The price of a slice of the truth

Nearly 350 years ago William Prynne, a lawyer from Lincoln’s Inn, found himself in a dank and dirty corner of the Tower of London.
It was a place where soldiers and civil servants refused to work ‘for fear of fouling their fingers, spoyling their cloathes, endangering their eyesight and healths by the cankerous dust and evil scent.’
Prynne was King Charles II’s new keeper of the National Archives.
And he was no stranger to the Tower. He had been jailed for life, had his cheeks branded with the letters SL – for seditious libel – and his ears chopped off, for a pamphlet attacking actresses and, by implication, Queen Henrietta Maria, wife of Charles I.
A report of  the trial of William Prynne Esq, in the Star Chamber, for writing and publishing 'A Scourge for Stage-Players,' can be found in the Archives. Subsequent keepers have been less harshly treated.
Prynne wrote: ‘In raking up this dung heap I found many rare antient precious pearls and golden records &c.’
It is a sentiment echoed every day in the modern National Archives building at Kew, where researchers request 600,000 document files a year and millions of documents are viewed online.
These are just some of the gems from my researches, many of them published for the first time, but none of them worth losing an ear for.

© These pages and their content are copyright of Peter Day 2014.

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Korean war prisoners frozen on the spot for rejecting propaganda

British prisoners of war in Korea were made to stand to attention and frozen on the spot by their captors, according to a newly-released War Office report at the National Archives.
It was one of the punishments inflicted for failing to respond to Communist brainwashing. The soldiers were taken to the ice-bound Yalu river and had water poured over their feet so that they were literally frozen still.
The treatment was meted out to “reactionaries” who actively opposed their captors’ political indoctrination methods or attempted to escape. They were held in boxes the size of a dog kennel for a “period of reflection” with limited access to washing facilities or latrines and then faced a mock court martial where they were expected to indulge in confessions and self-criticism.
They were then sentenced to the frozen feet torture or confined for long periods in holes in the frozen ground.
The inhuman treatment was described by Major A N West-Watson of the Intelligence Corps in October 1953, nearly three months after the conflict ended. He was assessing how successful the indoctrination had been on the 1,350 British and Commonwealth servicemen who had been captured in the three year war.
He found that prisoners had been required to fill in questionnaires giving personal and family details which were then used to convince relatives back home to sign peace petitions. Prisoners spent up to five hours a day subjected to political propaganda, followed by evening discussion periods from which written reports were required.
Many of the men went along with the indoctrination for the sake of peace and quiet, with no intention of adhering to it, but a small number embraced the Communist philosophy and joined in the pressurisation of their colleagues.
As a result, they were suspected by those who suffered punishments of being collaborators who betrayed escape plans. Some were violently attacked on the ships bringing them home.
Major West-Watson argued that the suspected collaborators needed to be protected, unless a legal case could be made against them, but warned that they were likely to be a security risk and should not be given access to classified information. He feared that the personal dossiers the North Korean and Chinese interrogators had compiled might be used to blackmail them once they got home.




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