'We had a few rum lads in the regiment' (Leonard May memoirs, talking about a soldier arrested for talking back to an officer)
Inevitably, the East Riding Yeomanry had its share of disciplinary problems, mainly amongst the enlisted men and junior NCO's. Though punishments are sometimes mentioned in private memoirs, the best sources for these are service/pension records, along with court martial proceedings. Where offences were committed that came under civilian jurisdiction, we can trace proceedings through the newspapers. The surviving data suggests a moderate level of offending, consisting mainly of relatively minor offences and frequently in the context of service at home (there seem to have been very few serious offences when the ERY was actually in action).
There were no wartime executions involving ERY soldiers and hardly any serious military crimes e.g. striking a superior officer, throwing away arms in the face of the enemy, for which the death sentence might theoretically have been applied.
Post war, a few former ERY soldiers were involved in more serious crimes.
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We have very little evidence for the period before 1914, as the ERY's regimental records for that period have not survived. Occasionally, newspaper reports do occur, but mostly these offences would have been dealt with strictly within the regiment and would not have become public knowledge.
One such instance was a Private John Deighton, who in October 1911(as reported in the Beverley & East Riding Recorder of 28th October) was prosecuted for failing to attend a single drill/parade throughout the year and being in possession of regimental boots valued at 12 shillings & 9 pence. Deighton (who also failed to appear in court) was fined Â£1 and costs. The newspaper regarded the verdict as a salutary lesson on the importance of attending annual training.
The available data covers a broad range of offences, mostly traced through the surviving service records. Occasional anecdotes in other sources point to some of the information that is now lost. For example, Leonard May in his memoirs notes a Rackham (perhaps Private Valentine Herbert Rackham) who 'lost his stripe through annoying Sergeant Dunning.'
Disciplinary offences have been noted for around 100 men who at one time or another were in the East Riding Yeomanry - only about 4% of the individuals known to have served in the regiment. This excludes pre / post war civilian offences, some of which are dealt with separately below. There are a few additional service records where offences have clearly been recorded, but the information is no longer legible.
In any analysis of this data, it is worth bearing in mind that sometimes offences were committed before the man joined the ERY and/or after he had transferred away to another unit. And some men committed more than one offence. Some serial offenders with seven, eight or nine offences on their record, committed acts of indiscipline with multiple units and must have been a considerable headache for the NCO's / Officers who had to deal with them.
The accompanying Database provides a summary of known offences for each man and these can be cross referenced with unit transfers where applicable.
Bearing these limitations in mind, what does the available data indicate?
The circumstances and the length of absence would have had an effect on the level of punishment. For example, Lance Corporal Gilbert S. Simpson was admonished and docked 2 days pay. On the other hand, court martials could result â€“ Private J. Beddoes was AWOL twice, court martialled and initially sentenced to 6 months detention (reduced to 21 days after a re-trial). Lieutenant Henry Phillip Parker was one of a very small number of ERY officers recorded as having breached military regulations â€“ the London Gazette notes him as AWOL on the 18th November 1915 â€“ apparently he never even joined the regiment.
Absences from parades or being absent from duty generally also features heavily â€“ at least 13 individuals. Warnings and periods of confinement to barracks (no doubt accompanied by suitably unpleasant cleaning duties) seem to have been the general punishments in these cases.
In the field, Private John Edgar Huxley received 4 days confined to barracks for failing to comply with a Brigade order and later 1 day for failing to salute an officer. Slightly more exotically, Private William Hartley (previously of the ERY, then serving with the MGC) was caught 'out of bounds in a Jerusalem brothel' and given three days' Field Punishment no.2 (shackled to a fixed object). Lance Sergeant Richard Fryer was noted for his 'disgusting language' though it is not clear if this was necessarily an offence, or just an observation!
Private Arthur Frederick Hogarth (born near Whitby) perhaps takes the prize for the most persistent effort to get into the army, having enlisted with the 6th Dragoons in 1907 (as Frederick Hogarth), the Royal Artillery in 1908 (as Frank Preston), the Royal Artillery again in 1911 (under his full name) and the 2/1st East Riding Yeomanry in 1912. His original dismissal was due to him having committed a felony. In each subsequent case, he stated he had not had any previous military service and so when found out, was dismissed for making a false answer on attestation. In 1911 he was given three months hard labour. Hogarth seems to have had a touching faith that the Army would not find out about his previous enlistments, false names, false places of birth, wrong age, different professions etc. Clearly it did find out and his service records are mainly a catalogue of his numerous dismissals from service, carefully documenting his alternative names.
Marriage in 1912 did not settle him down, as he re-enlisted in 1916 (with the West Yorkshire Regiment) and did actually serve in France. In November 1917 a court martial found him not guilty of desertion, but guilty of being AWOL and he received a year's prison sentence. Released to his unit, he was wounded in October 1918 (possibly, he also suffered from shell shock) and finally discharged in February 1919. The Army must have breathed a hearty sigh of relief, although that was not quite the end of the story, as post war Hogarth tried to claim a pension (this was rejected, as his wound was judged to have fully healed). He still seems to have got his campaign medals, despite his multiple military offences.
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Minor military offences would often have been dealt with by verbal warnings or other summary punishments, handed out by Non-Commissioned officers or the officers in the ERY. For offences seen to be more serious, various levels of court martial existed. Around twenty ERY men are recorded in a surviving Army Court Martials Register covering the First World War period, the majority of them being in the reserve 2/1st ERY i.e. men on home service. Apart from one officer and one Acting Lance Corporal, they were all Privates.
Taking data from these men alone, we get the following breakdown (note that some men were convicted on more than one charge and some were court martialled more than once):
- Absent without leave - 9 individuals
- Desertion - 1 (but see also case of Frederick Hogarth below)
- Drunkenness - 1 case (2nd Lt. O.W. Allen of the 3/1st ERY; see also section on Mental health issues in Sickness and Unfit for 2nd Lt. Audas, who is not listed in the court martials register, although it is clear from his service record that he was court martialled and dismissed - again, for drunkenness.
- Insubordination to NCO's - 4
- Loss of public property / equipment - 3
- Miscellaneous military offences - 4
- Theft - 2
- Quitting / sleeping on post - 4
Punishment in these cases was most often in the form of detention (i.e. confinement to barracks) for 28 days or some multiple thereof, sometimes with fines or stoppages of pay as well. The most serious offences merited long term imprisonment and in one case (Private Henry W. Walker, who was convicted of theft), the punishment was dismissal from the service. Field Punishment no.2 (being shackled) only occurs once - it was awarded to Private E. Elleston of the 2/1st ERY for quitting or sleeping on post on two occasions. Lt. Allen was at first just severely reprimanded for his drinking, but was later dismissed from service for further offences, probably also due to alcohol.
It can be seen from this small sample of data that appeals were allowed, and that punishments were often reduced, or even remitted entirely.
Some individual stories
Any military unit will have a few bad characters in it. Some of them would have committed offences regardless of whether they ever donned a uniform or not, others were simply unable (or unwilling) to comply with military law. Some were basically good characters who fell apart under the strain or succumbed to a one-off temptation. A few of the more interesting cases recorded in our sources are dealt with in detail below.
In November 1915 he was convicted in a civilian court of fraud, having obtained money by cheques which proved to be worthless, at a number of locations across England, along with a 2nd man and a married woman. Chichester-Constable was dismissed from the service and imprisoned. Re-enlisting as a private, he went to France in 1916 and suffered a severe gunshot wound on the 19th July, which his pension record states shattered his jaw, knocked out 22 teeth and caused severe facial disfigurement. In May 1918, he was awaiting trial for being absent without leave and escaped from arrest. Having been recaptured, he was punished with 28 days detention. There were numerous other reprimands on his record before he left the army in June 1920.
In 1938, after a marriage lasting four years, his wife was granted a divorce on the grounds of cruelty and his drinking habits.
Civilian & post war offences
Sometimes our sources have also recorded civilian offences / crimes committed by ERY soldiers either during or after their service. These range from the relatively trivial to very serious. A few sample stories are given below: