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Military CP - October 1946

Corpun file 23619


The Times, London, 16 October 1946, p.8

House Of Commons

Tuesday, Oct. 15, The SPEAKER took the Chair at half past 2 o'clock.

Punishment code in the Chindits

Mr. Bellenger's review

Click to enlarge

Mr. BELLENGER, in a written reply, made a long statement about the allegations at a London court-martial in July that the commanding officer in Burma had authorized the imposition of flogging on soldiers.

At the court-martial an officer who was accused of ordering a man in his unit to be flogged submitted a plea in bar of trial, on the grounds that his action had been condoned by his superiors, and was acquitted.

Evidence was produced (Mr. Bellenger stated) to show that when the late General Wingate formed the Long Penetration Groups he issued detailed instructions relating to the maintenance of discipline during operations. These instructions were drawn up as the General considered that the conditions in which the operations took place were so exceptional that a special code was essential. In particular, he laid down that such offences as sleeping while a sentry and stealing rations were punishable by flogging.

I have considered with great care what further action should be taken in this matter. By instituting a system of punishment at variance with the Army Act and King's Regulations, General Wingate undoubtedly exceeded his powers. This gallant and distinguished officer met his death in the midst of the operations he was conducting. It remained for me to consider to what extent his successor should properly be brought to account for acquiescing in a system of punishment which was contrary to law.

Permanent isolation

The conditions in which these Long Penetration Groups operated were without parallel in military history. The columns were launched on foot through the enemy and operated deep inside the enemy lines. They were maintained entirely by air. Each column operated as a separate entity, was cut off from the outside world and other columns by great distances, and lived dangerously for periods extending over many weeks. The campaign was waged in indescribable discomfort, in which the force was permanently isolated, and in which the slightest mistake or lack of vigilance would jeopardize the safety of the whole column.

It is not unnatural that in these circumstances General Wingate should have considered whether the kind of punishments allowed by law would suit or indeed could be applied in the exceptional conditions in which his force was to operate. Each column commander had the power to convene a field general court-martial which could award such punishments as imprisonment, detention, forfeiture of pay, and field punishment. But in so far as these punishments could be applied at all they would have been less exacting than the hardships suffered daily by all members of the columns. The system of summary punishment which was devised was known throughout the force, was generally accented by the men under command, and was inflicted only with the consent of the culprit.

When General Wingate's successor took over command the campaign was in full swing. I think it will be agreed that, although he inherited and became responsible for the orders of his predecessor, he could not reasonably be expected to turn his eyes from his main task, which was to harass the Japanese within their lines. Communications were such that in any event it would have been impracticable for detailed orders on discipline to be issued if the campaign was to proceed. I have therefore concluded that no useful purpose will be served in pursuing the question of the responsibility of individuals for what took place.

blob Follow-up: 5 January 1963 - A Legendary Chindit Revisits The Battle Areas of Burma (includes description of such a flogging)

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