1916 court: Wife in court for aiding husband’s desertion

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Before the mayor, Mr CC Graham, and other magistrates, at the Scarborough Police Court, Elizabeth Ann Davis, 4 Wray’s Yard, William Street, was summoned for aiding an army deserter to conceal himself. The man referred to is her husband, who was before the court on Monday, when it was said that three officers were engaged for three hours in the matter, and that the man was seen to enter the town, run across the roofs like a monkey and enter his own house by the skylight.

Defendant said her husband threatened her; he had been a villain to her.

The chief constable said that the charge was taken under the Army Act 1881, section 153, which provided that any person who by any means whatever procured or persuaded any soldier to desert, or attempted such a thing, or knowing a soldier to be a deserter concealed such a soldier or aided him to do so was liable to imprisonment with or without hard labour for a term not exceeding six months.

Proceeding, the chief said the defendant was the wife of Private Daniel Davis, who was before the court on Monday - as indicated above. The desertion was that Private Davis left the camp of the battalion, now at Clacton-on-Sea during the night time and without any authority. He was not an absentee, he actually deserted from the camp. That he (the chief) would be in a position to prove, if necessary. He would shortly however, state the facts of the case, and leave the magistrates to take a certain course if they thought they could do so. Such an offence was considered a very serious one at any time, and especially at the present time when it was most necessary to arrest a deserter as quickly as possible, so that they might get back to their regiments.

When Detective Nalton went to the house where Private Davis was thought to be, defendant was spoken to, and asked whether her husband was in. She replied: No, he is not here. I have not seen him. I have only just come back from Hull. He came there, and I have not seen him since. The officer said: I have reason to believe that he has been here. To this she replied: No he has not been here.

This delay, he (the chief) submitted, enabled the man to make his escape. The detective and another officer searched the house and found a tunic and other articles of military belongings, which they took possession of, but they found no sign of the man and came away. He would call evidence, if necessary, that during the time the wife was speaking to the police officer at the door the deserter got through a skylight at the top of the house, on the roof, went across another house, and dropped down the skylight of an empty house, the second house away from the man’s. However, the police officers watched, and got another officer to watch at the back of the house. Subsequently they saw the soldier come up from the skylight of the empty house, climb back over the roofs, and get into his own house. They again went to the door, and the woman again alleged that the man was not in the house.

Knowing this to be a lie, they entered the house and arrested the man.

The offence was that the wife assisted him in secreting himself - he getting out of the top of the house. She knew perfectly well the soldier was in the house, and the delay caused enabled the man to escape.

If the magistrates heard the evidence and found the case proved they could not fine defendant, they would have to send her to prison for any term not exceeding six months.

There might have been some coercion, but that was not the case in which a wife could fittingly claim she was coerced. At the same time knowing the man perfectly well, knowing his bad record - he had deserted several times before - and knowing that the woman had had a lot of domestic trouble, when she said she was threatened he, the chief, sympathised with her position in that respect.

His whole idea in bringing the proceedings against her was not so the magistrates could commit her to prison, although it was a serious offence, and the first of its kind which had been brought in Scarborough. He wanted the woman to know, and others to know, that there was such a law, and serious punishment for hiding or helping a deserter from the army. In any future cases in which he might prosecute he would ask for very severe penalties. To prove the case he would have to get a witness from Clacton-on-Sea to prove attestation and another military officer from another depot. It would mean considerable expense and 
loss of time to the military authorities, and having regard to all the circumstances he would ask the bench to point out to the woman the very serious nature of that offence, and let her off with a caution on that occasion, on the understanding that no future cases would be dealt with in that way.

Defendant, who appeared much upset, repeated that her husband had been a villain to her.

Under the circumstances that case had been withdrawn.