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Imprisonment for desertion - how long might he have actually served?


John_Hartley
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My man deserts in 2/18 and is arrested some four months later. in Etaples. He's tried by FGCM and sentenced to 10 years - later suspended. A few weeks later he deserts again and is on the run until arrested in Lille in 2/19. This time he's sentenced to 15 years.

Anyone know if such prisoners would have served all their sentence or if there was some form of amnesty postwar? His service file indicates he was discharged from the army in 11/19 but there isnt anything to indicate one way or the other if he continued to serve his sentence as a civilian.

TIA

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I think the following thread should answer most of your questions:

http://1914-1918.invisionzone.com/forums/index.php?showtopic=80131

A little way down the thread, Graham Stewart posted the following helpful information:

I photocopied from the "Military Notes" section of the RUSI for January 1920;-

"Revision of Sentences - At the begining of 1919, 350 men were in penal servitude, 1,600 in imprisonment. All sentences were reviewed, and there remains 200 in penal servitude, none imprisoned, except for civil offences. 40,000 to 50,000 men benifited under the Suspension of Sentences Act."

Bob.

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Thanks for the link, Bob. Interesting reading . Lots of stuff about not banging man up and just discharging them, but nothing definite about releasing men already banged up - unless the Suspension of Sentences Act applies.

I suppose I could assume that , when they discharged this bloke from the army, that resulted in his release from Portland Prison. Lucky bloke if so, he'd only have served a short period - less time than his two desertions.

John

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Well, my reading of Graham's information is that if at the beginning of 1919 there were 1,600 men imprisoned, and by January 1920 there were none (apart from those in for civil offences) it seems that all those in for desertion were released by then (including your man).

Sensible, really - the war's over and the prison authority bean counters will have been wanting to clear out some space for 'real criminals'!

Bob.

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I've re-read Graham post and hadnt before really appreciated the difference between prison and penal servitude which I think means "with hard labour".

Looks like he's probably still banged up as his file says his sentence was "15 years PS", which I assume must mean penal servitude.

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The linked thread, though full of fascinating detail, did not really deal with the concept of a man sentenced as late as February 1919, possibly after the review mentioned as having taken place "at the beginning of 1919" - an example of where precision in referencing is important.

It is unlikely that in 1919 the man could benefit from the Suspension of Sentences Act:

1) He had already benefited from the Act after his first desertion and sentence in 1916. The purpose of the Act was to offer a man a "second chance", whereby if he agreed to go back to the front his sentence would be suspended, unless and until he again misbehaved, with the provision that if he continued to serve without blemish until normal discharge, the sentence would be deemed permanently commuted to the time already served. Since he deserted again 1916, the balance of his first sentence was due to be served, let alone a second sentence for the second offence.

2) Even if, by some extraordinary chance, the breach of the first sentence were to be overlooked, there would be no practical means for fulfilling the terms of a suspension, as there was no front line to which such a man could agree to return and perform faithful service.

Penal servitude dated from 1853 as a sentence distinct from imprisonment with hard labour, itself distinct from imprisonment (without hard labour). PS could be awarded in sentences from three years to life. A main distinction from imprisonment was that, whereas those sentenced to imprisonment could by good behaviour earn up to one sixth remission, but once released, that was the end of that; those sentenced to PS could earn up to one quarter remission, but were released only on licence until the expiry of the stated term, and a breach of the licence could entail recall to serve the unspent portion of the sentence.

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