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.

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