Researching Canadian Soldiers of the First World War

Part 16: … and Punishment

By Michael O'Leary; The Regimental Rogue

Introduction

When it is decided to tie a prisoner to a fixed object, it has been found advisable to carry out this punishment in as public a place as possible.

The Canadian Officer's Guide To The Study Of Military Law, by Major E. W. Pope, The RCR, 1916

As with our modern court systems, the execution of Courts Martial and Summary Trials during the First World War do not support a simplistic correlation between specific charges and matching punishments. The simplistic description of charges as commonly found in regimental documents or individual service records do not include the many other factors and mitigating circumstances which may affect the severity of sentencing. Where Part 15 of this series, "Crime …", introduced some of the many offences for which a soldier might be tried, this section will examine the nature of the punishments which might be awarded for those crimes.

Punishments Awarded by Court Martial

Courts Martial were given specific powers of punishment authorized by the Army Act, set out in the King's Regulations and Orders (download the 1917 edition), and further expanded upon in the Manual of Military Law. These regulations and guidelines ensured that the many Courts Martial held within the Canadian Expeditionary Force, and Canadian soldiers undergoing Courts Martial conducted by officers of the British Army, could expect to receive punishments drawn from a single scale applicable to all cases.

Scale of Punishments by Courts Martial, as published in the Army Act 1913, excerpted from the Manual of Military Law, War Office publication, 1914.

Scale of Punishments by Courts Martial, as published in the Army Act 1913, excerpted from the Manual of Military Law, War Office publication, 1914. (See the full article in one image.)

The following table is presented as an example of the punishments which might be awarded by Court Martial. The table identifies the types of punishment (in order of decreasing severity of punishment), including minimum and maximum sentences for 133 Courts Martial of soldiers of The Royal Canadian Regiment during the First World War. In some cases, the lesser punishments shown were in addition to other punishments awarded.

133 Courts Martial; Breakdown of Punishments - The Royal Canadian Regiment

PunishmentNumber of instances of punishment awardedMinimum sentence awarded in cases examinedMaximum sentence awarded in cases examinedRemarks
Death2Both commuted to Imprisonment
Penal Servitude.85years20 years
Imprisonment with Hard Labour194 months5 years
Imprisonment without Hard Labour26 months2 years
Detention5168 hrs2 years
Demoted26e.g., From Sgt to Cpl
Field Punishment No. 1687days90 days
Forfeits Pay3e.g., 14 days

Court Martial punishments can be found in the applicable Courts Martial records, in the unit Part II Daily Orders or in the soldier's service record.

An example entry of a Court Martial trial result from the Part II Daily Orders of The Royal Canadian Regiment.

An example entry of a Court Martial trial result of 454807 Private Amedie Lascelle, from the Part II Daily Orders of The Royal Canadian Regiment.
(I.H.L. = Imprisonment with Hard Labour.)

Punishments Awarded by Summary Trials

The following excerpt from the Manual of Military Law (1914) shows quite clearly that the powers of punishment awarded to a Commanding Officer (CO) were significantly less that those permitted by a Court Martial. For this reason, for two men charged with the same offence (in varying degrees), one might be tried by his CO, and the other sent to Court Martial because the CO did not believe his powers of punishment were sufficient if he found the man guilty of the offence.

Scale of Punishments by Commanding Officers, as published in the Army Act 1913, excerpted from the Manual of Military Law, War Office publication, 1914.

Scale of Punishments by Commanding Officers, as published in the Army Act 1913, excerpted from the Manual of Military Law, War Office publication, 1914. (See the full article in one image.)

The following table shows the punishments awarded for 1349 summary trials of the same unit

1349 Summary Trials; Breakdown of Punishments - The Royal Canadian Regiment

PunishmentNumber of instances of punishment awardedMinimum sentence awarded in cases examinedMaximum sentence awarded in cases examinedRemarks
Field Punishment No. 13701 day28 days
Mulct Pay325
C.B1733 days14 daysConfined to Barracks (Base, Billets, Camp, etc.)
Forfeits Pay1621 day28 days
Fine66$2.00$6.00
Detention5910 days28 days
Severely Reprimanded50
Admonished44
Field Punishment No. 2392 days28 days
Stoppage of Pay271 shilling£ 6 - 9 - 7 1/2d
Deprived of Lance stripe18
Reprimanded6
Deprived of Acting Lance stripe4
Demotd4
Deprived of Acting Rank1
Reverts to Permanent Grade of Corporal.1

Field Punishment

Of all the natures of punishment identified above, the one which is least likely to be familiar to a modern researcher in Field Punishment. The following excerpt from The Canadian Officer's Guide To The Study Of Military Law provides a description of this style of punishment which was applied quite frequently during the First World War.

Excerpt from: The Canadian Officer's Guide To The Study Of Military Law, by Major E. W. Pope, The Royal Canadian Regiment, Methuen & Co. L Td. 36 Essex Street W .C., London, 1916

CHAPTER XIV - RULES FOR FIELD PUNISHMENT AND THE KEEPING OF CONDUCT SHEETS

(See M.M.L. p. 721, and F.S.R. Pt. II, chapter on "Discipline")

109.     I.     For any offence committed on active service an offender may be sentenced, by his commanding officer, to twenty-eight days' Field Punishment, and by a Court Martial to three months' Field Punishment.

Field Punishment is of two kinds:

(a)     Field Punishment No. 1.
(b)     Field Punishment No. 2.

2. Where an offender is sentenced to Field Punishment No. I, he may, during the continuance of his sentence, unless the Court Martial or the commanding Officer otherwise directs, be punished as follows:

(a)     He may be kept in irons, i.e. in fetters or handcuffs, or both fetters and handcuffs; and may be secured so as to prevent his escape.

(b)     When in irons he may be attached for a period or periods not exceeding two hours in anyone day to a fixed object, but he must not be so attached during more than three out of any four consecutive days, nor during more than twenty-one days in all.

(c)     Straps or ropes may be used for the purpose of these rules in lieu of irons.

(d)     He may be subjected to the like labour, employment, and restraint, and dealt with in like manner, as if he were under a sentence of imprisonment with hard labour.

A contemporary diagram showing one possible manner of securing a soldier to a fixed object for the administration of Field Punishment No. 1.

A contemporary diagram showing one possible manner of securing a soldier to a fixed object for the administration of Field Punishment No. 1.
(Source: Unknown.)

3.     Where an offender is sentenced to Field Punishment No. 2, the foregoing rule with respect to Field Punishment No. 1 shall apply to him, except that he shall not be liable to be attached to a fixed object as provided by paragraph (b) of Rule 2.

4.     Every portion of a Field Punishment shall be inflicted in such a manner as is calculated not to cause injury or to leave any permanent mark on the offender; and a portion of a Field Punishment must be discontinued upon a report by a responsible medical officer that the continuance of that portion would be prejudicial to the offender's health.

5.     Field Punishment will be carried out regimentally when the unit to which the offender belongs or is attached is actually on the move, but when the unit is halted at any place where there is a provost marshal or an assistant provost marshal the punishment will be carried out under that officer.

6.     When the unit to which the offender belongs or is attached is actually on the move, an offender awarded Field Punishment No. 1 shall be exempt from the operation of Rule 2. (b), but all offenders awarded Field Punishment shall march with their unit, carry their arms and accoutrements, perform all their military duties as well as extra fatigue duties, and be treated as defaulters.

110.     Method of carrying out Field Punishment. Although it has not been considered advisable to allow Field Punishment No. 1 to be administered in the United Kingdom, it is the punishment most frequently met with in the theatre of war. It is easily carried out, if the proper procedure is understood, and has been administered with excellent results. It must be remembered for obvious reasons that a man undergoing Field Punishment does not thereby miss his tour of duty in the trenches. No punishments are carried out when the unit is actually on trench duty, and since the sentence runs concurrently with this duty due attention should be paid to this point by the Commanding Officer in making his award. Many officers have an idea that Field Punishment No. I consists in merely tying a prisoner to a fixed object for a certain length of time each day. This is quite wrong. The proper system is to make a man sentenced to this punishment do all the fatigues and sanitary work possible in the vicinity of the billets which his unit is occupying, with a view to relieving well-conducted men there-from. Then when there is nothing left for him to do of that nature, he can be tied to a fixed object for a period not exceeding two hours daily. When it is decided to tie a prisoner to a fixed object, it has been found advisable to carry out this punishment in as public a place as possible.

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