15 March 2011

Crime & Law Enforcement: Word War One

By: Isabel Roman

Unless you watch a military TV shows, war movies, or read up extensively on the subject, you’re not likely to know what happens when soldiers commit crimes. Do we think of our soldiers committing crimes? Or do we hold them in such high esteem?

The US has the UCMJ: Uniform Code of Military Justice established under the Constitution in 1789, Article I, Section 8. It’s very long and very detailed. Feel free to read about it here.

For the purposes of this blog, I’m taking from British Military Crime & Punishment 1914-1918. It's concise, easy to read, and in everyday wordage, as opposed to military and legal jargon. Plus it has this nifty table and a bunch of cool stats.

Table of offences tried by Court Martial Charge Maximum penalty
Shamefully delivering up a garrison to the enemy Death
Shamefully casting away arms in the presence of the enemy Death
Misbehaving before the enemy in such a manner as to show cowardice Death
Leaving the ranks on pretence of taking wounded men to the rear Penal Servitude
Wilfully destroying property without orders Penal Servitude
Leaving his CO to go in search of plunder Death
Forcing a safeguard Death
Forcing a soldier when acting as sentinel Death
Doing violence to a person bringing provisions to the forces Death
Committing an offence against the person of a resident in the country in which he was serving Death
Breaking into a house in search of plunder Death
By discharging firearms intentionally occasioning false alarms on the march Death
When acting as a sentinel on active service sleeping at his post Death
By discharging firearms negligently occasioning false alarms in camp Cashiering or imprisonment
Causing a mutiny in the forces, or endeavouring to persuade persons in HM forces to join in a mutiny Death
Striking his superior officer Death
Offering violence or using threatening language to his superior officer Penal servitude
Disobeying in such a manner as to show a wilful defiance of authority, a lawful command given personally by his superior officer Death
Disobeying a lawful command given by his superior officer Penal servitude
When concerned in a quarrel, refusing to obey an officer who ordered him into arrest Cashiering
Striking a person in whose custody he was placed Cashiering or imprisonment
Deserting HM service, or attempting to desert Death
Fraudulent enlistment First offence imprisonment; second penal servitude
Assisting a person subject to military law to desert Imprisonment
Behaving in a scandalous manner unbecoming the character of an officer and a gentleman Cashiering
When charged with the care of public money, embezzling the same Penal servitude
When charged with the care of public goods, misapplying the same (applicable to Quartermasters) Penal servitude
Wilfully maiming himself with intent to render himself unfit for service Imprisonment
Drunkenness Cashiering or imprisonment
Committing the offence of murder Death

Notes to this table: (1) offences where cashiering is shown as maximum punishment applied to officers only; (2) in order to enable a court-martial to award a field punishment, it was essential to allege 'when on active service'.

In all, 5,952 officers and 298,310 other ranks were court-martialled- just over 3% of the total of men who joined the army. Of those tried, 89% were convicted; 8% acquitted; the rest were either convicted without the conviction being confirmed or with it being subsequently quashed. Of those convicted, 30% were for absence without leave; 15% for drunkenness;14% for desertion (although only 3% were actually in the field at the time); 11% for insubordination; 11% for loss of army property, and the remaining 19% for various other crimes. The main punishments applied were : 3 months detention in a military compound - 24%; Field Punishment Number 1 - 22%; Fines - 12%; 6 months detention - 10%; reduction in rank - 10%; Field Punishment Number 2 - 8%.

3.080 men (1.1% of those convicted) were sentenced to death. Of these, 89% were reprieved and the sentence converted to a different one. 346 men were executed. Their crimes included desertion - 266; murder - 37; cowardice in the face of the enemy - 18; quitting their post - 7; striking or showing violence to their superiors - 6; disobedience - 5; mutiny - 3; sleeping at post - 2; casting away arms - 2. Of the 346, 91 were already under a suspended sentence from an earlier conviction (40 of these a suspended death sentence).


Isabel Roman is the pseudonym used by writing team Christine Koehler and Marisa Velez. Their Victorian Druids series has been featured on The Home Shopping Network and is available in bookstores everywhere. Currently they're working on a Prohibition-era series and wondering why time flies so quickly. Visit the Isabel Roman blog!

No comments: