Sunday, 3 March 2019

Conscientious Objectors in First World War Walthamstow

A search on the online database of First World War Conscientious Objectors (Pearce CO Register) using keyword 'Walthamstow' brings up 108 records. While not quite all of these include an address in the area - it was a location for enlistment in the RAMC - it is probably safe to say that about 100 men resident in or from present-day E17 (more or less) felt strongly enough about opposing the war to take a stand openly against it, with all the risks to freedom, health, livelihood and sanity that that entailed. (What happened to some of those who enlisted in Walthamstow is another story.)

Although transcripts of all the records are freely available, the amount of information given on each can vary from brief details of name and reported arrest to a thorough if shorthand account including age, address, occupation, motivation, courts martial, prison, work camp, date of discharge and occasionally subsequent career. Sources are supplied in all cases. A selecction has been made here, to give an impression of what may be found, picking out some who stand out in one or more ways as being out of the common even in this uncommon company, For example, we have several sets of brothers; a number who were politically motivated and/or proclaimed themselves without religion, knowing how this would prejudice the tribunals which considered their claims for exemption; and others who were sent to do alternativeservice at notorious work centres like Dyce camp, Dartmoor and Wakefield. These categories may overlap to a considerable extent.

Notes and excerpts or brief summaries of key points from the online transcripts


Archie G Bussey b.1895.  27, Thornhilll Road, Leyton. Shop Asistant, athletic outfitters.
CM (Court Martial) Hurdcott 14.8.16 - 6 months HL (with hard labour) commuted to 112 days. 

Henry E.Bussey b.1885 same address Engineer's fitter, railway companyNCF (No-Conscription Fellowship - listed as a member in 1915). Wartime experiences not on record.

Walter J.Bussey b.1887 same address Butcher, journeyman
CM (Court Martial) Hurdcott 15.8.16 - 6 months HL (with hard labour) 112 days. 

George Augustus Albert Cole b.1892. 37, Brunner Road.  Engineer.  Non-sectarian; Trade unionist (ASE), NCF. 

Absolutist - i.e. refused to accept ECS (exemption from combatant servie only) 
CM (Court Martial) Sutton Veny 28.10.16 - 112 days HL, Wormwood Scrubs 
CM Newton Abbott 27.2.17 - 2 yrs.HL 6 months Winchester CP (Civil Prison) 
CM  Blackdown 1.8.17 - 18 months HL Winchester CP 
CM Blackdown 22.11.18 - 2yrs.HL Winchester CP  
By Jan.1919 had served 3/4 sentences and more than two years. Winchester CP (Civil Prison) - discharged by order of Secretary of State 24.3.19 - under the 'two year rule'..

Charles Cole's discharge authorised, with others
Charles Edward Cole b.1897 same address Engineer.  NCF. 
Absolutist, Fugitive. 
CM (Court Martial) Sheerness 9.7.18 - 18 months com. 1 yr., to Wormwood S.; 
CM (Court Martial) Sheerness 3.1.19 - 2 yrs.HL (With hard labour); 
Discharged 25.6.19 

"... approval of the discharge... of the men named... who have been convicted of offences against discipline which they pleaded were committed on the grounds of conscience."

Alfred Rogers b.1892. 41 Pretoria Rd. Gas fitter, Gas, Light & Coke Company 
Accepted WNI (Pelham) (Work of National Importance under the Pelham Committee) 22.5.16
5.6.16 Essex County Appeal Tribunal approve his work as WNI - to stay where he is.
Frederick James Rogers b.1886 same address Plumber's mate, sanitary work 
WNI. 18.5.16 Referred to University College Hospital and engaged at 28/- per week.  

60, Maynard Road

 Splett, Alfred Ernest b.1895. 60 Maynard Rd.  Clerk. FOR (Fellowship of   Reconciliation), 'Quaker'. Absolutist 
 CM Edenbridge 18.12.16 - 9 months HL Wormwood S.; 
 CM Reading 4.5.17 - 112 days HL Wandsworth CP (Civil Prison).
 CM Reading 11.8.17 - 2yrs.HL Wandsworth CP (
 CM  Reading 6.7.18 - 112 days HL and 15.10.18 - 1yr.HL  
Wandsworth CP  By Jan.1919 had served 3 sentences and two years. 
8.4.19 released by order of Secretary of State
21.5.19 to Pentonville [?] 
Post-war work in Germany with Friends' War Victims Relief Service, Nov.1919   to Aug.1920

 Arthur Edward Splett b.1900 same address
 CM Reading 6.7.18 - 112 days HL - Wormwood S. 
(same day and place as his older brother but sent to a different prison). 
CM Reading 15.10.18 - 1yr.HL.Released at 6.00 on 8.4.19 (two year rule).
Post-war (?) Friends' War Victims Relief Service, London office.

Wilhelm Emil Splett b.1893  same address  Clerk. 'Quaker'. Absolutist.
CM Edenbridge 20.12.16 - 9 months HL Wormwood S.
CM Reading 4.5.17 - 112 days HL Wandsworth CP 
CM (Reading 11.8.17 - 2yrs.HL Wandsworth CP 14.8.17 - 4.7.18 to Dartmoor.
'At some time he worked in Friends' War Victims Relief Service London office'

Splett brothers: 'both parents German'. 
Another with German connections -

Harry George Hodson b.1883.  52, The Drive.  Clerk, Hodson & Co. oil merchants.
MST (Military Service Tribunal) Walthamstow. 18.8.16 appealed as a CO
 - recommended for internment because of his family's German connections  
Wife and mother both German; 'his uncle, Dr. Weigert, Imperial Public Prosecutor in Germany.'
Source: Essex Newsman 19.8.16

Note: Internment - "The British government was initially reluctant to impose widespread internment in the United Kingdom during the First World War, choosing instead to restrict the activities of nationals of enemy nations residing in the UK and interning only those suspected of being a threat to national security. Public anti-German sentiment peaked with the sinking of the RMS Lusitania on 7 May 1915, and the subsequent rioting forced the government to implement a general program of internment."


Arthur James Elsdon b,1895. 35, Westbury Rd.  Clerk/Civil Servant. BSP (British Socialist Party) Walthamstow branch; 'Quaker'; NCF   
Absentee - AWOL/DeserterCalled up 12.6.16 Stratford East, London. 
Posted to NCC (Non-Combatant Corps) (4 Eastern); 
CM Seaford 23.6.16 - 112 days HL Maidstone CP (Civil Prison)
CM 2.4.18 Gravesend - 2yrs.HL com.1yr
18.4.18 Guard Room Milton Barracks, Gravesend. 
Maidstone CP 27.6.16 to HOS (Home Office Scheme) Dyce 22.8.16
Transfer to Army Reserve Class W 23.9.16; Oct.1916 Dyce Camp (photo.80)
Maidstone CP (Civil Prison) 10.4.18 to 1.2.19.

Albert Isaac Field b.1893. 28 St. Mary's [St. Mary] Rd.  NCF, 'Atheist'/'Agnostic'. Absolutist 
CM Winchester 14.4.17 - 2yrs.HL 
Wormwood S. 26.4.17 to 29.8.17 to Wandsworth CP -  29.8.18, 
6.1.19 discharged under 1913 Illness Act (as used against the Suffragettes)
Returned 19.3.19, out again 21.3.19.Hunger strike 4.9.18 to 7.9.18, force fed 3 times 
By Jan.1919 had served 1 sentence and almost two years. 
Released April 1919 under two year rule.

Note: "The Prisoners (Temporary Discharge for Ill Health) Act, commonly referred to as the Cat and Mouse Act, was an Act of Parliament passed in Britain ... in 1913."

William Henry Fitzpatrick b.1891. 40 Westbury Rd., Hoe St.Clerk - mercantile.  NCF Leyton Branch Secretary (1916)   Motivation 'Moral and religious' 
WNI  10.5.16 to 11.9.18 Forestry and market garden work. 
Illness - Developed chronic pulmonary TB 1917, unable to work.

William Ernest Jeanes b.1892. 19, Ritchings Avenue.  Railway Clerk. NCF, Atheist  
Refused to sign army papers. Central Tribunal at Wandsworth MP (Military Prison) 9.8.16
 - judged CO class B. 'unconvincing'. 
NCC (Non-Combatant Corps) (4 Eastern) Stratford, London 9.6.16; 
CM Seaford 19.6.16 - 112 days HL  Maidstone CP
25.9.16 returned to duty from prison and sent on furlough to return when ordered; Transfer to Army Reserve Class W.- HOS (The Home Office Scheme, administered by the Brace Committee) 23.2.17; 28.8.17 at Dartmoor.

Note: Conscience without relogion was a concept seldom recognsied by the tribunals.
15 Stainforth Rd.

Noel Miller b.1896. 15, Stainforth Road.  BSP (British Socialist Party); 'Religion: None',; NCF  
CM Fovant 17.6.16 - 112 days HL Winchester CP 
HOS Oct.1916 Dyce Camp (photo.77); 28.8.17 at Dartmoor

James Mylles b.1880. From Brixton but  'Discharge address,1919' 46, Elmsdale Road, Walthamstow. ILP (Independent Labour Party), Quaker, Absolutist
Absentee, Arrested 12.5.17, Camberwell Police Court 14.5.17
 - fined and handed over,
CM Hounslow 24.5.17 - 112 days HL, Wormwood S.
CM Hounslow 6.9.17 - 2yrs. HL, to Pentonville CP. 
 - to be released April 1919 under two year rule, Discharged 24.4.19.

Henry George Phillips b.1895. 57, Woodlands Rd., Wood St.  Cabinet maker.  Trade unionist - ASC&J; NCF (No-Conscription Fellowship); Atheist.  
NCC (Non-Combatant Corps) (4 Eastern) Seaford 
CM 24.6.16 - 6 months 112 days, Maidstone CP
1.7.16 to HOS - Dyce camp, Aberdeen 23.8.16 - returned to Maidstone 5.9.16 - re-committed. 
CM Coventry 10.11.16 - 112 days HL Wormwood S.; 
CM Dublin 28.2.17 - 2 years HL com.1 yr.
CM (Dublin 10.1.18 - 2 years HL  hard Walton CP, Liverpool, 
Hunger strike 26.7.18 to 4.8.18, force fed 22 times; Preston CP (hunger strike 10.8.18. 
By Jan.1919 had served 4 sentences and more than two years.
Illness - released on health grounds  

Note: "The Non-Combatant Corps is one of the least-known parts of the Conscientious Objector story... Neither one thing nor the other, NCC men had to define their own labour and resistance according to their own moral compass. 
The NCC arose from the Military Service Act which, in [its] provision for Conscientious Objectors to be granted “Exemption from Combatant Service Only”, created a new type of soldier by the thousand - the official non-combatant."


Reginald William Sorenson, 1891-1971. The Pioneers' Hostel, 23, Highbury Place Highbury  NCF (No-Conscription Fellowship); North London Herald LeagueILP (Independent Labour Party); Minister of the Free Christian Church, Walthamstow  Labour Parliamentary Candidate, Southampton, 1923,1924, Elected, West Leyton, 1929. Writings in Liddle Sorenson CO/089 Typescript recollections; CO supporter and anti-war campaigner with NLHL. No evidence of his being called up and becoming a CO. Post-war: Labour MP West Leyton 1921-31, 1935-50, Leyton 1950-64; created life peer 1964. 
 (The database includes supporters of COs as well as those granted or claiming that status.) 
"Reginald Sorenson was not a Conscientious Objector, as his work as a Minister of the Free Christian Church in Walthamstow granted him Absolute Exemption under the Military Service Act. Even though he was exempt, he still felt that Conscription was an injustice. Reginald became an active supporter and campaigner on behalf of Conscientious Objectors as part of the North London Herald League and the Independent Labour Party. As a prominent local pacifist who supported the work of the No-Conscription Fellowship he was often invited to speak at the Herald League's Anti-War meetings. After 1918 he would carry on his pacifism, working as both a peace campaigner and as an MP for seven full terms."    

Note: For the North London Herald League and more opposition to the war, see 'Don't Be a Soldier' by Ken Weller (available online). Don't be a Soldier! The Radical Anti-war Movement in North London, 1914-18, Journeyman Press/London History Workshop Centre, 1985. 

Sent to Dyce Camp (as well as others listed above) - 

George Edmund Oliphant b.1890. 15, Ravenswood Rd. Clerk/WarehousemanIBSA (International Bible Students Association - Jehaovah's Witnesses) 
NCC (Non-Combatant Corps) (4 Eastern) Seaford CM 16.6.16 - 98 days HL 
Maidstone CP - 20.6.16 to HOS, 21.8.16 to Dyce camp, Aberdeen 
13.11.16 been at Longsight, 'now at Warwick'; Dartmoor August 1917

48 Grosvenor Park Rd.
John Augustus Pfeil b.1895. 48 Grosvenor Park Rd. Clerk. IBSA.
NCC Warley barracks, to (4 Eastern) Seaford and (as for Oliphant)
CM 16.6.16 - 6 months HL 98 days HL 
Maidstone CP 21.8.16 to Dyce camp, Aberdeen; 
13.11.16 been at Longsight, now at Warwick; 28.8.17 at Dartmoor.
(The surname suggests a possible German connection here too).

Annie L Rollins
lived here in 1979

Frank Pryer b.1893. 12 Downsfield Rd. Wesleyan; FOR - Dartmoor Branch; NCF
CM Fovant 27.6.16 - 6 months HL com to 112 days 
Winchester CP 3.7.16 discharged 25.8.16
HOS Dyce camp, Aberdeen; Belmont Workhouse 27.1.17
Dartmoor 1917; Brockenhurst 9.7.17; Wakefield.

Examples of WNI (Work of National Importance)/ HOS Alternative work

H G Gresham  Walthamstow Shop Assistant  
WNI 5.7.16 to 19.12.16 Farm and garden work at Claybury Asylum 
- dismissed when Asylum decided not to employ COs 
Dairy farm work, Chigwell; Illness - classed 'CIII' (C3, i.e. far from A1 fitness in military terms).
- offered light work in a Controlled Establishment  
("The Munitions of War Act was passed in 1915 and gave the newly created Ministry of Munitions power to declare factories controlled establishments..").

Note: Unlike Claybury, several asylums did accept COs on WNI; others had COs as patients.

A G Hills  Walthamstow  Stock-keeper, motor driver  
WNI 4.7.16 to 19.9.18 City of London Asylum
(also with) Messrs Maw Son & Sons as engine driver, 
and mechanic at Messrs John Sutton, farmers.

Stafford William High b,1887. 45 Park Avenue  
CM Shoreham, Peas Pottage Camp 8.8.16 - 112days HL  Lewes CP 
HOS 8.9.16 at Denton, Newhaven; 17.1.18 at Knutsford
Friends' War Victims Relief Service, London office   

Arthur Frank Hodby b.1888. 57 Coleridge Rd. Chief of Repairs Dept., Rotax Motor Co.
WNI 19.5.16 to 16.1.17 Found work at British Dyes, July 1916, 
 but unable to find lodgings; growing tomatoes in Chingford. 

116 Beulah Rd.
Bertram T Philpott b.1893. 116 Beulah Rd. Civil service clerk (2nd div.) GPO   
WNI 31.7.16 to 11.9.18 Farm work, Spalding, Lincolnshire.
From Jan.1917 tomato growing at Loughton, Essex; 
5.9.18 left without permission and ordered back. 
49 Beulah Rd.

Percy John L Rolph b.1888. 49, Beulah Rd. ('probable family address') Chief audit clerk, wholesale meat/fish merchants  
WNI 18.1.17 to 13.3.17 Employers argue that he is an 
indispensable worker - to stay where he is. 

Alfred George R Serpell  b.1887. 37 Selborne Rd. Photographer, family business 

WNI 17.5.16 to 20.9.16 Farm work in Devon, at Ilfracombe, then Cullompton; later at Stanford le Hope.
Horace Walter Lerpiniere b.1891. 69, Greenleaf Rd. Ophthalmic optician.
WNI (Pelham) 8.5.16 to 17.10.18 Forestry work near Exeter; In poor health.
Labouring work with Messrs Cadburys from Sept.1917.
Illness - nervous breakdown.

Note: Questions were asked in Parliament about the apparently punitive use of 'alternative work' schemes, with professionally qualified COs often being assigned to manual labour.
Another optician, from Ealing, was assigned to the NCC (see above) and set to loading ammunition before being sent to a work camp. His protests about this, in his own words, can be read in the records of the Middlesex Appeals Tribunal. Unfortunately for researchers, the County Appeal Tribunal for Walthamstow seems to have been Essex, so that the files were destroyed (like almost all others apart from Middlesex and some in Scotland).

And finally, a short military career -

Stanley Thomas Smith b.1888. 37 West End Ave. Leyton  
Court Martial Portsmouth 28.6.16 - 2 yrs.HL 22 month 
Winchester CP (Civil Prison) 16.8.16 transfer to Sussex from Portsmouth
Discharged 6.9.16 - HOS 20.10.16 Denton, Newhaven. 
Note: Work campsi in Sussex are recalled in a 13-minute BBC clip.

1 comment:

  1. As some researchers may already have discovered, the Pearce Register link regrettably no longer connects to the database, but only to an IWM 'holding page'. The latest information is that online access is to be restored in a new form in June. See