Posted 08 February 2012 - 09:36 am
I think this could be a useful contribution - a soldier pacifist. From my forthcoming Great War Trail of Birmingham....
30, Brighton Road, Balsall Heath, Birmingham, In 1901 this was the family home of Charles James Simmons, 7, better known as Jim. He was living there with his father, James Henry,a house decorator born in Birmingham in 1867 and mother, May Jane, born in Bow, London in 1873. Charles was the eldest with four siblings – Ellen, 6 ,George, 4, Harold, 1 , and William who had just been born. Three more arrived later, including Frederick, Norman and Edward. His grandfather, Charles Russell, 55, also a house decorator, was also there. He received a Board school education, including at Clifton Road.He left school at 14 and became a Post Office messenger. He was also a Sunday School teacher at the Greet Primitive Methodist Mission. On the 1911 census Jim is recorded as a 18 year old private in the Worcestershire Regiment at the Norton Barracks with a service number of 413. He had joined the 5th (Special Reserve) Battalion in January of that year not quite 18 years of age. He signed on for six months service and six years in the reserve which involved a month in camp each year. He joined the Army Temperance Association at the depot and found a local Primitive Methodist Chapel. He returned to civvy street because of his interests in religion and politics despite his colour sergeant’s advice for him to become a regular. He attended the annual camp at Croome Park, Worcester and joined his battalion at Tregantle Fort, Plymouth, when mobilised for war. On January 12 he left for France and the 2nd/Worcesters at Festubert. He left with considerable doubts about the war having read ILP and UDC literature since the outbreak of war as well as the ‘Labour Leader’, ‘Forward’ and ‘Weekly Herald’. He had also written openly as a soldier to Birmingham newspapers. He wrote in his diary just before leaving “I am off to the front and, in a way I am glad, for though I have come to oppose all war I am no coward and wish to prove it”.
On March 17 1915 Simmons was wounded by a Germans shell, was hospitalised but returned in time for ‘going over the top’ at Richbourg on May 15 during the failed Battle of Festubert. He spent five nights in a shell-hole in No Man’s Land on the wrong side of the German wire. He was sent to hospital at Rouen and then to a Red Cross hospital at Stacksteads in the Rossendale valley of Lancashire. From there he went to the convalescent hospital at nearby Bacup. Whilst there he preached at every chapel in the valley. On his way back to Birmingham he called at the office of Labour Leader in Manchester and had a long talk with Fenner Brockway. This paper had published some of his letters from the trenches. On August 19 1915 he married Beatrice Roberts at Solihull Register Office but soon returned to Norton Barracks. In his service record his wife’s address was given as 14, Richmond Road, Olton and his father was at Ivy Cottage, Hamstead Road, Handsworth. At the end of October he sailed for Gallipoli and joined 29th Division at Suvla Bay. After evacuation a long stay in Egypt followed. Here he held ‘discussion groups on the origins of the war and the principles of a just peace most nights’. One day his company commander sent for him to tell him that a letter to Councillor J.W Kneeshaw in Birmingham had been destroyed for ‘its subversive matter’. The latter was about plans for conscription. When questioned by the CO told him that “you’ve only bought my body not my mind”. The CO tried to get the Brigade Medical Officer to remove him without success and stated that he was ‘a danger to the discipline of the Regiment’ and ‘his officers consider him mentally unbalanced’ but he was still sent to a Cairo hospital ‘officially suffering from rheumatism’. Eventually he landed back in France with the 3rd Battalion. Here he became friends with six other kindred spirits – the ‘Khaki Pals (Active Service) Branch of the ILP’. The used to meet in a YMCA hut. At Vimy Ridge in 1917 he was wounded again with a shattered ankle and a bullet lodged in the sole of the foot. After a spell in a hospital in Etaples he went to No 2 London General Hospital, Chelsea, arriving on June 8 1916. After months of trying to save the limb on December 19 the lower third of his leg was amputated. During his stay at the hospital he met many political and trade union figures, particularly Ramsay MacDonald, who enabled him to make many visits to the House of Commons. He spent a lot of time reading socialist books. Eventually he was allowed to go home to Birmingham whilst still waiting for an artificial limb. Here he preached in chapels and attended political meetings. He took on the organisation of the Midlands Workers and Soldiers Councils Conference for August 18 1917 which was to welcome the Russian Revolution following the Leeds Convention on June 3. 220 delegates were promised. However, a senior Birmingham police officer served him a notice which banned the conference under Defence of the Realm regulations. Afterwards Simmons became active throughout the Midlands in the ‘Peace by Negotiation Campaign’ being billed as ‘Private Jim Simmons with a Message from the Trenches’. His main message was ‘No Patched Up Peace’. Plain clothes police took notes at his open-air meetings. He denounced ‘war profiteers, the armament sharks and the politicians’. “I had a special duty to speak for my inarticulate comrades who were still risking life and limb on the battlefield”. On September 26 at Rochdale he was arrested by two military policemen and spent a night in the cells before escort to Chester Castle. His wife contacted Ramsay MacDonald who raised the matter in the House of Commons. He was then sent to military detention in Wallis Yard, London, where he was taken to Roehampton Hospital for the fitting of an artificial limb and then released under ‘open arrest’. He prepared a court martial statement and sent copies to Ramsay MacDonald and the press. He stated he was a victim of ‘British Prussianism’, that the charge was under an obsolete order, and that he was there only because of his opinions. He was eventually discharged from the army as unfit for further service on November 22 1917 and returned to Birmingham.He was awarded a Silver Wound Badge. He continued to campaign. In March 1918 he was detained at Nelson, Lancashire, and taken to York where he learned that he had incensed the military authorities by an attack on the use of Field Punishment No 1 – a kind of crucifixion. He was sentenced to three months ‘with such hard labour as he is capable of performing’. At Armley Gaol, Leeds, he told the warder that his employment was ‘propagandist’. He picked oakum and sewed mailbags. He read and wrote on lavatory paper with a pencil hidden at the end of his ‘stump’. He was released on June 12 1918. He returned to Birmingham and Beatrice and their two rooms and he became an organiser for the newly formed Birmingham ILP Federation. This included attendance at military tribunals to speak for conscientious objectors. In the 1918 general election he acted as the election agent for the ILP candidate at Moseley. The candidate was Doctor Robert Dunstan, a young RAMC lieutenant, who had served in Mesopotamia. Post-war he was also active in the National Union of Ex-Servicemen. It was later subsumed into the British Legion. He was also involved in the Labour churches movement. In 1921 he was elected to the City Council and served until 1931 and again from 1942-5. He became the Labour MP for Erdington from 1929-31 and for West Birmingham from 1945-50. He was MP for Brierley Hill from 1950 to 1959. He had also been active in political journalism and edited the Town Crier, the Birmingham Trades Council journal, from 1940-45. His wife, Beatrice, was also politically active and became an alderman on the City Council. There were four sons. He remarried in 1972 to Kate Showell.
‘Soap Box Evangelist – Jim Simmons’. Janay. 1972
Times obituary August 1975