WHAT WE MUST NOT COMMENT ON

From The Tribunal 28th February 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 further extracts go to: http://nfpb.org.uk/tribunal

We need not remind our readers that our issue of February 14th was suppressed by order of the Home Secretary on account of the article on “The Moral Aspect of Conscription.”

In the House of Commons on February 25th. Mr. Lees Smith complained that regulated brothels in the neighbourhood of the British military quarters in France had not been placed out of bounds by the War Office, as similar places had been by the United States military authorities, in localities in which American troops were quatered.

In his reply Mr. Macpherson, the Under Secretary for War, laid great stress on what he described as the importance of interfering as little as possible with the jurisdiction of the civil authorities in an Allied country. He assured the House that if our soldiers were found in any way “creating a disorder in any of these institutions,” the Army authorities would have no hesitation in taking action; but they could not do it in a rough and ready way. Our officers in a particular town would go very quietly to the mayor of the town and would make the necessary complaints, and he was sure that joint action would then be taken – and taken promptly – “without hurting the sympathies of the French people or casting any slur of upon an institution which they think proper to maintain in their midst.

Mr. Lees Smith having asked whether it was seriously suggested that it would endanger the relations between this country and France merely because it was stated that these places were out of bounds for British soldiers, received the following reply:-

“I did not expressly say that I implied that, and I meant to imply a great deal more that I cannot discuss in this House. I might have given a semi-sufficient reason, not quite a sufficient reason, for our inaction if my hon, Friend wished to have an answer, but I am hoping that the Committee realises that there are far greater difficulties behind this.”

Mr. Chancellor: Do I understand that the impression is that offence would be given to the military or civil authorities in France if you protect our soldiers from disease and moral ruin by placing these places out of bounds?

Mr. Macpherson: No, the hon. Member for Northampton said that there were thousands of unregistered women outside in the streets, and he went on to imply that relations took place between soldiers and these women. If that is so, human nature being at is, I am not at all sure that it is such a bad thing to have a certain house where women are registered and kept clean.

The Manchester Guardian remarks:- “It is plain that what Mr. Macpherson called an ‘unsavoury and malodorous subject’ will have to be raised again and yet again until a satisfactory statement is forthcoming. Those are not the fitting terms in which to describe the question. What is malodorous would be encouragement or connivance in such a manner by anyone responsible for the good name of the British Army. Hundreds of thousands of very young men are going to France month by month from decent homes, many of them withing a year of leaving school.; they are now going under a law of compulsion, and the least which their parents have a right to ask is that all reasonable precautions should be taken to keep the grosser forms of temptation out of their way.”

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