Eglantyne Jebb prosecuted for handing out protest leaflets without permission from the military censor. May 1919.

People familiar with Eglantyne Jebb may well know that she was arrested, prosecuted, and fined for handing out protest leaflets on starving children in Austria six months after the Armistice. It even gets a mention on the Save the Children international webpage. For those of you who have not read Eglantyne’s biography, see Clare Mulley here, and the clip below.

Above – The Woman who Saved Children.

My research interest in Eglantyne has always been about her work in Cambridge prior to the international work that made her famous. Yet there is far more to the events that led to her conviction in May 1919 than you might see on a list of Eglantyne’s life achievements, events, and milestones.

The Defence of the Realm Act 1914 (as amended) (DORA)

One of the most draconian pieces of legislation ever enacted by Parliament, the closest we have to that is the Coronavirus Act 2020, legislation that contains a whole host of enabling clauses that authorises ministers to make up new laws as they go along, with the minimum of Parliamentary Scrutiny. In the case of DORA, this was often through Orders In Council where under the enabling Act of Parliament, groups of senior ministers (Privy Councillors) table new laws for the Monarch to sign off. And in WWI there were some very draconian clauses that became law.

The following Regulation shall be substituted for Regulation 21:-
” No person shall by word of mouth or in writing spread reports likely to cause disaffection or alarm
among any of His Majesty’s forces or among the civilian population.”

National Archives – case studies 1906-18.

The various regulations and orders made under the Act meant that protesters like Eglantyne Jebb would have had to have gotten approval from The Military Censor before distributing their leaflets. Which they did not.

In 1919, Eglantyne did not act alone – she was joined by Mrs Barbara Ayrton Gould of the Labour Party. When it came to protesting and smashing up things, Mrs Ayrton Gould had form – for she was a suffragette.

“Barbara Ayrton Gould – 25, who pleaded guilty to breaking a window, was bound over to come up for judgment if called upon”. (British Newspaper Archive here).

She was one of 126 suffragettes hauled before the County of London Magistrates in March 1912.

Seven years later, she was up before magistrates again, this time on what the Labour Leader newspaper called a technical offence. Because although nominally the fighting had ended, and that a couple of protesters handing out leaflets raising awareness of starving children in Europe could hardly be seen as a threat to the security of the Empire, the law still required approval from the Censor.

Above – from the British Newspaper Archive.

The photograph of the two of them outside court is hidden in the Daily Herald’s Photo Archive at the Science Museum. You can see a snapshot of the leaflets and the photo in The History Girls Blogspot here, written by Clare Mulley in 2014.

The Labour-supporting Daily Herald made a point saying both women were prepared to go to prison for their troubles unless the blockade was lifted. From the BNA here.

The Evening Mail gave this account of the court case.

From the British Newspaper Archive here.

“At the Mansion House yesterday, before Alderman Sir George Trusscott, the National Labour Press (Limited) and Mr William Francis Moss were summoned for distributing 7,000 copies of a leaflet headed “What does Britain Stanf For?” on which had been printed the name and address of the author or the publisher, and which had not been submitted to the Press Bureau. Messrs PORTEOUS (Limited) and Mr JAMES STEWART PORTEOUS were summoned for printing the leafletl and Mrs Barbara Ayrton Gould was summoned for giving an order to print and distribute the copies contrary to the Defence of the Realm Regulations.

There were summonses against the National Labour Press (Limited) and Mrs Gould with respect to the printing of 10,000 leaflets entitled “Our Bloackade has Caused This,” and Miss Eglantyne Jebb of “The Fight The Famine Council,” with respect to the printing of a number of leaflets entitled “A Starving Baby”.

“All the defendants pleaded “Not Guilty”

“At the close of the hearing, Sir George Truscott ordered the National Labour Press (Limited) to pay fines amounting to £80 and £10, 10 shillings costs; and Mr Moss fines totalling £15, and £5, 5shillings costs. He fined Messrs Porteous (Limited) £4 in all, but dismissed the summons against Mr J.S. Porteous. Mrs Gould was find £5 on each of the two summonses, and MIss Jebb was fined £5 without costs.

“Sir Archibald Bodkin prosecuted on behalf of the Director of Public Prosecutions; Mr Kingsbury appeared for the National Labour Press and Mr Moss; and Mr Huntly Jenkins for Messrs Porteous (Limited) and Mr. James Stewarts Porteous.

“Sir Archibald Bodkin said the proceedings referred to three separate leaflets. The first was a leaflet in the form of a poster headed

“What does Britain stand for? Starving babies, torturing women, killing the old. These things are being done to-day [sic] in Britain’s name all over Europe. Millions are dying of hunger. Shall it go on?”

Evening Mail, 16 May 1919 in BNArchive.

“At the bottom of the poster appeared the name of the National Labour Press (Limited). It was clear that the leaflet referred to the blockade which had been enforced throughout the war and presumably would be continued until peace was signed. Mrs Gould was another author and she admitted that she had ordered and paid for the posting of the leaflet on walls and sides fo public streets.

“The next summonses were in relation to the leaflet headed

“Our blockade has caused this! All over Europe millions of children are starving to death. We are responsible. Write to Lloyd George and say you will not stand it. Raise the blockade everywhere. Women’s International League”

Evening Mail, 16 May 1919 in BNArchive.

The summons against the National Labour PRess and Miss Jebb were in respect of a leaflet headed “A starving baby.” Counsel said that according to Miss Jebb’s own statement she acted on her own responsibility, and had not the authority of “The Fight the Famine Council” for that leaflet.

“Detective Inspector McLean said that Miss Jebb told him that in regard to the “Starving Baby” leaflet, she prepared it. In the ordinary way, she said the leaflets were approved by the Literature Committee, but she had authority to prepare and print leaflets that might be wanted in a hurry for some special occasion or meeting, and that particular one was required for a meeting in Trafalgar Square on April 06.

“Mr Moss, giving evidence, said that he regarded the leaflets as being purely humanitarian. As the National Labour Press were unable at the time to do the printing of the poster “What does Britain Stand For?” they asked a representative of Messrs Porteous to have the work done for them.

“Evidence was given for Messrs Porteous (Limited) and Mr James S. Porteous that they knew nothing about the printing of the poster. They had not the smallest sympathy with the Fight the Famine League or the Women’s International League. Had they seen the posters they would have stopped them being printed”.


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