While the units and formations of 21 Army Group were stationed in the UK the responsibility for the detailed administration of discipline was placed on the Home Commands but all matters of policy affecting them were the responsibility of HQ 21 Army Group.
The Commander-in-Chief received from His Majesty a warrant to convene General Courts Martial and to confirm findings and sentences in the field. Delegated warrants were issued to the Commanders of First Canadian Army, Second Army, and to Corps Commanders and Commander L of C.
It was the policy of 21 Army Group to retain in the theatre any soldiers who were convicted of a military offence and sentenced to detention, imprisonment or penal servitude and to hold them in 21 Army Group penal establishments. It was considered essential, however, that up to the time these penal establishments arrived in the theatre, soldiers under sentence should be evacuated, and by the middle of July the following numbers had been despatched under escort to the UK:
• Sentenced to penal servitude - 48
• Sentenced to imprisonment of over one year - 19
• Sentenced to punishment other than the above - 38
The escorts were provided from the theatre and the soldiers were handed over to Garrison HQ SOUTHAMPTON who became responsible for their disposal.
A certain number of troops absented themselves from their units prior to D-day. The policy of HQ 21 Army Group in dealing with these absentees was to despatch them when they were apprehended to a Reinforcement Holding Unit and to ensure that they were sent overseas with their unit or with an early reinforcement draft.
One Military Prison large enough to hold 500 soldiers under sentence and five Field-Punishment Camps each to hold 150 were allocated to 21 Army Group. First Canadian Army was to establish its own field punishment camp but was not to have a military prison as all soldiers sentenced to one year’s detention or more were to be evacuated from the theatre. No. 5 Field Punishment Camp arrived on the Continent on 2-3 June, opened on 18 July and held forty-six soldiers under detention on 26 July.
HQ 21 Army Group had planned to have two Court Martial Centres at its disposal.
The objects of these centres were:
• To relieve units in the line of the responsibility of paper work in connection with trials.
• To hasten the disposal of cases.
• To hold courts which would sit permanently and be presided over by a permanent president.
• To relieve units of the responsibility of guarding soldiers awaiting trial, promulgation or committal.
A centre accommodated 150 soldiers and was designed to try 100 cases a week. fifteen permanent presidents of FGCsM (Field General Court-Martial) were allocated to 21 Army Group.
It was decided to utilise permanent presidents for the following reasons.-
• To relieve fighting units of the responsibility of providing a senior officer as president of FGCsH.
• To ensure that similar sentences were awarded in all formations for similar offences.
• To endeavour to prevent technical errors in procedure which often lead to the quashing of convictions.
Permanent presidents landed with the assault corps and were required to preside at FGCsM almost immediately.
Some of the officers chosen for this responsibility were proved to be too old or of a too low medical category to conduct trials under the battle conditions which prevailed during the early days, and were consequently relieved of their appointments.