Armageddon or Calvary: The Conscientious Objectors of New Zealand and "The Process of Their Conversion"
The following appeared in the "Australian Worker" of August 28, 1919, over the signature of "No. 3861, Private P. H. Sutton, 46th Battalion, A.I.F."
In January, 1917, I was doing a sentence of fourteen days' field punishment (No. 2) in company with two others. This punishment consists of being confined to the guard room and parading under the supervision of a provost sergeant. We were ordered to parade with page 174the company, fully equipped for drill purposes. Considering this to be a contravention of the King's Regulations, we refused to carry out the order. We appeared before Colonel Lewis, of the 47th Battalion, and were given the option of six weeks' imprisonment or being tried by courtmartial. Two of my mates, one of whom has since been promoted lieutenant, accepted the punishment, whilst I requested a courtmartial, believing myself to be in the right.
On January 28 I was tried and sentenced to two years' hard labour. I paraded four times to Colonel Lewis and begged to be allowed to do the sentence in the front line where I would have a chance of distinguishing myself and receiving a pardon. However, this was refused, and I was sent to Abboncourt Military Prison, France. The brutality and humiliation suffered caused myself and several other Australians to endeavour to escape on April 9. I was recaptured and brought back to the prison, placed in a cell by myself, and most brutally treated. I was placed in figure-eight handcuffs, and one military policeman struck me on the mouth with his clenched fist, breaking four of my teeth. Another policeman also punched me in the face. I fought back as well as possible, but had no chance, and was knocked unconscious. When I recovered, I was given a bucket of water to wash the blood off, and was taken to the Governor, who awarded me the limit punishment—15 days' P.D. No. 1. bread and water twice daily, and 42 days' P.D. No. 2, which means bread and water twice daily, and a pint of porridge in addition, also 28 days' crucifixion. The day after the sentence 1 was sent to No. 2 Military Prison. Rouen, and immediately placed in leg-irons and Hessian trousers.
Imagine the humiliation of a man who had left his country with the highest ideals, who was innocent of any grave offence, being placed in the position of a dangerous criminal. You people at home, whilst reading of our victories and feats of arms on the field, could not have thought it possible that, some of your own countrymen, perhaps even your own flesh and blood, were being tortured in the military prisons of France and England. I Have Seen Men Die From The Scandalous Treatment They Received. And I Can Also Give The Names Of Two Men Who Purposely Destroyed Their Own Eyesight To Escape The Horrible Torture. Which Was Driving Them Insane.
I will give a few authentic cases of which I was an eye-witness in the Rouen No. 2 M.P. In the month of August, 1917. 35 Australians and one New Zealander soldier asked to see an Australian officer in high command, who was visiting the prison, with a view to having the treatment exposed. This interview was refused, and the men decided to do no more work. This was called mutiny. They were all placed in different cells, and 16 n.c.o.'s of the M.P.S.C. Most Brutally Flogged Them. And They were all Sentenced to 35 Days' Bread and Water. The so-called ringleaders were court-page 175martialled. The Australians, Privates Sheffield, Mitchell, Le Guor, and Little, were sentenced to life terms, And The New Zealander And A Scots Soldier Were Sentenced To Death, Which Sentence Was Duly Carried Out.
In July, 1917, three men, namely Private Lackey (of the 1st Battalion), Private Cook (of the 24th), and Private Dickey (of the 23rd Battalion), A.I.F., escaped from the prison. They were recaptured and then handcuffed and flogged into insensibility with a sjambok. This punishment was carried out by Sergeant—, of the M.P.S.C., assisted by Sergeant —, of the D.C.L.S. The unfortunate victims were then placed in leg-irons and put on bread and water for a limited period. Privates Rawlinson and Vetchelow, for the same offence, were inflicted with the same punishment, administered by the same Sergeant —, assisted this time by Sergeant —, of the Scottish Rifles.
Another authentic case is that of Private Worby, of the 6th A.L.H, who, in company with Private Connors, of the 1st Battalion, A.I.F., escaped over the prison wall whilst an air raid was in progress. The rope broke, and Connors broke his leg in the fall. His comrade carried him a distance of eight kilometres before being overtaken by the military police. Worby received the same-treatment as the others, but Connors, after being examined by a medical officer, was transferred to a casualty clearing station, and then admitted to No. 10 Australian Military Hospital as a patient. The doctor's orders were over-ruled, and Connors was removed to prison, where he was placed on a stretcher in a cell by himself. The only convenience provided was 15 paces away, and the wretched man Had to Crawl this Distance with his Broken Limb Trailing on the Ground. He was also kept on bread and water for the limited period.
I have the names and addresses of others of my comrades who have been victims of this Hunnish treatment, and now the war has been won, I am going to put British justice to the test. I feel confident I can look to the R.S.S. Labor League to assist me in raising an agitation which will cause to bring about an inquiry into the treatment meted out to the Australian soldiers whilst away from their country. The Australian Government should call on the Imperial authorities for an explanation, and the responsible officials should be brought to book for countenancing such an awful system.
The following names may be of some use in case of investigation: General Humphreville (Director-General of Military Prisons in France), Colonel Thomas, Majors Mooney, Basher, and Dougles, Sergeant-Majors Coon, Dorkers, and Moran, and numerous staff-sergeants and non-coms, connected with the British military police, whose names I can furnish. I can also bring several witnesses (names supplied) to substantiate my case, who are prepared to give sworn evidence in any court of law.