DEATH OF ARTHUR BUTLER, OF STOCKPORT, IN PRESTON PRISON

From The Tribunal, 20th December 1917

This is a further update in a series of extracts form the No Conscription Fellowship’s journal, published in the UK between March 1916 and November 1918
For further extracts go to: http://nfpb.org.uk/tribunal

Will there be men, think you
For the bitter need –
Men to die or do – Men indeed?

Arthur Butler was educated at Stockport Grammar School, where he won a scholarship and gained the reputation of being a brilliant scholar. He was arrested in July, 1916, as a conscientious objector. After his third sentence in May, 1917, of two years’ hard labour for still refusing to obey military orders, he was committed to Preston Jail, and there he developed consumption. In a letter from prison, dated November 10th, 1917, he stated that he had a cough and spat blood and complained of pains in the chest and shoulders. The prison Medical Officer added a footnote to the letter stating that the spitting of blood was due to an acute attack of influenza, for which “he had every medical attention.”

Representations were made to the Home Office that Butler’s condition was exceedingly serious, especially in view of the fact that a number of his family had died of consumption. But the Home Office persisted in stating that Butler was only suffereing from a slight indisposition, and even as recently as 11th inst. assured a prominent Member of Parliament that there was no cause for anxiety.

On the same day news reached Butler’s friends that he was dying. The Home Office was again approached, with the result that Butler’s mother was given permission to see him. But officialdom had not yet finished its work.

When Butler, gasping for breath and fully conscious that the end was approaching, begged that his mother might remain with he, he was informed by the Governor that was “against the rules.” Quite so, for what place have humanity, pity, and sympathy withing prison walls? Well might Oscar Wilde write:

“This, too, I know and wise it were
If such could know the same,
That every prison that men build
Is built with bricks of shame,
And bound with brass lest Christ shall see
How men their brothers maim.”

The next day, Wednesday 12th inst., Arthur Butler passed away, On Friday, the 14th, an inquest was held, the following report of which appeared in the “Times” of the the 15th inst.:-

OBJECTOR’S DEATH IN PRISON.
“An inquest was opened at Preston Prison on Arthur Butler, aged 28, who died in the prison on Wednesday.
“Mrs. Ada Butler, 9 Menai Road, Stockport, said that her son was employed as a costs clerk at Burnage. He was arrested under the Military Service Act in July, 1916, and court-martialled. He was twice sentenced to six months’ hard labour for refusing to obey orders, and was serving a third term of twelve months’ hard labour for a similar offence. She saw her son in Preston Gaol about 11 o’clock on Tuesday night. He was gasping for breath, and said that he was dying. He did not complain, but said, ‘They have been kind to me now, but it is too late.’ Her son begged very hard that she might be allowed to stay with him, but the Governor said that it was against the rules.
“The inquest was adjourned until Tuesday, and in the meantime, a post-mortem examination will be made at the request of the relatives.”

As we go to press we are astonished to learn that the post-mortem is to be made by the prison doctor. We hope a strong protest will be made when the inquest is resumed at such an obviously interested person being permitted to act in this capacity.

We are indeed proud of Arthur Butler. We are thankful for his example. But what are we to say of the callousness of those responsible for his death? Butler was in good health when arrested, and was classified A1 by the military, but the prolonged hardships in prison, the cold and underfeeding and all the abominable conditions that we referred to in our last issue, proved too much for him. For 17 months he gave proof to all concerned of the sincerity of his position, and now he has shown that he held loyalty to his convictions dearer than life and that he was ready “for the bitter need.” A cause for which a man like Arthur Butler is willing to lay down his life must needs grow – for it is the outward expression of that indomitable love that will not flinch, however fiery the ordeal, but will press forward until peace on earth, goodwill to men is no longer a distant vision but a living reality.

dove..