Convicts are known for their strength, endurance, and stamina. They have been used in many wars throughout history. Convicts have been trained for military purposes since ancient times. Some convicts were even recruited into the British Army during the American Revolution!
The first recorded use of convicts was in the 17th century when they served as soldiers in France’s War of Religion against Spain. By 1815, there were over 10 million convicts serving in Britain’s prisons.
In the 19th century, convicts were used in various forms of labor including mining, agriculture, construction work, and domestic service. Many convicts worked in mines where they earned wages and received medical care. Others worked in farms producing food for the working class.
Still others performed menial tasks such as cleaning houses or doing laundry. These jobs gave convicts a sense of purpose and provided them with some form of social interaction.
By the 1920s, convicts had become a source of cheap labor. In fact, convicts were so plentiful that they became a problem. Many prisoners rioted and fought amongst themselves causing problems for the government.
Prisoners began to rebel against their prison conditions and formed gangs which eventually led to riots within prisons themselves. This situation escalated into widespread violence between inmates and guards resulting in thousands of deaths across England.
In an attempt to curb these outbursts of violence, the government formed the “Cat-and-Mouse” act. This act allowed for convicted prisoners to be released early after serving a specific part of their sentence. Upon release they were given some money and a train ticket so that they could go back to their family.
After a while, however, the government would re-arrest them and send them back to prison. This process would repeat itself several times causing many prisoners to die from the arduous conditions they were forced to endure in prisons and on the transport trains.
By the early 20th century, convicts were being used for scientific purposes as well. The most famous of these experiments was the case of eugenics or selective breeding. In this case, many female prisoners were coerced into having sexual relations with male prisoners.
Their children were then taken from them and given to proper families. The mothers were told their babies had died. This program was designed to breed out criminal traits from future generations of criminals.
During World War I, a new use for convicts was discovered: chemical warfare. Thousands of convicts were used to test gas masks and protective gear for soldiers. In 1919, the Royal Air Force took advantage of this new resource by forming a special squadron of pilots made up entirely of prisoners released from jails with a few years left on their sentences.
These men were given the choice to fly for the RAF or go back to their cells. Many of them died in combat during World War II while serving England.
During World War II, the British government again used convicts as cheap labor and this time they were sent to the jungles of Burma to build railroads through mountainous areas. The conditions were brutal and many convicts died from disease and starvation. Despite this, many of these men became immensely proud of the railroad they built.
Even today, convicts in England are still used for scientific experiments. The difference between now and the eugenics program of the early 20th century is choice. Convicts can choose whether they participate or not.
If they do decide to participate they can even be paid a small wage for their troubles. Many of these “payment” options come in the form of time taken off their prison sentence.
Return to Britain During World War II
Sources & references used in this article:
Observations on cultural psychiatry during a world tour of mental hospitals by HR Gold – American Journal of Psychiatry, 1951 – Am Psychiatric Assoc
Writing for an endangered world by L Buell – 2009 – books.google.com
Out of my life and thought: An autobiography by A Schweitzer – 1998 – books.google.com