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


There were 38 recorded strikes in 1917, spread over 15 prisons (one of the prisons was unable to be identified). As the tables below show, a large majority of the strikes lasted less than two weeks, while the longest lasted more than three months. More than half of the hunger strikes, 21 out of 38, were by conscientious objectors protesting some aspect of their punishment. Unlike many years, prison officials resorted to force feedings for every hunger strike except for one. 

There is evidence of one coordinated strike in 1917. Three men, John George Harrison, John Rich Cable, and Richard Main, were convicted of unspecified crimes at the District Courts Martial at Ripon, and sentenced to two years at Leeds. From December 29, 1917 through January 2, 1918, these men all went on a four day hunger strike. While Cable and Main both claimed to be protesting their punishment, Harrison, who appeared first on the record, claimed "sympathy with the 2 following men." 

The largest group of hunger strikes in 1917 were conscientious objectors. When the Military Service Act of 1916 created the first national conscription in Britain's history, thousands of men protested military service on political or religious grounds. When conscripted men were denied military exemption and/or refused alternative non-combat roles, military officials considered them "absent without leave," leaving them subject to conviction at courts martial. As the record shows, many conscientious objectors, or "conchies," as they derisively called, protested their punishment in civil prisons.    

The longest strike of 1917, which lasted for 99 days, was that of Ella Kennard. In June 1917 Kennard was convicted of larceny and sentenced to 3 years at Hull. She began her strike on September 6 and continued until December 14, when she was declared insane and sent to an asylum. While at Hull officials used an oesophagal tube to force-feed Kennard 177 times, just under two times per day.

Duration of Strikes

This table includes the 34 strikes for which there was a definite start and end date. 

There were 4 strikes for which the length could not be determined, due to a missing start date, end date, or both.

Notable Strikes, 1917

Harrison, Cable, and Main

Harrison, Cable, and Main

Conscientious Objectors

Examples of Conscientious Objectors

Ella Kennard

Ella Kennard