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Among Conscientious Objectors who have endured hardships with a cheerful courage are some who have found their trouble most difficult to bear, not so much because of their physical pain, but because their sufferings have been caused by the ill-will and the maliciousness of those in whose charge they have been placed. The legal punishment may be hard to bear, but the illegal ill-usage by individual soldiers, accompanied as it is with hatred occasioned by their misunderstanding of the victim’s point of view, is without doubt most difficult to bear, just because of the hate and misunderstanding.
Among such Conscientious Objectors were four men in the same place. Their usage was so rough and brutal that the accounts of it which reached us, and which were also sent to numerous people, aroused such intense feeling that quite a number of people became active on their behalf. It was no easy matter patiently to wait until the accumulation of material, confirmed fortunately by information from an independent source, was sufficient to constitute evidence upon which action might be taken. The aim in connection with the matter was, of course, to have an immediate stop put to the bad treatment of these men in particular, and of others too, as reports showed us that this kind of treatment was, to some extent, going on all over the country. An interview with some officers in high position, and it is comforting to find that their view and the view that they said was held in the army, was dead set against anything in the nature of bullying; indeed, they urged that they should be given specific information which would enable them to make examples of the guilty parties, if such they were. Of course, they professed absolute belief that what we complained of had never occurred and was quite impossible. The crux of the position was that they said such treatment could only be stopped if definite charges were made and disciplinary action reverted to, and the challenged the production of evidence to this end. What was to be done? The friend who had this matter in hand regarded the whole question from the Christian standpoint. He felt that while he desired that the bad treatment should cease, he was not willing to occasion the punishment of those who were guilty. It took some time to explain this attitude to the officers, but it is a great pleasure to record that when once the attitude was grasped the whole atmosphere of the interview changed, and that unbending – so far as officers in high military positions can unbend – they showed the greatest possible interest and sympathy.
Further interviews were arranged with other officers – this time those having the particular men in their charge. Practically the same experience was encountered, and in the final result there was quite obviously a friendliness on the part of the officers seen, and the definite promise from the officer commanding the regiment that if such bullying had taken place he would see to it that it ceased as far as these men were concerned, and be quite impossible in the future in his regiment for these men or any others. As a matter of fact, apart altogether from the action here described there may be a War Office inquiry into what was endured by these men. It may even be that some offenders will be punished, but this would be deplored by the friend who had the matter in hand, and by the men concerned.
Two things further have to be recorded: First, that so far as can be discovered, the bad illegal treatment has altogether ceased at that particular barracks; and, second, that when the four men were brought singly before the Commanding Officer, without knowing anything of the action taken on their behalf, or the attitude of the friend concerned, they each, when it was put to them, said they had suffered the bad treatment as described, but had no desire to give names or retaliate upon their tormentors in any way whatever.