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Hello

Can anyone advise me what happened to prisoners in UK prisons at the beginning of the war and also at the time of conscription.

1) Did prisoners have a relatively easy and safe time in prison or were they made to join the army and fight.

2) If the latter did they have to complete their sentences after the war ended.

3) Did men of fighting age get sent to prison during the war if they committed a crime.

I would love to know the answers to the above as I've never read anything that mentions prisoners during WW1

Thank you

Sue Harris

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1] AFAIK men convicted by the civilian courts and sentenced to a period of penal servitude served their time but prison was not made easy and hard labour usually meant just that. There has been some discussions that men who committed to joining up might escape a custodial sentence and I don't think any clinching evidence has yet been produced that supports or denies this conclusively. In many cases the army would not want some prisoners (in technical terms wouldn't touch them with a barge pole).

2] Didn't apply [see 1]

3] Yes subject to the possibility that some might escape a custodial sentence [see 1] If the crime was serious they went to jail. Some men may have escaped a charge altogether by joining up but such a blind eye would only be possible for minor offences.

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Whilst Centurion's reply is generally correct, some clarification is required:

It was not only men sentenced to penal servitude who continued their sentences regardless of pressure for military personnel, before or after conscription was instituted, but all men sentenced to any form of imprisonment.

By 1914 a sentence of imprisonment with hard labour did not mean "just that". It meant spending the first 28 nights without the benefit of what passed for a mattress in prison.

It needs to remembered, also, that the Army strove valiantly to ensure that the population of prisons was maintained by sentencing more than 6000 conscientious objectors to repeated prison sentences of up to two years.

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Whilst Centurion's reply is generally correct, some clarification is required:

It was not only men sentenced to penal servitude who continued their sentences regardless of pressure for military personnel, before or after conscription was instituted, but all men sentenced to any form of imprisonment.

By 1914 a sentence of imprisonment with hard labour did not mean "just that". It meant spending the first 28 nights without the benefit of what passed for a mattress in prison.

It needs to remembered, also, that the Army strove valiantly to ensure that the population of prisons was maintained by sentencing more than 6000 conscientious objectors to repeated prison sentences of up to two years.

The army didn't sentence them - it was the civil authority, the army had no legal authority to pass such sentences.

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1) I have a regular soldier sentenced to 12 months in prison in April 1914. Released from Winchester on 6/8/14 "on mobilization. Unexpired portion of imprisonment remitted.", he rejoined his battalion and landed at Boulogne 14/8/14. Wounded on the Aisne in September 1914 he survived.

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The 6000 COs mentioned were, indeed, sentenced by the Army, and the civil authority would have had no power to do so.

The Army's power was derived in this way:

All men of military age, initially 18-41, later extended to 51, were deemed to be enlisted in the Army from a given date, unless they were in certain defined excepted occupations or held a certificate exemption from a Military Service Tribunal. The COs concerned, having been refused exemption by tribunals, were duly "deemed to be enlisted" and sent orders to report to designated military established. When, in good conscience, the COs refused to report, they were arrested by the civil police, on notification by the Army, brought before the local magistrates' court, fined, and "handed over" to the military. A military escort took them to a requisite barracks or camp, where, so far as the Army was concerned, the men were now legally soldiers, by virtue of the Military Service Act, and henceforth subject to the Army Act.

When, therefore, the COs, on arrival at the camp, refused, in good conscience, the first formal order, usually to put on a uniform (although it might be some other order) they were formally charged, under the Army Act, with disobeying the lawful command of a superior officer, brought before a court-martial, and sentenced to imprisonment, the sentence, according, to military law and practice, then, as now, being served in a civilian prison.

The individual records are there in the NA WO363 series as well as numerous places elsewhere, as frequently mentioned on GWF, and I am surprised that the procedure should suddenly be disputed by a respected long-serving member like Centurion.

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