Tuesday, 23 August 2016

Scotland's First World War COs: Two Fletts from Findochty

A stretch of the Moray coast (North East Scotland)
Just along the coast to the west from Cullen, another small fishing village produced two more Conscientious Objectors professing the religious faith of the Plymouth Brethren. Although they share the surname Flett, it does not follow that they were brothers, or even close cousins (but on the possibility that these two were brothers, see below), that surname having been for a long time the majority one in that particular place. Because of this, and the fact that given names (and fish-related occupations) likewise recur frequently, it is often not easy to find out more about individuals from there, without some unique identifier or access to inside-family knowledge.
     As far as can be ascertained, neither of these was directly connected with the family tree of the Joe Flett referred to in earlier posts on this blog. They are the only two Fletts, and the only two men from Findochty, on the Conscientious Objectors' Register to date.

George Flett was 40 in 1917 (when first introduced under the Military Service Acts of 1916, conscription had an upper age limit of 41). He is said to have had the unusual middle name "Also" but this may be a nickname or "Tee name"; these were frequently bestowed in the area to distinguish people with otherwise identical names. No George "Also" or George "A" Flett appears to have been born in the parish (Rathven) around the relevant date (1875-79) although there are 17 called "George Flett" without any middle name/initial shown.

What happened to him according to the record:
  • Sent to Gordon Highlanders
  •  Court Martialled at Perth 9.8.17 [presumably arrested for refusal to obey an order] 
  •  - sentenced to 112 days with hard labour 
  • Wormwood Scrubs 16.8.17 to 10.11.17 
  • Central Tribunal at Wormwood S. 27.9.17, refused to Home Office Scheme conditions
  • Escort to Gordon Highlanders Depot, Court Martialled at Blairgowrie 23.11.17
  •  - sentenced to 112 days with hard labour
  • Aberdeen Civil Prison 28.11.17; released to regiment 28.2.18
  • Court Martialled at Aberdeen 6.3.18 - sentenced to 1 year with hard labour
  •  Aberdeen Civil Prison 12.3.18 released to Princeton Work Centre, Dartmoor, 19.8.18
It appears he eventually decided, as many absolutists did, that enough prison was enough and went along with the Home Office Scheme. He may have been among those whose resistance continued in other forms in the work centres, which saw many work strikes and protests.)

George Also Flett
Age        40
Birth year            1877
Year       1917
Address               -
Address 2            Findochty
Local authority  Banff County District
County Banffshire
Country                Scotland
Latitude               57.69
Longitude            -2.9
Ordnance Survey reference        NJ460680
Motivation          Plymouth Brethren
Military Service Tribunal                MST (Military Service Tribunal) Central Tribunal at Wormwood S. 27.9.17, refused to accept HOS (The Home Office Scheme, administered by the Brace Committee) conditions
Central Tribunal                Central Tribunal Nos. W. 4338 Refused HOS
War Service        3 (R) Gordon Highlanders CM (Court Martial) Perth 9.8.17 - 112 days HL (With hard labour), Wormwood S.; Depot Gordons CM (Court Martial) Blairgowrie 23.11.17 - 112 days HL (With hard labour); CM (Court Martial) Aberdeen 6.3.18 - 1yr.HL (With hard labour)
Prison   Wormwood S. 16.8.17 to 10.11.17 to Escort; Aberdeen CP (Civil Prison) 28.11.17 released to regiment 28.2.18; Aberdeen CP (Civil Prison) 12.3.18 released to Dartmoor, Princeton Work Centre 19.8.18
Work Centre      HOS (The Home Office Scheme, administered by the Brace Committee) to Dartmoor 19.8.18
WO363 false
Sources                NA/WO86/77/85, 79/44, 81/12; LMA/4417/01/016 - Wormwood S. Nominal Register; Not found in NA/WO363; NAS/HH21/66/18 Aberdeen Prison Nominal Register; NA/MH47/2 Central Tribunal Minutes
Record set          Conscientious Objectors' Register 1914-1918

1901 Census record - probably the right George Flett
First name(s)     Last name           Relationship       Marital status    Gender Age        Birth year            Occupation         Birth place      
William Flett       Head     Widower             Male      57           1844       Fisherman
George Flett       Son        Single    Male      24           1877       Fisherman
William Flett       Son        Single    Male      22           1879       Fisherman
Isabella Flett       Daughter             Single    Female 18           1883       General Servt
Eliz          Flett       Daughter             Single    Female 15           1886       General Servt  
(All born in "Rathven, Banffshire, Scotland" although William junior was born in Wick according to 1881 return. Place of normal residence was sometimes given instead of actual birth-place, and many families involved in the fishing industry did a fair bit of travelling to different ports.)

1881 Census record for the same family in 1881
William Flett       Head     Married     Male      37           1844       Fisherman           
Ann        Flett       Wife      Married    Female 37           1844       Fishermans Wife
Catherine            Flett       Daughter     -     Female 12           1869       Scholar 
Ann        Flett       Daughter             -              Female 7              1874       Scholar 
James   Flett       Son        -     Male      6              1875       Scholar 
George Flett       Son        -      Male      3              1878       Scholar 
William Flett       Son        -    Male      1       1880       -   Wick, Caithness, Scotland

(All but William born in "Findochty, Banffshire, Scotland": Findochty was used in some Censuses, Rathven [pronounced Rath-in] - the parish designation as well as a placename - in others)

- and 1891:
Ann F    Flett       Wife      Married       Female 47           1844       Fishermans Wife     Findochty
Ann        Flett       Daughter    Unmarried     Female 18     1873       General Servant (Dom) Findochty      
George Flett       Son        -              Male      14           1877       Scholar Findochty
William Flett       Son        -              Male      12           1879       Scholar Wick, Caithness
Isabella Flett       Daughter             -   Female 8              1883       Scholar Fraserburgh, Aberdeenshire
Elizabeth              Flett       Daughter             -     Female 5     1886       Scholar Findochty

Marriage certificate for George's parents (probably), 1872
(Details matching census return for 1881 above.)

James A Flett was George's fellow CO and co-religionist, likewise from Findochty.
It is tempting to speculate that he may also have been his 3-years-older brother (1881 Census) who would not appear with the family in later censuses (he doesn't) if absent on the night, e.g. working away from home. James is otherwise not readily identifiable from the records, due to the numbers of people with the same first name and surname in the same place, and the lack of a more precise address. As in the case of George, he may not have had a middle name; if related, they may indeed have shared a family Tee name beginning with 'A' (e.g. Also) - no "James A" shows up. If George's brother James's birth year is correctly given in 1881, however, he would have been over the age limit for conscription until it was raised to 51 in 1918.

James A Flett had a different wartime experience from George, from the little information available:
  • Applied to local Military Service Tribunal in Findochty
  •  - refused exemption, applied to Banff (County) Appeal Tribunal 2.11.16 
  •  - granted Exemption from Combatant Service only
  • Evidently accepted this, so sent to Non-Combatant Corps, location unknown.
James A Flett
Occupation         Fisherman
Age        -
Birth year            -
Year       -
Address               -
Address 2            Findochty
Local authority  Banff County District
County Banffshire
Country                Scotland
Latitude               57.69
Longitude            -2.9
Ordnance Survey reference        NJ460680
Motivation          -
Military Service Tribunal                MST (Military Service Tribunal) Findochty - refused; Banff Appeal 2.11.16 - ECS (Exemption from Combatant Service) only, NCC (Non-Combatant Corps)
War Service        (?)
WO363 false
Sources                Aberdeen Journal 3.11.16; Not found in NA/WO363;
Record set          Conscientious Objectors' Register 1914-1918

Such case studies of small numbers of COs in small places are of course only a very small part of the picture of conscientious objection, and of opposition to the war more generally, in Scotland. A fuller account was published last year:
Objectors & Resisters: Opposition to Conscription and War in Scotland 1914-18, by Robert Duncan (Glasgow: Common Print/Common Weal, 2015)

Extract from review:
Objectors & Resisters: Opposition to Conscription and War in Scotland 1914-18, by Rob Duncan, charts the stories of the outstanding women and men who showed great campaigning skills, principles and courage in fighting against the drive to war and the conscription of young, mainly working class men [...]
Conscientious objectors (men who were called up to fight but refused on moral grounds) and the many women and men who were not eligible for service but campaigned against the war were in a minority at the time, but many of the political struggles which defined 20th century Scotland can be traced back to a radical tradition born during the anti-war movement.
The book tells the stories of well-known activists such as John Maxton, Keir Hardie, Mary Barbour and Helen Crawfurd as well as many unknown Scots who made a stand during the war.
The book also contains songs and photographs from the period and local information about how the campaign spread across Scotland. It charts the harsh repression of the movement and the torture-like conditions in which activists were held while in prison and the extent to which Scotland played a major part in the global campaign against the war.

"It is high time to redress the imbalance in the historical record and close the undoubted gap in public awareness of this largely neglected and controversial aspect of wartime Scotland."

See also Scotsman review.
Our islanders and north-easterners are just a few such "unknown Scots who made a stand during the war".

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