Ribeiro, Emanuel Nunes (1883-1995)
A Salford Hunger Striker
When Emanuel Ribeiro’s appeal against conscription as a conscientious objector were refused, he decided to go on hunger strike, rather than be forced to fight.
Force fed with a tube
Ribeiro was not the only conscientious objector to take this path, but it was a dangerous one. He was transferred to the Lord Derby War Hospital, at Winwick, near Warrington. On 24 January 1917, he began to be force fed using a tube, the same method used on the Suffragettes.
This treatment was designed to be so unpleasant that it would force him to give up and accept military orders. It was potentially life threatening. The same tube was often used on several men, with the risk of transferring infection, and one conscientious objector died when the tube used was too short, and went into his lungs instead of his stomach.
Primitive Methodist sick visitor writes a letter
After five months of being subjected to this treatment, Ribeiro’s health was deteriorating and his family was in a desperate situation. His wife Bella was in ‘a very delicate state of health’ (she was pregnant), had no income, and no means of livelihood. They were being supported by the Primitive Methodist Central Mission, New Islington, Manchester, and on 15 and 24 May, the Visitor of the Sick wrote to the War Office, appealing for Ribeiro to be released. On 21 June, the MP, Mr Snowden asked the Under Secretary of State for War, in the House of Commons, why the Primitive Methodist Mission had received no reply, and ‘whether it is intended to leave Ribeiro to die under the treatment to which he is now being subjected?’
‘This coward and shirker’
This evoked an angry response from another MP, Sir Kinloch-Cooke, who asked ‘Why any preference should be given to this coward and shirker over the men who are fighting and dying in the trenches?’
It was also said that as Ribeiro was force fed, but not making any resistance, it could not be described as ‘forcible’. It was also pointed out that he was allowed to write letters (which were censored), and was allowed visits from his wife, and the Primitive Methodist minister.
Reports appeared in the Manchester Evening News on 20 June, and again on 26 October 1917, when Ribeiro had been on hunger strike for 10 months, after further questions had been raised in the House. This further appeal for him to be discharged from hospital was unsuccessful, with the Under Secretary of State for War, Mr Macpherson, refusing to accept that he had a genuine conscientious objection. Despite his intense suffering, and that of his family, he was still seen as a ‘shirker’.
Imprisoned with hard labour
On 18 March 1918 a court-martial was convened around his hospital bed (he had been on continuous hunger strike), when he was convicted of disobedience and sentenced to two years imprisonment with hard labour. He was transferred to Wormwood Scrubs Prison, London, where he continued his hunger strike. He was finally released, on grounds of ill-health, on 8 June 1918.