Monday, 29 September 2014

COMING SHORTLY: Alternative War Heroes 1916

The “Harwich Frenchmen”* from Ealing

Two of the men (starred names) in this picture had addresses in the (present-day) London Borough of Ealing at the time of their arrest:

Alfred William Evans of 26 Endsleigh Road, Southall


Oscar Gristwood Ricketts of 73 Mayfield Avenue, West Ealing

More details to follow of their part in the story of opposition to the First World War.

* Picture and caption from Objection Overruled: Conscription and Conscience in the First World War, by David Boulton, Dent, Cumbria, Dales Historical Monographs in Association with Friends Historical Society, 2014: p. xxxvii Profiles of the 35 ‘Frenchmen’: The Harwich 12. [In an evident slip of transcription from the Pearce Register of British COs, Ricketts' middle name is given as Greenwood instead of Gristwood.]

Wednesday, 3 September 2014

Another Appeal against Conscription, 1916-1918

by Alfred William Evans, Conscientious Objector (more on his story later too).

Excerpts from Central Military Service Tribunal and Middlesex Appeal Tribunal: Minutes and Papers, Case Number: M56. (National Archives

Handwriting on front of file: JONES, ALFRED WILLIAM
Notice of Appeal. (Received) 6-3-16. (2) Grounds on which appeal made: I am a Conscientious Objector and absolutely refuse to take the Military Oath. I consider it inconsistent with the doctrines of Christ and absolutely abhorrent and although I am willing to perform R.A.M.C. [Royal Army Medical Corps] work for which I was recommended by the Local Tribunal I cannot do so under the Military Oath. (Signed: A.W. Evans). [Aged 20]

Reasons for the decision of the Local (Southall-Norwood) Tribunal
Applicant had offered his services for the RAMC and was still willing to undertake that service.   [4-3-16]
Appeal dismissed 21/3/16
Reasons in support of the Application
            Religious and Moral convictions.
I absolutely refuse to take human life as I consider it inconsistent with the doctrines of Christ.
I firmly believe in the Fatherhood of God, and the Brotherhood of Man, and as God gave me my life I have no right to take it, still less indeed that of a fellow man.
I cannot take the Military Oath.
Signed: A. W. Evans   Feb. 21st 1916.
Decision of the Tribunal: Exemption from combatant service only. F [as a CO]. The Tribunal recommend that Applicant be put in the R.A.M.C.             1/3/16
15-3-16 Appeal to be heard 21st March, Guildhall.  23-3-16 Decision that the Appeal be dismissed. 

CONSCIENTIOUS OBJECTORS. HC Deb 01 August 1916 vol 85 cc10-210

Winchester military prison
§10. Sir W. BYLES  asked the Secretary of State for War whether a young apprentice named Alfred Evans, a conscientious objector under the Military Service Act, was called up on 25th April, was sent to Felixstowe, where he refused to obey military orders, was sentenced to twenty-eight days' imprisonment, and confined in Harwich Circular Redoubt; whether, after serving one week, he was sent to France, where, still refusing to obey military orders, as they were opposed to his moral and religious principles, he suffered various penalties, including extension drill; whether, on 24th June, he was court-martialled and sentenced to death, the sentence afterwards being commuted to ten years' penal servitude; whether he was brought to Winchester on 13th July and his parents visited him on 18th July, having some conversation with him through the double grille; whether he had, in ignorance of the rules, incurred a further penalty by speaking to a fellow conscientious objector and had been given solitary confinement; whether he is aware of the effect of the experience of the past few months on these lads, who are intelligent, clean-living fellows whose only offence is their devotion to their God and refusal to take part in the destruction of human life; whether he and his companions now in Winchester Gaol are to be sent to Portland Convict Prison; and whether, in view of the Prime Minister's pledge that the men who are held to be genuine conscientious objectors will be released from the civil prison on their undertaking to perform work of national importance under civil control, and that all the men whose objection to active military service is founded on honest conviction ought to be and will be able to avail themselves of the exemption which Parliament has provided, he proposes to take any action in the matter?

§Mr. FORSTER [replied] In view of the fact that this case will be considered by the Central Tribunal, no action in the matter is necessary.

24-4-18. Letter: Southall Trades & Labour Council to the Middlesex Appeal Tribunal.
[Alfred Evans was living in Southall at the time of his arrest; his workplace, or at least his employers' address, was in central London]

In view of the facts that Tribunals have now been asked to forward the names of persons who would have been given absolute exemption had the Tribunal realised it lay in their power, I am directed by the above Council representing approximately 2,000 Trades Unionists to forward the following resolution.
That this Council calls upon the Appeal Tribunal to reconsider the case of Alfred William Evans, a C.O. who has suffered various terms of imprisonment in this Country, also sentenced to Death n France and now undergoing a  term of imprisonment in Maidstone Gaol.  We Demand that this same be immediately forwarded to the Local Government Board, furthermore that all papers be obtained from the Local Tribunal who states that this case has passed out of their jurisdiction; also that this Council and the Parents be notified Date and Time of hearing, so that representatives may be the present on behalf of the above.           
[Signed by Secretary]

See also (for multiple references to Alfred Evans, indexed): We Will Not Fight:  the untold story of World War One’s conscientious objectors, by Will Ellsworth-Jones, London, Aurum, 2008; and -references and quotes.

Monday, 1 September 2014

Appeal against Conscription, 1916

... and denunciation of war,
by Oscar Gristwood Ricketts, Conscientious Objector (more on his story later).

Under the Military Service Act which was made law on 27th January 1916 and became operational on 10th February, all single men aged between 18 and 40 became liable for combatant or ‘alternative’ military service unless they could prove grounds for exemption.
Excerpts from Central Military Service Tribunal and Middlesex Appeal Tribunal: Minutes and Papers, Case Number: M561. (National Archives
Date of Application: February 11th 1916.  “I object on (1) Moral Grounds  (2) Religious Grounds “      Application refused 28/2/16          
8-3-16 Notice of Appeal. (2) Grounds on which appeal made:
My Appeal to the Local Tribunal on Monday, Feb. 28th –16, received disgusting treatment which was based solely & entirely on bias & prejudice. The Tribunal did not only not apparently understand my views, but was disrespectfully unwilling to have them explained or perhaps, to be “bothered” with them.
            I wish now to state fully and comprehensively my objections to participation in any form of Military Service whatsoever.  I claim absolute  exemption from any & every branch of Military Service. My objection to war is a conscientious objection based on (1) Religious  grounds and (2) Moral grounds.
Combatant Service
Religious  Grounds . I belong to no religious  denomination,  but my religion is a profound belief and acceptance of the teachings of Christ, whose teachings are only comprehensible to me when I think of their root and formulation as being  peace and love.
[Continued] Christ  recognised that no matter what the circumstances may be, a man must be consistent, and permit his convictions only, to weigh, as against his interests. He plainly said that -: “Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap”, so that if a man overcomes his “enemy” by violence , he cannot expect to “reap” peace, since he has sown the seeds of, and indeed even staked his future on, violence. Violence meeting violence can only conceivably breed violence, for the same reason that two natural processes, whether working in harmony or independently, can only possibly produce something natural.
Therefore having allotted my life to a definite pursuance of love & peace, I cannot take any man’s life, or assist somebody else to kill another man. Nor can I possibly allow any kind of circumstances to interrupt or molest the very sacred views which are my spiritual life.
Moral Grounds
War is to me clearly and definitely immoral. That two persons, on failing to agree on a certain point, should immediately commence and endeavour to maim, and even butcher and kill one another, is wholly repulsive to me. I am filled with utter repugnance when I realise that men offer as a means of settling their conflicting opinions, such repellent & forbidding devices as those wich are embodied in warfare. How can one, with reason, temper one’s mind with the idea that individuals  are doing a right and justifiable thing, when they proceed to hack & mutilate the bodies of their fellow creatures?  Such an idea affords me not the slightest reflection that it is even possibly or comparatively moral. I am a vegetarian, and the same feeling of repulsion which flesh eating would inspire in me, is only corroborative evidence of that nauseous feeling, which is inherent in my mind and whole being, and which dictates my repugnance to war. I could not do this thing.
Non-Combatant Service
If I consented to undertake Non-Combatant Service I should be yielding my principles  & beliefs up to a huge compromise , & this I flatly & absolutely refuse to do.  I could not satisfy myself morally, if I assisted any person so to remedy & prepare his broken health  that he might take up again those heinous weapons which do but dislocate & confuse the body. I could not total up those guilty columns of figures, which would be to me but the equivalent of so many tons of shells for the destruction of more bodies. I could not mine-sweep, & so facilitate  the passage of some vessel carrying thousands of “guillotines” destined for the slaughter of many many lives. These things I cannot do.
            I would, then, carefully remind you, that war in any of its phases, is repulsive and revolutionary to my nature and whole being. It carries with it the greatest sting which I could possibly be called upon to encounter. That sting must not wound my principles and conscientious beliefs. So strongly do I hold these convictions, that, although I may suffer because of them – should your decision be an adverse one – I am fully prepared to take any consequences, however  rigorous, indeed, I must take the consequences, as my conscience permits of no alternative. I should like to say that I have held these views since being able to form an opinion of my own. For the last four years I have led, comparatively, a hermit’s life, my business only, drawing me into the midst of the public. This fact may help you to realise the cause and ardency of my views.
(Signed) O G Ricketts [aged 21 at the time] 1st March 1916)
4-3-16 Notice of Appeal           Reasons for the decision of the Local [Ealing] Tribunal
Appellant stated that he belonged to no religious denomination, that “he had his own soul to save and no one elses [sic]”, and that he objected to all kinds of military service.  

As it appeared to the Tribunal that as appellant’s position was as consistent with a growing desire not to fight or assist in any way the prosecution of the War as with the development of conscientious objections, the application was rejected.  [6-3-16] 

Exempted from Combatant Service.  20-3-16

This sort of hasty scribble sealed many fates:

21-3-16  (letter: “form sent 22-3”) beg leave to appeal against decision of 20/3 [on grounds]: (1) That the Appeal Tribunal negatived my case without giving any reasons whatsoever, for so doing. 
22-3-16 Notice of Decision: from Combatant Service only     

conscientious objection to combatant service has been established.”
23-3-16 Notice of Appeal to Central Tribunal.
I appeal on the following grounds
(1) That the Appeal Tribunal grievously misunderstood me, & dealt most improperly with my appeal. My Statements were negatived without any satisfactory reasons being given for so doing.  (2) That my case was fully established & proved conclusively my claim to absolute exemption.  (3) That exemption from Combatant Service only means nothing at all to a conscientious objector, who cannot take part in any branch of military service.  (4) That my convictions are such that I really believe myself to be doing the greatest service to the State, in filtering amongst my fellow men a generous conception of human brotherhood.
(5) That my conscientious beliefs are irrefutable, except by those who are given such unlawful power, by which they claim and use the right to destroy those, who are unable to think like themselves. I am appealing for a full and proper recognition of what I believe is right.  # (6) I ask for that full and only true justice, which will allow me my individual rights, & will give to me that freedom of conscience, which is the just due of every person.
27-3-16 “This is not in my opinion a case which warrants any leave to appeal.”
Important question of principle involved                     No
Special reason why appeal should be allowed              No
April 18th 1916 [Grounds for appeal for a variation of his Certificate].

That the Appeal Tribunal has recognised my conscientious objection to military service, although it granted a Certificate of exemption from combatant service  only. I now appeal for a variation of this Certificate, since my religious & moral convictions are such that I cannot undertake any form of military service. I can never, therefore, accept non-combatant service , which is directly opposed to my conscience. 
The only work I can conscientiously perform is some work of national importance, which would be consistent with my principles & convictions. I have had a little experience of poultry rearing and some branches of farming.  (Signed) O G Ricketts. 18th April.

Supporting statement, application for variation of certificate:
(1) That I conscientiously object to war which is repulsive to my nature and whole being. War involves a surrender of the Christian ideal and a denial of human brotherhood. It is an evil for the destruction of which the world is longing; but freedom from the scourge of war will only be brought about through the  faithfulness of individuals to their inmost convictions under the guidance of the Spirit of Christ.
(2) That my religious & moral convictions are such that I cannot undertake any form of military service whatsoever  
(3) That my present certificate of exemption, from combatant service only, is impossible for me to accept] because I refuse to compromise my principles. 
(4) That I can conscientiously perform such work as is not based upon, designed for, organised for, or consequent upon, war, but which is exclusively identified as a peaceful occupation, and recognised as a normal and unexceptional employment.
The Local Tribunal declined to consider the application for a review [...], the application for exemption having been finally disposed of by the District Tribunal. 
Moreover [...] even if valid they could exercise a discretion not to consider the application, as they were of the opinion that it was made merely for the purpose of gaining time...
26-4-16 Appeal to be heard 1st May, Guildhall.
Handwriting on back of file: “This is the man who was arrestedand “The application  is valid and should have been considered - ? does an appeal lie?”  

  From Hansard (Parliamentary Debates) online:
CONSCIENTIOUS OBJECTORS.  HC Deb 10 May 1916 vol 82 cc646-50 646 § 28.

Sir W. BYLES asked how many young men are now in military prisons and suffering privations and punishments for conscience sake?
Mr. TENNANT: This information is not in possession of the War Office.

Sir W. BYLES  asked the Under-Secretary for War whether he is aware that Oscar Gristwood Ricketts, a conscientious objector to military service, was arrested, charged at Brentford Police Court, fined two guineas, and handed over to the military authorities, and that in conveying him to Felixstowe they exposed him to the shame of being handcuffed in the public streets and railways; whether he is now in the Harwich circular redoubt, confined to a cell, and his only food dry biscuits and water; whether this young man has resigned a good post in a city bank and offered himself for any work of national importance that is consistent with his religious and moral convictions; and whether he proposes to take any action in the matter?

Mr. TENNANT [replying to this and others] I am going to make an appeal to my hon. Friends, and to Members in all quarters of the House, not to press me for answers to these and similar questions involving inquiries into the cases of individuals. The labour involved in procuring answers to such inquiries is enormous [...].

Mr. OUTHWAITE: Will the right hon. Gentleman grant facilities to Members to make personal inquiry into the conditions to which these men are being subjected, so that they can find out the facts for themselves?

Mr. TENNANT: I am asking the House not to believe all this tittle-tattle.