IT was a plea he could have only made in wartime. "I've done good service at the front, My Lord. Let me go back there" - Ephraim Hunt begging a judge to be merciful and not jail him after a bizarre case at Hampshire Assizes in 1918.

Hunt, a 37-year-old private in the Royal Army Medical Corps, had served in France for three years during the First World War, tending the dead and the dying. He had taken part in the retreat of Mons and had also fought at Ypres, earning the praise of his commanding officer.

Sadly, Hunt himself became a victim of the atrocities. Badly gassed through Germany's deployment of chemical weapons, he was forced to return home, his condition perhaps in part an explanation of what was to follow.

With a woman friend, he visited the Exeter Hotel that stood on Western Shore, Southampton. The evening passed off without incident until they were about to leave when he told barmaid Emma Murray, the landlord's sister-in-law, he was on the lookout for "treating cases" but told her not to worry about him because he was unaffected.

Three days later, he returned to the hotel, and producing a notebook, demanded the names and addresses of those in the bar, including Murray. All of them refused and he was immediately grabbed by an Allied Army sergeant who was on the point of forcibly ejecting him until she intervened and kindly led him outside.

Daily Echo: Exeter Hotel.

But hours later, Murray was in for a shock when she received an extraordinary letter from Hunt in which he threatened to report the matter to his headquarters, adding he could not forgive "the insult" to which his friend had been subjected.

It read: "You should know the feminine mind better than I, and a small present would sooth her ruffled feelings, and save the loss of a licence, or, at any rate, a heavy fine."

The contents were read out by prosecutor Mr Temple-Cooke when Hunt and comrade John Baker, 29, were charged with demanding money by menaces. Hunt pleaded guilty, unlike Baker who had insisted to police he knew nothing about the letter.

The pair were unaware Murray had shown the threat to the police who set a trap. As soon as she handed over an envelope containing money, Baker was seized and taken to the Bargate police station where he confessed: "I must have been a bloody fool."

Temple-Cooke said in the circumstances the Crown would offer no evidence against him. "The prisoner, I am sure, had merely been Hunt's instrument in the affair and had known nothing of its nature."

Mr Justice Avory agreed and instructed jurors to immediately discharge him.

In mitigation, J E Y Radcliffe, defending, said Hunt had borne an impeccable character for 14 years and during the three months he had been held on remand, he had lost his son through a tragic accident.

"This is a curiously sad case," reflected the barrister, informing the court of his service in France and how he had been badly gassed. "He asks if he might be allowed to go back to the Front and be of more service to his country."

He then called Hunt's commanding officer who gave him an excellent character as a soldier. The judge then read a letter from Hunt pleading for mercy but rejected it by passing a sentence of three months hard labour.

The judge was in an equally unsympathetic mood in the case of John Slater, 28, who had eloped with his aunt Leontine Slater after she had endured a marriage made in Hell.

Together they and her three children lived happily until she sadly died in childbirth. He was obliged to register her details, but foolishly lied to the Registrar of their true relationship, claiming she was his wife. Eventually, the truth emerged and the engineer was charged with perjury, which he admitted.

Daily Echo: Mr Justice Avory.

Temple-Cooke, prosecuting, explained: "This is a case brought by the Treasury at the suggestion of the Registrar-General, not so much because of the injury done, but it is serious because of the frequent occasions such false representations are made and that interferes with the work of the registrar."

Mr Justice Ridley asked Slater for an explanation, pointing out he was liable to a term of seven years penal servitude. His reply he had been practically driven to it brought short shrift.

Judge - "You were not obliged to run away with your aunt in the first place."

Slater - "It was nothing but cruelty in the first place that made her go away."

Judge - "You went away with the children?"

Slater - "Yes, I had stood it long enough and she would not stop with him."

Judge - "It appears to me the only necessity put on you was to cover your own sin because you ran away with your aunt and had a child by her, and wanted it not known. You thought by putting in the description 'wife' instead of 'aunt' it would not be found out."

Slater protested that after they had eloped, she had insured herself as his wife without his knowledge.

However, the judge said he had to be punished to set an example to others like-minded and sentenced him to three months hard labour.