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Military CP - July 1946

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Daily Mail, London, 6 July 1946

Court-martial sets great jungle-war problem

Had Wingate the right to flog?

By Murray Edwards
Daily Mail Reporter

The right of General Wingate of Burma to order any of his Chindits to be flogged, shot, or turned loose in the jungle for an offence that would endanger comrades' lives, was discussed in a third-floor back attic in Curzon-street, Mayfair, yesterday.

And his right to break King's Regulations was challenged.

Major Phillip Herbert Graves-Morris, D.S.O., M.C., one of Wingate's commanders, was facing a court-martial.

He was charged on two counts with ordering R.S.M. Hemmings to flog two privates named Dexter and Smith, both of the Yorkshire and Lancashire Regiment, for going to sleep while on sentry duty 200 miles behind the Jap lines.

Private Dexter, demobbed now, sat with his wife in a waiting room throughout the four-hour hearing. He was not called.

His only comment afterwards was, "I'm not complaining."

The court allowed a plea of condonation subject to confirmation by the convening body. If it is confirmed Major Graves-Morris will be acquitted.

Brigadier's OK

The attic in which the court sat used to be a rest room for ATS girls. On its bare walls were pasted crude drawings of jungle scenes.

Waiting in the passage outside, to give evidence, were high Chindit officers, including Brigadier W. Lentaigne, who took over the command after Wingate was killed in 1944, and Brigadier Ferguson, who had a monocle dropped for him in the jungle after he had lost his own.

Major Graves-Morris pleaded "Not guilty in bar of trial," to both charges, and Mr. Russell Vick, K.C., who appeared for him, said this meant that even if the offences had been committed they had been condoned by a senior officer after being reported.

Major Graves-Morris had reported the incidents to his Brigadier and the Brigadier had simply said "O.K." as it was a recognised proceeding.

The flogging, Mr. Vick said, was carried out with a thin cane after both Dexter and Smith had signed a document saying they were willing to take such punishment in place of 25 days' field punishment that had been awarded by Major Graves-Morris.

Because of the rigour of the campaign, which he described as "hellish," no field punishment -- even if it could have been carried out -- would equal the ordinary life of the Chindits.

'School caning'

The whole matter had caused Major Graves-Morris considerable anxiety and expense. At the time of the incidents he was a lieut-colonel commanding 84 Column of the Chindits.

"The soldiers concerned," said Mr. Vick, "took their punishment like sportsmen. It was more of a schoolmaster's caning than the old 200 lashes."

Click to enlarge

Brigadier W.D.A. Lentaigne, who commanded a Chindit Brigade in 1943, and eventually took over from Wingate, said that he and General Wingate often discussed discipline in long-range penetration columns.

"General Wingate told me, he said, "that in these operations men frequently committed crimes under the stress of the circumstances which would endanger the safety of the whole column and the lives of other men."

Wingate was in favour of unorthodox punishment, including corporal punishments, which were the only kind that could be inflicted.

The brigadier listed the crimes for which, he said, Wingate advocated such punishments. They were -- stealing rations, quitting a post while on sentry duty; sleeping on sentry duty; desertion. The first was regarded as the most serious crime of all.


Answering Lieut. Col. G.A. Whiteley, prosecuting, Brigadier Lentaigne agreed that King's Regulations did not allow flogging, and that if Parliament had been flaunted [sic], it was because of the abnormal conditions.

He himself would definitely have authorised the flogging of a soldier in the circumstances.

He did not hear of it at the time because their only means of communication was by faulty wireless, and it would have been wrong to take up precious wireless time with such an incident.

He could not visit all forward units because they were not always able to cut an airstrip out of the jungle for his light plane to land, and when the monsoons started even that was impossible.

Colonel J.B. Jeffries, in a grey demob suit, said he was in Wingate's 1943 operations and later became second in command of a brigade. Wingate told him that because of the nature of the operations. ordinary punishments could not be carried out.

Detention, C.B., and stoppage of pay were meaningless in the jungle, Wingate said, and as rigid discipline had to be maintained at all times C.O.s would have to award punishments not normally expected or allowed by existing Army regulations.

Colonel Jeffries said that, in his view, flogging was the only suitable punishment in certain cases, and he told his officers so.

He and Brigadier Brodie heard about the flogging of Dexter and Smith in 1944, but they took no action because it had their full approval.

Major F.H.J. Wyman, of Streatham, spoke of attending a lecture given by General Wingate at Bangalore, late in 1943.

General Wingate said that K.R.s and the Army Act could not be applied, Major Wyman told the court, "but discipline must be maintained at any cost."

Then, shaking his finger to aid his memory and stress his points, Major Wyman quoted General Wingate as saying:

"You will apply a scale I have laid down because I am satisfied it is the only way you can hope to bring your men out alive.

For serious offences that are likely to result in the lives of your men, you are empowered to flog them, turn them loose with rations and ammunition and, in exceptional cases, shoot them.

"You will accept the responsibility under my orders, and those are my orders."

Monsoon battle

Major Wyman added: "He made it clear that if a man committed a certain offence he was to be turned loose with his five days' rations strapped on his back, and his rifle and ammunition, to fend for himself in the jungle."

Lieut.-Col. T. Brodie -- a brigadier at the time -- said he remembered the accused telling him in 1944 that he had had to have a man flogged. He was convinced that it was within the accused's powers and so he took no action. If such a man had been shot he would have condoned it.

Major P.H. Graves-Morris, wearing the ribbons of the D.S.O. and M.C., gave his evidence sitting on a kitchen chair.

He said: "I had been informed at lectures that it might be necessary to inflict corporal punishment. I discussed the matter with Colonel Jeffries who had had previous experience, and I had read instructions that had been circulated."

The case of Dexter was reported to him by Major Bruce after they had .fought a serious engagement over the 3,500ft high Chin Hills in a monsoon.

Dexter was awarded 28 days' field punishment for sleeping on sentry duty, but he did not remember the case of Smith and had not been able to trace the name in his battalion.

Dexter was given the option of 12 strokes with a cane and told that he would not lose his 25 days' pay, and all record of the incident would be destroyed; and he agreed, and put it in writing after being told it was entirely up to him.

Cross-examined, Major Graves-Morris said he did not offer Dexter the opportunity of a court-martial because there was no chance of carrying it out.

Then Mr. Russell Vick submitted that if an offence had been committed it had been condoned when the brigadier advisedly took no action.

The court decision was announced after an adjournment of ten minutes.

Private Dexter said later, that he had travelled from his home in Carlton-road, Nottingham, for the hearing.

It was a letter he wrote to his brother-in-law that started the inquiry. His brother-in-law wrote to Mr. Beverley Baxter, M.P. for Wood Green.


Since 1881 --

THE War Office said last night: "Flogging is illegal under the Army Act of 1881, and a modification in 1923 forbade field punishment, which previously permitted binding an offender to a fixed object -- a field gun, for instance -- for a number of hours.

"In the height of battle a man spreading alarm or acting in a cowardly fashion might there and then be flogged or even shot by an officer.

"But that clause would not apply in this court-martial.

"The findings in this case really mean that the responsibility does not belong to the officer put on trial, but elsewhere."

blob Follow-up: 16 October 1946 - Punishment code in the Chindits

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