MAKING HISTORY

From The Tribunal May 30th 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: http://nfpb.org.uk/tribunal

At the Guildhall on May 23 and 24, the Society of Friends was on trial as a body for its refusal to submit leaflets dealing with the war and the conclusion of peace to the censor. This was made abundantly clear by the three defendants, Harrison Barrow, Edith M. Ellis and Arthur Watts, against whom as Chairman and Secretaries of the Friends’ Service Committee, the charges were brought. It seemed doubtful whether the prosecutor realised in the least the greatness of the issue raised – how could so great a principle be bound up in this apparently insignificant statement of facts. Yet for the many Friends and sympathisers in the court the whole question turned on the allegiance owed by a Christian body to the Higher Law which overrules the State. Here at last was a direct conflict with the law of the land, which brought us back into the stormy days of the seventeenth century, to the circumstances which provoked Milton’s Areopagitica.

There was much formal evidence given by police officers from Scotland Yard; then the figure of Andrew Fleming, the courageous Glasgow printer attracted attention and not a little admiration. The court was adjourned till the following day just as Harrison Barrow was making his defence. Next day the court was full to overflowing, and there was no loss of the ‘atmosphere’ of the trial as some had feared. The witnesses for the defence were called, among them John H. Barlow, Clerk to the Yearly Meeting of the Society, armed with a minute. This he was not allowed to read himself from the witness box, though Harrison Barrow found a way out of taking it from him. The prosecution kept on recurring to the question of authorship in cross-examining subsequent witnesses, although it had been established that the Committee believed that their name satisfied the regulation demanding the author’s name.

At last the presiding alderman retired to consider the verdict, and after a few moments the Clerk of the Yearly Meeting asked Friends in court to devote the remaining time to silent prayer. There followed a most solemn hush, broken only by the faint buzz of conversation from officials in court beyond the screen. One woman Friend prayed that we might be able to follow Christ all the way. After this most remarkable of Friends’ meetings, the usher’s “silence in court” seemed wholly unnecessary on the alderman’s return. Sentence was pronounced, 6 months’ imprisonment for the male defendants, £100 fine and £50 costs for Miss Ellis. The tragic injustice of the whole trial was broken by various humorous incidents, not the least of these being the little lesson in arithmetic given by Andrew Fleming to Sir A. Bodkin.

At the end of the trial the tall figure of Harold Morland rushed forward in top hat and grey frock coat in response to the request for one well-known in the city to go bail. An appeal was lodged and the first stage of this Quaker pilgrimage in search of freedom was passed.

JOHN S. STEPHENS

dove..