WW1

"THE TIMES" AND CONSCIENCE

From The Tribunal November 1, 1917

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:_http://nfpb.org.uk/tribunal

We print here in extenso, a leading article entitled “Conscience Recalcitrant” which appeared in the “Times” of October 25th…

“Our columns continue to give evidence that the problem of the conscientious objector is not yet satisfactorily settled, and we understand that more is likely to be heard of it in the near future. The popular attitude of indifference, blazing at irregular intervals into spasmodic indignation, would be all very well if the question of conscientious objection to military service was a static question, which could be disposed of once for all on rigid lines. Unluckily it is not; it rests on the beliefs, convictions, or prejudices of men whose mere presence within the community is a perpetual interrogation. It is out of the question to dispose of these men, as so many would like to dispose of them, with an impatient wave of the hand and a dictatorial ‘Off with his head; so much for conscience in war time”’ We are not pleading the case of the conscientious objector, irrespective of its individual bearings; very much the contrary. But it is necessary to remind people that these cases cannot be judged in an undiscriminating and summary way. Conscientious objectors may be divided into three main classes. There are those who have accepted non-combatant service, have agreed to “work of national importance”; and those who have refused both, have been compelled to go into the Army, have declined to perform their military duties, and are serving – as a penalty of their refusal – successive terms of hard labour. It is the case of this third class we desire to direct attention. Most of us may think it an impertinent query, but it is a query all the same, and sooner or later will have to be answered. How long are these men to be compelled to serve successive terms of hard labour because they refuse to submit to the discipline of the Army into which they have been forced?

“Before we attempt an answer let us reflect on one or two circumstances in their case. First, they have deliberately turned their backs upon the comparatively easy avenues of escape offered by acceptance of either ‘non-combatant service’ or ‘work of national importance.’ They are thus self-condemned to a lot far harder than that of those who have escaped military service by one or other of those avenues. It may be said that the dominant motive with many of them is the itch for notoriety. Possibly it is; but even so they pay the price in hard labour, though that price is small compared with the long-drawn trial of service in the trenches. Next, they are being punished again and again for what is essentially a single offence. And, once again, they are punished thus repeatedly for that rebellion of the individual conscience against the claim of the State to rule conscience which experience has shown to be rather fortified and propagated than exterminated by punishment. They are useless where they are; if released, some of them might be useful to others, if not to the State; and if any of them are dangerous to the State, the law has its remedy. And it is possible that their present treatment supplies the disaffected with gratuitous arguments which it is difficult to answer. Many of them no doubt glory in their punishment, reckoning it is a persecution easy to be borne for conscience sake, and certain – as in the case of the early Christians – to promote the doctrine that it hopes to exterminate. We do not endorse these arguments on behalf of this particular class of conscientious objector, but we feel bound to state them for the calm consideration of a community that justly prides itself on its tolerance. The difficulty, of course, is to test the real motive that inspires the objection to military service. It is so easy, as every one knows, to assume the cloak of conscience which covers, in many cases, an abysmal degradation of selfishness, or of treason, or of mere pitiable fear. But it is at least worth considering whether circumstances have not provided an automatic test. When a man has deliberately refused to avail himself of two alternative ways of escape from prison labour; when he has more than once, of his own deliberate choice, gone back to gaol; when he shows himself resolute to go back again and again rather than submit to that military service against which he asserts that his conscience raises for him an insuperable barrier – when he thus proves repeatedly his readiness to suffer for what he proclaims to be his belief, is it either justifiable or politic to go on with the punishment? The question seems to us to be worth a good deal more thought than the complacent generalisation of the public about conscientious objection has been willing to give it as yet. One point is, however, clear. Men who, for whatever reason, decline to do their duty as citizens place themselves permanently outside the community and have no title rights. But between these disabilities and the constant infliction of positive punishment there is a distinction. And it is this distinction that is worth considering.”

C.O.'S IN PRISON

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: http://nfpb.org.uk/tribunal

BY THE MOTHER OF ONE OF THEM

Who PUT them in Prison?
“We” say the Court Martial
“Our judgement is partial
Our job will be gone,
And we shan’t carry on
If we listen to conscience
And that sort of nonsense.
Away with their tale!
Just clap them in jail,-
At the horrors we hear of the stoutest will quail!”

Who’ll STARVE them, in prison?
“Oh, we!” say the warders,
“For such is our orders,-
Reducing the ration
Is now all the fashion.
And ill-flavoured gruel
Is left,- something cruel!
Blackbeetles and mice
Spoil the oatmeal and rice
And the ‘Objects’ ob-ject, they’re fearfully nice!”

Who sees them DIE?
“Not I,” says the Nation,
“A pure fabrication!
They’ve lost weight we know-
A few stones, or so,-
And some have gone mad
With the tortures they’ve had
But if some have died
Such cases we hide-
And no-one, you’ll notice, for Murder is tried!”

Who’ll HELP the C.O.’s?
“Not I,” said the Church,
“For my ‘scutcheon would smirch,-
All war I abhor, it is not in my line,
But this war is diff’rent, it’s holy, it’s fine!
Now I can’t quite explain, but you’ll see in a minute-
Although it’s so holy,- why I am not in it;
The Government thought it would look very ill-flavour
The Cause notwithstanding, for Clergy to kill!
So this kind exemption of course I requite
By “talking up” fighting,- although I don’t fight!
Thus you will perceive, though I feel for their woes
That I can’t say a word for the poor dear C.O.’s!”

ANOTHER CASE OF PETTY TYRANNY

From The Tribunal October 18 1917

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: http://nfpb.org.uk/tribunal

…It may be of some interest in connection with Bennet Wallis’s case to mention that another comrade who is now at Wakefield has received similar treatment from the Home Office Committee. This man had had several teeth extracted, and was waiting for the gums to heal before having a set fitted, when he was arrested under the Military Service Acts. After accepting the Home Office scheme, he wrote to the H.O.C. asking for leave for the purpose of going to his dentist, but this was refused on the ground that he would be able to earn leave later. He was subsequently sent to Denton Camp, Newhaven, and as he was suffering severely from indigestion, he applied to Mr. Foster, the agent, for leave of absence. This the agent refused on the ground that the H.O.C. had definitely stated that no leave was to be granted to men to have their teeth put right. As our comrade had already paid £1 deposit to his own dentist on the set of teeth he hoped to have fitted, he could not afford to go to another dentist instead. Later he became ill, and was certified by the doctor to be suffering from “dyspepsia, solely due to deficiency of teeth.” He was then ordered to Wakefield, and on the way managed to secure an interview with Mr. Hunt of the Home Office Committee, who, after much persuasion and argument, arranged that he should transferred for a time to the Chelsea Work Centre, withing reach of his dentist. This was just a year since his teeth had been extracted! After this lapse of time the dentist had to extract more teeth, and in spite of all protests the man was sent back to Wakefield before he had been fitted with a new set. Thus, although it was in August 1916, that his teeth were first extracted, our friend, owing to the petty tyranny of the H.O.C., is still obliged to endure the weakness and pain due to the lack of a new set.

THE HOLY WAR

From The Tribunal October 4 1917

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: http://nfpb.org.uk/tribunal

Extract from Walter H. Ayles’ Statement at His Third Court-Martial.

“I am directed to look at the alleged atrocities committed by Germany and to the remarkable – and may I add, suspicious – absence of atrocities by their opponents, either in available newspapers or Government documents… It is a notorious, historic fact that every country has endless atrocities staining the pages of its history… Before Louvain was bombarded and the ‘Lusitania’ sunk Napoleon had poisoned his own wounded in the Syrian hospitals and shot his Turkish prisoners in cold blood on the same plea as Germany – that of military necessity… The outrages of Italy in Tripoli a few years ago were of such a character that even hardened newspaper correspondents handed in their papers and returned home, refusing to stay to ro witness and report such horrible buthchery of prisoners… Every student of English history knows of the crimes in the Crimea and South Africa, and of how in the Great River War the very tomb of the Mahdi, hold sacred by the Sudanese, rifled it for its contents and flung the remains into the river; of the horrors of Denshawai in 1906, when innocent peasants were killed for defending their property from British outrage; of the Irish fight for independence in 1916, when innocent men like Sheey Skeffington and wounded men like James Conolly were shot for being Irish patriots… Before Germany unrighteously violated the treaty of 1839, guaranteeing Belgian neutrality, the British and Russians had torn up a much more recent one guaranteeing the integrity of Persia. The treaty guaranteeing the integrity of Morocco was not only torn up with the consent of Britain, Belgium and France, who had signed it, but Frenchmen had pushed a railway through a sacred Moroccan burial ground and put down by bullets, bayonets and shells the protests of the people, whose dearest feelings were thus outraged. All our guarantees to the Egyptians and to Europe to evacuate Egypt have been torn up like scraps of paper and Britain has now annexed its territory. And what shall I say to the – shall I call it pressure – brought to bear upon Greece and Romania to enable the Allies to get an overland route to Constantinople. For any nation to accuse another of committing atrocities or violating treaty obligations appears to be as consummate a piece of hypocrisy as that of a thief accusing robbers of dishonesty. Every nation has done things equivalent to these within the last 30 years. They have done them because they are part of the unholy system of international greed and selfishness. The guilt lies at the door of all nations, and it is only possible because men of all nations are prepared to slay, steal, lie and outrage to back up the nefarious policy of their own Government. War is the greatest forcing ground for atrocities and falseness ever established by man, and however evil the methods adopted by one side the other is sure to follow its horrible example. that has been clearly and conclusively proved in this war. There is no method used by the Germans that the Allies have not committed used, except one, the torpedoing of unarmed German ships; the reason probably being that there are no German ships on the high seas to torpedo. There are no atrocities by the Allies that the Germans have not committed save probably one, that of submitting her sick and wounded in distants parts in large numbers to torture and death, by a criminal neglect to supply adequate medical stores and equipment and proper transport for food and other supplies. If I am to fight those who commit atrocities and violate treaties, I must fight every nation. Then I should discover that to carry on my holy war, so called, I should be compelled to commit the very crimes against which I was fighting. ‘You cannot cast devils out by Beelzebub.’ War itself is the greatest of all atrocities… I love my country too much to countenance such a crime. I must be loyal to God and humanity; and in being loyal to them I shall be serving in the highest way I know the real interests of our people and our country.”

AN OFFICER C.O.

From The Tribunal September 27th 1917



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: http://nfpb.org.uk/tribunal



There was an interesting case at the Northhants County Appeals Tribunal last week, when a man who had relinquished a commission in the Army appealed as a conscientious objector.

The case was that of Joseph W. Sault (33), married, now acting as chief clerk at Woodford Halse for the Great Central Railway. The story he told was that he joined the Army at the outbreak of war, and secured a commission in the King’s Royal Rifles. At a church service a point of view that he had not heard put before led him to come out convinced that it was utterly incompatible for a Christian to take part in war. He told his colonel that even if shot or court-martialled, he could not help it. He could have sought medical grounds for relinquishing his commission, but did not do so. He relinquished his commission at the end of 1914, and Sir Samuel Fay, when he knew, allowed him to return to the G.C.R., on which railway he had been a student before the war. For his work at Woodford he received £175 a year.

The Chairman (Sir Ryland Adkins, M.P.) questioned applicant as to whether he now attempted to influence people against joining the Army or Navy. Appellant replied that he simply taught the Gospel, and had not endeavoured to exert influence against military service. He told people it was a matter in which they must be guided by God. He admitted he belonged to the Fellowship of Reconciliation. Sir Ryland said that some members of that body went very near the line.

Captain Cook urged that his information was that appellant was a pernicious influence in Woodford, and asked that he should, at any rate, be removed from the district. Appellant said he had preached in two or three chapels in the district, but denied having exerted influence, although his views were known, and his example might have been noticed.

A minister from Leicester testified to the genuineness of the appellant’s convictions, and argued that the question of pernicious influence was a matter for the Defence of the Realm Act. To this Sir Ryland dissented, holding that they were entitled to examine whether appellant was conscious of the necessary restrictions placed on all Englishmen with regard to expression of views.

Appellant, after further questions, said he was quite willing to change the district, and to accept a lower salary.

In adjourning the case for a month for appellant to find work of national importance at a financial sacrifice, Sir Ryland said the Tribunal did not wish to shut appellant’s mouth; but they asked him to consider whether he could not forego to addressing meetings or services, and devote the whole of his time to national services such as railway work, for which he was specially qualified.

Appellant agreed to give the matter his consideration.

The "Daily Mail" and Brightmore

From The Tribunal 20th September 1917

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:_http://nfpb.org.uk/tribunal

The “Daily Mail” has re-opened the Brightmore case – and shut it up again quick! On Friday, September 14th, it published on its principal news sheet a letter, running into over half a column, from “Chas. Grimshaw,” late Major, Manchester Regiment, protesting against the “iniquitous manner” “in which Brigadier-General McD Elliot and myself were called upon to resign.” Mr. Grimshaw went on to say that Brightmore’s statement “was not only grossly exaggerated, but untrue.”

This letter worked up Carmelite House to fecer heat, and the “Mail,” in its leader on the same day, told its readers that Mr. Grimshaw’s letter would “be read with general sympathy and indignation,” that the Army authorities had been guilty of “illegalities, muddle-headedness,” and of putting conscientious objectors in a “privileged” position. The whole article was couched in the “Mail’s” most mandatory tone, and was beautifully headed and sub-headed:

THE CODDLED SHIRKER.”
Illegal Favours

At this point the curtain falls on the first act, and four days latter, during which period the “Mail” was evidently acquiring wisdom, and being brought down from Northcliffian frenzy to have been something like that described in Gilbert and Sullivan’s verse, which runs:

“After the rise, the fall;
After the boom, the slump;
After the ‘cham.’ and the big cigar,
The cigarette and the hump”!

Anyhow, on Tuesday morning, September 18th, the “Mail” published this remarkable leaderette:

THE BRIGHTMORE CASE

“In the light of information which has since reached us it is clear that the comment which we made on Friday on the enforced resignation of Major Charles Grimshaw , of the Manchester Regiment, as a sequel to the ill-treatment of Private Brightmore, requires modification.

“A soldier who disobeys orders is put into ‘detention’ and has the right to claim a court-martial. This is the punishment proscribed by the regulations. It was not the punishment meted out to Brightmore. He was put into an open pit and left there daily for several days. Such irregular and illegal punishments are quite rightly forbidden by the Army authorities, and it was owing to such a breach of military law that the War Office took actions against the responsible officers.”

It is not for us to probe further into this matter. Sufficient for us to record the facts and to express the view that the incident is the most encouraging that has taken place for many a day/ If C.O.‘s have done nothing else than to obtain from the leading militarist organ in the land the emphatic statement that “such irregular and illegal punishments are rightly forbidden by the Army authorities,” their stand has not been in vain.

International Notes: Canada & Holland

From the Tribunal September 13th 1917

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: http://nfpb.org.uk/tribunal

Canada
The latest news from Ottawa is that in the new Franchise Bill necessitated by the coming General Election itis proposed to disenfranchise conscientious objectors relieved under the Military Services Acts from combatant service. This is not the law yet, but it will presumably become so. Our friends need not worry, however, the time is rapidly coming when the common people will be all conscientious objectors – in those days the Canadian Burgess Roll will be a very slender volume!

Holland
An article in the “Nieuwe Amsterdammer” (Dutch Independent Weekly) of August 25th 1917, says about the Dutch C.O.‘s that since they published a manifesto last year, for which they were prosecuted the movement has gained steadily in strength. The manifesto was scattered broadcast over the country, and the speeches for the defence of the signatories in the law courts have served as splendid propaganda. The C.O.‘s are actuated by different motives; such as: hatred of every form of the State, especially of the present one; considerations of humanity such as find expression in vegetarianism and the anti-vivisection movement; love of one’s fellow-creatures, and the feeling of Christian brotherhood; the opinion that the war is a purely capitalist affair, in which no Socialist can join; less elevated sentiments such as an innate aversion to any form of obedience to superiors, and the allurement of martyrdom; all these pure and less pure motives mixed together have helped to raise the numbers of Dutch C.O.‘s to 15). Some of these C.O.‘s were punished after they had served their term in prison by taking from them the right to wear a military uniform, a punishment they will probably accept with resignation! The writer further warns us against the mistake of treating the C.O.‘s as common criminals, and bids us remember that they are martyrs for their opinions, that they are giving proof of their readiness to sacrifice for their conscience and convictions more than the general mass of the docile public. The severe methods of old Russia have not yet disappeared, but have crept into every State, both belligerent and neutral, as a result of the circumstances of the war. The writer considers it an unsatisfactory solution to make exemption depend on the seriousness of the conscientious objection. On the other hand he says that if every C.O. was let off, all barracks would soon be emptied. Especially in such times as these, the state cannot disarm, but must maintain itself. A better solution would be not to test the seriousness of the objection to military service, but to impose civil duties which would be heavier than the military ones.

The Editor of the “Nieuwe Amsterdammer” adds a note to the above article in which he refers to an article in “Der Telegraaf” of Aug. 9th, which proposes that in view of the possible refusal of the C.O.‘s to do any work connected with the war, the State should force them to do work at sea, either at the fishing or other commercial trades. The editor highly recommends this solution.

SIX MONTHS FOR SPREADING TRUTH

From The Tribunal September 6th 1917

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:_http://nfpb.org.uk/tribunal

Friends of truth and humanity are few in these days, but all of them will be indignant at the prosecution of Mr. E.D. Morel. Of those who criticised the policy of the Government in connection with the war, Mr. Morel is the one who has suffered most from calumny and misrepresentation. The Press, day after day, week after week, month after month, and year after year, has devoted itself to stating, or insinuating, that he is an agent of Germany, until at last through sheer reiteration it has produced an unshakable belief in his wickedness in the great bulk of the population, and a measure of suspicion even among many who should know better. He is, as I can testify from personal intimacy and friendship, a man actuated to an extraordinary degree by horror of cruelty and love of truth. These passions are criminal nowadays, and those in whom they are strong can hardly avoid committing illegal actions.

Mr. Morel’s “ill-judged activities began with his successful campaign to make known and to put an end to the atrocities in the Congo, in the course of which he necessarily made enemies of the British, French and Belgian Governments. The Clerical Party in Belgium was associated with King Leopold, and opposed tooth and nail any reform which might diminish the revenue derived from the the tortures of helpless negroes. The French Government dreaded an exposure, because a not dissimilar system existed in the French Congo. The British Government objected to Mr. Morel’s activities because of the official attitude of France. Nevertheless, he succeeded in so rousing public opinion that the necessary reforms were instituted and the old, bad system was brought to an end. Public men who knew of his activities mostly assumed he must have some sinister motive, for they held that no man does anything in politics from disinterested reasons – a view presumably based on self-examination. The harder it was to discover a wicked purpose, the more deep and cunning his plans were assumed to be.

It is hardly to be wondered as if on his side, with his experience of the unwillingness of the Allied Governments to put an end to atrocities far more systematic and widespread, and quite as horrible, as those of the Germans in Belgium, was unable, when the war broke out, to adopt quite the usual romantic view of it. His book on Moroccan diplomacy, published before the war, has shown conclusively how large a share of blame must be attached to the Entente. Whoever has made a disinterested study of the cause of the war must agree with the man Morel in thinking that, if wars are be brought to an end, the nations will have learn some deeper understanding of their causes than is involved in merely attributing them to the wickedness of the enemy. Mr. Morel has devoted himself to the dissemination of the truth, both here and abroad, but in these days it is illegal to attempt to communicate the knowledge of facts, even to so eminent a writer as Monsieur Romain Roland.

The use of punishment instead of argument is proof to all thinking people that the authorities are unable to refute Mr. Morel’s assertions amd have to rely upon brute force to prevent their being heard. Every honest man who loves truth and humanity would be willing to commit Mr. Morel’s “crime.” If honest men were not so rare, all the prisons in the country would be too few to hold the criminals who preferred truth to the encouragement of butchery.

Bertrand Russell

Echoes of Conscience

Selecting extracts from The Tribunal has been a highly enjoyable but quite hard task. What to choose out of all the often passionate, often insightful, often moving stories from the First World War which might otherwise be forgotten?

The Tribunal was a newspaper published by the No Conscription Fellowship from 1916, when the Military Service Act introduced conscription into British law. The story of conscientious objection in this country has been seriously neglected; the dominant narrative being that, however tragic the war was, people went to war without complaint and did largely as they were told. This is very far from being the whole truth.

In picking these extracts, however, I make no claim to the historical relevance or importance of all or even any of them. It would be best to consult the actual newspapers themselves if you wish for that kind of information. Nor do I claim any kind of neutrality; but then The Tribunal itself was hardly neutral in its support for the C.O.’s.

Instead, I have been looking out for human stories, humour, wit and, in the case of several of them, just plain good writing. The writers of these articles were not simply chronicling facts and figures; they were making a case for conscience as a guide to behaviour in the public sphere, whether tied to religious faith or not. Highlighting the stories of those who were treated abominably by being sent to France and “sentenced to death” before having their sentences “commuted”, as well as one tragic story of a young man dying of consumption due to ill treatment, we see how high the cost of conscience was for many.

An example of the sometimes gallows humour of the writers would be “How It Is Done”, a sketch of how an encounter between a C.O. and an officer might go. (I used this as source material for a poem for Conscientious Objectors’ Day.) I have taken some extracts from longer pieces, such as one by Bertrand Russell and one complete article, “Improving The Race”, to show the quality and the passion of argument often displayed by the writers.

I’ve also tried to highlight seldom-seen parts of the story, such as C.O.’s from “the colonies”, or “friendly aliens” living in Britain who may have had to join up. So we have stories of Russian exiles, Indian tribunals and a (nameless) Caribbean.

I hope these extracts both inform and move the reader.

Steven Waling

News of Our Comrades Abroad: India

From The Tribunal, August 23 1917.

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: http://nfpb.org.uk/tribunal

Some interesting news from India, where several men have appealed to Tribunals under the “Indian Defence force Rules, 1917.” Among st them is Mr. W. Bevan Whitney, B.Sc., A.M.I.C.E., who appealed to the District Magistrate at Poona, in the following terms:-

“I wish to say first of all, that I believe that service to one’s fellow men must be the guiding motive in every sincere man’s life. And secondly, make it perfectly clear that I base my objection to serving in any military capacity on my deeply-rooted conviction that war in its methods and ethics is utterly incompatible with the whole teaching of Christ as interpreted by his life. I hold this religious conviction so strongly that it would render me useless in any part of the military organisation, all of whose units have for their objects the efficient prosecution of the war…”

“I therefore beg that the conscience clause in the Law at home be taken as a precedent with cases such as mine in India, as I believe that not only is there nothing contrary in the terms of the Defence of India Bill, but that it is definitely stated that in certain exceptional cases, it is in the power of the Authorities to grant total exemption.”

Eventually Mr. Whitney was allowed to leave for Mesopotamia on Y.M.C.A. work, work he had accepted while his appeal was pending, and of which he writes, “I did not tell them the Tribunal had not given me exemption, as I was afraid that I was trying to evade the penalties by joining them. I had made up my mind I might have to go to prison, and felt quite glad at the thought.”

The following paragraph tells of how the fight is being carried into the guard-room in far away Scundarabad:-

“Cowper (Plymouth brother), Scundarabad, was court-martialled for not carrying arms on parade. I have heard he got 72 hours’ detention or something. I have not heard since what happened to him. I saw in the paper there are about half-a-dozen other “C.O.‘s” also mentioned as appluing before tribunals. None of them got exemption. I have not heard what has happened to any of them.”

Pages

Subscribe to RSS - WW1
dove..