Challenging Militarism


From The Tribunal 25th July 1918

This is a further update in a series of extracts from the No Conscription Fellowship’s journal, published in the UK between March 1916 and November 1918
For other extracts go to:

Twelve hundred men in prison to-day have become popularly known as “The Absolutist Conscience Men.” It is a tremendous tribute for the world to have paid them. Even in the midst of a great war most people pause now and again to listen to a voice which is commonly believed to speak within all men: a voice quickly hushed amid the din of battle. To one little handful of men the people look and call them “Absolutist Conscience Men,” expecting them at all times and under all circumstances guided by that voice: following wheresoever it may lead and whatever the consequences may be. It need hardly be said that these men did not set out to make such a stupendous claim, neither do they claim such mastery over self.

“Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.” So with Conscientious Objectors. Some have been born with great ideals, some have achieved a wider outlook than their fellows, but most have had the championing of a great cause thrust upon them.

To simple people like Archbishops who doubt if these men know the duty of citizenship; to honest politicians like Robert Cecil who fear that these men are not all “religious”; those who urge compromise, – these men have but one answer: The great cause, the high ideal, the wide outlook that may be summed up in one word “Fellowship.” Fellowship is Love of Humanity, Hope for Humanity, Trust in Humanity. Fellowship transcends Citizenship. And having championed this great cause, these men have become free citizens of the world. To do good is their religion, to make no compromise with evil their determination.

These men have been taken in almost every case from useful occupations, and very many stayed in the midst of philanthropic and valuable work for their fellows; their posts in many cases remain open for them, in others they have sacrificed all, but many are eager enough to have their services were they free to render them, for they know that these men have always worked hard and well, and the voluntary service some have rendered to their fellows in the past has been generally recognised. Yet they will make no promise to do this or that at the will of a government, they will not even bind themselves to go back to their previous occupations, although this is what most of them hope and intend to do; they will make no bargain with any Military Service Act, the object of which is the prosecution of war and the subjugation of people.

Their motto may be taken as Liberty, Equality, Fraternity, – which does not mean they are are all Socialists or all Christians, neither are they Agnostics of believers in any set of doctrines, but they are one in common brotherhood of humanity; they recognise that Fellowship and Liberty with equal opportunity for service go hand in hand, and to bargain away liberty as a price of exemption from Military Service is as immoral as to acquiesce in the demand that somehow and in some way they shall lay aside their principles and become tools in the bloody work in which all nations are now engaged, and for their immediate gain to become instruments used to shackle conscription and slavery upon themselves and fellows. No! these men will not sell themselves to avoid the penalties and help to fasten conscription on the country; they will take no part in such disservice, for they believe that the highest work of national and international service which they can render at the present time is to demand first and foremost Absolute Exemption from the terms of all and every Military Service Act. Make them free men and they will again be of service to the nation. Bind them and they will do nothing to further the ends of their tyrants.

They are not claiming special treatment, they claim in their own person the right to serve not as slaves serves, cringing before the lash, but as free men who have never bowed the knee to threats and tyranny. They are making the path for you to follow; where one can travel, all can travel. If you let tyranny have its way, if you succumb to religious and moral persecution, you will close the path of liberty to yourselves, but these men will not be conquered, they will not retreat. Two years ago they burned their boats behind them, some did many years ago; if you fail them they will take the consequences.



From The Tribunal July 18th 1918

This is a further update in a series of extracts from the No Conscription Fellowship’s journal, published in the UK between March 1916 and November 1918
For other extracts go to:

Of H.R. Cudbird, July 2nd 1918, at Blackdown Camp

“I resist conscription because I am opposed to war and every form of militarism, and after two sentences involving over 18 months’ imprisonment with hard labour, I am still resolutely opposed to any compromise whatever with compulsory military service, whatever the consequences, and I feel I am doing a work not only of national but of international importance.

I do not hold myself liable to observe military law; my inner conviction of what is right is the truest and best guide to conduct and the only one to which I feel allegiance. It is because loyalty to conscience is my true defence that it meets with no recognition by a military Tribunal, since military law knows no truth.

Both religion and morality, however, have a social value greater than their importance to the individual. To be faithful to the vision of a better humanity, to preserve freedom and justice, it is imperative to override military necessity, or military necessity reduces the best ideals to futilities. Conscription is the indispensable tool of militarism wherever it is found, and militarism, like every evil, has its roots in false ideals, the extensions of which cut right across national geographical boundaries. And the increasing extension, likewise in all countries, of those whose humanitarian feelings are outraged by war is also not confined to any artificial territorial divisions. The growth of the collective human spirit is widespread, and it is fostered by a religious faith and a social altruism greater than national sentiment.

If I had obeyed the alleged order I could not justify myself. I do not require to defend disobedience; there is no valid reason why I should obey. This Tribunal administers certain laws, but what is the justification of these laws? They enact conscription, they have militarised British rule, they have destroyed in a few years the whole fabric of religious and political liberty which the genius of England had built up by centuries of struggle. They have combined with the military licence of other countries to devastate Europe, to destroy lives and break numberless hearts; is it not time they were disobeyed. The war has immeasurably increased every danger it was intended to avert. The peoples in Russia, in Ireland, and in Austria, cry aloud that the laws must be broken if humanity is to be saved from the projects of selfish imperialism, the rivalry of ambitious powers and the intrigues of diplomats, and the cry finds an echo in every part of Europe. All the world sees now the futility of war war and longs for the break-up of the military machine, yet hesitates through pride an servility and fear to adopt the only way. This court cannot consider a plan of justification in those proceedings, but history will confirm that such a plea is based on a high conception of the true interests of humanity.

This Evil Thing

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

7pm, St Thomas Of Aquinas R.C. High School, Edinburgh. Michael Mears’ solo play telling the compelling and inspiring story of Britain’s WW1 conscientious objectors. Background and booking details –

This Evil Thing

Friday, November 30, 2018

7.30pm Cross Street Chapel, Manchester. Michael Mears’ solo play telling the compelling and inspiring story of Britain’s WW1 conscientious objectors. Tickets available from and on the door.


From The Tribunal July 11th 1918

This is a further update in a series of extracts from the No Conscription Fellowship’s journal, published in the UK between March 1916 and November 1918
For other extracts go to:

Our readers will remember that on May 24, Harrison Barrow, Edith M. Ellis and Arthur Watts, Chairman and Secretaries of the Friends’ Service Committee, were sentenced under D.O.R.A. 27c, for not submitting to the Censor their leaflet, entitled “A Challenge to Militarism.” This led to a very interesting appeal at the Guildhall on July 3.

The endeavour to shut out the public, although the London Sessions are public courts, was typical of the far from impartial treatment that was meted out to Harrison Barrow (who was conducting the case for the appellants) by the Bench all the way through. He overcame this difficulty by gentle persistence and throughout met all the obstacles which were put in his way with great ability and a sweet dignity which bore testimony to his very real faith in the pacifist way of life. It was made perfectly clear by Harrison Barrow himself and by all the witnesses he called, that the Friends’ Service Committee took full responsibility for their refusal to submit leaflets to the Censor, and were guided in their action by the deepest religious conviction and a strong sense of their duty towards humanity. That this position is endorsed by the Society of Friends is amply proved by the fact that on the passing of 27c the Society publicly proclaimed their decision not to submit any leaflets to the Censor. In further evidence of the feeling of the Society on this point, John H. Barlow, Clerk to the Yearly Meeting of the Society of Friends, went into the witness box and read a Minute passed on May 22 at the Yearly Meeting, after proceedings against the F.S.C. had been instituted, supporting the Committee’s action.

It had been said by the prosecution at the formal trial of the case, that no class or sect could be exempted from complying with the regulation, but Harrison Barrow brought forward evidence that there is a privileged class which is exempt, a class which includes the Liberal Publication Department, the Labour Party, Lord Grey, etc., but this was disallowed.

Although Sir Alfred Newton (Chairman) and the other magistrates had appeared very restive and impatient during the hearing of the case, as soon as Harrison Barrow began his own statement the force of his own personality and his very evident sincerity seemed to to take hold of them and they became silent and attentive. Edith Ellis than made her statement; she spoke calmly and impressively and a deep note of conviction rang through every word she said. The rapt attention of the magistrates and those present in court lasted throughout her speech and that of Arthur Watts, which was full of fire and intentsity. Such was the impression created in the Court by the obvious earnestness of the speakers, that one felt that the Bench could not fail to understand such testimony to the power of truthm and it came somewhat as a shock to hear Sir Arthur Newton announcing that he could “hardly contain his indignation” at the way in which the defendants had “deliberately flaunted the authorities and gloried in it.” He dismissed the appeal with costs.

Just as the court was adjourned, Cecil Whiteley (Barrister) arose abd said that he represented a large number of the Members of the Society of Friends who wished him to say that they were law-abiding subjects of the realm and did not identity in any way with the views of the appellants. Although Mr. Whiteley’s remarks were entirely out of order, Sir Alfred Newton expressed himself delighted to hear them.

Edith Ellis was quite firm in her re-refusal to pay her fine (£100 and £50 costs), but the authorities are about to try and obtain the money by distraint. Harrison Barrow and Arthur Watts were taken off at once to serve their six months in Pentonville, where we are sure the thoughts and sympathy of all our readers will follow them.

Seeds of peace and costs of war

The Meeting House in Lincoln was the venue for our late September meeting. Joined by a good number of local Friends and other visitors, NFPB members explored the nature of our peace witness. Friends who had been involved in acts of witness reported both positive and negative experiences. In Conwy, we heard, serious consideration is being given to promoting peace education and appointing a local authority Peace Champion, following witness at the Armed Forces Day national events in nearby Llandudno.


From The Tribunal July 4th 1918

This is a further update in a series of extracts from the No Conscription Fellowship’s journal, published in the UK between March 1916 and November 1918
For other extracts go to:

The following letter received in June from a C.O. in prison, shows that Fenner Brockway is not alone in his attitude towards prison rules:

“For some time past I have been thinking about my attitude here in prison and there has been an inward voice within me urging me to take some stand against this deplorable system of punishment and coercion. This voice I must frankly admit I have avoided, and I have made excuses for not obeying its call. I have not cared to give up my books and letters and visits. Then again I have said to myself, ‘You must preserve your health for future work when you are released, for there will undoubtedly be a great call for your service when that time comes. Also you owe a debt to parents to support them and you must study them as well as your own attitude.’

But I can no longer avoid my inward promptings, and I therefore feel compelled to make a greater stand against the prison system for the following reasons:-

  1. 1. That we are without doubt being illegally punished.
  2. 2. That imprisonment is part of the military regime, and a very vital part, and that although we have proved that we cannot be made soldiers, yet we have not opposed that part of the military machine (prison), the fear of which coerces thousands to continue soldiering.
  3. 3. That by obeying rules and working we are acquiescing in our punishment.
  4. 4. That we are being kept in prison to intimidate men who are likely to resist the Military Service Acts.
  5. 5. That the prison system is based on FEAR, and that to prove that no man can force us to do a certain thing by punishment and threatening would be setting a much needed example to our fellow men.
  6. 6. That prison rules impose conditions that are cruel and immoral, and that we break them on the sly whenever we can. This means we are forced into deceit and some get punished for what we all do, because they are less fortunate than others.
  7. 7. That I should do that which I consider to be right without fearing the consequences/

For these reason I can no longer work in prison, nor obey those rules which I consider to be wrong.”


From The Tribunal 27th June 1918

This is a further update in a series of extracts from the No Conscription Fellowship’s journal, published in the UK between March 1916 and November 1918
For other extracts go to:

We take the following quotations from Mr. H.G. Well’s latest book, “In the Fourth Year: Anticipations of a World Peace.”

“After the war, if the world does not organise rapidly for peace, then as resources accumulate a little, the mechanical genius will get to work on the possibilities of these ideas that have been merely sketched out in the war. We shall have big land ironclads which will smash towns. We shall get air offensives – let the experienced London reader think of an air raid going on hour after hour, day after day – that will really burn out and wreck towns, that will drive people mad by the thousand. We shall get a complete cessation of sea transit. Even land transit may be severly hampered by aerial attack. I doubt if any sort of social order will really be able to stand the strain of fully worked out modern war. We have still, of course, to feel the full shock effects even of this war. Most of the combatants are going on, as sometimes men who have incurred grave wounds will still go on for a time – without feeling them. The educational, biological, social, economic punishment that has already been taken by each of the European countries is, I feel, much greater than we yet realise.

It becomes more and more plainly a choice between the League of Free Nations and a famished race of men looting in search of non-existent food amidst the smouldering ruins of civilisation. In the end I believe that the common sense of mankind will prefer a revision of its ideas of nationality and imperialism, to the latter alternative. It may take obstinate men a few more years yet of blood and horror to learn this lesson, but for my own part I cherish an obstinate belief in the potential reasonableness of mankind.

It is absurd to suppose that anywhere to-day the nationalisms, the suspicions and hatreds, the cants and policies , and the dead phrases that sway men represent the current intelligence of mankind. They are merely the evidences of its disorganisation. Even now we know we could do far better.

Never have I been so sure that there is a divinity in man and that a great order of human life, a reign of justice and world-wide happiness, of plenty, power, hope, and gigantic creative effort, lies close at hand. Even now we have the science and ability for a universal welfare, though it is scattered about the world like a handful of money dropped by a child; even now there exists all the knowledge that is needed to make mankind universally free and human life free and noble. We need but the faith for it and it is at hand; we need but the courage to lay our hands upon it and in a little space of years it can be ours.”


From The Tribunal 20th Jun 1918

This is a further update in a series of extracts from the No Conscription Fellowship’s journal, published in the UK between March 1916 and November 1918
For other extracts go to:

We are glad to find that the action of Home Office in smashing Mr. Steet’s printing plant is not to pass altogether unchallenged. So docilely have the ever-widening powers of D.O.R.A. been accepted by the vast majority of our countrymen, that it is almost a surprise to find that this last tyrannical act has aroused deep indignation.

A strongly worded protest against this attempt “to destroy the liberty of the press by smashing the property of printers, and thus by violence and intimidation to prevent the publication of matter that is unpalatable to the Government of the day, has been signed by W. Barefoot (Editor, ‘The Pioneer,’ Woolwich), A. Clutton Brock, F.C. Fairchild, Catherine Bruce Glasier (Editor, ‘Labour Leader’), Thomas Johnson (Editor, ‘Forward’), George Lansbury (Editor. ‘The Herald’), William Leach (Editor ‘Bradford Pioneer’) W. Francis Moss, A.R. Orage (Editor ‘New Age’), Ben Riley (‘Huddersfield Worker’), E. Scrymeour (Editor ‘Scottish Prohibitionist’). W.I. Llwellyn Williams, K.C., M.P., and others.

After recounting the treatment meted out to Mr. Street, the protest proceeds:-

“This is a most indefensible and tyrannical action, and if allowed to continue, will completely destroy all freedom of the press. It is, in addition, a heavy blow at the rights of the printing trade. Mr. Street was printing the “Tribunal” in the ordinary way of business, and the authorities have ample powers under which they could have prosecuted him or the publishers of the paper. This they refrained from doing evidently, that other printers might be terrorised.”

In response to this protest, a steady stream of letters condemning the outrage and resolutions to the same effect by Trade Union Branches, etc., is now being received by the Home Office.

The “Manchester Guardian,” in its issue of June 10th, devotes a leader to the subject, and demands that the provisions of D.O.R.A. shall at least be carried out “with some degree of intelligence.” After pointing out the latitude given by Regulation 51, and that there is little doubt that it does cover “such outrageous proceedure,” it justly remarks that there is no reason why the regulation should not be interpreted with a sense of justice, or at least common sense. “Clearly,” it concludes, “the whole matter should be thoroughly looked into, and if the facts are as stated, the the person or persons responsible should be made accountable.”


From The Tribunal June 6th 1918

This is a further update in a series of extracts from the No Conscription Fellowship’s journal, published in the UK between March 1916 and November 1918
For other extracts go to:

Our comrade, A. Catherall, who was sent over in a draft to France on December 6, 1917, still heroically continues his refusal to obey orders, be the consequence what they may. In spite of assurances given, he is still being kept in France, and the latest news is that on May 23rd he was taken to No. 1 Military Prison in Le Havre to serve a sentence of 112 days’ hard labour. Knowing what we do of military prisons in France, this news is certainly not re-assuring, especially in view of the following letter received from our comrade on May 21st, which gives the record in bare outline of his experiences at Harfleur:-

“Feb 10. – Courtmartialled. Result 84 days field punishment.
Feb 12. – Arrival Field Punishment Compound Harfleur, Havre, France, disobeyed first order after explaining my position, was confined in an iron-sheeted concrete-floored cell about four yards by two until —-
Feb. 14 – Sentence to fifteen day’s No. 1 diet, solitary confinement in cell, handcuffed, leg-ironed night and day (No. 1 diet, 3 days bread and water, 3 days’ compound diet alternately).
Feb 15. – Complained irons were for violent persons only. Resilt, cuffed at back until —-
Feb 19. – Morning, when at 6 a.m., was released for an alternate three days but refused first order, celled immediately in cuffs (front) and leg irons, on compound diet (that night I received as punishment additional 6 days No.1 diet, etc, as before) until —-
Feb 22. When I returned on biscuit and water diet. I may mention that I received eight ozs. of biscuits per day until I complained to the orderly officer, who instantly went and witnessed my ozs. made up to fourteen ozs. as per rule. i may say that I broke tow teeth with those iron biscuits. Compound diet resumed. Released at 6 a.m., refused first order, celled etc.
Feb 25. – Still in irons day and night, the handcuffs being removed for about five minutes daily to allow washing.
Feb 28. – As punishment, order to parade three times daily, – ‘any force necessary to be used to make him obey,’ and to be roped tightly as possible to a post for two hours, wearing irons also. Refused to parade, but was pulled on parade once by the arm, then refused again and that order was probably rescinded. This punishment excepting parade continued until —-
March 7. – When the leg irons were remove and exercise allowed daily.
March 9. – Should have been released, having completed 21 days’ No.1 diet in solitary confinement in the cell, but continued on compound diet, cuffed, cell, and tying up (though I protested three times that no charge was laid against me) until—-
March 12 – When handcuffs were removed, remained in cells on compound diet until my sentence expired, being called from the cells and straight out under excort to No. 8 Camp, A.S.C., on Sunday, May 5.
May 6. – Was sentenced to 14 days confined to camp, refused first order, retaken to Guardroom, and kept there until courtmartialled on
May 13. – When, owing to my evidence, my case was adjourned half way through the trial to be referred, i presume, to higher legal authority. And so I await the result, possibly a return to Dartmoor, probably two or three years’ hard labour. About Feb. 28th, I was removed to another room to hear the death sentence pronounced on a murderer ‘to show what the Army can do,’ but i still refused to obey orders, and possibly that is the reason I was not released.

The result, as we have stated above, was 112 days’ hard labour, As we go to press we hear that orders have been given for Catherall to be returned to a civil prison in England, but up to the moment of writing no news of his arrival here has reached us.


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