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Conscientious Objectors Position.


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This is the newspaper report of a case at the Holmfirth Military Tribunal in October 1916 which I have reproduced in full. If anyone knows about Passive Registers or why they are talking about the Education Act and Conscientious Objection in the same general context I would appreciate enlightenment.

Tony.

Conscientious Objectors Position.

The next case heard was that of a conscientious objector, described as a labourer aged 34, who at a previous hearing had been given a month to find work of National importance.

The Chairman: (to the applicant) “Have you done that?”

Applicant: “No.”

He explained that he had a conscientious objection to military service, and as his vision became clearer, the more he felt he could not be identified with organised militarism. He read extracts from views held by public men on the question, and added that he had suffered for conscience sake previously, having had his goods sold under the Education Act, and he was still a passive register. He read a letter from a local official, which stated that the writer was fully convinced that the applicant and his brother was of the truest type of passive registers. He felt that he could not allow his birthright, freedom of conscience, to be taken away. He frankly confessed that he could not thrust British militarism any more than he could trust German militarism. Owing to his conscientious objection to the Education Act, he had never been able to exercise the franchise. Applicant concluded a lengthy explanation of his reasons for objecting to military service by stating that it was his intention to fight conscription, which he considered to be an evil in any country, by moral weapons.

The Chairman: “I think you will give us the credit for having listened attentively?”

Applicant; “Yes.”

Absolute exemption was granted.

I find this a really strange report, quite apart from the conscientious objection, is this man saying he was not allowed to vote because he objects to the Education Act? It sounds like the bailiffs have been round, why I have no idea. This one is very puzzling, but it will have made sense to the newspaper readers of time.

Tony.

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Tony

It was to do with the Education Act of 1902, basically people being asked to pay rates for the upkeep of Church schools, to which many had profound objections.

I didn't know they they could be a CO to the act, but I do know the the bailiffs would call to collect unpaid rates. Pretty much the same as today, I suppose.

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Owing to his conscientious objection to the Education Act, he had never been able to exercise the franchise. 

I don't think he's saying he is prevented from voting, only that he chooses not to. I presume that his obejction is that if he participated in an election, he was party to the system that created the Act (even though he was opposed to the specific piece of legislation).

It's an interesting philosophy. A more modern view might be that if you don't participate in an election you have no real grumble about the decisions subsequently taken.

Assuming that the man wasnt an athiest, then he was likely to be a member of one of the smaller churches (Plymouth Brethren, Swedenborg, Moravian, etc) which generally took a stong dissenting view.

John

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I think that the "passive register" bit may refer to the National Passive Resistance Committee set up by John Clifford in 1902, to encourage resistance to the 1902 Education Act. Resistance to the act was very common among nonconformists. The 1902 act replaced the 1870 act, by which local school boards could set up schools. The 1902 act replaced these school boards with the the foreruner of the system we have today, with Local Education Authorities running schools. Local nonconformist groups therefore lost control over the local schools they had set up - hence the unpopularity of the act among these groups. Of course this was some time before the Great War and I wonder if the man was quoting the problems he'd had re. the Education Act to give some evidence that he was a longstanding "resister" on religious grounds, and not someone who was just inventing objections to avoid military service.

Inability to exercise the franchise - might mean that the man was disqualified from voting because of his refusal to pay rates under the 1902 act.

Tom

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Thanks for all those fascinating answers. I am aware of a strong non-conformist tradition in this area at that time. Primitive Methodists and Congregationalists, also Quakers and Wesleyans, I believe Wesley once spoke at Holmfirth during a tour of the North.

There were plenty of schools and Sunday schools around and I remember when I first started research being surprised at the number of Sunday school teachers who had enlisted locally in 1914. At the time I did not realise they were teaching far more than religious subjects. There are a lot of buildings around here that were financed by public subscription, these people would have been quite capable of building their own schools.

Fascinating stuff, thanks again,

Tony.

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Kingsley Martin, from the above link.

My father was involved in the passive resisters' fight against Balfour's Education Act of 1902. Each year father and the other resisters all over the country refused to pay their rates for the upkeep of Church Schools. The passive resistors thought the issue of principle paramount and annually surrendered their goods instead of paying their rates. I well remember how each year one or two of our chairs and a silver teapot and jug were put out on the hall table for the local officers to take away. They were auctioned in the Market Place and brought back to us.

Mother and I were taken for our first motor ride to one of these village auctions where father would explain the nature of passive resistance before the sale began. We drove to a village some fifteen miles away, sometimes travelling at the frightening speed of twenty miles an hour. In those days roads were deep in dust, and you could tell if a car had passed because the hedges were white. I remember three small boys running behind each other pretending to be a motor. The first said he was the driver, the second a car, and the third the smell.

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  • 3 months later...

This man's exemption from military service did not last long. In March 1917 at Holmfirth Police Court Thomas Herbert Moorhouse, a thirty-five year old labourer from Hinchliffe Mill, was brought up on charges of being an absentee from the Reserve Forces. He pleaded not guilty.

Private Clapham, who was the army representative to the court, said that the defendant was a man of military age and was liable for service in the army under the Military Service Act. The man had appeared before the Holmfirth Military Tribunal and been granted exemption from service on conscientious grounds, but the Military Representative had appealed against the exemption to the West Riding Appeal Tribunal and the exemption had been overturned. The defendant was then called up and after he had twice failed to report the matter was placed in the hands of the police.

The defendant said that the bench would find this a peculiar case because the Holmfirth Military Tribunal had already granted him full exemption from military service on conscientious grounds. “And mark you,” he added, “these were men who knew me personally and knew what I had suffered for conscience sake in the past.” He said that the Appeal Tribunal did not allow him to reply to the Military representative’s appeal against his exemption and simply told him to go in the army or go to work on a farm. He said that he would rather die than do anything under the Military Service Act.

The Chairman of the magistrates said “We are not a tribunal, we are not here to try your case.” The clerk of the court added, “The only point is; have you been called up? And have you any reasonable excuse as to why you did not respond to that call?” The court imposed a fine of £2 to be deducted from his army pay and order him to be handed over to a waiting military escort. The defendant replied, “You can fine me £100 if you like.”

Tony.

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Tony

Assuming that he did not soldier, and remained true to his beliefs, you can find out a little more about him from the Society of Friends.

The Society of Friends, probably better known as the Quakers, 'kept an eye on' Conscientious Objectors. Their 'Visitation of Prisoners Committee' had a record of every Conscientious Objector.

These records can be viewed at the Quaker Library in the Euston Road, London. IIRC these records are just a single A4 sheet in many cases, but you will always get home address, where held and other basic details. If he was a Quaker they may know more, but he does not sound like one to me.

If, as you probably will, you learn his religion you can probably find out something from the organisation in question. Besides Quakers you have mentioned Primitive Methodists, Congregationalists and Wesleyans. I believe that all of these bodies followed the teachings of John Wesley and are now merged, under the name of Methodist.

Hope this helps

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  • 1 year later...
reinhard.lindner

Hi Tony,

there is a interesting website which tells you the story of conscientious objectors in WW1 called www.ppu.org.uk.

They also offer a book called 'Refusing to kill' which has many original letters, court-martial statements, diaries, documents and poetry.

Reinhard

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