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Hunger Strike in British Prisons 1913-1940


The official record ends at the end of May, 1940. In the first half of this year, there were 45 recorded strikes, spread over 14 prisons. More than one-third of those strikes (16) took place at one prison, Parkhurst. As the tables below show, more than half of the strikes lasted less than a week. The most common reason for strikes in 1940 was participation in an IRA strike against evening cell duties. In addition, as with years previous, more than half of the strikes have no record of force feeding.

There was evidence of one coordinated group strike in the first half of 1940. As with the previous year, IRA prisoners coordinated strikes to protest their punishment (see data from 1939). In Parkhurst, a group of 16 IRA prisoners began a hunger strike on January 16 as a "protest against evening cell task." The strikes lasted 4-5 days, during which officials used an oesophagal tube to force feed each prisoner 1-2 times.

There were also several notable individual strikes in 1940. There were two cases of strikes claiming their actions were on behalf of Ireland. Michael Joseph Mason, an IRA prisoner convicted of conspiracy to cause explosion, went on a hunger strike in Hull from January 8-11. In addition to protesting against his punishment diet, he declared that he did not recognize this country (Britain).

The second strike was perhaps a little less genuine. William Kelly, who had been sent to Stafford for drunk and disorderly conduct as well as willful damage, went on a hunger strike from May 6-9, claiming to do so "for the sake of Ireland." He started a second strike on May 15, but was declared insane and moved to a hospital shortly after. 

One of the more high profile cases of 1940 was that of Udham Singh. On March 13, Singh was arrested for the murder of Sir Michael Francis O'Dwyer, former Governor of the Punjab, in Westminster. Although Singh claimed the shooting was an accident, he was found guilty and hanged on July 31. While he was being held at Brixton awaiting trial, Singh began a hunger strike on April 26 which extended past the end of the record. He claimed that he fasted every year for health reasons.

Finally, John Syme was active once again (see data from 1938 and 1939), appearing in the record nine times. While he did complete one 33 day hunger strike from April 29 through June 1, the other eight times he was released under the Cat and Mouse Act. Syme continued to protest his treatment outside of prison.


Duration of Strikes

This table includes the 35 strikes for which there was a definite start and end date. 

There were 10 strikes for which the length could not be determined, due to a missing start date, end date, or both.

Notable Strikes, 1940

IRA strike against evening cell task

IRA Strike against Evening Cell Task
IRA Strike against Evening Cell Task
IRA Strike against Evening Cell Task
IRA Strike against Evening Cell Task
IRA Strike against Evening Cell Task

Michael Joseph Mason and William Kelly

Michael Joseph Mason
William Kelly

Udham Singh

Udham Singh

John Syme

John Syme One and Two
John Syme Three
John Syme Four
John Syme Five, Six, Seven, Eight, and Nine