October 30, 1917 – Crime figures drop through the floor because of the war

Can there ever be a silver lining to a world-wide conflagration? It would appear so, according to the October 29, 1917, edition of the Market Harborough Advertiser.

There are two separate stories describing how crime has been markedly checked since the outbreak of the First World War.

A Prison Commissioners’ report says there has been a SIXTY EIGHT per cent reduction in crime since 1914.

crime figures v1

In 1913-14 there were 369.5 jail sentences handed out for every 100,000 of the population of England and Wales. In 1916 that figure had fallen to 118.2 – an enormous drop considering that in 1904 the number of jail terms was as high as 586.2.

One of the crimes most affected was jail terms for drunkenness which showed a decrease of 80 per cent compared with 1913-14.

And even those in prison are better behaved. The story says: “The reports from all prisons testify to the keenness and alacrity with which prisoners have undertaken the manufacture of war stores, working extra hours and on Sundays, when there were orders to be completed, this in spite of the fact that the extra rations which had been given for extra labour were discontinued.”

The picture is the same at a local level evidenced by a story about the latest Leicestershire County Quarter Sessions held at the Castle Court House in Leicester when there were NO PRISONERS presented for trial.

It meant that no jurors were summoned. The story says: “This was the fourth occasion during a period of about two years when there had been no cases for trial at the Sessions.”

The chairman, Alderman T Cope, said: “It was a great satisfaction to the Court to know that this was the fourth time since the war began when the members had been called together and found the county free from crime.”

Mr Cope believes there are two reasons why this ‘strange and wonderful thing’ has happened. “One, no doubt, was due to the war itself in that a certain number of men of reckless and adventurous character, instead of directing their energies to crime, had a taken a better part and had gone to the war and were bravely fighting against the common enemies of civilisation.”

He also believes a great decrease in drunkenness due to the introduction of a Liquor Control Board and a reduction in pub opening hours was another reason for the safer streets.

Mr Cope, who hopes for ‘a continuation of that happy state in the county – freedom from crime’, adds: “Drunkenness and crime always go hand in hand together and by putting down drunkenness they might also put down crime.”

There is sad news from the village of Husbands Bosworth which ‘within the space of seven days has had to mourn the loss of three brave young sons who have given their all for the sake of freedom and justice’.

Private John Martin, 20, who only joined up in February this year, has been killed in action and so has Private Geo Cross. News of their sacrifice comes shortly after the death of Corporal Horace Mathews whose passing was reported in last week’s Advertiser.

However, a huge slice of this week’s edition is taken up by a story involving the theft of army horses by a number of Market Harborough men. The case takes up TWO PAGES of almost verbatim reports from the court room.

It is hard to see many readers ploughing all the way through the rather turgid account – certainly in comparison to two very short reports of whist drive winners from Great Bowden and Little Bowden. Contemporary readers from 100 years ago would certainly have checked to see who was named – are any of your family ancestors listed among the players?

  • This column is published every Monday by John Dilley on the Newspapers and the Great War website and will continue until the 100th anniversary of the final armistice in November 2018.
  • My fellow researcher and De Montfort University lecturer David Penman is conducting a similar real-time project with the Ashbourne Telegraph. Check out his Great War Reports.
  • Check out this week’s Harborough Mail for current news from the Market Harborough area.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s