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Protest meeting against Conscientious Objectors - Plymouth 1917

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24463988

This is another oddity from the negative collection I am slowly scanning. The only surviving reference says it shows a CO's protest meeting at Plymouth. This would have been between Feb and May, 1917. It accompanies other negatives of men working on Dartmoor and general views of the prison or "work centre". Can anyone throw light on when/where this meeting might have taken place. I can see the mayor in his regalia on the platform. The photographer stood behind the platform - so this is a pretty standard general view - but it is obviously an interesting frame.

Many thanks in advance,

Mark

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Magnumbellum

It is misleading to describe such a meeting as a "CO's [sic] protest meeting", Even with the correction to "COs' protest meeting", it implies a meeting of protest by COs. The text should agree with the heading, viz that it is a protest meeting against COs.

With regard to dating, it can be narrowed down to not earlier than mid-March 1917, because that is when the previously closed Dartmoor Prison was re-opened as Princetown Work Centre, which is how it should be described until its closure in April 1919.

With regard to the venue for the meeting, if the Mayor of Plymouth was there in his regalia, one possibility is Plymouth Town Hall. I have no idea what other meeting rooms might have been available in Plymouth at that time. There is a strong possibility that it was reported in the local press, so a Plymouth press trawl from mid-March 1917 might be fruitful.

Another possibility is John Bull, whose editor, the egregious Horatio Bottomley, ran a vilification campaign against COs, and those at Princetown especially. (Bottomley, it will be recalled, moved from being an MP to being a certain kind of guest of His Majesty - a translation not unknown in these latter days.)

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SiegeGunner

(Bottomley, it will be recalled, moved from being an MP to being a certain kind of guest of His Majesty - a translation not unknown in these latter days.)

"Sewing, Bottomley?"

"No, reaping..."

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24463988

It is misleading to describe such a meeting as a "CO's [sic] protest meeting", Even with the correction to "COs' protest meeting", it implies a meeting of protest by COs. The text should agree with the heading, viz that it is a protest meeting against COs.

With regard to dating, it can be narrowed down to not earlier than mid-March 1917, because that is when the previously closed Dartmoor Prison was re-opened as Princetown Work Centre, which is how it should be described until its closure in April 1919.

With regard to the venue for the meeting, if the Mayor of Plymouth was there in his regalia, one possibility is Plymouth Town Hall. I have no idea what other meeting rooms might have been available in Plymouth at that time. There is a strong possibility that it was reported in the local press, so a Plymouth press trawl from mid-March 1917 might be fruitful.

Another possibility is John Bull, whose editor, the egregious Horatio Bottomley, ran a vilification campaign against COs, and those at Princetown especially. (Bottomley, it will be recalled, moved from being an MP to being a certain kind of guest of His Majesty - a translation not unknown in these latter days.)

Very useful points - thank you very much - the town hall makes sense to me. I quoted the caption of the negative envelope exactly as it read - which was probably a bit daft of me, but it is the original. Sadly newspaper picture libraries were a hive of job creation or minimalism - depending on moods/pub opening hours etc and we are slaves to the whims of the staff of the day. Believe me, nothing much has changed in the thirty three years I have been indulging the black art.

Cheers!

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MichaelBully

With regard to Horatio Bottomley as editor of 'John Bull', it is worth recalling that on 19th June 1915 this publication called for Ramsay MacDonald to be court martialled due to his opposition to the Great War. On the 4th September 1915, 'John Bull' revealed the fact that Ramsay MacDonald was illegitimate, and even printed details of his birth certificate, The latter tactics seem to have helped to rally Ramsay MacDonald's supporters according to David Marquand's biography of him.

I am not sure if the Dartmoor camp was one of the easier work camps for CO's to be sent to. Will try and find some more. Have noticed that according to the Peace Pledge Union, there is a logbook at Dartmoor Prison musem , recording CO's who reported to the medical officer as sick.

http://www.ppu.org.uk/coproject/guide.html

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MichaelBully

Have been looking at the Anthology 'Voices Against War- A Century of Protest' by Lyn Smith, published in association with the Imperial War Museum. I have the paperback edition from 2010.

There are selected extracts about Princetown from accounts by Mark Hayler ( an Absolutist CO), Donald Grant ( Alternativist CO), Joseph Hoare (Alternativist CO)

Joseph Hoare stated

"I remember some of the COs from Princetown going up to the church for a service and being stoned on the way. The parson was standing on a flat tombstone, I won't say cheering them on, but any rate encouraging them...."

p.45

Mark Hayler's two extracts are very critical of the conditions at Princetown. Donald Grant seemed to be relatively positive about the place

"I went off to Dartmoor, .......I first worked on the agricultural group, hot weather, very tiring. However , I was offered a job as an orderly in hospital after a fortnight. I then had a cell to myself in the hospital, could have a bath any time. There were five of us.....You could go out of prison. I galloped over the moors, the tors, read a lot, ran about a lot, played soccer even."

p.43

Much as I agree that the right to conscientious objection should be recognised , objectively speaking I can see that a family with men in the trenches , or at risk on the sea, could feel resentful towards CO's such as Donald Grant if his account is accurate and typical of the lifestyle of Aternativist COs at Princetown.

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Magnumbellum

With regard to Horatio Bottomley as editor of 'John Bull', it is worth recalling that on 19th June 1915 this publication called for Ramsay MacDonald to be court martialled due to his opposition to the Great War. On the 4th September 1915, 'John Bull' revealed the fact that Ramsay MacDonald was illegitimate, and even printed details of his birth certificate, The latter tactics seem to have helped to rally Ramsay MacDonald's supporters according to David Marquand's biography of him.

I am not sure if the Dartmoor camp was one of the easier work camps for CO's to be sent to. Will try and find some more. Have noticed that according to the Peace Pledge Union, there is a logbook at Dartmoor Prison musem , recording CO's who reported to the medical officer as sick.

http://www.ppu.org.u...ject/guide.html

Bottomley's call for MacDonald to be court-martialled demonstrates how outrageous he was. As MacDonald was at all times a civilian the only way he could be court-martialled was by declaring martial lw - in other words, putting the army in charge of the country instead of Parliament. Obviously Bottomley ended up getting no more than he eserved.

On the MO's log at Princetown Work Centre, there are some 200 names, and all are in the PPU's CO database.

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MichaelBully

I think that in Bottomley's perspective Ramsay MacDonald -in being so opposed to Britain participating in the Great War- was equivalent to being a spy or traitor so should be executed. As you say, the idea of a 'court martial' in this context was being extra bombastic.

I recall from my reading, that there were calls for Ramsy MacDonald to be deprived of his salary as an MP due to his opposition to the War.

Good to know that 200 CO's have been traced as being at Pincetown, curious to know how many were Absolutists and how many were Alternativists.

Bottomley's call for MacDonald to be court-martialled demonstrates how outrageous he was. As MacDonald was at all times a civilian the only way he could be court-martialled was by declaring martial lw - in other words, putting the army in charge of the country instead of Parliament. Obviously Bottomley ended up getting no more than he eserved.

On the MO's log at Princetown Work Centre, there are some 200 names, and all are in the PPU's CO database.

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Magnumbellum

Have been looking at the Anthology 'Voices Against War- A Century of Protest' by Lyn Smith, published in association with the Imperial War Museum. I have the paperback edition from 2010.

There are selected extracts about Princetown from accounts by Mark Hayler ( an Absolutist CO), Donald Grant ( Alternativist CO), Joseph Hoare (Alternativist CO)

Joseph Hoare stated

"I remember some of the COs from Princetown going up to the church for a service and being stoned on the way. The parson was standing on a flat tombstone, I won't say cheering them on, but any rate encouraging them...."

p.45

Mark Hayler's two extracts are very critical of the conditions at Princetown. Donald Grant seemed to be relatively positive about the place

"I went off to Dartmoor, .......I first worked on the agricultural group, hot weather, very tiring. However , I was offered a job as an orderly in hospital after a fortnight. I then had a cell to myself in the hospital, could have a bath any time. There were five of us.....You could go out of prison. I galloped over the moors, the tors, read a lot, ran about a lot, played soccer even."

p.43

Much as I agree that the right to conscientious objection should be recognised , objectively speaking I can see that a family with men in the trenches , or at risk on the sea, could feel resentful towards CO's such as Donald Grant if his account is accurate and typical of the lifestyle of Aternativist COs at Princetown.

Donald Grant's experience was exceptional. Most of the COs were up at 6.00 a.m. Monday to Saturday, and either out in the fields (the prison had an extensive farm), or stone-breaking in the quarry, until around 5.00 pm., in all weathers. Some men, such as Henry Haston, died there. He and others would have been grateful for what ministrations Donald Grant could offer.

Life is by no means always fair. There were some soldiers who never saw battle, let alone the mud of the trenches.

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MichaelBully

I haven't read any more of Donald Grant's account of his life in Princetown than what is offered in the publication mentioned below, but he does come over as a bit smug and tactless. Of course he may have been embelishing his life story later on, or his experience could be completely atypical. I mean having to do agricultural work in hot weather! What did Mr. Grant think life was like for agricultural workers whether the Great War was raging or not. Maybe let's not go there.

Personally I have a lot of admiration for the courage of CO's, and am researching what I can about Hove CO's along with the lives of those men who served, and their relatives who were left behind. I have sent information to the Peace Pledge Union for their CO database , an organisation I can also respect, but whose principles-just like the Great War CO's- I am not in agreement with. Donald Grant's observations wound me up though.

The whole issue has got me wondering whether resentment against CO's was more focused on the Alternativists or the Absolutists in the Princetown area and in general.

Donald Grant's experience was exceptional. Most of the COs were up at 6.00 a.m. Monday to Saturday, and either out in the fields (the prison had an extensive farm), or stone-breaking in the quarry, until around 5.00 pm., in all weathers. Some men, such as Henry Haston, died there. He and others would have been grateful for what ministrations Donald Grant could offer.

Life is by no means always fair. There were some soldiers who never saw battle, let alone the mud of the trenches.

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Magnumbellum

I haven't read any more of Donald Grant's account of his life in Princetown than what is offered in the publication mentioned below, but he does come over as a bit smug and tactless. Of course he may have been embelishing his life story later on, or his experience could be completely atypical. I mean having to do agricultural work in hot weather! What did Mr. Grant think life was like for agricultural workers whether the Great War was raging or not. Maybe let's not go there.

Personally I have a lot of admiration for the courage of CO's, and am researching what I can about Hove CO's along with the lives of those men who served, and their relatives who were left behind. I have sent information to the Peace Pledge Union for their CO database , an organisation I can also respect, but whose principles-just like the Great War CO's- I am not in agreement with. Donald Grant's observations wound me up though.

The whole issue has got me wondering whether resentment against CO's was more focused on the Alternativists or the Absolutists in the Princetown area and in general.

In discussing the distinctions between absolutists and alternativists, it needs to be realised that there were gradations in both groups. Among the alternativists there those who (1) willing accepted non-combatant service in the military, (2) only reluctantly accepted non-combatant service. (3) only accepted civilian work. Among absolutists there were those who never accepted any alternative service and those who compromised by accepting the Home Office Scheme. (There were even further gradations, but to elaborate those who would require an essay rather than a forum post.)

All the men on the Scheme had necessarily compromised and thus become quasi-alternativists, so there would be no distinction for the general public to see, even if they had any understanding of the absolutist/alternativist spectrum, which most casual members of the public would not have. Certainly, Bottomley's and others' vilification was usually of COs in general, rather than any "brand" of COs.

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MichaelBully

Thanks for the information re. grading of CO's , very helpful.

Yes someone like Horatio Bottomley who had an ideological basis for attacking CO's would not distinguish between different types of CO's . I was thinking more of the wider public as it were. Would some feel less hostile to CO's who were in non-combative roles such as in the medical services as they were contributing to the war effort as opposed to 'Abolutists' who refused to take part in the war effort? Did some people feel resentful if they thought CO's were getting an easy time but not completely opposed to CO's ?

Anyhow this is moving away from Plymouth 1917 so will stop there.

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Magnumbellum

Although, as you say, this is straying away from Plymouth 1917, I ought to correct one misapprehension, namely that non-combatant COs in the army performed medical services. I have not yet found a single example of where this actually happened, although I know of a number who wanted to. Virtually every CO whp was allocated a non-combatant role was placed in the Non-Combatant Corps, and was engaged in road-making, railway work, non-armaments stores, transport and the like.

As to public attitudes, there may have rather more sympathy with COs seen to be "doing" something, but aggravation around Princetown, for example seemed to centre on what COs did after work or or on Sundays, regardless of how hard they worked during the day, and in all weathers.

On the other hand, the Princetown Wesleyan Methodist Church welcomed a group of COs who put on a musical concert in aid of Church funds.

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MichaelBully

That's great, thanks for the information Magnum .

Although, as you say, this is straying away from Plymouth 1917, I ought to correct one misapprehension, namely that non-combatant COs in the army performed medical services. I have not yet found a single example of where this actually happened, although I know of a number who wanted to. Virtually every CO whp was allocated a non-combatant role was placed in the Non-Combatant Corps, and was engaged in road-making, railway work, non-armaments stores, transport and the like.

As to public attitudes, there may have rather more sympathy with COs seen to be "doing" something, but aggravation around Princetown, for example seemed to centre on what COs did after work or or on Sundays, regardless of how hard they worked during the day, and in all weathers.

On the other hand, the Princetown Wesleyan Methodist Church welcomed a group of COs who put on a musical concert in aid of Church funds.

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kenf48

Returning to the topic from 'The Times' Thursday April 26 1917

post-42838-0-60903400-1300313481.jpg

Among the complaints of the good folk of Plymouth and Princetown, mainly goaded by Northcliffe and the Daily Mail, although apparently they didn't need much encouragement as the above cutting shows were:-

they moved about in jostling,catcalling gangs annoying women;

they cycled in droves spreading political contagion;

they paraded with Peace signs, raised red banners and sang the Red Flag;

they accosted young people criticising the King and advocated a Republic;

they commandeered the warders cricket ground;

they bought up supplies in shops, notably sweets;

they declined to stand for the National Anthem etc. etc.

(Daily Mail April 1917 [various dates] cited in 'Dear Old Blighty' E.S. Turner)

As late as 31st March 1919 Eldred Hallas MP was still voicing concerns saying, "the conduct of the conscientious objectors...is creating high feeling on Dartmoor because of the way in which these men sneer at wounded soldiers and generally comport themselves in the district;... " In response the Home Secretary said no complaints on this subject had been received for more than twelve months. (Hansard)

Ken

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Magnumbellum

Thanks very much for the cutting, which is clearly a report of the particular meeting with which this forum began. I am gratified to be virtually correct in suggesting that it was held at the Town Hall, the Plymouth Guildhall obviously being the local equivalent.

The description of the prison as now the "Dartmoor Work Centre" is incorrect: it was designated the "Princetown Work Centre". More serious was the claiim that none of the men was a conscientious objector within the meaning of the Military Service Acts. That was, plainly and simply, a brazen lie. The Acts defined as a CO anyone exempted as such by a tribunal duly constituted under the Acts. The only route to the Princetown Work Centre was via the Central Tribunal designated as the body best fitted to decide upon admissions to the Home Office Scheme..

The report also aptly illustrates my previous posting where I said that vilifiers of COs seemed more concerned with what they did in their spare time than with what they did at work. As to buying extra food, one might draw the conclusion that their daily fare was not as ample and satisfying for hard-working, mainly young, men as the critics suggested. Any extra food so bought was not likley to anount to a great deal, as wages on the Scheme were only a pittance.

.

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MichaelBully

That's great Ken, thanks for the cuting.

I think that some of the accusations would be used against any 'minority' such as buying up of food and getting food rations than others. Also the cat-calling at young women.

The accusation that CO's baited wounded soldiers seems rather spurious, but reminds me of the accusations levelled against Ramsay MacDonald, namely that he intentionally insulted families of men who were at the Front.

What I find particularly interesting was that there seemed to be a focus on CO's , not for being Pacifists , but for being political radicals such as Socialists and Anarchists, with the notion that they were not CO's "within the meaning of the Military Service Act " : From reading accounts of Tribunals at Hove in the local papers, I had noticed a distinction between men trying to claim exemption on political grounds and those on religious grounds. The former were given a much harder time with the concept that opponents of the War on political grounds could not cite conscientious objection. Of course those seeking exemption on religious grounds could still have a tough hearing.

Fascinating thread.

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24463988

That's great Ken, thanks for the cuting.

I think that some of the accusations would be used against any 'minority' such as buying up of food and getting food rations than others. Also the cat-calling at young women.

The accusation that CO's baited wounded soldiers seems rather spurious, but reminds me of the accusations levelled against Ramsay MacDonald, namely that he intentionally insulted families of men who were at the Front.

What I find particularly interesting was that there seemed to be a focus on CO's , not for being Pacifists , but for being political radicals such as Socialists and Anarchists, with the notion that they were not CO's "within the meaning of the Military Service Act " : From reading accounts of Tribunals at Hove in the local papers, I had noticed a distinction between men trying to claim exemption on political grounds and those on religious grounds. The former were given a much harder time with the concept that opponents of the War on political grounds could not cite conscientious objection. Of course those seeking exemption on religious grounds could still have a tough hearing.

Fascinating thread.

I am so glad the discovery of a long lost negative can create such an interesting thread. I am grateful to Kath for sending me cuttings from The Times giving an account of the meeting at Plymouth the photo shows - which was at the Guildhall on 25.04.1917. Among the claims made were that COs received a higher food ration than the general population. The men lived "pretty much as they pleased" and that they were "disloyal men, anarchists and preachers of a ******* Socialism." What is worthy of note is the dearth of men in uniform at the meeting... only one or two sailors out of a large crowd.

Cheers!

Mark

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