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The Great War (1914-1918) Forum

Use of hospital ships to carry munitions?


yperman

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In 'Dover and Folkestone during the Great War' (M&C George) two cases are mentioned where in 1918 local civilians were prosecuted  for saying  it was common knowledge on both sides of the English Channel that British hospital ships carried munitions (including live shells)  - in the second case  the defendant was a police officer who had written to the court in support of an earlier defendant (who had appeared on the same charge). The officer ( a "devoted public servant' ) changed his plea to guilty at the last minute and received an apology from the court* and a fine.

 

* I am assuming this was the Dover Petty Sessional Court and that the magistrates were therefore local men.

 

Do forum members thing there is any substance to these mens' claims?

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A very high risk strategy if ammunition’s were carried on hospital ships. Imagine if the enemy got wind of this.....it would give them carte blanche power to attack all hospital ships in the assumption they all carried ammunition. Ive researched many hospital ships during the Gallipoli campaign and read several books and  certainly never heard or read of it.

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22 minutes ago, Lawryleslie said:

A very high risk strategy if ammunition’s were carried on hospital ships.

I agree it does sound unlikely but the police officer was putting his job on the line and  strangely received  an apology from the court. 

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You can understand the reason for prosecuting - see http://www.bandcstaffregister.com/page155.html

After 100 years, IF there ever was a genuine case of "munitions" being aboard any Hospital ship, this would have come out long ago.

Where would there be any safe stowage for a load of explosives?

I can't imagine anyone doing so, from Army, Navy or even lowly dockers, so as to jeopardise the entire Hospital ship fleet. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hospital_ship#International_law

As to receiving an apology, that sounds strange as well, as if to justify he was right in his claim, so why would any court do so?

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I would imagine the apology was more along the lines of 'We're sorry that we have to do this but...'

 

Craig

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   The continuing  war of words over what Lusitania was carrying  in the way of munitions shows that History is far from a done deal- the more so where issues of "veracity" by officialdom are concerned.  OK, Lusitania was,of course, not a hospital ship but the struggles with truth over the decades show that anything is possible.

 

     There might well be a smidgin of truth in what had happened. It depends on what is classed as a hospital ship under international law. Without looking it up, then it had to fulfill lots of rules under various conventions (Colour painted, colour of lights,etc). However, the volume of casualties was such that other ships were used-on a continuing basis-to move casualties from France and back to Blighty. At a guess, the tale could be true in practice- a ship regularly carrying casualties back from France might be regarded as a "hospital" ship by the locals in Dover. But it might not,technically, be a "hospital ship" under international law.

   A ship used for carrying casualties but not formally notified to the King's Enemies as a designated "hospital ship" might,therefore be at risk of being sunk- thus, might as well carry any general cargo going, including munitions. I seem to recollect cases where men were wounded elsewhere and died by drowning on the way back home, in the English Channel-so  there may be some truth-or possibility of truth-at base.

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There may be a clue in the date - late March 1918- things were getting desperate. May be rather than send hospital ships back in ballast able bodied troops and munitions were loaded as an emergency measure.

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I think there is a difference between saying "it was common knowledge" and "I actually saw". Rumours abound, particularly in wartime, and these rumours could often become "fact."

 

TR

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The date is not long after the sinking of both the REWA and the GLENART CASTLE. If I recall correctly, there were contemporary accusations that at least one of those was also carrying ammunition and therefore a valid target.

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I find this difficult to believe.

Was there safe stowage for explosives on hospital ships? I doubt it.

How were they brought on board and discharged? It is hardly likely that a gang of men carried them on board and off; that would be as many witnesses, and impossible to keep them quite.

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I find it equally difficult to believe but that is what is stuck in my memory. I'm not within reach of my sources to verify at the moment.

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1 hour ago, healdav said:

I find this difficult to believe.

Was there safe stowage for explosives on hospital ships? I doubt it.

How were they brought on board and discharged? It is hardly likely that a gang of men carried them on board and off; that would be as many witnesses, and impossible to keep them quite.

 

     In terms of heavy munitions -yes, I agree with you. But in terms of bits and pieces, then it is possible. Merchant ships-then as now- carried weapons and munitions under locked conditions (eg the P and O retainer agreements,where weapons are carried,,in case the ship is chartered/commandeered in time of war.

     But at least we know what they were chatting about in the pubs of Dover at the time.

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There's a full report of the case of the prosecution of PC Cox under regulation 27 of DORA in the Folkestone, Hythe, Sandgate & Cheriton Herald for 26 October 1918.  For anyone who has a BNA account the link is https://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/viewer/bl/0000765/19181026/107/0005

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Mate,

 

Like most countries, Britian was not adversed to breaking the rules of war now and then when it suited them.

 

All countries did even the USA have at times BROKEN THE RULES .

 

Don't disreguard that Britiian did use its ships for this reason, while other then the well know case which was not proved completly does not mean it was not done, its hard to prove a negitive.

 

As GUEST said what was taked about in pubs by navies is hard to prove.

 

S..B

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     In terms of heavy munitions -yes, I agree with you. But in terms of bits and pieces, then it is possible. Merchant ships-then as now- carried weapons and munitions under locked conditions (eg the P and O retainer agreements,where weapons are carried,,in case the ship is chartered/commandeered in time of war.

     But at least we know what they were chatting about in the pubs of Dover at the time.

But, from what I gather here, we are not talking about a few hand weapons, or rifles, or even grenades or things of that sort (including ammunition). They seem to be suggesting quantities of heavy ammunition, which can't be just dumped in a spare cabin.

I think that even today, many British merchant ships carry convoy lights. I remember a fuss in about 1965 when a ship was sold to ........ and they forgot to take the convoy lights away.

 

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Stick to the topic, please.

The OP clearly said Hospital Ships alleged to be carrying munitions, not other vessels pressed into service, or decommissioned warships.

 

That it took until March 1918 for this rumour to surface I think undermines the case, as if Hospital Ships were being used, then this rumour would have been around much earlier.

 

I don't have BNA access so I've no idea what the Prosecution and Defence said about PC Cox and the earlier case, but at best I think they were mistaken and at worst risking the lives of wounded men. The Germans would/did have no hesitation in sinking clearly marked Hospital Ships, and would have seized on this to justify even more atrocities.

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     In terms of heavy munitions -yes, I agree with you. But in terms of bits and pieces, then it is possible. Merchant ships-then as now- carried weapons and munitions under locked conditions (eg the P and O retainer agreements,where weapons are carried,,in case the ship is ch

artered/commandeered in time of war.

     But at least we know what they were chatting about in the pubs of Dover at the time.

And was the bloke down the pub a more reliable repository of truth in those days than he is now? :D

 

What is asserted without evidence can be rejected without evidence.

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42 minutes ago, KevinBattle said:

The OP clearly said Hospital Ships alleged to be carrying munitions, not other vessels pressed into service,

   

 

 To Joe Public a ship full of wounded men might be considered to be a "hospital ship"

   

The distinction between "hospital ships" and others carrying sick and wounded is entirely germane and,is-I suggest- a plausible reason for said rumours in Dover.   I doubt very much whether all British bottoms plying the English Channel and carrying sick and wounded were dedicated hospital ships under international law.

 

    The definition of a "hospital ship" is set out by ICRC based on the international law on such matters, which during the Great War were the Hague Conventions of 1899 and 1907 generally and a smaller specific one in 1904   From TNA Discovery:

 

Hospital Ships Conference at the Hague

Foreign and Commonwealth Office and predecessors: Political and Other Departments: General Correspondence before 1906, Great Britain and General. Cases: Treaty. Rules of war etc. HospitalShips Conference at the Hague.

Held by: The National Archives - Foreign Office
Date: 1904 - 1905
Reference: FO 83/2148
Subjects: International | Treaties and alliances

 

 

 

 

. This from the ICRC site:

"A ship built, converted, or equipped specially or solely with a view to assisting, treating, and transporting the  wounded, sick, and shipwrecked. In case of international armed conflict, its name and description must be notified to the parties to the conflict ten days before it is employed. It may not be attacked or captured and must be respected and protected. The religious and medical personnel and crew of hospital ships have a right to the same protection.

The distinctive sign for the protection of hospital ships is the emblem of the red cross, red crescent or red crystal on a white ground. The lifeboats and coastal lifeboats of hospital ships are treated in the same way as hospital ships. So, as far as possible, are the sick-bays of a warship.
Hospital ships are bound to afford relief and assistance to the 
wounded, sick and shipwrecked without distinction of nationality. The parties to the conflict have the right to stop and visit hospital ships in accordance with precise regulations.
Any warship belonging to a belligerent may demand, on certain conditions, that 
sick, wounded or shipwrecked persons on board a hospital ship shall be handed over."
 

 

 

42 minutes ago, KevinBattle said:

don't have BNA access so I've no idea what the Prosecution and Defence said about PC Cox and the earlier case, but at best I think they were mistaken and at worst risking the lives of wounded men

 

  Then let us try to find out what the actual case was.  I suspect that it was not wholeheratedly reported, given normal reporting restrictions and also that DORA would cover most of what was said in court from being reported anyway

Edited by Guest
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The gist of the newspaper report is this:

A Hans Carl Pauer, British citizen of Trentham, whose Father originated from Hanover, had been overheard to make false statements in a railway carriage compartment saying that he had heard that British troops were being carried on hospital ships.  For this he was handed a 6 month sentence and £100 fine by a court in Burslem.  This was later reduced to one month on appeal.

 

However George Wm Cox, a constable in the Kent Police Force with 17 years impeccable service thought Pauer's conviction unfair because "you only had to ask any docker or labourer in the ports of Dover or Folkestone to ascertain that the carriage of troop in hospital ships was a well known fact". He sent this statement in his own hand to the clerk of Burslem Court in defence of Pauer as he thought it his duty to justice and his country. 

 

Cox was subsequently bought before Folkestone Magistrates for making false statements and breaching article 27 of DORA.  

 

During the case it was pointed out that the ships in question were not hospital ships but Ambulance Transports which do not come under the Geneva Convention, are not reportable, do not carry red crosses or flags and take the same risk as any other merchant ship at sea.  They are equipped to tend the sick and wounded and can be quite legally used on the return voyage to carry troops and stores. (though for some strange reason that I do not understand, the troops are not allowed to use the hospital decks, why should that make a difference if they are not hospital ships? Possibly not very sanitary??)

 

Anyway, the upshot of the case was that PC Cox pleaded guilty as he realised he had misunderstood the use of the said ships and wasted the courts time, on reviewing his actions the court handed down a £5 fine as the letter and card he sent to the Burslem magistrates had not entered the public domain and Cox had not intended that it should.  This was purely to make an example of Cox.  I could not see anywhere in the article that the court apologised to Cox, though he had been suspended from the Force and might not be re-employed.

 

The newspaper article is two columns long and full of verbiage but that is pretty much what happened according to the press.

 

Enjoy!

 

TH

Edited by MerchantOldSalt
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On 17/06/2018 at 21:35, Nepper said:

There's a full report of the case of the prosecution of PC Cox under regulation 27 of DORA in the Folkestone, Hythe, Sandgate & Cheriton Herald for 26 October 1918.  For anyone who has a BNA account the link is https://www.britishnewspaperarchive.co.uk/viewer/bl/0000765/19181026/107/0005

Thank you Nepper case closed!

 

On 18/06/2018 at 16:57, MerchantOldSalt said:

the ships in question were not hospital ships but Ambulance Transport ships

Thank you MerchantofSalt!

 

Thank you very much for the trouble you took in clarifying this point.  That seems to resolve the question.

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 One small curiosity in this matter-  the local newspaper for Dover-"Dover Express" is supposedly digitised on BNA- as indeed it seems to be for 1918. But nary a mention of  Cox or hospital ships in that paper. Unusual that it was not reported there but was picked up further along at Folkestone. I guess that the Folkeston paper covered Dover as well and may have had more of the trade at that time-but curious nonetheless.

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On 17/06/2018 at 11:54, KevinBattle said:

After 100 years, IF there ever was a genuine case of "munitions" being aboard any Hospital ship, this would have come out long ago.

Where would there be any safe stowage for a load of explosives?

 

    As there are still significant chunks of publicly generated records  not yet disclosed- under 100 year closure or longer, then your statement is very much open to question.  (Files date from the last entry-stick a doc. in and it extends their lives-the 100 year closure on intelligence files on the Fenians in the early 1880s was only up for time in 2002, as Mr. Balfour had another document placed in the file in 1902). The recent kerfuffle over records of the "End of Empire" from the FCO disguises the fact that many of the records at Hanslope Park dated well back into the Nineteenth Century-in the case of some of slave records, almost to the beginning of the Nineteenth Century. We have not as yet had declassified any materials relating to the abortive peace feelers of 1917-the Lansdowne peace offer, although records were known to have been generated. The Cabinet records have been removed from those disclosed to  Kew.

    Another curiosity is that the clock only starts running for disclosure under specific time closure when the public body decides to officially do so.  As Rodney Lowe, an economic historian from the University of Bristol, noted in a survey of economic and social records of the next punch-up, he had seen file series at the Cabinet Office whose official existence had yet to be notified-so the clock had not even begun to run (eg the extensive file series on strikes during the war- which contradicts the "all pull together " myths) .  I know from experience of gaining permission to see a closed file at the Home Office that the Home Office retains a great swathe of files relating to Victorian and Edwardian child abuse cases,among other touchy subjects.  As regards the Great War, we have,for example, the records in the MH series.-the 20% sample records of CCS,hospitals,etc. As another GWF has prersevered on this, then despite the hoo-ha, many of these records are still closed-  those relating to the large number of post mortems on British soldiers during the war-gruesome stuff but it begs the question that the history of the war is still being sanitised. 

    There is still plenty of fresh material out there to be disclosed. It is not a done deal to presume that after 100 years, all stories have come out. The more so for anything that reflects badly on the British Government. Record disclosures and  details of-alas- records destruction shows that we live within a bubble of manipulated history, of which the Great War is an example. It would be unwise to believe that the story of anything -ever-that involves the British Government has been fully and truly disclosed.

 

2) Where would there be any safe stowage for a load of explosives

     Please note that the compromise of a hospital ship status would not just be for explosives-which were not mentioned in the Cox case anyway-It was troops on hospital ships. in the matter above.  Hospital ship status could be affected by any "materiel de guerre"- I used the example of salvaged brass shell-casings.  An example that I read of years ago (an consequently cannot place in my memory accurately) was that of a wounded officer being brought back (I think from Palestine,so it may have been "local" to me-Essex Regiment) told to leave his sidearm as this might be interpreted as materiel de guerre. The stoppage of hospital ships was quite frequent  by both sides, but especially outside of anywhere but the English Channel.  Thus, for example, an officer found to be bearing a sidearm could, on inspection  by the Germans, be removed from a hospital ship-although wounded- as not being entitled to the protection of the Hague Conventions and,consequently, a Prisoner of War properly taken.

     The difference between "hospital ship" and "ambulance ship" is an important one, though not that obvious to Joe Public at the time.

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Mik,

'

Yes your right

 

"And was the bloke down the pub a more reliable repository of truth in those days than he is now"

 

But that does not mean it didn't happen, how many accounts have said that ships were loaded on the quiet with what even cargo and not registered as cargo?

 

The Govt come Mititary, have and have done things on the QT

 

The blokes loading the cargo would known, but weather they knew the cargo they loaded was ammo or Med supplies may be guess at either correctly or not?

 

Thats why I am not inclinded to disguard these stories out of hand

 

Did they carry military cargo, well possibly, we may never known unless someone breaks the circle.

 

S.B

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