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


There were 74 recorded strikes in 1920, spread over 17 prisons. As the tables below show, a large majority of the strikes lasted less than a week. While nearly half 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.

There is evidence of one coordinated strike in 1920. In July-August 1920, a group of nine Irishmen were arrested in either Belfast or Cork and sentenced to Hard Labor at Wormwood Scrubs for "Offence under DORA [Defence of the Realm Act]." These nine men appeared to have gone on strike together from August 19-22, though none of them give a reason why.

Also in 1920 was the strike of the 16 year-old Violet Keeble, the only prisoner whose age was marked in the records. Convicted of "Disorderly Behaviour" and sent to Ipswich, Keeble refused food from November 25 to November 29, and was not forcibly fed. Her reason for striking was "states she will be like the Lord Mayor of Cork," an interesting reference to the hunger strike of Terence MacSwiney.

The longest strike of 1920 was carried out by Victor Smirnoff. Likely a Russian emigre, Smirnoff was arrested for breaking a condition of his parole and sentenced to 3 months at Liverpool, followed by 3 more months of hard labor. On October 11, near the end of his sentence, Smirnoff began a 55 day hunger strike to obtain his release. Prison officials used an oesophagal tube to force feed him 153 times, nearly three feedings per day. 

Duration of Strikes

This table includes the 69 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 5 strikes for which the length could not be determined, due to a missing start date, end date, or both.

Notable Strikes, 1920

Violators of the Defence of the Realm Act

Defence of the Realm Act Violators

Violet Keeble

Violet Keeble

Victor Smirnoff

Victor Smirnoff