FALVEY MEMORIAL LIBRARY

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1939
Hunger Strike in British Prisons 1913-1940

1939

In one of the busiest years of the record, there were 107 recorded strikes in 1939, spread over 16 prisons. Nearly one-third of the strikes took place in Pentonville, a number bolstered by the activity of John Syme (see the data from 1938) Unlike most years, there were several coordinated strikes in 1939, primarily by imprisoned members of the Irish Republican Army (IRA). As the tables below show, well over half of the strikes lasted less than a week. In addition, more than half of the strikes had no record of force feeding, continuing a trend from previous years.

There is evidence of six coordinated strikes of at least two prisoners in 1939. The first took place in May, when two burglars serving time in Pentonville, John Watson and Wilfred Middleton, went on three day hunger strikes from May 3-6, demanding transfer to a different prison.

The other groups strikes were carried out by members of the IRA. From June 19-27, IRA prisoners in Chelmsford Joseph McGillycuddy and Charles James Casey went on hunger strikes to protest their punishment. In the following month, a group of 6 IRA prisoners started a hunger strike on July 1 to protest the transfer of one of them. The strike lasted 4-5 days, and three of the prisoners started a second 3 day strike soon after; there is no evidence of force feeding.  

Two more IRA strikes took place in July. From July 5-9, 9 IRA prisoners in Maidstone went on hunger strikes to demand treatment as political prisoners. Officials fed them each once using an oesophagal tube. Five of these same prisoners went on another strike from July 21-24 to protest against physicial drill. As with the previous strike, officials fed them each once using an oesophagal tube. The largest of the IRA strikes came on September 3-8. Eleven prisoners went on strike together to protest being put on a punishment diet. Officials did not force feed them. 

John Syme was active again in 1939, appearing on the record 17 times. In addition to his 1938 charge of damaging a window, in 1939 he was charged twice with breaching the peace, and once for assault. Of his 17 appearances on the record, Syme completed 2 hungers strikes (2 days and 1 day), and was released under the Cat and Mouse Act the remaining 15 times. His cause for striking was again a demand for his pension, though he also added unjust treatment by the Home Office to his complaints.     

Duration of Strikes

This table includes the 90 strikes for which there was a definite start and end date. 

There were 17 strikes for which the length could not be determined, due to a missing start date, end date, or both.

Notable Strikes, 1939

John Watson and Wilfred Middleton

John Watson and Wilfred Middleton

Joseph McGillycuddy and Charles James Casey

Joseph McGillycuddy
Charles James Casey

IRA Strike against Transfer

IRA Strike against Transfer
IRA Strike against Transfer

IRA Political Prisoner and Physical Drill Strikes (Same Prisoners)

IRA Political Prisoner and Physical Drill Strikes (Same Prisoners)
IRA Political Prisoner and Physical Drill Strikes (Same Prisoners)

IRA Strike against Punishment Diet

IRA Strike against Punishment Diet
IRA Strike against Punishment Diet
IRA Strike against Punishment Diet

John Syme

John Syme One and Two
John Syme Three
John Syme Four and Five
John Syme Six
John Syme Seven and Eight
John Syme Nine
John Syme Ten, Eleven, and Twelve
John Syme Thirteen
John Syme Fourteen
John Syme Fifteen and Sixteen
John Syme Seventeen