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1st MCE Holsworthy


Some Glimpses of the "Glass House"

A story about MCE at Holsworthy, November 3 1960

Ref: Army Newspaper, Thursday, November 3 1960. Courtesy RACMP Museum 2001

A member of the Nepean Blue Mountains Sub-Section who served at Holsworthy.

ColinColin (Col or Irish) O'Flynn

he 1st MCE - known to servicemen and ex-servicemen as "the boob", "the bastille", "the glasshouse", "the cage" or just plain Holsworthy - is a place of contradiction.  To offenders the 1st MCE means barbed wire - guard towers - discipline. MCE means Military Corrective Establishment.  It is a group of huts behind barbed wire just off the road that runs from Liverpool to Holsworthy Military Camp. 

The history of Military Prisons, as we know them today, began in the early days of the British Army.  Prisons then bore little resemblance to the modern military corrective establishment. The unpleasant reputations they bore were often well deserved.  Prison reforms and new corrective techniques have today placed the emphasis on rehabilitation rather than punishment. A striking example of these new techniques is the work being done at 1 MCE.

Offenders from all Services

The establishment was commanded by Major W.M. Gray and housed offenders from all three Services.  Let's apply for permission to enter and see just what goes on in an up-to-date military corrective establishment.  Immediately on admission, every "soldier under sentence" or "soldier under arrest" is interviewed by the Camp Commandant.  It is explained to him that the aim will be his rehabilitation - his reinstatement to his proper place in the Army as a soldier of good standing, rather than straight out detention and punishment.  He can, by strict adherence to Camp Standing Orders, diligence to allotted tasks and by maintaining a high standard of personal hygiene and cleanliness, earn remission marks to reduce his sentence.  These points clearly understood, the SUS or SUA is now marched to the Camp Q store where he is issued with two sets of working dress, a greatcoat and cleaning gear.  His own clothing is stored away until discharge.  He is shown how to lay out his kit for inspection and the method of assembling webbing necessary for defaulters parade.  Finally he is given his own copy of Camp Standing Orders which he will retain for the period he is at 1st MCE.

Training of all Kinds

The emphasis being on rehabilitation rather than punishment, a sound syllabus of physical and recreational training has been instituted.  The P and RT instructor, SGT Noble, has constructed an obstacle course with vaults, water jumps and rope climbs.  It is designed for variety and at the same time to simulate, as nearly as possible, obstacles encountered in a jungle training school.  In addition to the assault, instruction is also given in all phases of basic, physical and battle training.  Personnel of the RAN may also be required to attend the seamanship school where all types of knots and splices are taught and practiced.

Privileges of Prisoners

On the morning parade, a Serviceman under Sentence, may request permission for an interview with the RSM.  This gives every serviceman an opportunity to request extra visitors, write or receive extra mail, or make any complaint he may have.  If necessary an interview is arranged with the Commandant or Adjutant.  A SUS may receive an unlimited number of letters.  These letters are subject to censorship and any letter of an offensive nature is withheld, placed in the members personal possessions and given to him on discharge from 1 MCE.  Restrictions on writing of letters depends upon the stage a member has reached. Every admission may write a letter immediately on reception advising relatives and friends of his new address and setting out the visiting hours.  Visitors are allowed to see "Soldiers under Sentence" each Sunday from 2.30pm to 3.30pm.  They may leave parcels containing tobacco, cigarettes, money, toilet gear and clothes, which are held for distribution.  Any money, either held by an SUS on admission or subsequently left for him by visitors, is entered in a special ledger, and is available to the member for the purchase of tobacco, cigarettes, toilet and other articles, through the unit canteen.

High Officer  Tours

Each alternate week a high ranking Officer from any of the three Services carries out a conducted tour of the area.  He may talk to any serviceman and inquire as to his welfare and living conditions. The Serviceman may discuss any problem or complaints.  This officer must be a Lieutenant Colonel or above - equivalent rank in the RAN and RAAF - and is appointed to the duty by HQ Eastern Command. He may inspect the punishment award book and accept for review the duration of any sentence of a serviceman committed to 1 MCE.  The Salvation Army send three representatives to the establishment every second Sunday. All SUS are mustered and volunteers may attend the service.  A Roman Catholic Padre is in attendance every Sunday morning and all RC personnel, including staff members, may attend.  The unit has its own chapel and all services are conducted indoors.

Classroom and Library

A qualified school teacher from the Royal Australian Army Education Corps is in attendance to provide educational facilities for all personnel.  A compact classroom, complete with desks, wall maps and a comprehensive text book library is provided, and classes are held regularly in such subjects as English, Arithmetic, Social studies and current affairs.

Occasionally, a member has a specialised problem in a particular subject and, in such cases, every endeavour is made to obtain the appropriate text books or material.  The Education Centre had a library of more than 1200 books, the bulk of which are current Australian and overseas best sellers.  Servicemen under sentence are permitted one library book at a time but they may visit the library on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays to exchange their choice for another.  Personnel are given every opportunity to interview the Education Officer and discuss resettlement plans prior to being absorbed into civilian life after discharge.  It was proposed to begin classes in bricklaying, concreting and cement work, carpentry, the use of hand tools and other skills which may help the serviceman to obtain employment in a useful trade.

What of the men who staff 1st MCE?

Because of shift work, the staff at 1 MCE is fairly large in comparison to the establishment's size.  It has the distinction of employing representatives from all three Services and, as a result, the terminology peculiar to each service has become amalgamated.  Thus terms as "going to the heads", "going ashore", "galley", "deck", "staying aboard", have been substituted for toilet, leave, cook house, ground, remaining in camp.  Ropes become cables and members rooms become cabins, but taking all in all, the three Services work very well together, and an enlightening insight is gained into the merits or demerits of the branches of the Armed Forces.  So despite the fact that the Unit is known as 1 MCE, it is not Provost Corps in its entirety.  The Staff consists of a Master at Arms, Petty Officers and Leading Seaman from the RAN, Sergeants and Corporals from the RAAF and extraneous Corps from the ARA, such as Medical, Catering and Education.