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Hunger Strikes in British Prisons, 1913-1940  > 
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Hunger Strike in British Prisons 1913-1940


There were 30 recorded strikes in 1916, spread over 11 prisons (one of the prisons was unable to be identified). A majority of the strikes were clustered in the prisons around London, as demonstrated by the map. As the tables below show, 18 out of the 30 strikes lasted less than two weeks. While nearly one-third of the prisoners refused to give a reason for their hunger strike, most of those who gave reasons generally complained about their punishment, the prison diet, or the conditions in prison.

While there is no evidence of coordinated group hunger strikes in 1916, there are a few notable strikes. The longest strike by far was that of Helena Bernard. Bernard was convicted of larceny in June 1915 and sentenced to 18 months at Holloway. She began her hunger strike on March 1, 1916, but gave no reason why. The strike lasted for 128 days until her release on July 7. Officials only fed her 201 times, less than twice a day, but in the record they noted that she did take some food occasionally.  

Also in 1916 were the first two recorded cases of hunger strikes by conscientious objectors. In October 1916 Walter J. Abel was convicted of disobedience and conscientious objection at the District Courts Martial at Winchester and sentenced to 6 months hard labor at Wormwood Scrubs. One month later, Th. Thomas was convicted of conscientious objection at the District Courts Martial at Kinmel Park and sentenced to 112 days at Wormwood Scrubs. Both men went on hunger strikes in December (though not at the same time) to protest their punishment. Compared to nonpolitical prisoners, these "conchies," as conscientious objectors were derisively called, were force-fed less frequently; Abel was force-fed 5 times over 4 days, while Thomas was force-fed 9 times over 8 days.


Duration of Strikes

This table includes the 24 strikes for which there was a definite start and end date. Strikes with a length of "0" indicate the strike started and ended on the same day.

There were 6 strikes for which the length could not be determined, due to a missing start date, end date, or both.

Notable Strikes, 1916

Helena Bernard

Helena Bernard

Conscientious Objectors Th. Thomas and Walter J. Abel

Th. Thomas and Walter J. Abel