name from a UK perspective in WW1 (as you can see by my signature) but some info is difficult to obtain being from the other side of the globe. The story about Walter was fascinating and a great addition for my ongoing quest for information. If you come across any other Thewlis bits and pieces I'd be very appreciative, especially from the casualties as this type of info fills in a lot of the blanks. Thanks also for the links. As for photo's, I'd like some too. I have some photo's of headstones from some of the other Thewlis casualties!

Cheers,

David

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