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Tortured Women – The Woman’s Dreadnought – Saturday 8th August 1914

TORTURED WOMEN

What Forcible Feeding means.

A PRISONER’S TESTIMONY.

 

The following Letter is front Miss Mary Richardson, a Suffragist prisoner, who after a period of forcible feeding was suddenly released from Holloway Gaol suffering from acute appendicitis. Miss Richardson has since undergone an operation. In her letter she tells of her own experience and the experiences of the other women whom she left behind her in prison.

When I mention those in Holloway it seems as if I should make the sign of the Cross or else some other symbolic recognition of their worth and my reverence for them. But I will he modern and practical, and instead endeavour to he like unto them eternally

I was next to Grace Roe since her conviction and had frequent conversations with her. She suffers extremely from pain in her nose, throat and stomach all day and night, says she feels as if the tube were always in her body. That mentally this is tolling on her and she sometimes feels as if something would crack in her brain.

She anticipates an utter collapse after her release. She is very thin, so thin she can be in no position without positive pain in her bones. She is frightfully anaemic, her gums are chalk white, and indeed her whole face is.

She is fed nasally although they torture her with two tubes, juggling one up her nose and one down her throat simultaneously, and using the one that goes down first (usually the nasal tube) for feeding purposes. She chokes and coughs and utters most piteous little moans, so piteous that I cannot get them out of my left ear and have stuffed it with cotton we to try and help me.

She has never taken her clothes off or gone to bed and lies on top of the bed day and night. Marvellous fervour, although her voice is very weak she still encourages the others from her cell window.

Nellie Hall is next her in No. 8. She is weaker, suffering with bad pain in the throat, ears and eyes.

At right angles in the same wing is Miss Ansell wonderfully plucky. She has been very bad for three days and unable to leave her bed. Extreme pain with every breath, in her heart.

They have offered her mustard plasters and wool, etc., but she refuses all. She is so thin her petticoat falls off her when fastened.

Next her is Mary Spencer also weaker and thinner. She is fed three times a day. Next to her is Florence Tunks, she has lost 27 ½ lbs., has had two teeth broken, is generally exhausted and cannot stand without giddiness for more than a few minutes.

In wing C. Within calling distance is Hilda Birkett, who is very weak now. She has lost a stone, she is sick after each feeding, has been fed four times a day for over a fortnight at 9, 12, 4 and 8 o’clock.

The others I did not get in touch with.

As you know, the worst fight is now raging in Holloway Infirmary, that Inferno of an Infirmary. Many of the wardresses have become brutalised. There are always two doctors to feed, one to manipulate the gags and one to force down the tube. The tubes, both nasal and throat, are larger and stiffer than previously, and consequently more painful, they are so stiff that they actually lacerate the throat when they curl up as they do frequently. I felt as if I should go mad, and found relief in bashing my head against the wall, so much so that the wardresses continually remarked on the black and blue marks and lumps on my forehead.

My suffering was still greater after they had tortured my mouth and gums.

They fed me five weeks by the nose and at the end of that time my nose what they called “bit” the tube, and it would not pass into the throat even though they bent and twisted it into all kinds of shapes. Instead, it went up to the top of my nose and seemed to pierce my eyes, so terrible was the pain of it.

Then they forced my mouth open by inserting their fingers and cutting my gums at the extremity and the lining of my cheeks. The doctor did the left side and the wardresses the right, both at once, and when I was blind and mad with pain they drove in two large gags.

Then the tubes followed and they pressed my tongue down with their fingers and pinched my nose to weaken the natural, and also the purposeful, resistance of my throat. My mouth bled and also my throat at times. I asked them to go hack to my nose for one day, to rest my cut mouth, but “no, the throat was quicker,” so on with the torment.

I grew bad abdominally on Saturday and began to be sick. At times I had a fearful pain that crumpled my body up like a leaf. This was aggravated by bruises received over the appendix by the elbows of the wardresses who lay across my body during the feeding process.

“They fed me through the nose for five weeks, then my nose what they called “bit” the tube, that was their expression. Instead of passing through into the throat, the tube went up into the top of my nose and injured my right eye, the nerves of my right eye, 1 suppose it came in contact with some nerves up there. They then began feeding me through the mouth, one doctor used to put his finger through the extreme end of the left side of my jaw, and cut me : and the wardress put her finger through the right side of my jaw at the same time – so that between the two my lips were nearly torn.

“The last few days they were more careful, because I think they knew I was coming out.

“I was covered with bruises. I was not there ten days before I had 107 bruises and eleven cuts on me. They gave me over a quart of food twice a day. This is quite accurate, because they left the jug in the cell one day and I measured it. A quart a time twice a day, so that we all suffered very much.

“I suffered extremely with my eyes, and from pains in my ears the tube probably upset the nerves. My mouth bled several times, and of course, the more they cut my mouth the worse it got.

“I asked them to go back to the nose one day to give my mouth a chance to heal. They said it was much quicker to feed through the mouth and would not go back to the other way.

“They tried different ways this time, of tickling me, which had never been done before. They used to hold my head back by my hair.

“During the hunger strike I had pains in my legs and arms, I suppose from lack of nourishment.

“I had bruises over the appendix, which, I am told, would have killed any ordinary person, this was from the wardresses elbows; they used to lie on me and put their elbows into me.

“I had three beds in Holloway. The legs of two of the beds broke, because of the wardresses lying on me, so they had a specially strong bed, which they said cost twice as much as the others, brought in, so they could get ten of them on it at once. The doctor used to sit on the bed.

“The Chaplain, I understand, has given up visiting Suffragettes entirely never goes near them now.

“They forcibly fed me the second day after I went in. I began to be sick last Saturday, and to suffer extreme pain in my appendix awful pain, I never had anything like it it was withering pain, as one might say. On Sunday I was sick again and very ill, and my nails were very blue. I asked them not to give me such a large quantity of food, as it increased my pain greatly. They made no reduction, and said they would give me the usual quantity. On Monday, Dr. Forward told me that I was to be released in about an hour’s time, and that I was not to communicate with or tell any of the others that I was being released. But, of course, they knew. I had already told Miss Roe that I might go out on the following day, and she sent a message to her father telling him not to worry, and that he was to do nothing, because he had sent her in a letter, wanting her to give an undertaking that she would not be Militant any more. She was indignant, and so afraid lest her father should do anything which might seem as though she were even dreaming of compromise.”

They nearly choked Miss Richardson one day. The rubber came off one of the gags. She says. “A piece of thick rubber about two inches long got into my throat. They still went on feeding me, and the rubber went down my throat. I nearly choked, but, although they noticed that I was choking, they went on with the feeding – did not stop. The rubber stuck in my throat for several hours afterwards. They got frightened about it afterwards, brought me hot water to drink, and fussed about it very much. The rubber went down into my stomach and caused me great pain.”

I do not wish to harrow you unnecessarily but I thought a full account would give you a more exact impression than a short one.

I undergo the operation to-morrow at 9.30. If you only knew how I long to do something to stop the suffering of those who are still in Prison!

 

The Woman’s Dreadnought – Saturday 8th August 1914

 

After reading a post on a local Facebook Group about two Suffragettes, Hilda Birkett (37) and Florence Tunks (22) who were jailed for two years and nine months respectively following a trial in May 1914, they planted incendiary devices inside the iconic Bath Hotel in Felixstowe on April 28th, 1914 which was subsequently gutted. Interestingly both women were honoured with a plaque in 2014 on the 100th anniversary by The Felixstowe Society

 

Militant Suffragettes Sentenced at Felixstowe Town Hall

 

Felixstowe Bath Hotel suffragette arson commemorated

 

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