Wednesday, 12 November 2014

A Non-Religious Appeal against Conscription, 1916

Ealing's Conscientious Objectors: Case Study No.4

Muirhead, Douglas Cogill: Ironmonger’s Assistant; 40, Oxford Road, Ealing, London W.
Excerpts from Central Military Service Tribunal and Middlesex Appeal Tribunal: Minutes and Papers, Case Number: M214. (National Archives http://www.nationalarchives.gov.uk/)
NOTICE OF APPEAL TO CENTRAL TRIBUNAL. Filled in by Applicant in duplicate, by hand.
(2) Grounds on which appeal made: The case has not been impartially & fully investigated by the Local Tribal .& although am absolutely sincere Conscientious Objector to all war I have been refused any consideration  whatever. I was not given an opportunity to explain my case. [Underlining in red in original.] The Reasons of the Local Tribal for refusing my application were chiefly that my objection to Military Service was based on grounds of “Reason” rather than on any definite Religious or moral grounds . The Appeal Tribal Chairman asked what I had to say & I said the difficulty seemed to be a misconception of the meaning of conscience which I then defined as a persons “deepest innermost convictions” & said I did appeal on moral and Humanitarian grounds & I believed all war was murder. Without any further investigation the Chairman said “Your appeal is dismissed.” I find it impossible to accept this decision as final. I do not want to be forced to break the law by refusing as in accordance with the provision in the act I believe I am one of those the conscience clause was intended to cover, but in the event of another appeal being refused I shall have no alternative, I cannot take part in the killing of my fellow men. It is impossible and I cannot do it whatever the penalty for refusal, so I trust you will grant me the opportunity of taking my case to the Central Tribunal.
[Signed] D C Muirhead, Mar 30/16
4 April 1916  The Appeal Tribunal have decided in this case to Refuse leave to appeal to the Central Tribunal.
6th & 7-11-18 Papers relating to this case returned by Clerk of Central Tribunal to Middlesex.
In his Notice of Appeal to the Middlesex Tribunal Douglas Muirhead had stated his case in similar terms, making more fully explicit his position – one that might perhaps be described as libertarian socialist or anarcho-communist:
Notice of Appeal. (2) Grounds on which appeal made:
That I have been refused Absolute Exemption which I clam in accordance with my statutory right as a conscientious objector. I cannot take part in war in any capacity, considering it wrong & immoral & against my deepest convictions. l believe in the Brotherhood of man, in Cooperation, not competition & that only by trying to understand each others points of view, & by combining together for  mutual aid will any improvement be possible. The Race Hatred fostered by war tends to lead to further wars. I believe war will only cease when those who think it wrong refuse to take any part in it, & so I must make it clear that I cannot help in the prosecution of war & that whatever may be the consequences I cannot violate my innermost & sincerest convictions. I am an Idealist & look forward to  the time when,       “Nation with Nation, land with land,
Unharmed shall live as comrades free;
in every heart and brain shall throb
The pulse of one fraternity.”
[Signed] D C Muirhead, 40 Oxford Rd., Ealing                 Mar 8/16
Reasons for the decision of the Local Tribunal
Appellant stated that his objections were based, not on religious but on philosophical grounds – grounds of reason rather than of faith.  He was not a member of any Church, but last July he joined the No-Conscription Fellowship.  He believed in an individual resisting evil and that, say, twenty men acting together, might properly resist any other group that attempted to wrong them, but he denied that the logical extension of this argument would justify a State in going to War for its own protection.  In his view, an unarmed state would be so strong that no other state would attack it. 
Appellant said that exemption from combatant service would not meet his case, and he had no work of national importance to offer. 
The Tribunal taking the view that the appellant’s objections were not matters of conscience, rejected his application.
The Military Representative made no observations in this case.
Signed by Chairman, 13/3/16

from MILITARY SERVICE ACT, 1916, APPLICATION AS TO EXEMPTION:-
Name:  Douglas C. Muirhead                Age  30                       
Occupation  Shop Assistant (Ironmongery etc.)  Employer: Arthur Scott, 37 Haven Green, Ealing
Nature of Application: Absolute exemption from any form of war service.
I cannot take the Military oath. I must reserve the right to act as my conscience dictates.
Reasons in support of the application
My belief that war is wrong, immoral & illogical, & of no use is settling differences in any permanent way. The strongest side wins and that proves nothing. The Losers may be in the right. I am an Internationalist, believing all mankind are brothers & their interests identical, I therefore have no quarrel with the Germans. Austrians or Turks. I believe in Co-operation not Competition, in the preservation of life and in replacing wrong ideas with right ones as the only hope for any improvement in the world.
D.C. Muirhead
Feb 24th./16
FOR LOCAL TRIBUNAL: 
Application refused
[Signed] Chairman No.2 Section Ealing  local tribunal
6 MAR 1916
Other documents on file:
Covering letter with Notice of Appeal and original claim form (above) headed Borough of Ealing LOCAL RECRUITNG APPEAL TRIBUNAL and dated 13th March 1916.
NOTICE OF HEARING dated 23 MAR 1916. Appeal to be heard 28 MAR 1916, Guildhall, 2.30 p.m.
NOTICE OF DECISION dated 28 MAR 1916: “... decided that the appeal be dismissed.”
From Pearce Database (early version)
Some of what happened after Muirhead’s appeal was refused:
·         sent to the Royal Fusiliers Depot in Hounslow – not Non-Combatant Corps since he hadn’t been granted any, even limited (from combatant service only) exemption
·         court-martialled at  Hounslow on 28.11.17 and sentenced to the customary 2 years Hard Labour handed to COs who resisted military discipline
·         served time in Pentonville Civil Prison
·         and was serving a second sentence during May 1919.
He is listed among the 'Men still in the hands of the Military and Civil Authorities on 9.5.19'; their names were given to the government by the Friends Service Committee. The campaign for their release eventually succeeded.
Family background
The 1901 Census records the Muirhead household at Parrock Street, Milton, near Gravesend in the district of Maidstone, Kent. Douglas at 15 was already an ironmonger’s apprentice, living with his parents and numerous siblings.
Scott's Ironmonger's at 37, Haven Green, W5, where he was working in 1916, is now a Hair and Tanning Studio, although the chemist's next to it at no. 36 looks as if it may have been there (and presenting much the same appearance) 100 years ago.
40 Oxford Rd., where DCM was living in 1916
Evidently he  survived the  immediate aftermath as well as the war itself; he seems to have married (as registered in Brentford District), in 1921.

In the name of Reason...
While the majority of COs based their stance on religious conviction, an increasing number are being discovered who, like DCM, took a principled rationalist or secular-political position, refusing to abdicate their ability to think and decide for themselves. 
Tribunals consistently denied such men the right to “conscience”.




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