As always, the reality was far more complicated. Cases like the one below tend to be forgotten, not fitting with the received narrative about the war.
What's interesting about this case is that the accused was a regula army officer. not some weirdo lefty conscientious objector.
Freedom of speech? Not really. The (probably) red-faced major had some good points. The British Empire was pretty rotten.
"DEFEATIST STATEMENTS IN A PUBLIC HOUSE
Major To Pay Twenty Guineas Costs
Allegations that he had made defeatist statements in the bar of the ‘Queen’s Head and Artichoke’ public house, Albany street Regents Park, were made at Marylebone Police Court against Major Arthur Burleigh Patrick Love Vincent, M.C., forty-eight, independent, of Linden-gardens, Bayswater.
Major Vincent was charged with making public statements of matters connected with the war which were likely to cause despondency. He pleaded not guilty.
Mr. H. A. K. Morgan, for the Director of Public Prosecutions, said that accused was understood have served in the Army from 1914 until 1940 and the reserve until 1940. He was obviously an educated man, said counsel, and might expected to show an example of cheerfulness and courage instead of which he had been making, if evidence was correct, the most defeatist statements in public.
Detectives Thom and Cameron, who were in the bar at the time said that accused said in a loud voice that could heard all over the bar:- The British Empire was rotten in 1914 and I still hold the same opinion . . . Churchill is leading this nation to ruin. We have not the tanks to compete with the Germans . . The British race is effete.... I was in charge three tanks and I should have had eighteen. We will never win like that."
The officers said that the accused then saw them looking at him and he said to them "What are you looking so sour about?"
Det. Thomson told Mr. Edwards to take his friend (the accused) away as they did not like his talk, and he also advised the accused to stop talking that way.
The accused continued his talk and said: This country is bound to lose the war... The British Army is rotten to the core." Looking round he said "Anyone disagreeing with me can have a pot at me." He was quite sober.
Outside the public house he was arrested for making statements likely cause alarm or despondency. He struggled to get away but was taken the police station.
Mr. Addiss, defending suggested that what officers did not hear might have made a difference to the meaning.
Florence Briggs the licensee of the house and another civilian said they overheard the accused make similar statements.
AN OLD COMTEMPTIBLE
Major Vincent said he was patriotic man and one of the "Old Contemptibles". During the last war he won the M C. and bar. He was discussing the last war with Mr Edwards who had been orderly room sargeant in his regiment, the Dragoon Guards.
He never said anything unpatriotic or likely to spread alarm, and certainly did not make the statements attributed to him or anything like them.
Mr. Morgan: Were you a little tight on this night? Accused No.
Asked why he had been on the unemployment list, he said he had a "foolish difference" with someone. He was likely to be called up again he added.
John Ernest Edwards, the accused's former sergeant, of Colosseum-terrace. N. W. 1., said that the accused never said anything to which "old soldier” could take exception: he became rather “bellicose and truculent" when spoken to by the officers.
Mr. L. E. Dunne, the Magistrate, said that he had no doubt that made use of staements which were likely cause alarm or despodency. He thought that the accused was half drunk and could only hope, that the accused was not, under the influence of drink, voicing his true opinions. So as not to impair his udefulness as an officer, he discharged him conditionally for twelve mouths, and ordered him pay twenty guineas costs."
Marylebone Mercury - Saturday 08 November 1941. page 1.
The Queen’s Head and Artichoke is a pretty ace name for a pub. And i see that it still exists:
Queens Head & Artichoke
30-32 Albany St,
London NW1 4EA.