Thursday, 2 July 2015

Ealing’s Conscientious Objectors: Hanwell (continuing)

As previously noted the case of George Brodie, a clerk in the Post Office Savings Bank, residing at 50 Deans Road, is a little different from that of most Conscientious Objectors, principally in that he was one of the minority who did not claim to derive their objection from religious belief.
For a start, he had taken action even before he had to. In advance of the introduction of conscription he had written to his MP giving the reasons why he thought he should be exempt, and had received what must have seemed like an encouraging reply, alluding to the process of applying to the local Military Tribunal, in his case under the Hanwell Urban District Council. Brodie did not delay in doing so when the Local Tribunal was set up (although he apologised for not sending the claim in earlier), citing the dual grounds of conscience – objection to participation in warfare which I regard as morally wrong – and of hardship – parents are old and infirm and entirely dependent upon my earnings.  
Specified Allowable Grounds of Appeal included:
D: On the ground that serious hardship would ensure if the man were called up for Army service, owing to his exceptional financial or business obligations or domestic position.
F: On the ground of a conscientious objection to the undertaking of combatant service.
He argued persistently that his case was soundly based, quoting chapter and verse not from scripture but from statutes and official circulars, and felt he had convinced the Local Tribunal that his conscientious objection was genuine, a view not shared by the Military Representative. When the rules appeared to have changed or been clarified he thought his case had been strengthened and made a further appeal. Nothing worked; like many others, he was “drafted into a combatant unit and disobeyed orders”, imprisoned in Wormwood Scrubs, and eventually sent to a Work Centre under Home Office Scheme”, at Denton, Newhaven, in late August 1917.
Case Number: M993. (National Archives Reference: MH 47/14/40)
I applied for a rehearing of my case under Section 2 of part III of the Military Service Regulations (Amendment) Order, 1916 to the local Tribunal, who refused to hear the case. I appealed against this decision to the Appeal Tribunal, who also refused to rehear. The grounds upon which I claimed a rehearing are as follows:-
I feel sure that in March I convinced the Tribunal at Hanwell that I had a conscientious objection to warfare and had I been willing to accept non-combatant service I have reason to think I should have been given it... By the Local Government Board circular of 1st June, however, it is laid down that exemption from all military service should be given if that alone will meet the case, and in view of recent decisions I believe that were my case reheard now I should be granted exemption conditional upon being engaged upon work of national importance. That suggests that at the time of my hearing in March the Tribunal were not fully aware of their powers, and that therefore I am entitled to a rehearing.
The response of the Appeal Tribunal was brief; with “No” writ large on the form, it too refused to rehear the case, and leave to appeal (to the Central Tribunal) was refused, as had happened in April when he had complained:
I appeal against the decision of the Middlesex Appeal Tribunal in totally disallowing my claim for exemption as a conscientious objector. The hearing accorded was very short. I produced a letter from a friend bearing out my statements but it was not read aloud and it was apparently ignored. I was prepared to produce further evidence that I am actuated by conscientious motives, but I was not given any opportunity of doing so.
The letter from a friend is not on the file, so the allegation of its being ignored may well be justified No doubt the view of the Military Representative, who supplied his own version of what he took to be Brodie’s views, had carried more weight:
The alleged conscientious objection is not based on religious grounds but on political grounds. The appellant considers that a policy of disarmament should have been pursued by all the Nations before the War, and that the British representatives in foreign affairs could have prevented the War had they done their duty. He admits the necessity of an army for defensive purposes, but will not admit that this is a defensive war.
It is merely a case of muddled political theories, and of a refusal to face facts.
[signed] James Morley
18th March 1916
This paraphrase of the appellant’s position was probably based on what he had said at this original hearing; Brodie’s written statements do not give so much detail, emphasising instead what he thought was his legal and moral entitlement under the regulations in force (as well as the “hardship” aspect). His initial formulation was more non-specific (humanist or even merely non-denominational) than “political”:
... I believe that human life is sacred and that to participate in its destruction or deliberately aid those so engaged is to do grave wrong, and so strongly do I believe this that I cannot undertake duties conflicting with my belief...


Stone in Brent Lodge Park, Hanwell,
commemorating Scouts who fell in the two world wars

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