The charge sheet at the St Albans Petty Sessions on Thursday morning was an imposing document, as, in addition to particulars of other cases, it contained the names and addresses of twenty-seven persons who had been summoned for being in unlawful possession of Army blankets.
The defendants were principally the wives of householders in various parts of the town where soldiers had been billeted. Captain Miller, A.P.M., was present in court. A huge pile of blankets, neatly folded, was permanently displayed on the solicitors’ table. There was a large attendance of the public in Court and the proceedings were followed with keen interest.
Supt Peck said that in consequence of a serious loss of blankets from a regiment in St Albans, the Military Authorities had asked him to go into the matter with the result that the police had retrieved something like seventy blankets. Under section 156 of the Army Act 1881, it was an offence for any person to receive Army blankets or any other Army stores from soldiers under any circumstances whatsoever. It was also an offence to be found in possession of Army stores and he alleged that every person summoned there that day had committed an offence under Section 156.
The first case taken was that against Mrs Ellen Watts, No.30 Cannon Street, who was summoned for having been found in possession of seven blankets.
Inspector Phillips said on Feb 22nd, he went with Detective-Sergeant Paine to defendant’s house and asked if she had any blankets. She said she had not but he asked to look, and upstairs four blankets were found on one bed a two on another bed and one on a third. Defendant said three belonged to her husband, two to Private Gold who was in the Engineers, and two to a man in the Essex Regiment. Notices had been circulated and posted throughout the town calling attention to offences under Section 156 of the Act.
Lieutenant M. H. Atkins, A.S.C., officer in charge of barracks, St Albans District, said he had examined the blankets and he had identified them as Army property. In reply to the Bench the witness stated that when a battalion came to a town he received an inventory for a certain number of blankets and other articles. When the battalion left they returned the same number, or were charged with the loss, and, in between, it was part of his duty to have periodical inspections of the barrack stores, but apart from that, each unit had its own inspection to see if any equipment was missing.
The Mayor : Do you make any inspections at billets ?
Witness : No. He proceeded to state that the unit was entirely responsible to him to produce the same number of articles. He was not expected to visit billets. An empty house was not a billet: a billet was a place where a man lived with some householder, and he did not visit there. As a rule, they had no right to have Army blankets in a billet : it was quite an exceptional circumstance to supply them there.
The Mayor : Is it usual for the men now go to billets to have Army blankets ?
Witness : No, it is not.
Mr Nicolson : As a matter of fact, they have.
Witness said it was an Army Regulation that a soldier was not to sleep with another soldier and if a householder was not able to supply a sufficient number of beds, Army blankets for the second bed might be supplied. But this was the first year this had been done, and he submitted that it had got nothing to do with the blankets that were the subject of the present proceedings.
Defendant said when the soldiers went away she asked what had to be done with the blankets and she was told that if they were wanted someone would come for them. This was referred. The Bench reserved their decision.
Mrs Edison, 76, London Road, was summoned in respect of three blankets.
Mrs Brewer, 79, London Road, said defendant had lent her a blanket two years ago, when she had a soldier staying with her.
Inspector Phillips said defendant told him she hadn’t any Army blankets and at first denied having lent one. Two were, however, found.
Defendant said she had had over forty soldiers at her house. She had had the blankets ever since war broke out.
The following six summonses were then taken together, the number of blankets concerned being given in parentheses: Mrs Kate Peck, 36, Longmire Road (1); Mrs Elisabeth Woods, Queens Yard (1): Mrs Alice Myern, 9, Longmire road (4): Mrs Elenore Thompson, 37, Fishpool Street (4): Mrs Mabel Kerridge, 81, Old London road (2): and Mrs Peacock, 3, Alane Cut (2)
Fines were imposed.