The distinction between a trial by court-martial and a trial by civil court is illustrated by the trial of Barend Celliers, a Boer, for the murder of a British officer, which took place about twelve months after the trial of the Carbineers. I extract the following:—

"The trial of Barend Celliers, an Orange Free State field-cornet, for the murder of Lieutenant Boyle, a British officer, in 1901, was concluded at Bloemfontein. Celliers did not deny shooting Lieutenant Boyle, but pleaded not guilty on the ground that he had obeyed the orders of Commandant Philip Botha. General De Wet, who had previously held a court-martial on Celliers for shooting Lieutenant Boyle, and had acquitted him, gave evidence that Philip Botha, who had died some time ago, had expressed himself very strongly against Lieutenant Boyle, but he was not aware that Botha had ordered Boyle to be shot, though he might have done so without his knowledge. The jury acquitted Celliers."

Lieutenant Boyle was for a time the British officer in charge at Dewetsdorp, and for some reason or other became very obnoxious to the Boers of the town, the women especially hating him. Philip Botha, whose commando was in the neighbourhood, said to Celliers and others, "If ever we get Dewetsdorp again, I shall settle up with Lieutenant Boyle." When the town was recaptured Boyle was taken prisoner with other officers, but was kept separate from them. After he had been held a prisoner for about a week, Celliers went to his tent accompanied by another Boer, and ordered him out on the veldt. When some distance from the laager, Celliers (who said he had been ordered by Philip Botha to shoot him) informed Boyle that he had five minutes for prayer, and shot him in the back while he was still on his knees praying.

No court-martial or pretence of court-martial was ever held by the Boers upon Lieutenant Boyle, and no charge was ever made directly against him. When General De Wet inquired into the case he held Philip Botha responsible, and took no action because the latter was dead. The jury agreed with his decision.

These cases are sufficient to justify my belief that courts-martial and military tribunals should be speedily wiped out of existence. A trial by judge and jury, in an ordinary court, should never under any circumstances be departed from.

I left Pretoria on the morning of the 27th, and reached Nauu-port about midnight. At 2 o'clock I was awakened by a crash and a sudden jolt, which almost threw me from the upper berth in which I was lying; the train then suddenly stopped. Upon inquiry from my guard I learned that our train had collided with another, stabled in the siding. Two carriages and the van were much splintered and derailed, and had to be switched off. This mishap delayed us about two hours.

We arrived at De Aar at midday on Saturday; here I tipped my guard to get me some lunch. Leaving De Aar we passed through the great Karoo desert, where for hundreds of miles, as far as the eye could reach, was the same monotonous view of bare kopje and barren veldt; the only vestige of herbage is the stunted karoo bush.

I passed through Matjesfontein, the model village of South Africa, the property of the Hon. J. D. Logan, who later figured prominently in the efforts that brought about my release. On reaching Capetown I was taken to the Castle Military Prison; there I met Major Lenehan, who was detained waiting embarkation for Australia. I informed him of the fate of his two officers, of which he was not aware. Lieutenant Picton was detained at the Castle, but not under the same restraint, he being permitted to go outside under escort. I sent for Mr. Rail, the Government agent for Australian troops, and inquired if he had received my telegram from Pretoria; he said that he had not, nor had he received any news whatever regarding the affair. Upon acquainting him with the facts, he advised me to write out a statement of the case, which he would forward to the Victorian Government. He kept his promise; I know it was sent, and received by Sir Alexander Peacock, then Premier of Victoria.

The military authorities suppressed all knowledge of the findings of the court. While at Capetown I wrote several letters giving a brief account of the facts; I also sent another cable on the 8th March, which I paid for at ordinary rates, but all were suppressed. No knowledge of my fate reached my relatives, nor did any news regarding the affair reach Australia until Major Lenehan arrived in Melbourne on 25th March, a month after I had been sentenced. I was detained at the Castle some days, during which time I was kept under strict surveillance; on two occasions only was I allowed to be visited by friends from outside. Captain Baudinet, a brother officer, was refused permission to see me by the Provost Marshal and the headquarters authorities.

On the morning of 9th March I was taken on board the "Canada," lying at the South Arm Docks; two military police accompanied me, one of whom said to the regimental police sergeant, when handing me over, "Keep your eye on Witton; he'll try to escape if he gets a chance." I had not thought of doing any such thing; if I had wished to escape I could have done so long before. Morant was offered time and again at Pietersburg the opportunity of getting away; the best horses would be at his disposal outside the lines, and everything ready any time he wanted to go, but he would not take advantage of it. We all preferred to see it through.

I was placed in a small cabin in the guard-room, presumably for extra security; this proved to be a blessing in disguise. Before the boat sailed the guard-room was filled with drunken and rowdy troops. The first few days I fared rather badly, as I had to trust to the courtesy of the prisoners there to serve up my meals; I was more often forgotten than not. On the third day I asked to see the officer commanding the troops on board; he came to see me during the daily inspection. I told him how I was situated, and asked permission to have my meals sent from the saloon. This was granted, and I was allowed to make my own arrangements with the cook.

Lieutenant Picton, who was on board under no restraint, arranged everything satisfactorily. Afterwards, by making a chum of the police sergeant, I was provided with a servant for the rest of the voyage, and in the company of the sergeant I spent most of my time during the day on deck; I never then went short of anything that money could buy. I received the sympathy of all on board.

One day, while promenading on the deck, I was pointed out to a well-known British General, who was sitting on the bridge deck. "There's young Witton," a bystander remarked. "I know him, I know him; it's a d—shame; pity there isn't more like him in South Africa," burst out the General. There were over two thousand troops on board, and my situation was much discussed and commented upon. It was proposed to get up a petition there and then praying for a remission of my sentence, but I thought it quite unnecessary, as the Australian Government would be in receipt of all particulars of my case, and an investigation would probably be demanded before I reached England. I did not expect to be long a prisoner; in two months' time there would be the Coronation, and this I expected would bring liberty to all military prisoners.

My voyage to England, in spite of this, was not an enjoyable one. I was being taken away from my homeland into unmerited exile, a stranger in a strange land, branded as a criminal; these thoughts brought with them extreme mental pain and anxiety. After coaling at Las Palmas, during which time I was kept confined in my cabin, the "Canada" proceeded on her journey, and reached Queenstown on Easter Sunday. Here I got a glimpse of the Emerald Isle; being springtime, it did not belie its name. Queenstown has a magnificent harbour, far superior to anything I had then seen. The Irish troops who were on board, principally Cork militia, were disembarked. While in port I was handed an Irish newspaper, a pro-Boer journal, in which was published a long article headed "A Sad Tale from the Veldt." Its infamous statements were obviously the efforts of a malign imagination, as false as they were sensational, yet a recital of these was allowed to be published broadcast.

Lieutenant Picton, on his arrival in England, flatly contradicted these vile assertions, but it was an impossible task to suppress them when pitted against the ghoulish journalism of the world. South Africa was under martial law, and those who protested there became marked men, and ran a risk of being imprisoned on some trumped-up charge. Others, suspected of a desire to make disclosures, were silenced by a promise of an important post under the new administration. Such promises, although unofficial, had a good effect in the policy of suppression.

After leaving Queenstown the "Canada" headed for Southampton. I remained on deck until dark, hoping to see Morant's longwished-for beacon, "the Ushant light on the starboard bow," but the night was very foggy and the light was not in evidence. Passing up the Solent, past the Needles and close to the Isle of Wight, in Southampton Waters, we arrived at our destination about midday on 2nd April. Labels similar to those used by tradesmen when sending out goods were issued to us, inscribed with our number, name, and regiment, and we were instructed to attach them to our dress. It seemed a ridiculous farce for a man to have to label himself, but the motive in this case was, I was told, to assist the police in identifying and forwarding drunken Tommies to their destination. I still have my label in my possession.

During the afternoon, when the troops had all disembarked, an escort of marines came on board to take charge of the prisoners. I was again handcuffed, on this occasion with a young Imperial lieutenant, who emerged from among the Tommies in the guard-room.

We then entrained for Gosport. After leaving the train we travelled the last stage to the Gosport Military Prison in a waggonette. When the vehicle pulled up at the outer gate and set us down to await admission, I indulged in a few last whiffs of a cigarette. Whilst doing so I took a survey of the prison building, with its forbidding walls and long rows of small barred windows, and felt awed and chilled by the gloomy and silent air of the place—a foretaste of the life I was about to enter upon.

At last the wicket-gate was opened, and we filed through into a small courtyard; here the irons were removed from our aching wrists; then, passing through more gates and stout doors, we entered the main hall, where strict silence had to be observed. We were here called up one by one before the Chief Warder.

While waiting I looked around me. There was a long corridor with three terraces of cells on either side, fronted with polished iron rails, a corkscrew staircase from the ground mounting to the heights above, and door after door passing into dim perspective.

When my turn came to go up, I was asked my rank, regiment, crime, and sentence, and was then told to hand over all personal property in my possession. Among the things I handed over were a dozen packets of cigarettes, which had been given to me by an officer on the "Canada." I was then taken to a bathroom, and after a good hot bath, a complete outfit of clothes of navy blue serge and other kit were given to me; I was then sent to cell No. 36 on the top landing. I walked into the cell, which appeared to be about 7 feet wide by about 13 feet long by 10 feet high, with a vaulted brick ceiling. In the cell was a small wooden table, a wooden stool, a bed board, three small mattresses of the biscuit pattern, a hard pillow, three army blankets, and a number of tin utensils.

I sat down on the stool and began taking a note of my surroundings. This, then, was to be my home for an indefinite period. I determined to try and make the best of everything, and settle down to the routine of prison life. My musings were suddenly disturbed by the gruff voice of a huge warder demanding why I did not close my door; I replied that I did not know it was my duty to close it, I had not been told to do so. After a long reprimand, I was given strict injunctions always to close my door when entering or leaving my cell.

Shortly after there was a rattle of tin cans outside, and a key in my door, which was thrown open. Supper was being served; I was handed a pint of oatmeal gruel and six ounces of dry white bread. This was my first meal in an English prison, and it was anything but gratifying.

When supper was finished the library warder came to me with a bundle of books, from which I chose Dickens' "Little Dorrit." Its tale of the old Marshalsea prison life interested me greatly. I read until locking-up time, which at Gosport was a quarter to eight. I was told that I must be in bed by eight o'clock, when the lights would be turned out. Though very tired, even in this abode of silence I could not sleep; I lay for hours thinking. They were the heaviest hours it was ever my lot to know; they were as weary as they were bitter. My hopes of a military career were irretrievably lost, my life blighted; I had been proclaimed to the world a felon, immured for a lifetime, and all brought about by the observance of the first duty of a soldier, "obedience to orders."

At midnight I became oblivious of everything, and was only awakened by the clang of the bell at half-past five. After washing, dressing, and arranging my bedding, my door was again flung open, and a warder and orderly came in with a bundle of short pieces of hard tarred rope. "I have brought you some work," said the warder. "Do you know how to pick oakum?" "I do not," I replied. "Very well, you will learn now." The orderly was then requested to instruct me in the art. Taking a strand of the rope, he rubbed it backwards and forwards on his knee, then taking it between his forefinger and thumb he frayed it into a woolly mass. He whispered to me, "These 'ere 'ard bits," showing a short length of hard dry rope, "yer want to 'ammer on the floor, but don't do it when there's anybody about, as 'e'li 'ear yer." I returned him my grateful thanks for his "tip," and promised to try it. I was then left with several pounds of rope, which was to be my task for the day.

Prior to my imprisonment my ideas of a convict's life centred round bread and water and picking oakum; they were almost realised. Sitting down, I commenced to unravel the awful stuff, but no matter how I tried I could not get it anything near as fine as the sample; to make matters worse, my fingers being tender, the tar commenced to burn them. For about an hour I worked steadily, until my shoulders ached and my fingers were almost raw.

Then came breakfast, my second prison meal, which consisted of the same amount of dry bread as for supper; three-quarters of a pint of cocoa was served in place of the gruel. By this time I felt hungry, and ate my loaf and drank my cocoa with eagerness. Then came again the banging and slamming of doors, the rattle of keys, and my own door was flung open. "Exercise. Close your door," shouted the warder. Leaving my cell, I hastened to the ground floor, where we fell-in in double file in the centre of the hall. When all were down we were called to "Attention," "Open order," "March." During this parade the Chief Warder made a daily inspection to see that every man had his uniform carefully brushed and his boots polished.

In single file we were marched out into the yard, and forming a circle walked round and round for an hour. Exercise over, I returned to my cell for a few minutes, then more unlocking and banging of doors, as the warder shouted "Prayers." I was then conducted to the chapel, where "divine service" was held-at least, that was what they called it. On week days it was usually conducted by a warder in a most perfunctory manner; the way the prayers were gabbled over, to my mind, bordered on profanity. While prayers were being said and the Litany intoned I have seen tobacco passed round from one to another, and one morning I heard the following conversation:-"Say, jock, how is it you are back so soon? What happened this time?" "I got drunk, and was run in, and broke out of barracks and punched the provost-sergeant," replied Jock.

Much the same methods prevailed in the other prisons where I was confined, excepting that the services were usually conducted by a chaplain. It is absolutely wrong to force prisoners to attend daily such a burlesque; that is, if these services are held with a view to softening the hearts of the wicked ones, and giving them an idea of living a better life. It affects them in two ways only—nine-tenths of them get hardened beyond any hope of redemption, the other tenth get softening of the brain or religious mania. Two good services held on Sunday in a reverent manner would be quite enough, and would have a good effect at least on the majority. It does not do any good to continually sing hymns like the following:—

"Have mercy, Lord, on me, As Thou wert ever kind, Let me, opprest with loads of guilt, Thy wonted mercy find.

"Wash off my foul offence. And cleanse me from my sin, For I confess my crime, and see How great my guilt has been."

The work of a prison chaplain is an extremely difficult one; besides being a thorough Christian, he requires to have a kind heart and some fellow feeling, also a large amount of tact and judgment,

otherwise it would be better for all concerned if he never approached a prisoner. It is the duty of the chaplain of a convict prison to visit each prisoner separately in his cell at least twice a year.

The following incidents came under my notice while I was in prison:--The chaplain entered the cell of a young lad who had been in the navy, and was serving a sentence for attempting to strike an officer. The greeting the lad received from this man of God was, "Well, are you another of the rape cases?" The prisoner, who was standing with his cap on, indignantly replied that he was not, he was there for attempting to strike an officer in the navy. "Take your cap off when you speak to me," haughtily replied the chaplain. The prisoner removed his cap and threw it on the floor, and requested that he should be left alone; if he wished to see a chaplain he would make an application. "I can see you when I wish," said the chaplain, as he banged the door. This chaplain had more prisoners reported and punished than any prison officer.

Another chaplain at another prison, when going his round, entered a cell and found the prisoner with his head buried in his arms, sobbing; on returning from labour at dinner-time he had found a letter thrown on his bed containing the news of the death of his wife. "Well, my man, what's the matter with you?" asked the chaplain. When the prisoner had told him his bad news, he replied, "Ah, that is a common occurrence here." After delivering himself of that goodly measure of consolation he walked out. The same chaplain visited the hospital one morning, and came to a prisoner who had just been admitted after being examined by the medical officer. "What is the matter with you?" asked the chaplain. "I have neuralgia," answered the prisoner. "Very painful thing, very painful thing—that is, if you have got it," remarked the chaplain.

There are exceptions, of course, and it is possible sometimes to meet a sympathetic minister in the prisons, but if he followed after those I have mentioned above, his task of reform would be almost a hopeless one.

An avenue for the abuse of sacred rites is the administration of Holy Communion. I have seen some of the most depraved specimens of humanity, men without any sense of morality or probity, accept the

Sacrament, thinking by doing so to gain favour in the eyes of the prison authorities through the chaplain. Others will partake of it merely for the sup of wine. I know of one man who was advised to go to Communion; when he returned he said, "I have been to Communion; it was tip-top wine, too, but I couldn't get enough of it."

Prayers over, I went back to my cell and made a fresh start on the oakum. I had just settled down to this monotonous occupation when I heard another rattle of keys at my door, and the prison regimental sergeant-major came in. After a few cheery remarks, he asked me what work I had been put to. I told him. "I'll find you something more suitable than that," he said; "you can do some bookbinding, and write out a few lists for me; if there is anything you want, ask for it." "How often can I have a bath?" I asked. "You can have a hot one every morning; just ask your warder to send you down; if you don't get it, let me know," he replied. Without regarding the relative positions we occupied I thanked him for his kindness, and, as he was leaving, he told me the Governor wished to see me at dinner-time. That visit was like a ray of sunshine in my abode of gloom, and was productive of much that made the remainder of my stay at Gosport bearable.

Dinner was served at 12 o'clock. It consisted of a pint of soup, three-quarters of a pound of potatoes, and four ounces of bread. I had just finished my dinner when I heard someone shout out, "Send Witton down." My door was opened, and a warder told me I was wanted below. I went down, and was ushered into the Governor's office. The Governor appeared to be interested in my case, probably on account of what had been recently published; he asked me to tell him briefly how I came to be in my present position. I explained as briefly as I couid how Captain Hunt met his death, and the unfortunate ending of Lieutenant Morant's command, and the part I had taken in it. "It was a case of retaliation, then," he observed.

After that interview I was treated with marked deference by the prison staff, and was allowed another hour's walking exercise during the afternoon. No restrictions regarding writing or receiving letters were enforced; my work now was merely an employment to kill time, and consisted of patching up old library books and writing out lists and forms. Sometimes, when my afternoon exercise was due, and it happened to be raining, I would be put on to cut up old rope into short lengths; the hardest and dry pieces I would cut extra short, hoping that in doing so I would be serving some other unfortunate a good turn. I remained at Gosport Military Prison from the 2nd to the 26th April.

I was then transferred to Lewes, the Sussex County Civil Prison. On the morning of my departure from Gosport my khaki uinform was returned to me, and I was taken to Lewes in the same dress as that in which I arrived from South Africa.

Parent Category: Books
Category: Witton: Scapegoats of the Empire
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