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MichaelBully

Religious Groups opposed to war

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MichaelBully

Indeed Jon. I know that there is a war memorial to the Great War dead at Brighton Unitarian Church, unfortunately it does not appear on the IWM inventory of war memorials. As far as I recall Harold BIng, quite a well known CO from Croydon, came from a Unitarian background, but the local church were not supportive of his stance.

I have had a quick look at 'The Unitarians A Short History' by Leonard Smith , 2006, the most recent history of Unitarianism I have heard of. There seems to be little mention of the Great War, so I suppose it's safe can infer that there probably were not a significant Unitarian presence amongst the CO's.

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Magnumbellum

I understood that by WW1 they were called Zion's Watch Tower Tract Society - shortened to The Watch Tower Society; certainly that was the name used when some of the directors were prosecuted in the USA under the Espionage Act in 1917 for issuing publications criticising the Roman Catholic and Protestant churches for supporting the war.

The Watch Tower Society was essentially the publishing body of the group. As a collective organisation, they used the name International Bible Students Association (IBSA for short), and called themselves Bible Students. Programme cards survive from IBSA groups in the Knutsford and Princetown Work Centres under the Home Office Scheme, and the IBSA initials are to be found under signatures in the various surviving autograph books that circulated in the Work Centres.

Eight of the 35 COs formally sentenced to death, then reprieved, were IBSA members.

The name Jehovah's Witnesses was adopted in 1930.

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Magnumbellum

Jehovah's Witnesses should be added to the list.

I will be interested to find out which of those on your list were strictly forbidden to fight.

Jehovah's Witnesses - because of their strict interpretation of spilled blood?

The refusal of Bible Students - to cite the name used at the time of the Great War - to fight did not derive from spilled blood per se. It derived from the belief that they should withdraw as far as possible from the machinations of the state. So, for example, they took no part in politics.

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Magnumbellum

I am trying to think of religious groups that were opposed to their members taking part in the War : I know that whilst a number of Conscientious Objectors were Quakers (members of the Society of Friends), I thought that their official stance was that it was up to the individual member to make the decision whether or not to fight, or perhaps go for non combat role.

I can only think of the Christadelphians, Plymouth Brothers, and Muggletonians. Regards, Michael Bully

It occurs to me that the more useful question is, which religious groups actively supported conscientious objectors, the point being that such groups, by their nature, did not tend to ostracise members who volunteered or accepted call-up, albeit relunctantly.

The groups which provided active support were:

Quakers (Religious Society of Friends

Christadelphians

International Bible Students Association (from 1930, Jehovah's Witnesses)

Although the Plymouth Brethren seemed mostly to be COs, I have not so far found clear evidence of active support from the group.

I have not come across any Muggletonian CO, and would be interested to hear of any.

I am not aware of any Amish in Britain at the time of WW1, and therefore of any Amish CO.

The Doukhobors were certainly COs, but I am not aware of any in Britain - they were harrassed under the Tsar and mostly emigrated to Canada in the late 19th century.

There were COs in all the main Christian denominations - CofE, RC, Methodist in its many varieties, Congregationalist, Presbyterian. Baptist, Salvation Army, but they often had a struggle with local clergy and/or congregations.

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MichaelBully

Interesting points raised MB. Thanks. Yes, perhaps a more constructive way of wording the question would be 'which religious groups gave active support to members who were CO's' -but I am still interested to know if there were any groups actually ordered their members to cite a conscientious objection -in other words refusing to take part in warfare was some sort of defining stance of their faith. Which is different from recognising -and actively supporting- the right of indiividuals to cite a conscientious objection.

I am very interested to hear of any CO's from the Roman Catholic faith.

I have been looking at the question of Unitarians and Conscientious Objection again; was consulting Caroline Moorehead's 'Troublesome People-Enemies of War 1916-1986', and the writer claims that Croydon CO Harold Bing's family were asked to leave the Unitarian Church as a result of his beliefs: Harold Bing's sister Dorothy was the secretary of the local NCF, which may also have been disaproved of. Obviously this is only one case, but I will ask the Peace Pledge Union archivist to see if other examples have come to light of Unitarian CO's being treated in this way.

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Magnumbellum

Probably the best known RC WW1 CO was Alfred Evans, who was one of the 35 formally sentenced to death, but then had their sentences commuted to ten years penal servitude, and ultimately to time served when they were released in April 1919. For anyone with access to the celebrated photo of a group of COs sitting in the quarry at Dyce Work Camp, Evans is the man with a pipe. He went to prison again in WW2, when he refused to participate in compulsory firewatching, as part of the war machine (he was quite willing to share in it voluntarily as a neighbourly act),

Apologies for not including Unitarians among the religious groups with CO members, although not necessarily well supported. It is true that the Bing family (in 1914 there were Harold's parents and another sister besides Dorothy, as well as Harold himself, all living at home) were Unitarians, but later moved over to the Quakers; I am, however, not sure of the reliability of the story that they were compelled to leave. Caroline Moorehead's book (she is a journalist, not a historian) is replete with errors and muddles. It seems more likely that they simply felt uncomfortable in the light of comments made and looks askance.

The depth of the Bing commitment is illustrated by the fact that on the day of the declaration of war, 4 August 1914, Harold (then only 16) and his father walked from Croydon to Trafalgar Square to join a rally against the war. Harold and his sisters were founder members of the No More War Movement in 1921, and Harold and Dorothy went on to be active in the War Resisters' International as well as the Peace Pledge Union.

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MichaelBully

Thanks once again MB for the information you have supplied. I have had another look at 'Caroline Moorehead's 'Troublesome People-Enemies of War 1916-1986' . The section on the Bing family is footnoted at the end Dorothy Bing..... Interview, April 10 1984 (Note to page 29, Chapter 2,) So presented as if the author had direct contact with Dorothy Bing. Unitarianism does get overlooked but seemed to have been a larger religious movement than it is now.

Yes, had heard of Harold Bing's walk from Croydon to Tralgar Square to join a protest against the oncoming war.

Wonder if there is an archive concerning the Bing family ? Interesting to note their involvement in anti-war organisations after the Great War.Regards, Michael Bully

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Broznitsky
Doukhobors - Mainly in Canada but some in the USA and Cyprus

Scores of Russian-born Doukhobors enlisted into the CEF in the Great War. I don't know how they were treated by their leaders post-war.

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MichaelBully

Spent a couple of hours looking at local papers yesterday from March-May 1916, and read a few accounts of Military Service Tribunals and Appeals. A member of the Plymouth Bretheren who seeking Conscientious Objection, who had both parents with him, explaining that he had been born and raised as a member of this group, was granted total exemption. Another CO who had not been born and raised in the Plymouth Bretheren but had joined a few years before the Great War started, was not granted total exemption by a Tribunal.

Another CO -who cited a religious objection to taking part in the War, was given quite a tough time by the Tribunal because he was not affiliated to any particular religious group and admitted that he rarely went to church.

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keithrouse

I have never been able to get my head around the fact that conscientious objectors could "get away with it", while genuine sick men could be executed for what was conceived as cowardice. I would have thought that most COs were just hiding behind religion to avoid conscription, so were cowards in contrast to most others. I feel A lot of people hide behind religion nowadays to save having to face the real world.

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MichaelBully

Keith what do you think that CO's 'got away with' ? There were CO's who took non-combatant roles.

From why I can make out from local newspapers of the time and other records it was incredibly difficult to obtain a total exemption from military service on grounds of religion ( or political views). Furthermore, Military Service Tribunals seemed very keen to dismiss applications from men who had recently joined a religious group -perhaps to avoid conscription- and who were refusing to perform any service at all.. It's also fair to point out that the right to conscientious objection was recognised by the Military Service Act 1916, so why shouldn't someone with a genuine conscientious objection to being conscripted make such an application ?

I wouldn't class CO's as 'cowards' but appreciate that is just my own personal view.

With regard to people 'hiding behind religion'......what about men who held sincere religious beliefs that motivated them to volunteer ?

I have never been able to get my head around the fact that conscientious objectors could "get away with it", while genuine sick men could be executed for what was conceived as cowardice. I would have thought that most COs were just hiding behind religion to avoid conscription, so were cowards in contrast to most others. I feel A lot of people hide behind religion nowadays to save having to face the real world.

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Moonraker

... I would have thought that most COs were just hiding behind religion to avoid conscription, so were cowards in contrast to most others...

Some COs suffered greatly for their beliefs, perhaps to the extent that they would have been better off conforming to military service. Some New Zealand COs were brought to England on the same ships as their more willing compatriots. One was Archibald Baxter, who described his experiences in We Will Not Cease (Caxton Press, Christchurch 1965.

Some of his fellow objectors had a rough time on the voyage, being forcibly dressed in uniform, their own clothes taken away and not returned to them. When they took the uniform off and went about in underclothes, the underclothes were taken away. They were hosed down and then dressed only in uniform. Though they had been brought out on deck in front of the passengers, they took the uniform off and went naked. After a while they managed to get underclothes again and went about in them. Before landing they were dressed in uniform again and some of them who refused to walk were dragged off. Others who refused to put on army boots were marched bare-foot into camp.

At Sling Camp on Salisbury Plain the sergeant in charge of prison quarters ordered Baxter to be stripped and dressed in uniform, When this had been done he seized Baxter by the shoulders and swung him round against the wall.

"Now you see this," he said, clenching his fist and drawing his arm back, ready to strike. "If you attempt to take the uniform off you'll get this straight in the head and you'll get it again and again, till I've knocked bloody daylight through you."

The adjutant ordered that Baxter be put in irons. For three weeks the handcuffs were never off except at night, while he was in bed, and while he took his meals, the guard standing ready to put them on again the moment Baxter had taken the last mouthful.On one occasion four soldiers forcibly put the handcuffs back on.

At first Baxter was taken out for exercise every day through the camp along a road on which he was certain to meet the largest number of men, in the hope that the shame and humiliation would force him into giving in. But his determination won the respect of many. When eventually he was sent to France, his fellow prisoners and guards shook his hand. "They all crowded round the door to see me go and a great cheer rose as I went out and joined the draft. They stood waving to me from the door until I passed out of sight."

Moonraker

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Moonraker

At Codford Camp in October/November 1914 the authorities did not welcome the pacifist preachings of a member of Spurgeon's Tabernacle (a narrow Calvinist denomination founded by Charles Spurgeon in the previous century), who was arrested for sedition.

Moonraker

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MichaelBully

Interesting information Moonraker, thanks. Yes the CO's you mention hardly 'got away with it' .

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Magnumbellum

Indeed, over 6000 COs were imprisoned during WW1, and over 70 died as a result of their treatment, ten actually in prison. Was that "getting away with it"?

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MichaelBully

Yes, agreed MB. I posted this on 18th August 2011 ( post 44) of another thread about CO's here.

Happy New Year to you all. Michael Bully

http://1914-1918.invisionzone.com/forums/index.php?showtopic=47471&st=25

" Was at East Sussex Archives, found a copy of a No-Conscription Fellowship leaflet there titled 'For Freedom' which seemed to have been written by Lydia Smith from Brighton ( only initials are given) Reference AMS6375/1/41

There is a fascinating quote

" The Soldier M.P Captain Gwynne speaking on Conscientious Objectors in the House of Commons on June 26th 1917, said ;-There is one thing nobody can deny them and that is courage , the most difficult form of courage in the world, the courage of the individual against the crowd. That is a courage which every State would do well to protect and guard. That is the courage which, above all others, makes for freedom. "

I know nothing more than what is stated above but quite impressed me. "

Indeed, over 6000 COs were imprisoned during WW1, and over 70 died as a result of their treatment, ten actually in prison. Was that "getting away with it"?

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GRANVILLE

Coincidentally I have just read a copy of a book called 'William Coltman, The Story of Two Crosses' by Antony Tideswell.

Bill, as he was known was a deeply committed Christian and member of the Brethren Assembly from the Burton on Trent area. The Brethren took the view that a man should search his own conscience before God, so conscientious objection was acceptable. Bill on the other hand felt compelled to do his duty and enlisted shortly after the outbreak of war, however he very quickly concluded he could never kill a fellow man and so became a stretcher bearer.

At the close of hostilities he was the most decorated NCO of the war, having been awarded the Victoria Cross, the Distinguished Conduct Medal & Bar, and the Military Medal & Bar, amongst several other medals.

His Christian faith was if anything even stronger after the war and he went on to preach the Gospel message until his death in 1974. I can highly recommend the book if you can manage to get a copy.

Dave Upton

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tipperary

Dave that sounds a good read he certainly did not shy back from danger if his decorations are anything to go by.john

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keithrouse

I have never been able to get my head around the fact that conscientious objectors could "get away with it", while genuine sick men could be executed for what was conceived as cowardice. I would have thought that most COs were just hiding behind religion to avoid conscription, so were cowards in contrast to most others. I feel A lot of people hide behind religion nowadays to save having to face the real world.

That rattled a few cages, did it not.

I would think that almost everyman that served [on both sides] objected to killing or being killed.

What if so many British men were COs that we could not have fielded a strong Army.. We could possibly all be living under the German boot .

Keith

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MichaelBully

Keith -you certainly made my cage swing from side to side!

I would say from reading reports from local newspapers from 1916-1918 in respect of Military Service Tribunals and Appeals :

Most men who were seeking exemption from military service were not citing a conscientious objection. Most were arguing that they had jobs of national importance, or had caring responsbitilities, that their employer could not spare them . Others argued that they already had a high number of male relatives serving.

(A fair number of men were seeking -and were granted temporary exemption, so that their employer could train a woman or older man for the job, or just to make other arrangements to meet caring and family commitments. )

Why not censure all men who did not report for duty on the basis that they were preventing Britain fielding a strong army?

And I don't think that your post below establishes that CO's were 'cowards' .

Regards, Michael Bully

That rattled a few cages, did it not.

I would think that almost everyman that served [on both sides] objected to killing or being killed.

What if so many British men were COs that we could not have fielded a strong Army.. We could possibly all be living under the German boot .

Keith

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keithrouse

Of course there were many men who classed themselfs as COs who done very valuable and brave work, as mentioned earlier about the NCO stretcher bearer who was so highly decorated.

So, if they objected to the chance of killing another man [like most sane persons would] why did most of them not become stretcher bearers, so that they had a very strong chance of saving lifes.?

Regards, Keith.

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MichaelBully

Hello Keith, so is your argument against 'absolutist' CO's , those who refused to have any part of military service or assist the war effort in any way ? Rather than CO's who were prepared to do non-combatant work ? The right to perform non-combatant work -instead of being conscripted- was not automatic and still would need the approval of a Military Service Tribunal . ( Even though the right to conscientious objection was recognised by the Miltiary Service Act. )

The 'absolutist' argument was that any action in assisting the war effort prolonged a war they disagreed with. So helping a wounded soldier would mean that he recovered quickly in order to return to the 'Front . This is not my personal view. But I am not some complete authority on what is -or what was then -morally right . Someone may have a sincere viewpoint different from mine, which does not mean that they are cowards or lacking in integrity.

You still haven't addressed the question of men who tried to get themselves exempt from military service , not on conscientious grounds, but on grounds that they were performing work of national importance, exempt occupation, caring or economic responsbilities. If you have a problem with the viewpoint of CO's -or 'absolutist' CO's-what do you think of men who tried to obtain on exemption on a different basis ? If my area is typical, Military Service Tribunal hearings were mainly taken up by these applications rather than CO's .

Regards, Michael Bully.

Of course there were many men who classed themselfs as COs who done very valuable and brave work, as mentioned earlier about the NCO stretcher bearer who was so highly decorated.

So, if they objected to the chance of killing another man [like most sane persons would] why did most of them not become stretcher bearers, so that they had a very strong chance of saving lifes.?

Regards, Keith.

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keithrouse

Germany had a simple system - didn't recognise conscientious objection on religious or indeed any other grounds so no need for tribunals.

I do not usualy support any kind of German thinking, the exact opposite in fact.!

But in this case it would seem to be the answer to a lot of arguments.

Keith.

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keithrouse

Hello Keith, so is your argument against 'absolutist' CO's , those who refused to have any part of military service or assist the war effort in any way ? Rather than CO's who were prepared to do non-combatant work ? The right to perform non-combatant work -instead of being conscripted- was not automatic and still would need the approval of a Military Service Tribunal . ( Even though the right to conscientious objection was recognised by the Miltiary Service Act. )

The 'absolutist' argument was that any action in assisting the war effort prolonged a war they disagreed with. So helping a wounded soldier would mean that he recovered quickly in order to return to the 'Front . This is not my personal view. But I am not some complete authority on what is -or what was then -morally right . Someone may have a sincere viewpoint different from mine, which does not mean that they are cowards or lacking in integrity.

You still haven't addressed the question of men who tried to get themselves exempt from military service , not on conscientious grounds, but on grounds that they were performing work of national importance, exempt occupation, caring or economic responsbilities. If you have a problem with the viewpoint of CO's -or 'absolutist' CO's-what do you think of men who tried to obtain on exemption on a different basis ? If my area is typical, Military Service Tribunal hearings were mainly taken up by these applications rather than CO's .

Regards, Michael Bully.

Hello Michael,

To be truthful I had not realised there were different catagories for COs, obviously you know a lot more about the subject than I do. I would have no problem with them doing very important war work in a theatre of war such as being stretcher bearers. I would applaud them and support their views, as it would seem that they were not simply thinking of their own skins. So, it would appear that I am arguing against absolutist COs only.

As regards men who tried to excuse themselves on other grounds I would think that a large percentage of them were thinking like a lot of COs and wanting to protect their own skin. So as you say I have a problem with those as well. BUT, the main differance I would have thought is that they were not hiding behind religion.

Regards, Keith.

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MichaelBully

I thought that British participation in the Great War was fought to oppose the values adopted by Germany ! Interesting to see 'German thinking' cited as so favourably ! :innocent:

And does not answer the argument that CO's were merely applying for a right to conscientious objection which the law recognised.

Michael Bully

I do not usualy support any kind of German thinking, the exact opposite in fact.!

But in this case it would seem to be the answer to a lot of arguments.

Keith.

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