Crime and Discipline

Chapter 10
Please be aware, this chapter contains some material which readers may find upsetting.


'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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Guard Duty

Image: Guard duty, July 1915. Image in private collection.


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 £1 and costs. The newspaper regarded the verdict as a salutary lesson on the importance of attending annual training.

Wartime offences

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.

Kit Inspection

Image: Kit inspection, Palestine. Image courtesy of Hedon Museum & the Estate of Mr W. Palmer.

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?

Absence offences
Variously termed as Absence Without Leave (AWOL), overstayed leave unauthorised absence, or absent off pass. At least 40 individuals were charged with this offence, making it the most commonly recorded offence.

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 – 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 – the London Gazette notes him as AWOL on the 18th November 1915 – apparently he never even joined the regiment.

Absences from parades or being absent from duty generally also features heavily – 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.
As it potentially endangered the safety/security of the regiment and its base, offences related to sentry duty seem to have been taken very seriously indeed, even when they occurred in the UK. Lance Corporal Percy Fletcher Brown was convicted of 'neglect of guard duty' at Bridlington in November 1917, demoted to Private and confined to barracks for 28 days. In all there were at least 9 instances of individuals being absent from guard duty (or being asleep on duty). On active service, the latter could incur the death penalty. What could happen to a soldier when this offence occurred in a war zone is illustrated by the example of Private Cecil Worthey Harding. A solicitor's clerk and with one minor previous offence on his record, Harding was court martialled at Cairo in March 1918. Then serving with the MGC (Cavalry), his offence was to leave sentry duty outside a military training establishment without waiting for his relief. Worthing was found guilty and initially sentenced to three months hard labour, later commuted to 90 days FP no.2.
Appearance offences
The Army set a high store by the correct standards of dress and physical cleanliness being maintained, arguing that discipline in this respect feeds into correct behaviour when on active service. There were at least 9 offenders in this category. Private William Mark Booth for example, was 'dirty (verminous) & unshaven on parade.' Lance Corporal Harold George Martin was 'improperly dressed'. Perhaps more seriously, since he was serving in Sinai at the time, Private James Frederick Pattinson was found guilty of not wearing his helmet (perhaps due to the heat?) and was fined a day's pay. 10 or more individuals committed offences in this category.
Rank related offences / disobeying orders
In addition to personal appearance, respect for one's superiors was another cornerstone of army discipline. About 17 examples have been noted. Severity of punishment would have depended on which NCO/Officer was being insulted or the seriousness of the order that was disobeyed. Private Enoch Creamer for example was accused of multiple offence, possibly all on one day, including threatening an NCO, disobeying a regimental order and being drunk & disorderly, although these occurred whilst he was on home service. He was confined to barracks for 14 days.

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!
Theft and fraud
Private Thomas Charles Bussey (who was a storeman) was convicted of 'irregular dealing in public property' i.e. selling army stores, and confined to barracks for eight days in October 1918. See below for other instances of theft that resulted in court martial.
Miscellaneous other offences
Some of the language employed in the service records is rather obscure. In the absence of any other documents, we are left to wonder what was meant by 'irregular conduct' (Private David Leonard Hopper – awarded 4 days FP no.2), for 'causing a nuisance in camp' (Private Albert James Jefferson – 7 days confined to barracks). Equally, what 'public property' did Acting Corporal Henry Neatham Needler damage at Waterford? – resulting in his losing rank. And perhaps most intriguingly, why was Private Frank William Tilson 'loitering on Black Water bridge' (in Fermoy, Ireland)? – one of at least six disciplinary infringements he committed in 1917-1919. Rather more straightforward was the case of Private Stanley Hopper, who 'discharged his rifle on duty without reason' and was rewarded with three extra spells of guard duty.

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.
Audas was dismissed for drunkenness

Image: Lt. Frederick Audas. Image in ERYC Archives collection - album of Robert S. Stephenson.

The Second Fleet

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.

Private Harry Brown
Private Harry Brown (1890-?) lived in Havelock Street, Hull and worked as a barman. He had a veritable catalogue of minor disciplinary offences whilst on home service with the ERY in 1915-1916, including being absent without leave, absent from parades, smoking in the stables and being improperly dressed. He was wounded in action with the East Yorkshire Regiment in France in April 1917 and deserted in September/October of that year (perhaps a case of combat stress?) for which he received 84 days detention.
Basil Henry Chichester-Constable
Basil Henry Chichester-Constable (1897-1968). Born to one of the most prominent families in the East Riding, BHCC had a long history of brushes with the law, both inside and outside the army. His war service included a short spell as a 2nd Lt. in the ERY (commissioned 29/8/1914) – the reasons for his leaving are not clear. He later served as a private in the Grenadier Guards (lasting only 77 days), as a Corporal/Private in the Machine Gun Corps and in the Royal Army Service Corps.

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.
Sergeant(?) Edward Davies
Sergeant(?) Edward Davies (1886-?). He was convicted in September 1915 of obtaining money under false pretences – in essence, trying to obtain money for rail tickets from various persons by claiming that he had returned from the front and had lost his purse. During evidence it emerged he was also guilty of desertion from the 3rd cavalry Regiment at Colchester, being AWOL from the ERY at York and giving a false name/rank. It was also noted that he had served three month's hard labour in 1912 (one of three previous convictions against him). The Scarborough Evening News of 6/9/1915 reported that he had enlisted in December 1914 and had deserted on January 6th 1915. With masterful understatement, his military character was described as being anything but satisfactory! For his latest exploits, Davies received a further two months imprisonment with hard labour.
Regimental Orders

Image: Regimental orders, 1913. Image in private collection.

Seargent's Parade

Image: Sergeant's parade. Image courtesy of Hedon Museum & the Estate of Mr W. Palmer.

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:

Private Harold Danvers Hart
Former Private Harold Danvers Hart was involved in a domestic violence case in 1925, as reported in the Hull Daily Mail 27th April. Reportedly both a drinker and a gambler, Hart had neglected to give his wife money for food (to the point where she fainted from weakness) and had also physically abused her. The court granted the wife an allowance of 15 shillings a week and custody of the couple's two children.
Lance Sergeant George Hodgson
Lance Sergeant George Hodgson, of Heslington was ordered by York magistrates court (in 1915) to pay a certain Frances Ellen Beverley (of Fulford) 2s 6d per week until her child was 16 - this worked out at 4d a day deducted from Hodgson's pay. One may deduce that this was an illegitimate birth and Hodgson had tried to avoid his parental responsibilities, forcing the mother to go to court to seek compensation.
Private Albert Charles Jeffreys
Private Albert Charles Jeffreys was from either Perth or Chelmsford, depending on which source you believe. He lived at North Duffield, near Selby. Jeffreys joined the ERY at York on 8th December 1913. On 19th November 1914 he was convicted of the rape of Rebecca Jane Watson at Ulrome, East Riding (on the 25th August 1914). His service record shows he was dismissed from the army and sentenced to seven years in prison. He had a previous conviction at Chelmsford in 1903 for stealing a bicycle, when he was using the name Albert Porter.
Private Kenneth E. Perry
Private Kenneth E. Perry was convicted in 1926 of murdering his two children. See Sickness and Unfit for section on mental health cases connected with service in the ERY.
Captain Gerald Herbert Woodhouse
Captain Gerald Herbert Woodhouse (1889-1971) was born in Hull. In civilian life he worked as a solicitor. His signature appears on numerous attestation forms and other ERY documents as he was the regimental adjutant with the 2/1st ERY for much of the war. He reached the rank of temporary Major in April 1916, but was later demoted back to Captain. He joined the 1/1st ERY in Egypt in November 1917 and later served with General Headquarters there, doing intelligence work. Woodhouse returned to the regiment after the war. In 1923 and again in 1934 (as recorded in the Hull Daily Mail, the Yorkshire Post and other newspapers), he appeared in civilian courts, accused of indecent assaults against young boys. The latter case resulted in a 6 months prison sentence and Woodhouse was struck off the roll of solicitors by a disciplinary committee. Medical experts deemed him to be 'psychologically unbalanced'.