Jump to content
Great War Forum

Remembered Today:

When were British deserters pardoned , 1920,s ?


montbrehain

Recommended Posts

Can anybody tell me when a general pardon was given to the British deserters of 1914-1918 ? I understand it may have been in the early 1920,s but I have no foundation for this assumption as it was just something somebody told me . Does anybody know more ? thanks in advance "MO"

Link to post
Share on other sites

Judging from this 1998 article no pardon was ever given:

click here

I did a basic search in The Times on-line archive but came up with very little, apart from a couple of questions in the House of Commons in the early 1920s with waffly replies.

Moonraker

Link to post
Share on other sites
Graham Stewart

I'm almost certain that they were pardoned and am hoping to prove it as the question arose on a similar Forum and, although I'm basing it on memory. Since many of you will have used the Medal Roll Books by now you will have noticed the "deserters" among them are usually underlined in red ink and the date of desertion added. In the cases that I've come across later notes have been added whereby the claim for these medals has been 're-submitted'.

Over the years I've had many obscure books and journals through my hands for study two of which were the Army Quarterly and the Royal United Services Institute Journal. In both of these were questions about Britains Military Services as they were debated in Parliament and I'm 100% certain that this is where I first saw a reference to the pardons. Doing other things at the time I failed to copy everything, but for some reason I took this from the R.U.S.I. Journal.

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."

Now it appears that no-one has heard of the Suspension of Sentences Act in regards to Military personnel, but would think it would have appeared in the "Hansard"(I think this is what it's called) as well as Army Orders and Army Council Instructions. What will surprise you is "the number of men who have benifited" under the said Act. As you see some 40,000 - 50,000 soldiers had the slate wiped clean under the Manual of Miltary Law. Some of these crimes would have resulted in "forfeiture of medals", but under this Act they would be restored.

All of this seems to have been done very low key and I think it was done this way mainly because of strong feeling that still existed about desertion and so it wasn't shouted from the roof-tops. I'm hoping to try and get back to these journals to try and find if I am right about pardons being issued by H.M. the King.

Graham.

Link to post
Share on other sites
Graham Stewart

post-7376-1187124257.jpg

Further to my last post a typical, although not clear entry for a Northumberland Fusilier deserter, who appears to have had his claim for medals "re-submitted" and issued in a later Roll Book.

Graham.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Graham

I believe that you are referring to the Army (Suspension of Services) Act 1915 that conferred a discretion on the part of the military authorities to suspend or commute sentences.

Whilst a man was in service then any suspended sentence was subject to periodic review. The intention was clearly to release manpower and provide a 'second chance' to the 'miscreant'. The military authorities were fully aware that the disciplinary system could be exploited by those that preferred the stockade to frontline service.

After the armistice, the government wished to avoid issues of political contention that could be used to mobilise popular radical opposition. It is precisely for this reason that the commutation of sentences took place to which you refer, along with the release of the 'absolutists' and radicals such as John McClean from prison.

There was no general pardon for deserters as such - it was purely a matter that the army ceased searching for deserters post war because of the political climate.

Regards

Mel

Link to post
Share on other sites

Thank you very much for your replies , certainly gives me food for thought. Personally I believe there was some sort of an amnesty (according to family tales) ."MO"

Link to post
Share on other sites
  • 2 weeks later...

Mo & Graham

I had a look through the Royal Berks BWM & Victory Roll and when desertion was recorded it had the usual comments of 'no medals' or 'medals forfeited'. However, against about 10% of the desertion entries, it had medals restored with reference to ACT 75 of 1921.

Does anyone have a clue as to what ACT 75 of 1921 was?

Regards

Mel

Link to post
Share on other sites
Mo & Graham

Does anyone have a clue as to what ACT 75 of 1921 was?

Regards

Mel

No. I can't see anything for number 75 or 1921 that might apply in this list of statutes:

here

and

here

Moonraker

Link to post
Share on other sites
Graham Stewart

Mel & Moonraker,

I'm going to hopefully post an Army Order 298 of July 1920 regarding the restoration of medals as sent to me by Alan Jones whose own relative lost and had his medals restored for desertion.

post-7376-1188339598.jpg

Graham.

post-7376-1188339698.jpg

I'm doing it in stages as it won't fit one single posting, but at the same time I think you'll find it makes interesting reading.

Graham.

PS

Are they talking about the "Army Act"??

post-7376-1188339794.jpg

Final part.

Graham.

Link to post
Share on other sites
Graham Stewart

post-7376-1188342025.jpg

Gentlemen,

Further to the last, I've extracted this from my copy of KR's for 1923 and "Restoration" also appears here, while in the margin is further indication that this Royal Warrant on restoring medals had been amended further in Army Orders. As you will see apparently "Desertion" didn't warrant forfeiture and I'm still of the opinion that there was a general pardon issued to these men.

Graham.

PS,

Para 363 replaced Para 392 regarding conditions of Discharge.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Morning All,

Stunning information, answered many questions. Lots to take in and learn! Thank you all, especially Graham Stewart for sharing such excellent information with us all. What a Forum that Chris Baker started. The memory and knowledge of the men we study gets clearer all the time.

Many Thanks Mike Jones

Link to post
Share on other sites

Field Marshal Slim in an account of his WW1 experiences referred to a system introduced mid war in which some soldiers sentenced to jail time had the start of their sentence deferred until the end of hostilities. This was to avoid men 'working the system' by committing offences to get out of the line. After the war no one wanted the military prisons clogged up with lots of defered sentence men and so an amnesty was announced (not a pardon - the 'crime' still stayed on record) - this apparently did not require legislation. Perhaps deserters were dealt with under the same system.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Graham,

I wouldn't be as quick to classify desertion with those categories described in King George's amendment of the Army Act, nowhere in the amendment you have posted is desertion mentioned. Desertion was and is an extremely serious offence, it wasn't simply being AWOL and in fact there are degrees of desertion the worst being "In the Face of the Enemy", which was and is regarded just down from Treason in its severity. I do not believe they were pardoned in the 1920's or 30's. I think to have done so would have been an absolute cause for riot and civil disturbance amongst the many veterans who had served honourably, and for the families of the fallen who would have been terribly dishonoured for their loss and memory of the fallen (ie: what was the point of our loss, when Blogs deserted and now he ......).

I think Melpack and centurion hit the nail on the head, deferred punishment for those who may have been trying to "work the system" (continuous petty crime, AWOL etc) and at the end of the war the Army commuted those sentences, what was the point, who wanted a military prison system with many thousands of prisoners when the Army was trying to wind back and didn't have the resources or wherewithall to guard them and man the BAOR. No one wanted a Bolshevik revolution in the UK (remember the opening statement of the amendment with my emphasis: Whereas WE deem it EXPEDIENT to amend ..............

In the case of those who had been convicted of an offence (which may have included some lower categories of "desertion") and had served their punishment and lost their honours, awards or medal entitlements, but then went on to serve honourably; or were discharged as a result of their punishment and reenlisted and then served honourably; that would appear to be the logic of the amendment signed by Winston Churchill.

In the case of the soldier you have posted a sound reason for review and resubmission of their entitlement, would be improved understanding of shell shock and the good conduct of the officer or soldier post event after he served his punishment. Remember for the vast majority of "deserters", the desertion was an aberration and they wanted to redeem themselves for their shame and they did so often with great distinction and loss of their life. To then have their Regiment or Corps make a submission of their case on their behalf would have been honourable and the correct thing to do and the King appears to acknowledge this in the amendment.

Finally I think you will find there were a number of prisoners post war still serving for desertion, I do recall it was an issue here in Australia about twenty years ago.

cheers,

Chris

Link to post
Share on other sites
Graham Stewart

Chris,

While agreeing on the varying degree's of classification for desertion, the most serious of which would be "death under sentence of court martial", I feel that both Army Orders and Kings Reg's are specific enough themselves in that they too do not mention 'Desertion' as a reason for forfeiture. Had that crime been a cut and dried case then it would be mentioned as specifically as the others.

Kings Regs 1923 Para 1010 in my view makes it even clearer;-

Any D.C.M., M.M., war medal or M.S.M. forfeited by a soldier under Article 1236 Pay Warrant(1914) between 5th August 1914 and 30th July 1920(both dates inclusive) will be restored except ...........

Pay Warrant 1914 "Forfeiture and Restortation of Medals, Annuities and Gratuities" originally stated in the opening sub-paras;-

Para 1236. Every soldier who;-

(a)is found guilty by a court martial of desertion, fraudulent enlistment, or any other offence under Section 17 or 18 of the Army Act.

(b)is liable to trial on confession of desertion, or fraudulent enlistment, but whose trial has been dispensed with.

shall forfeit all medals and decorations(other then the Victoria Cross, which is dealt with under special regulations) of which he may be in possession, or to which he may be entitled, together with the annuity or gratuity, if any thereto appertaining. Sub-paras c and d were also reason for forfeiture, but do not cover desertion.

Both of these leading sub-paras were removed and replaced by those specified in 1920. Desertion and fraudulent enlistment are never mentioned again as a reason for forfeiture.

I picked one deserter out of many in the Northumberland Fusiliers, who had his medals restored, but going through the rolls many, many more are getting their medals back under these terms, which were reviewed and obviously amended. The bulk of the men who are having them restored are war time enlistments, not Regulars or Territorials in continued service, who were also entitled to restoration. One of our members has just posted that he has the medals of a deserter who was still absent in 1923, who went onto serve in WWII and became a CSM.

Perhaps I'm reading it wrong, but going off the pieces before me, I'd say deserters got their medals back.

Graham.

Link to post
Share on other sites
  • 4 months later...
Does anyone have a clue as to what ACT 75 of 1921 was?

Regards

Mel

c75 of 1920 is an Official Secrets Act which I think came into force in 1921. I can't see anything in the short version which would apply but I don't have the full act or schedules available.

ETA: Schedule 2 of the 1920 Act amends the 1911 act by removing all references to fixed sentences under that Act. This would possibly help if a person was convicted under the 1911 Act and the minimum sentence hadn't expired but it wouldn't apply to anything being discussed here as the 1911 Act only covers spying and not military discipline.

Link to post
Share on other sites
Graham Stewart

I'm pleased someone found this as I'm now able to post Army Order 383 of October 1915 - "Restoration of forfeited Distinguished Conduct and War Medals of Re-enlisted Men".. It would appear that the campaign to restore medals lost for desertion etc. was carried out as early as October 1915 to ex-soldiers re-enlisting. 'Desertion' is not mentioned specifically, but as mentioned in an earlier post it was was of the most common causes of forfeiture of medals and in this Order re-enlisted men are to delcare "truthfully the particulars of their former service". This indicates to me that there was some leniency being acted towards offenders who committed crimes which would have lost them their medals, the most common cause being 'desertion'.

Graham.

post-7376-1199460266.jpg

Link to post
Share on other sites
  • 1 year later...

Graham

I thought that you would be interested in the various House of Commons debates during the 1920s that clarify the position with regard to the issue of amnesty:

HC Deb 10 July 1923 vol 166 c1189W 1189W

§ Mr. T. GRIFFITHS

asked the Under-Secretary of State for War whether, in view of the lapse of time since the Armistice, he will now favourably consider the granting of an amnesty to all men who deserted from the Army during the War?

Lieut.-Colonel GUINNESS

I am not prepared to dispense altogether, by a general amnesty, with the right to try and punish men, in serious and special cases, for the grave military offence of desertion. The normal practice, however, has for long been to discharge the deserter without resorting to trial and without withdrawing him from his civil employment. I see no reason to vary this general policy, but I can undertake to consider sympathetically any particular case which does not appear to be covered by it.

HC Deb 05 June 1924 vol 174 cc1475-6W 1475W

§ Mr. MACLEAN

asked the Secretary of State for War whether any amnesty has been granted to those who deserted during the War; and, if not, whether it is his intention to offer an amnesty?

§ Mr. WALSH

The answer to the first part of the question is in the negative. As regards the latter part, I am not prepared to dispense altogether, by a general amnesty, with the right to try and punish men, in serious and special cases, for the grave military offence of desertion. The normal practice, however, has for long been to discharge the deserter without resorting to trial and without withdrawing him from his civil employment. I see no reason to vary this general policy, but I can undertake to consider sympathetically any particular case which does not appear to be covered by it

Link to post
Share on other sites

HC Deb 22 May 1928 vol 217 c1664 1664

11. Mr. L'ESTRANGE MALONE

asked the Secretary of State for War if his attention has been drawn to Case No. 110/M/480, who was informed from the War Office, Hounslow, on 8th May, that he was liable to court-martial for absence from the Army for the period 19th June, 1917, to 21st August, 1917; and whether, in view of the general pardon to absentees issued by His Majesty, it is proposed in any case to submit men to court-martial who were absentees during a period of the War?

§ Mr. COOPER

The hon. Member is mistaken in thinking that a general amnesty has been granted to those who deserted during the Great War, and I am not prepared to dispense altogether with the right to try and punish men, in special and serious cases, for the grave military offence of desertion. But the normal practice is to discharge the deserter without resorting to trial and without withdrawing him from his civil employment; and in the particular case referred to in this question I know of no reason to prevent the normal practice being followed if the man voluntarily signs the form of confession which has been sent to him.

Regards

Mel

Link to post
Share on other sites

This is an illuminating exchange:

HC Deb 13 July 1920 vol 131 cc2124-6

The SECRETARY of STATE for WAR (Mr. Churchill)

That is the question.

Mr. PALMER

I am asking the right hon. Gentleman to give me an answer. Will he grant a general amnesty to all men who are now serving reduced sentences for desertion?

§ Mr. CHURCHILL

No, Sir.

§ Mr. LAWSON

Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that there are very decent citizens who, for one thing and another, did desert after having served two or three years overseas during the War, and did not return to their units? They have come home and in some cases, in two cases within my own knowledge, have been marched through the streets under an escort. Does the right hon. Gentleman not think that this matter should be settled definitely one way or the other?

§ Mr. STANTON [idiot]

They deserved it, too!

§ 12. Mr. N. MACLEAN

asked the Secretary of State for War what is being done in the case of men who deserted from the Army about three years ago; and whether the War Office is still taking legal steps against those who so deserted?

§ Mr. CHURCHILL

If the hon. Member will refer to Section 161 of the Army Act, he will find that mutiny, desertion and fraudulent enlistment are offences which are excluded from the general limitation of three years which applies to other offences. Deserters, therefore, when they surrender or are apprehended must be disposed of in accordance with the Army Act and King's Regulations.

§ Mr. MACLEAN

In view of the fact that a small number of men deserted just at the time of the Armistice, does the right hon. Gentleman not think it would allay a great deal of unrest in the country if he gave instructions for the withdrawal of charges or of any action against such men?

§ Mr. CHURCHILL

I do not think the course we are taking is a harsh one. Whenever there are exceptional circumstances, such as in the case I referred to the other day, we shall give a protecting certificate.

§ Mr. KILEY

Is the right hon. Gentleman not prepared to take some action to reduce the very vindictive sentences now passed upon these men, in view of the fact that their wives and children are left absolutely destitute while the men are undergoing long terms of imprisonment?

§ Mr. CHURCHILL

If the hon. Member will give me any instance, I shall be glad to look into it. I have not heard of vindictive sentences being passed.

Mr. PALMER

In view of the fact that we need to get men for the new Army, would not a little leniency in this matter create a favourable public opinion?

§ Mr. CHURCHILL

I do not agree at all that we could afford to relax our punishment for the very grave offence of desertion. There is a great deal of desertion going on now, infinitely more than before the War. I cannot take any action which would seem to indicate that desertion from the Army on active service is not serious.

Link to post
Share on other sites
No. I can't see anything for number 75 or 1921 that might apply in this list of statutes:

Moonraker

I think ACT is a mis-reading of ACI (Army Council Instruction) 75 of 1921. There are copies of the ACIs at Kew in class WO293.

Ron

Link to post
Share on other sites

The only thing that I know about desertion is what happened to a relative of mine. To cut a long story short after reading his records: -

He went to France in 1915 with the Kings Royal Rifles, he was shot, wounded and ended up in hospital back in England. After recuperation he went on leave to his wife and little boys and never went back to the army. He clearly felt very bad about himself and very frightened from the letters. In one letter he say's

"I may say sir my nerves all shatteredand I shall never be the same man again"

He remained a deserter until 1922 when he confessed after seeing an article in the paper. I don't know what paper, I don't know what it said; but his words were, "I see in the paper you are trying to trace untraced soldiers" he went on to say who he was, what regiment he was in and what had happened to him. The paperwork said that providing he confessed to desertion he would not have to go to trial and would be given a discharge. From the paper work after that he was discharged as from 1915. He did forfeit his medals. THE STRANGE thing is he joined the army prior to this again in 1921. He joined the 10th Batallion London Regiment for a 90 day emergency contract. He gave all of his details including the fact that he had been with the KRR and his regimental number. It appears the subject of desertion did not arise during this time.

Link to post
Share on other sites

It is fairly obvious that there was no blanket pardon for deserters during the war. Many of the SAD were shot for desertion. That would have meant that they were shot for a crime which had later been pardoned. We know that was not the case.

Link to post
Share on other sites

Susann

Thanks for your post which confirms the practice that appears to have been followed in the post war period.

If a soldier went AWOL in the UK then after a period of time a Court of Inquiry would be convened presided over by a Captain with two subalterns as wing members. Sworn evidence was introduced followed by a declaration of desertion that rendered the soldier liable to court martial once apprehended.

Post war, those ex soldiers that admitted their desertion, (ie accepted the findings of the Court of Inquiry), had the liability for Court Martial dispensed with and were formally discharged by being granted a Certificate of Protection. As with your relative, the campaign medals were forfeited.

That leaves us with the paradox that a good proportion of soldiers that have their MICs marked with desertion were granted their campaign medals. I can only assume that such soldiers continued in service after being found guilty by a Court Martial after desertion and that their sentences were suspended or commuted.

I think that the ACI 75 of 1921 is the key to unlocking the mystery.

Regards

Mel

Link to post
Share on other sites

post-43584-1235618086.jpg

I hope this has copied. It is a copy of the documents to process a deserters discharge in 1922. If it works then I shall post the confession.

Sue

Sue

Link to post
Share on other sites

Create an account or sign in to comment

You need to be a member in order to leave a comment

Create an account

Sign up for a new account in our community. It's easy!

Register a new account

Sign in

Already have an account? Sign in here.

Sign In Now
×
×
  • Create New...