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Jano

Pacifists/conchies

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Jano

Can someone advise plese, as to what happened to conscientious objectors during WW1? Did they all have to "prove" their beliefs and, if so, how was this handled? I understand that some became stretcher bearers - were other field jobs allocated and what were they likely to be? Were some assigned to "home" duties? Were any jailed or otherwise punished for their views? Thanks much, Jano

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Desmond7

Jano - if you can, go to your local library and see if they have a book called 'Facing Armageddon - the First World War Experienced' edited by Hugh Cecil and Peter Liddle.

There is a very informative chapter by Keith Robbins entitled 'The British Experience of Conscientious Objection' It is Chapter 49.

Robbins is Principal of the University of Wales, Lampeter. Hus numrous publications include 'The Abolition of War: The British Peace Movement 1914-19 and 'The First World War.'

Alternatively - simply browse the net and you'll find lots of stuff.

Best of luck - Des

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Terry_Reeves

Concientious objectors, along with others who had reason to ask for exemptions from military service, had their cases heard under a system of tribunals. The first stage in the process was the local tribunal, which could grant absolute or conditional exemption from military service. Exemption from combatant service was conditional on being engaged on work of national importance. Exemptions from combatant service only meant military service in organisations such as the RAMC of the Non Combatant Corps.

Work of national importance was conducted under the aegis of the Pelham Committee who took into account age, education, health and so forth, when considering employment. Some men found it acceptable to work in munitions factories, others in agriculture or at docks and harbours. The principle of "equal sacrifice" (see below) was not always applied, with some men being allowed to live at, or near their homes or continue with their normal employment where the employer found it acceptable.

Where the tribunals decision did not meet the needs of the objector, he could lodge an appeal with the local appeal tribunal. In cases where the outcome was not satisfactory to the appellant, the local appeal tribunal could authorise a final appeal to the Central Tribunal in London.

The Home Office Scheme, which operated under direction of the Brace Committee, was for men who did not take their cases to the tribunals or who had refused the tribunals decision or had had their appeals rejected, and had been arrested by the military authorities. Having been "fetched" by the army, these men refused to obey orders and were court martialed and imprisoned. By May 1916 there were some 6,000of these men and such was the scale of indiscipline that Kitchener recommended to the Cabinet that the government should establish a civilian organisation to employ them "under conditions as severe as those of soldiers at the front". This came to be known as "equal sacrifice". At the end of May, Army Order X (AO 179, 1916) was drafted, which directed that CO's convicted by court martial of offences against discipline and had been sentenced to a term of imprisonment, should be held at the nearest civil prison. It was also proposed that these men should not be discharged from the army, but placed in Class W of the Army Reserve, created by Army Order 203, 1916, for "soldiers whose service is deemed to be valuable to the country in civil rather than military employment" . In effect this meant that those who accepted work under the Home Office Scheme, but breached its conditions, could be recalled by the army and made subject to court martial again if appropriate, and returned, on sentence, to a civil prison. . These men had their cases reviewed by the Central Tribunal and, after a satisfactory review, were offered work under the scheme. Just over 4,500 men received recommendations in this case. These were employed in such activities as road mending and forestry, but bearing in mind the condition of "equal sacrifice" were accommodated in hutted or tented camps. Those who were unfit for manual labour, or who could not be allocated to the other projects, were accommodated in two prisons, Warwick and Wakefield , which were renamed as "work centres", and in 1917 at Dartmoor, renamed the Princetown Work Centre, although locks and such like were removed . After they had finished work they were allowed out under curfew.

A final group of men were those known as the "Absolutists", objectors who would not compromise in any way. 985 men took this stance and under the terms of the Military Service Act were still officially soldiers. They were subjected to a continual cycle of court martial and imprisonment.

For further reading see "Conscience and Politics - The British Government and the Conscientious Objector to Military Service 1916-1919, John Rae, Oxford University Press 1970.

Terry Reeves

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Jano

Des, Terry - thank you so much. This site is positively amazing, you know. So many helpful and erudite people. I've never struck one so civilised and well-managed.

Thanks again guys, Jano. :)

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Tim Birch

Was there not a narrow window of objection where men were totally exempted on moral/religious grounds if they could prove to the tribunal a long standing conviction which predated hostilities? What about Quakers whose conviction could show that they could not support the war effort even in a secondary non combatant role?

Tim

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Terry_Reeves

There was no window of opportunity as such. The position of the Society of Friends was well established however and understood by the tribunals. Quaker applications were rarely turned down by the tribunals, although they did not always receive a form of exemption that they wanted. Interestingly, the Quaker position on war was not doctrinal, it was left to individuals to make up their own minds as to what stance they should take. Of those Quakers of military service age, almost 34 percent joined the armed forces against just over 45 percent or 750 men, who became concientious objectors.

With regard to Quakers who refused to co-operate in any way at all, they were treated in the same way as any other case. The most well known of these was Stephen Hobhouse whose absolutist stance drew much public attention. Hobhouse, who had been granted an exemption at his local tribunal in August 1916, conditional upon him joining the Friends Ambulance Unit, refused to accept the decision or appeal against it. He was subsequently taken by the military but refused to soldier and was court martialed and imprisoned. Hobhouse, who was in poor health, was well known through his social work in the East End of London and also well connected. His wife was able to use her influence to get his case heard in Parliament. This, along with an increasing public concern about the privations suffered by absolutists, eventually led to his release later in 1917. Eventually over 300 of these men dealt with in the same way. The army though, insisted that they be transfered to the reserve, to be recalled if neccessary. They did however give an undertaking that this would not actually happen to these men.

The largest single religious grouping of CO's were Christadelphians, which amounted to over 1700 men. The organisation petioned parliament stating their position in February 1915, but in advance of the Military Service Act becoming law. Their objection was essentially based on literal biblicism, and God's command not to kill. Many however were prepared to work in munitions factories. This apparent inconsistency caused much trouble for individuals at the early tribunals, but negotiations with the Central Tribunal in April 1915 established that Christadelphians could be granted conditional exemption dependent upon them agreeing to carrying out work of national importance. This applied to men who had been members of the church prior to the war. However, many had already been forced into the army and had been court martialled. Further negotiations with the Army Council led to these men being granted a special "Christadelphian Certificate of Exemption from Military Service" by the Army Council in August 1916. The Central Tribunal arranged to have these cases referred to the Pelham Committee for work of national importance. Some 1400 of these certificates were issued to Christadelphians.

Terry Reeves

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Tim Birch

Thanks Terry

Out of curiousity did any of the SAD cases try to plead CO as a defence?

Tim

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andrew wilbraham

hi,

out of interest where would the army chaplains stand in all this, surely being men of the cloth there must have been a sense of pasifism, but they still saw fit to go out to the battlefields and do their bit

andrew

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fatbob

I have a personal diary from 1915 which belonged to a conscientious objector.

His name was Percy Barton and he served a a Sick Berth Attendant aboard a hospital ship, the Plassy.

I also have his tags and documents, the Certificate of Exemption from Military Service is below.

post-20-1082293050.jpg

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BeppoSapone
Thanks Terry

Out of curiousity did any of the SAD cases try to plead CO as a defence?

Tim

Tim

I don't think so, but stand to be corrected on this.

However, there were a group of Conscientious Objectors who were sentenced to death. The Army shipped them out to France, where stricter rules applied, and they were then supposed to have been shot. Some say "to encourage the others".

Passing through south London one of the men threw a note out of the train, with the request that word be taken to either the "No-Conscription Fellowship", or Pacifist MPs, can't remember which at present. Once word of what the Army was up to became known the men were not shot, but were shipped back to England, still as prisoners.

There is a photo' of this group of men used for the dustjacket of the book on COs entitled "Objection Overuled". When the photo was taken the men, who were "Alternativists" rather than "Absolutists", were at the camp at Princetown on Dartmoor.

There was also a group of New Zealand COs shipped out to France, via South Africa and England. At least one, named Baxter, has written a book of his experiences.

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pat

Jano

although it is "only" a novel, you might be interested in "The Eye in the Door" - the middle one of Pat Barker's WW1 "Regeneration" trilogy. Its all about conscientious objectors. The title refers to an eye apparently painted onto the door of the prison cell, so that the prisoner felt he was being watched all the time.

"fatbob"

Thanks for posting the cert of exemption. its interesting to see that the card says "This certificate must be signed by the holder in the space provide below" - but is unsigned!

Pat

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Guest lesley

There were 16,500 tribunal appeals against conscription on the grounds of conscientious objection. These often received considerable newspaper coverage.

Bucks Examiner 4th August 1916 " A Man Who Loves Germans"

William H Potter, 34 a potato merchant of Chesham claimed that as a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ he could not kill and neither could he make munitions, but he was willing to do ambulance work. The Chairman began:

You state that you believe in loving your enemies. If we dismiss your case will you still love us? - Yes

Do you love Germans? - Yes I do, just as much as I love an Englishman. God loves then so surely I may do so.

You have a wife. If a German attacked your wife would you kill him? – I don’t know what I might do. I know that my duty to God is to pray to him to tell me what to do & he would tell me what to do to protect my wife.

Do you seriously suggest that with a German suffering blood lust attacking your wife you would not attack and kill him if needs be? – I have never been placed in such a predicament, but I have a duty to God and I must do it.

You have a duty to protect a defenceless woman, wouldn’t you do it? – I would try to part them. Killing the German is quite different.

What you say is that you do not think it is your duty to kill. – I say I should not have a right to do so. What I should do I cannot say until the time comes.

Potter was given a non-combatant’s certificate.

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Terry_Reeves

34 men from the NCC were sentenced to death in mid-1916 for refusing to obey orders whilst in France. However, the cabinet had already issued instructions to Douglas Haig not to confirm any death sentences passed on COs. The sentences were commuted to penal servitude (as opposed to military detention), which in fact put them back in the hands of the civil authority (see previous post ).

With regards to padres, it should not be assumed that all clergymen were pacifists. Both the Church of England and the Roman Catholic Church essentially saw the war as a rightious one. However, pacifism and concientious objection is also matter for the individual. With regard to the latter, grounds for concientious objection could, and was, raised also on moral grounds and on the grounds of political objection. What brought about the problem of concientious objection, was the passing of the Military Service Act, which authorised consciption. This enforced military service had never happened before in the UK. As far as I am aware, clergymen were not conscripted and I have not found any evidence of any coming before tribunals. Equally, padres, although often serving in the front line, fulfilled a non-combatant role. In a few cases, there is some anecdotal evidence to suggest that the heavy loss of life caused some individuals to doubt their their convictions.

Terry Reeves

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Magnumbellum

Out of curiousity did any of the SAD cases try to plead CO as a defence?

Tim

There is no evidence to suggest that any of the men shot for alleged cowardice/desertion in WW1 had ever at any point claimed conscientious objection.

Sylvia Pankhurst, who was active on behalf of COs, also took up the case of one of the men shot.

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Tunsilk

Whilst researching WW1 and one village I have come across both a vicar and an objector. Both men lived in Silksworth (nr Sunderland). The vicar served in RAMC. He apparently was not of A1 fitness and died of illness. He has a CWGC record but not a grave stone. He has simple stone cross in the church graveyard which makes no mention of his war service and he is not on the memorial in the church. He wasn't a vicar in that church but at Gildersome in Leeds and he is on their memorial.

The man who objected did so straightaway. He refused to answer questions or be medically examined. He was assigned to Non Combattant Corps and arrested. He was tried an sent to Wormwood Scrubs for two years with hard labour in Nov 1916. He was released Mar 1917 to a labour camp in Wakefield. The record ends there. Oddly there is no anecdotal knowledge of this event. This is strange as in a colliery village of some 5000 people it couldn't have been a secret.

So two men with unanswered questions which now will never be answered.

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Magnumbellum

Whilst researching WW1 and one village I have come across both a vicar and an objector. Both men lived in Silksworth (nr Sunderland). The vicar served in RAMC. He apparently was not of A1 fitness and died of illness. He has a CWGC record but not a grave stone. He has simple stone cross in the church graveyard which makes no mention of his war service and he is not on the memorial in the church. He wasn't a vicar in that church but at Gildersome in Leeds and he is on their memorial.

The man who objected did so straightaway. He refused to answer questions or be medically examined. He was assigned to Non-Combatant Corps and arrested. He was tried an sent to Wormwood Scrubs for two years with hard labour in Nov 1916. He was released Mar 1917 to a labour camp in Wakefield. The record ends there. Oddly there is no anecdotal knowledge of this event. This is strange as in a colliery village of some 5000 people it couldn't have been a secret.

So two men with unanswered questions which now will never be answered.

The conscientious objector was obviously accepted on the Home Office Scheme, and the "labour camp at Wakefield" was clealry the Wakefield Work Centre, opened in autumn 1916 in the then closed Wakefield Prison. It is quite possible that the Peace Pledge Union has the man in its database of 4000 WW1 COs. Try the PPU Archivist: archives@ppu.org.uk

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Tunsilk

Thanks Magnum I will give it a try.

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Magnumbellum

I have a personal diary from 1915 which belonged to a conscientious objector.

His name was Percy Barton and he served a a Sick Berth Attendant aboard a hospital ship, the Plassy.

I also have his tags and documents, the Certificate of Exemption from Military Service is below.

There is an apparent contradiction in this posting, which requires some explanation. If Percy Barton wrote his diary in 1915 as a Sick Berth Attendant on HMS Plassy, he must have joined the Royal Navy as a volunteer; conscription was not introduced until March 1916, and therefore in 1915 the legal concept of conscientious objection did not apply.

We are told that he had a Certificate of Exemption, but the link to it no longer operates, so we are left without any clue as to when it was issued, and in what circumstances. Theoretically, Barton could have left the Navy, and then applied for conscientious exemption under the Military Service Act, but, so far as I am aware, all naval and military discharges to the reserves were suspended during the war.

So, what is the answer?

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auchonvillerssomme

Unfortunately Fatbob hasn't posted for a couple of years so we may never have that answer.

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Errol

QUOTE (Tim Birch @ Sun, 18 Apr 2004 11:24:22 +0000)Thanks Terry

Out of curiousity did any of the SAD cases try to plead CO as a defence?

Tim

Tim

I don't think so, but stand to be corrected on this.

However, there were a group of Conscientious Objectors who were sentenced to death. The Army shipped them out to France, where stricter rules applied, and they were then supposed to have been shot. Some say "to encourage the others".

Passing through south London one of the men threw a note out of the train, with the request that word be taken to either the "No-Conscription Fellowship", or Pacifist MPs, can't remember which at present. Once word of what the Army was up to became known the men were not shot, but were shipped back to England, still as prisoners.

There is a photo' of this group of men used for the dustjacket of the book on COs entitled "Objection Overuled". When the photo was taken the men, who were "Alternativists" rather than "Absolutists", were at the camp at Princetown on Dartmoor.

There was also a group of New Zealand COs shipped out to France, via South Africa and England. At least one, named Baxter, has written a book of his experiences.

Any more details about this?

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Guest artaneboy

Does anyone have alist of the 'Home Office Scheme' for conscientious objector in Ireland. I know there was one in Rathdrum in County Wicklow. But there's a vague 'folk memory' of COs loading timber forestry poles on lorry (of all things, in rural Ireland of 1917-18!), near my now home Kilcooley Abbey estate outside Thurles, County Tipperary. I have so far failed to get collaborating evidence, so a list of camps would be very useful. Thanks to anyone who can help.

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johncmullen1960

hi,

out of interest where would the army chaplains stand in all this, surely being men of the cloth there must have been a sense of pasifism, but they still saw fit to go out to the battlefields and do their bit

andrew

The general attitude of the chaplains was more enthusiastic support for the war. this quotation if extreme is not atypical :

“This truly is a war of ideals; Odin is ranged against Christ, and Berlin is seeking to prove its supremacy over Bethlehem. Every shot that is fired, every bayonet thrust that gets home, every life that is sacrificed, is in very truth ‘for His Name’s sake'” (Quoted in Alan Wilkinson, The Church of England and the First World War 1996: 254)

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MBrockway

[Daniel Dudley's details interspersed]

Concientious objectors, along with others who had reason to ask for exemptions from military service, had their cases heard under a system of tribunals. The first stage in the process was the local tribunal, (DD attended tribunal on 12? or 16? June 1916) which could grant absolute or conditional exemption from military service (DD granted exemption from Combatant Service - since his brother appears to be a minister, it's likely this was on religious grounds) . Exemption from combatant service was conditional on being engaged on work of national importance. Exemptions from combatant service only meant military service in organisations such as the RAMC or the Non Combatant Corps (DD called up on 28 June 1916, initially to Welsh Regiment, but then switched to No.2 Western Companies, NCC and posted to NCC at Kinmel Camp 21 July 1916).

Work of national importance was conducted under the aegis of the Pelham Committee who took into account age, education, health and so forth, when considering employment. Some men found it acceptable to work in munitions factories, others in agriculture or at docks and harbours. The principle of "equal sacrifice" (see below) was not always applied, with some men being allowed to live at, or near their homes or continue with their normal employment where the employer found it acceptable. (DD was a Commercial Traveller, so not in any form of Reserved Occupation)

Where the tribunals decision did not meet the needs of the objector, he could lodge an appeal with the local appeal tribunal. In cases where the outcome was not satisfactory to the appellant, the local appeal tribunal could authorise a final appeal to the Central Tribunal in London.

The Home Office Scheme, which operated under direction of the Brace Committee, was for men who did not take their cases to the tribunals or who had refused the tribunals decision or had had their appeals rejected, and had been arrested by the military authorities (DD called up on 28 June 1916, presumably did not comply, then fined £2 for Absenteeism under the 1916 MSA at Llanelli Magistrates Court) . Having been "fetched" by the army, these men refused to obey orders and were court martialed and imprisoned (DD put in Guard Room at Kinmel on 11 Jul 1916, then sentenced to 2 years Hard Labour for Disobedience at District Court Martial on 21 Jul 1916). By May 1916 there were some 6,000of these men and such was the scale of indiscipline that Kitchener recommended to the Cabinet that the government should establish a civilian organisation to employ them "under conditions as severe as those of soldiers at the front". This came to be known as "equal sacrifice". At the end of May, Army Order X (AO 179, 1916) was drafted, which directed that CO's convicted by court martial of offences against discipline and had been sentenced to a term of imprisonment, should be held at the nearest civil prison (DD transferred to HMP Liverpool 0n 02 Aug 1916). It was also proposed that these men should not be discharged from the army, but placed in Class W of the Army Reserve, created by Army Order 203, 1916, for "soldiers whose service is deemed to be valuable to the country in civil rather than military employment" . (DD transferred to Class W Reserve on 01 Nov 1916 "for purpose of being employed under Brace Committee") In effect this meant that those who accepted work under the Home Office Scheme, but breached its conditions, could be recalled by the army and made subject to court martial again if appropriate, and returned, on sentence, to a civil prison. . These men had their cases reviewed by the Central Tribunal and, after a satisfactory review, were offered work under the scheme. Just over 4,500 men received recommendations in this case. These were employed in such activities as road mending and forestry, but bearing in mind the condition of "equal sacrifice" were accommodated in hutted or tented camps. Those who were unfit for manual labour, or who could not be allocated to the other projects, were accommodated in two disused prison, Warwick and Wakefield , which were renamed as "work centres", and in 1917 at Dartmoor, renamed the Princetown Work Centre, although locks and such like were removed . After they had finished work they were allowed out under curfew.

(Unfortunately DD's trail goes cold at this point as he has left the military)

A final group of men were those known as the "Absolutists", objectors who would not compromise in any way. 985 men took this stance and under the terms of the Military Service Act were still officially soldiers. They were subjected to a continual cycle of court martial and imprisonment.

For further reading see "Conscience and Politics - The British Government and the Conscientious Objector to Military Service 1916-1919, John Rae, Oxford University Press 1970.

Terry Reeves

Here's a good example of a man following that sequence - Daniel Dudley of Llywnhendy, a village on the edge of Llanelli in Carmarthenshire. I've highlighted the relevant sections in Terry's post that match his Service Record below ....

post-20192-0-49089500-1379785529_thumb.j

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