From The Tribunal May 1918

This is a further update in a series of extracts from the No Conscription Fellowship’s journal, published in the UK between March 1916 and November 1918
For other extracts go to:

In the “Manchester Guardian” for May 2nd. there appeared a forcible letter from Professor Herford on “Hunger in Prison.” “At what point,” he asks, “do the sufferings we class as the normal and proper hardship of prison pass over into those which we class and repudiate as torture?” And he goes on to quote from a prisoner’s note, sent him from the C.O. Information Bureau:-

“The test of the diet does not come until all the resources of the body has been brought down to the irreducible minimum and rest entirely upon the nourishment provided. . . The common experience is that a man passes into one or all three of the following stages:- (1) Merely very hungry all day. (2) hunger more acute, with pain in the stomach intermittently. (3) extreme weakness, nervousness, and constant and very acute pain. There is a sharp contraction of the muscles, the face may be seen (or, more bitterly, felt) to twitch with pain, and the face also becomes dark, particularly about the eyes, Some of the men, in one or other of these stages, may be sent to hospital; many recover somewhat by lying down every available moment; not that they need rest, but if you lie down you do not feel hungry so soon. . . .”
“Does not this slow elimination of life,” asks the professor, -“for, carried through a two year sentence, it is nothing less – bear an unpleasant resemblance to the gradual executions of China, where the suspended culprit hangs with the tip of his toes touching the ground? Is it, in any case, to be tolerated in an English prison?”

We are exceeding glad that Prof. Herford has drawn public attention to this grave scandal. From every prison come reports that the quotation given is in no way exaggerated, and that the long months of semi-starvation are exacting their toll in physical and mental breakdown. We are indeed glad the public should be told of this torture inflicted, not only on C.O.s, but on other prisoners, a torture that we cannot believe would be tolerated for a day longer, were it once understood.

Whilst we recognise that a statement of what C.O.s are undergoing is valuable in so far as it enables the public to realise their determination to stand for their principles, we know that nothing is further from the desires of the men in prison that they should be released on the ground of the suffering they have undergone, instead of principles. They claim release and we claim it for them, not as an act of mercy but simple justice, and we demand that that justice shall no longer be delayed.