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Guest lynsey1

conscientious objectors

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While looking through a site recently i came across an article regarding "objectors" and how they did other work as they did not want to fight, i wonder what the percentage of these men were during ww1 and ww2 and whether attitudes were different towards them during both wars. What kinds of work did they do and was it held against them in anyway, other than, perhaps hostility from neighbours etc. Can anyone recomend books relating to this subject.

Thanks

Lynsey

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"A Question of Conscience" by Felicity Goodall available though Ray Westlake Special Offer price £5-95. I haven't read it so can't comment on the content, I'm afraid.

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For the First World War read Conscience and Politics By John Rea , Oxford University Press, 1970. This is available on the second hand market at a reasonable price, and for me at least, by far the best book on CO's in WW1. It also has a good bibliography which covers some of the works about CO's in WW2.

David Boulton's 1967 book, Objection Overuled, is highly sympathetic to CO's, but despite this bias it gives some good personal accounts and in some instances the after effects on them and their families which I found quite moving.

Goodall's book is much wider in scope, covering conscientious objection in the 20th Century. Worth reading, but from a personal point of view the author fails to deal adequately with the nuances of consciencious objection which is important in understanding the psyche of those who chose this route.

Somewhere I have notes about the structure of the WW2 tribunal system which I can send you if you wish. It is also worth remembering that women were also subject to conscription in WW2 which brought them before tribunals on the grounds of conscience, whereas in WW1 this was not the case of course.

I certainly found this a very complex but highly interesting subject. Enjoy your reading.

Terry Reeves

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Thanks for replies, i shall look out for the books mentioned.I would like to see the notes that you have terry, many thanks

lynsey

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When I did my military service in the 1950s I saw some soldiers with an 'NCC' badge on their caps. When I asked what this was I was told it was the Non-Combatant Corps - presumably for objectors.

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I find this an interesting area especially when researching through newspapers of the time. I have come across accounts of COs' appeals where they object to fighting because of their religion as Quakers and then sometimes in the same newspapers the announcement of how many young men (including my grandmother's cousin) from The Friends Meeting House had been kia as soldiers, not as stretcher bearers etc. It must have been an incredibly difficult time for people who had been brought up to believe in pacifism.

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Myrtle

As you say, there were many Quakers who served as combatants. The decision was however left to the individual and his conscience, or the "inner light." Although just over 45% of Quakers of military service age became CO's, almost 37% enlisted. Other religious groupings also raised objections of course, often very complex. The Plymouth Bretheren were split into two groups the Open Bretheren and the Exclusive Bretheren. As a group their principal objection ws to the taking of life, although there were some who joined fighting units. The Exclusive Bretheren objected particularly to being "unequally yoked with unbelievers in the army". To say nothing of groups such as the Muggletonians, Dependent Coklers or the Peculiar People.

Incidentally, relatively few CO's appear to have served as stretcher bearers. Indeed there were a number of non-uniformed schemes for those who objected on the grounds of conscience (including political and simple moral objections). These included work under the Home Office Scheme and the Brace Committee.

Terry Reeves

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Terry

I wondered where the Potter Muggles had hailed from. :)

Just wondering what was The Brace Committee and what happened to the other 18% of Quakers who were of military service age ?

Myrtle

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Myrtle

It was a complex business to be sure. The Muggletonians were a a small sect, like some of the others mentioned . In this case they had their origins in the 17th century and were followers of John Reeve and Lodowicke Muggleton who claimed to have to have witnessed Revalation. A number of these religious groups were withdrawn from wordly affairs and had apocolyptic expectations. That is they lived their lives solely in the expectation of the second coming of Christ. Like many religious groups, they petitioned Parliament, stating the reasons why they should be excused from military service.

I can't say precisely what happened to the 18% of Quakers, but some, like Stephen Hobhouse, became "absoloutists" who refused, under any circumstances, to co-operate with the authorities , and suffered great privations as a result of their stand.

With regard to your other question. My mistake. The Home Office Scheme was in fact administered by the Brace Committee. In brief. By May 1916, there were some 6,000 men who had appeared before the local Military Service Tribunals and refused to accept their findings. These men were were then "fetched", to use the terminology of the day, and forcibly taken into service by the army. The disruption they caused though was seen as a threat to military discipline and many were court martialed. The sheer amount of CO's in military detention barracks however caused Army Order X to be passed (in fact AO 179 of 25 May 1916) which meant they could be committed to civil prison. The military, exasperated by the disruption to training then handed the probelm over to the Home Office.

A committee under a Under Secretary of State, William Brace, a Labour MP in the coalition government, was given the job of sorting the problem out. Their cases were reviewed by the Central Tribunal, in fact an appelate tribunal to which all objectors to military service could apply for review if their objections were overuled by the local tribunals and the local appeals procedure.

Those who agreed to carry out "work of national importance" were released from prison but given work as directed by the Brace Committee. Initially this was agricultural work, but many were unsuitable and, such was the feeling about CO's at the time, many farmers refused to employ them. Many were placed into what were effectively labour camps, which in involved quarrying and road building. Some went to Work Centres at Warwick and Wakefield prisons, which had been emptied of most of their prisoners in 1915. Here they would be employed on various tasks, but were allowed out few for a few hours in the evening. They were not subject to normal prison rules.

The military believed they should have some control over these men, and instead of being discharged from the army were transferred to Class W of the reserve. The bulk of the W reserve incidentally, was made up of men combed out of the army for essential war work at home. To make the point about their position, and to allay any public fears that they were somehow escaping military service, they operated under conditions known as "equal sacrifice." To use the official format this "entailed hardship and sacrifice comparable to that which the soldier is subject." In effect that meant living away from their families and carrying out work other than their normal occupations.

The bulk of CO's, who agreed to accept the local tribunals decision, which did not include work of a military nature, were employed under the less strict regime of the Pelham Committee. Too long for this thread I'm afraid, but if you wish to know more about this, let me know and I will contact you off line.

Terry Reeves

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Terry

Thank you very much for the information. Your explanation gives more significance to the article that I read in a Mid Wales newspaper 20th May 1915. headed "Lord Lieutenant's keen Disappointment" in which it was said -" Radnorshire men reluctant to join the army to go to war. When asked whether they will join the forces they reply, 'We will come if we are fetched.' "

I am often aware, through my research, that there were, early on in the war, some Wellsh soldiers reluctant to fight. I have wondered if this was tied in with their non conformist views, their nationality or their concerns over leaving their farmland and animals. For some it could have been all three.

I would appreciate if you would recommend some books on COs and the details of how they were employed by the Army.

Thanks again

Myrtle

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Myrtle

The numbers of CO's were actually quite small. Approximately 16,000 registered as CO's. A parliamentry enquiry later revealed that many more men, who were not conscientious objectors, managed to evade the military authorities, the number may have ran into tens of thousands.

For further reading, see my reply to Lynsey earlier in this thread.

Terry Reeves

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Terry

Your mention of evading the authorities reminded me of another newspaper article that I read which described how a man had volunteered to join the colours instead of his brother who had been called up. I didn't think that it was possible for a man to replace another in that way.

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Some Conscientious objectors were treated very cruelly;

Dictionary of NZ Biography;

Archibald McColl Learmond Baxter was born at Saddle Hill, Otago, New Zealand, on 13 December 1881, one of eight children of John Baxter, a farm labourer, and his wife, Mary McColl. Both the Baxters and the McColls were Scottish pioneers; Archibald's maternal grandfather had arrived in Otago in 1859 and his father in 1861. The family was poor and Archibald was forced to leave school at the age of 12. He thinned turnips, shore sheep, minded cows and shot rabbits, and worked his way to become head ploughman at Gladbrook station, about 60 miles from Brighton. Later he carted coal and became a roading contractor.

Baxter seriously considered enlisting as a volunteer for the South African War of 1899--1902, but during that war heard a plea for pacifism from a Dunedin lawyer that changed his life. He read pacifist and socialist journals prodigiously and was much influenced by the words of British left-wing labour leader Keir Hardie, who visited New Zealand in 1912. By the time the national register was taken in 1915 - requiring men to register their preparedness to serve in the First World War - he was committed to rejecting the war both as a pacifist and as a Christian socialist. By then he had also helped to persuade his clannish family that war was wrong, and six of the seven Baxter brothers (the seventh was married and therefore had a case for exemption) refused to enlist and went to gaol for their beliefs.

Following the introduction of military conscription in November 1916 Baxter was quickly balloted and arrested without even being given notice that he was required to serve in the army. He argued for exemption as a conscientious objector on religious grounds, but because he was not a communicant member of a church whose constitution opposed military service his appeal was denied. In common with other objectors he was moved from gaol to gaol; from 1917 he was held in the prison attached to Trentham Military Camp. By the end of that year there were over 100 objectors in prisons and prison camps around the country. The minister of defence, James Allen, believed that these men should be sent to war. In July 1917 the Trentham camp commander, Colonel H. R. Potter, relieved overcrowding in his prison by sending 14 objectors, including Baxter and two of his brothers, Alexander and John, on the troopship Waitemata to Britain and the front line.

On the ship the men were stripped, placed in uniform, locked in a small cabin and abused by officers and volunteer soldiers. On 6 October they were sent to Étaples base in France. The commander was Lieutenant Colonel George 'Hoppy' Mitchell, who had been twice wounded in battle. He was determined to break the spirit of the conscientious objectors, and showed particular animosity towards Archibald Baxter. Baxter and three others suffered Field Punishment No 1 (called colloquially 'the Crucifixion'): they were tied to a post in the open with their hands bound tightly behind their backs and their knees and feet bound for up to four hours a day in all weathers. With two others, Lawrence Kirwin and Mark Briggs, Baxter survived this humiliation only to be sent into the trenches. He was beaten, sent to a part of the front that was being heavily shelled, denied food, and finally, on 1 April 1918, taken to hospital in Boulogne, where he was diagnosed as having mental weakness and confusional insanity in his determination not to fight. Three weeks later a British medical board confirmed the diagnosis of insanity, although it suggested that this may have been exaggerated so that he could not be court-martialled by the New Zealand army. None the less, it was the end of Baxter's war. He was taken to a British hospital for mentally disturbed soldiers, and sent home in August 1918, one of only two of the original 14 objectors (the other was Briggs) to hold out to the end.

..................................................

An interesting sequel to this horrible story was that Baxter's story has been turned into a play, which was produced at the secondary school my son attended some years ago.

The lead character, Baxter, was played by a student who turned out to be Baxter's relative, and who was about 17 at the time. He had known a little about his famous relative, but not the whole story

He played the part very well, and now knows a little of how Baxter suffered. :(

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What happened to Briggs was even worse;

Dictionary of NZ Biography

Mark Briggs was born at Londesborough, Yorkshire, England, on 6 April 1884, the son of Albert Briggs, a shepherd, and his wife, Clara Dooks. After a rudimentary village schooling he was apprenticed in his early teens to a local farmer and treated harshly. He ran away but was returned under duress. This experience is said to have formed his strong belief in social justice. As a youth he was a Wesleyan and went to chapel twice on Sundays, but he later rejected religion.

Briggs emigrated to New Zealand about 1904 with his father and brother. He worked as an itinerant labourer around the North Island before becoming a flax worker in Manawatu and Waikato. In Manawatu he joined the flaxmillers' trade union and became a supporter of the radical 'Red Feds'. In 1916 he and a fellow radical unionist, Bob Brown, went into business in Palmerston North as the Empire Auctioneering Company, and also operated an employment registry. He was called up for First World War service in the third military conscription ballot early in 1917.

Briggs refused to be conscripted into the New Zealand army as a conscientious objector on socialist grounds. His appeal was denied and on 23 March 1917 after rejecting an army medical examination in Palmerston North he was escorted to barracks at Trentham Military Camp near Wellington by armed military policemen. He subsequently refused all further military orders to drill and was court-martialled for failing to obey a lawful command. He was sentenced to 84 days' hard labour and served seven weeks in prison, where he met and conversed with Peter Fraser, in gaol for opposing conscription.

James Allen, the minister of defence, believed that conscientious objectors should be forced to go to war. On 13 July 1917 the Trentham camp commander, Colonel H. R. Potter, decided that 14 of his most recalcitrant prisoners would be sent on the troopship Waitemata to Britain and the front line. Briggs refused to walk up the gangplank and had to be dragged. He was imprisoned in a small cabin with no open portholes and was later stripped and forced to wear military uniform, humiliated by laughing and jeering soldiers. When they could, Briggs and his fellow objectors divested themselves of their khaki, wearing only underclothes or towels.

Brigadier General G. S. Richardson, commandant of the New Zealand Expeditionary Force in Britain, having a free hand to deal with the men, wanted them confined, given field punishment and then sent with their units into the trenches even if they had to be carried on stretchers. Sent to the New Zealand base at Étaples, France, in October, Briggs was defiant at every opportunity, refusing to walk, stand, salute or wear uniform. In consequence he was carried, dragged or transported in a hand-cart, and cajoled unsuccessfully to try to change his mind.

Most of the 14 objectors succumbed to the privations. Archibald Baxter, Lawrence Kirwin, Henry Patton and Mark Briggs suffered Field Punishment No 1: they were tied to posts in the open with their hands bound behind their backs. Still rebellious in February 1918, Briggs, Baxter and Kirwin were sent into the trenches. Their camp was within the enemy's shelling range, and every morning they were required to walk 1,000 yards up to the front line. Briggs refused. The first day he was carried by sympathetic soldiers. On the second day military policemen tied wire around his chest, and he was dragged across rough ground and duckboards. This tore off his clothing, lacerated his body and gouged a huge flesh wound in his right thigh. At the line he was yanked through puddles of freezing water, pushed back into one and told to 'Drown yourself, now, you *******'. Finally dragged back to camp he was denied medical treatment and for the next few weeks suffered intense pain. By mid April Briggs was returned to Étaples. It was now considered that he was likely to remain an objector 'to the end', and attempts to make him work became half-hearted. In June he was classified C2 (unfit for active service) because he suffered from muscular rheumatism, and early in 1919 he was invalided back to New Zealand where he refused the soldier's wage that was offered to him.

Mark Briggs had won his 'war' and in later years suffered remarkably little, mentally or physically, considering the privations he had undergone.

Both articles written by David Grant

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This is not a subject i have given much thought too but i can say that when i was younger i would have not had much sympathy with those that objected to doing there duty as i would see it, and perhaps this can explain but not condone the actions of some in the above story.

Now of course i have mellowed and i have seen different points of view on this forum that has made me re evaluate certain aspects of my opinions such as this topic and those executed during the war. Now i am inclined to say what he believed is his right and in some respects that was what the fighting was all about. His right to choose. I realise that this is not as simple an answer as this but fundemetally that is what it comes down too.

We have moved on and today this would not happen, so perhaps all was not invain. The things that happened in the war were horrific but atleast they acted as a catalyst to change of sorts. I often ponder what world we would live in if the great war had not occurred. Not all the lives that would have been saved but for what we would not have learnt about ourselves and the changes that occurred because of that.

Blimey that was 'deep' for such a usually shallow person as me. Sorry to waffle.

Arm.

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Myrtle

There was a system called "substitution". When a man received his call up papers, his employer could apply to to have him exempted if they could show that he held a job which was an essential post. In these cases it was up to the firm to provided a substitute for the army.

The system also worked the other way round as well. "Starred" men, that is those who had a star placed on their registration cards to show that they were carrying out work of national importance and were therefore exempt military service, could volunteer for military service if a replacement could be found. There was a system of National Service Volunteers who to offered replace these men in their occupations. These volunteers were normally men over military service age. I have some papers for one of these , fifty-three year old E P Rendall of Wolverhampton, plumber and pipe-fitter, who was volunteering to substitute for a PE Abbott as a Waterworks Inspector. You will be glad to know that Mr Abbott appears to have survived the war.

Christine

There were some notorious cases of ill-treatment of CO's in the British Army as well. In the case of James Brightmore of the Manchester Regiment, Brigadier-General GS Elliot, the camp commandant, was removed from his post, and Major Grimshaw forced to resign. Mistreatment of a CO at Wandsworth Military Detention Barracks also brought about the dismissal of the Commanding Officer L t Col Reginal Brooke.

Terry Reeves

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One thing not mentioned here was that CO's could not vote until 1925, effectively their rights as citizens were in abeyance until then.

Ian

<_<

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Myrtle - just a quick note on Welsh enlistment, having covered this with students in GCSE coursework. The principle reason for not enlisting was religion, but also there was a growing sense of 'nationalism' following the activities of an organisation called Cymru Fydd. Perhaps key however was a peculiar sense of the war not really having much to do with them. All it took to burst open the flood gates of Welsh enlistment was a couple of speeches by the fiery (and Welsh) Lloyd George in early 1915 and the nationalism referred to was rewarded (cynics would say bought off with) the creation of the 38th (Welsh) Division.

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Thanks for those stories christine, very sad to read. I would imagine it was not an easy decision to refuse to fight, it seems that whatever reasons these men gave would never have been accepted. Perhaps many of us would have been less than understanding had we been around at the time but i think attitudes change, today as we learn more we can be a little more open minded and accepting. I dont think these men took an easy option by refusing to fight.

lynsey

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At least one Quaker, Captain Cadbury of the RFC, scion of the chocolate dynasty, won the VC for his part in shooting down Zeppelins. Attitudes to objections for service on religious grounds varied by region; Quakerism was more likely to be accepted in north-east England, but Christadelphians got the best of the deal in north-west England.

It is interesting to note that in law all the CO was required to show was a genuinely held conscientious objection to service for whatever reason. He did not have to convince the tribunal that his reason was valid, or persuade the tribunal members to agree with his motives. But the subtlety of this distinction was lost on many tribunal members

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It is fairly clear from Court Martial records that C.O.s received far harsher treatment when compared with other soldiers who committed the same offence.

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And then there were those white feathers. I wonder how, in people's minds, the distinction was made between a shirker and a "real" CO, if religious affiliation was not evident.

Come on, Arm, you're not shallow!

Regards,

Roberta, just returned to the US from the UK and wishing she were there on your side of the pond!

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Terry

Thanks for your reply on "substitution". I believe that the soldiers in question were farmers so therefore the brother who stayed at home was probably regarded as more skilled at running the farm. Their father appears to have been ill at their time of call up as he died soon after.

Unfortunately the brother who was the substitute died of pneumonia in France.

Andrew

Thanks for the piece on Welsh soldiers. Cymru Fydd was used as a slogan by the Free Wales army many years on. It used to appear in large letters on walls and bridges throughout Wales.

Myrtle

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sorry i know it not quiet on this topic but its to do with white feathers.

I seem to remember from the depths of my schooling past a story told of a man who was constantly hounded by the youngsters of his area and how they pushed white feathers through his letter box until after the constant barrage he went back to his unit on the western front. He had been on extended leave to collect his Victoria cross, he was later killed in action whilst returning to the front early.

I think this is the story or atleast as i remember it, does it ring any bells with anyone.

Arm.

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