WWI: Forcefeeding is a form of torture

On Wednesday 8th July 1914, the Manchester Guardian published an editorial against the practice of force-feeding imprisoned suffragettes, as well as two petitions addressed to the Liberal Home Secretary, Reginald McKenna:

We publish to-day two reasoned and powerful pleas, the one from distinguished Free Church ministers, the other from a large number of medical men, against the practice of forcible feeding still persisted in by the Home Secretary, although the “Cat and Mouse” Bill was understood to have been passed as a substitute for a practice which public opinion rightly and with increasing urgency condemns.

Both petitions are addressed to the Home Secretary, and will, we trust, carry weight with him, and at least secure the interview for which the medical men ask and which the gravity of the case and the weight of the protest should make it difficult to refuse.

Forcible feeding, as carried out against resisting prisoners, is frankly a form of torture, and it is really as such that Mr. McKenna, so far as we understand his position, defends it. He says it is deterrent, and so it well may be, but so would be any other form of torture – the thumbscrew or the rack, or any other ancient and accredited method of inflicting intolerable pain; yet we do not now have resort to these methods, not even against women.


On the same day in the House of Commons, Conservative MPs were still pursuing the Liberal Prime Minister H. H. Asquith, who was also Secretary of State for War, with a view to the General Election they knew had to be called by January 1915: the topic was the lack of fresh recruitment for the Army.

Sir Samuel Scott, Conservative MP for Marylebone West since 1898:

asked the Secretary of State for War what is the actuarial calculation of the number of recruits required annually for the Regular Army as a whole and for the Infantry of the Line, with existing establishment and terms of service; how many recruits enlisted between 1st January and 31st March for the Regular Army were serving at the expiration of three months from the date of their enlistment; and what was the proportion of net casualties per 1,000 recruits joined?

Harold Tennant, the Under-Secretary of State for War:

The normal number of recruits required for the Army as a whole is about 34,700, and for the Infantry of the Line 19,600. The number of recruits enlisted between 1st January and 31st March last was 9,618, but statistics are not available to show how many of these were serving at the expiration of three months from the date of their enlistment. The figures given on page 51 of the General Annual Return will enable the hon. Member to ascertain what has been in recent years the average proportion of net casualties per 1,000 recruits joined.

Leo Amery, the Liberal Unionist MP for Birmingham South, a fervent admirer of the late Joseph Chamberlain, asked:

Will the right hon. Gentleman say, in view of the fact that the deficiency was greater in the Regular Army in June than it had been in January, and, according to the Prime Minister, there has been a steady increase in recruiting, whether there has not been 1080 a very abnormal wastage of men leaving the Army from one cause or another?

Harold Tennant:

Yes, Sir. It was well known that there was going to be this abnormal flow of men out of the Army from time to time owing to the alterations in the terms of recruiting six or seven years ago.

Leo Amery:

In view of the knowledge as to the abnormal wastage, has the Rule been suspended under which only 10 per cent. of the men are allowed to serve on at the end of their first period?

Harold Tennant:

I must have notice of that question.

Colonel Charles Rosdew Burn, Conservative MP for Torquay, asked:

Does the right honourable Gentleman’s military advisers consider that this wastage of the Army will be arrested before the end of the year or will be increased?

To which the Speaker of the House replied:

The honourable and gallant Gentleman should give notice.

A suffragist force-feeding in jail

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