Sunday, 21 December 2014

Seeking Absolute Exemption in WW1: a Case from Acton

Carter, Percival Charles.                St. Mary’s Villa, Beaumont Road, Acton Green.  Chiswick, W.
Extracts and information from Central Military Service Tribunal and Middlesex Appeal Tribunal: Minutes and Papers, Case Number: M167 (

Work Centre,
Jan. 21st 1918
To        The Chairman,
 Middlesex Appeal Tribunal
  Middlesex Guildhall
   Westminster, S.W.
Re. Appeal of Percival Charles Carter, of St. Mary’s Villa, Beaumont Road, Acton W. which was made March 1916. I was represented by Mr. Holford Knight. Military Representative, Capt. Bax.
I notice in the House of Lords ,on Dec. 4th, 1917, the following statement was made by Lord Curzon:
“It is intended that a letter is to be written to the L.G.B. [Local Government Board] by the War Office. It having been represented that there are at the present moment serving (or deemed to be) in the Army a certain number of men who would have been given absolute exemption by the Tribunals had such Tribunals been aware that they had power to give absolute exemption, the Army Council would be grateful if the L.G.B. could see their way to circularising the Tribunals asking whether such as been the case, and  if so, the names of any men who would have received absolute exemption may be forwarded to the War Office for their consideration.”
In view of this statement I am appealing to send my name to the Army Council as one of these men. You will please note that the Military Representative (Capt. Bax) appealed to the Chairman to hold the case over and await instructions from the L.G.B. as to whether or no a Conscientious Objector could be granted “absolute exemption”, seeing the Chairman admitted I was  a Genuine Objector. This can be verrified [sic] by the Daily News & Leader for the following day (of which I have a copy), which appeared with a report of the case under the heading “A Genuine Objector”.
With this point in view, I ask you to forward my name as one of those entitled to Absolute Exemption, to Army Council.
I remain,
Yours faithfully,
Percival C. Carter
In his Notice of Appeal, dated March 13th 1916, from the decision of the Local (Acton) Tribunal, Percy Carter had given his occupation as Compositor (Printer of Engineers’ Specifications) and explained “Grounds on which appeal made”:
Because the decision of the Local Tribunal did not grant me what I asked for namely absolute exemption (as provided for conscientious objection in the Act).
All my life I have had a true conscientious objection to war & all forms of military service. Have lived a consistant [sic] [with this belief] life.
I Believe [war] to be contrary to the teaching of Christ.
I Believe in sacredness of human life.
I Believe in the Brotherhood of Man and have put it into practise  [sic].   
Have suffered in the past for the cause I believe in. Have lost employment, friends, and resigned from a Church because of the war fever that existed there. My employment is on private work and I could not conscientiously take up war work.

Reasons for the decision of the Local Tribunal
                Not sufficient reasons given to justify Local Tribunal granting exemption except from combatant service only even if they had power to do so.

Leave to appeal [To Central Tribunal] refused.
27 March 1916

Evidence given to Local Tribunal [Typescript:]
I apply for absolute exemption - Because the Military Service act provides for Cases of Conscientious Objectors. I have a  Conscientious Objection to all forms of Military Service, ether in producing, using or becoming part of the Military Machine.
I believed in the Sacredness of human life – not since the war began, but since I have been able to think for myself.
What is Conscience, Mr. Chairman ? A combination of Forces, namely, Spirit, Soul, Reason, Sense, Vitality, Matter, otherwise Life.
My life and principles have always been to live at peace with all men. I have suffered for the cause I believe in During the war I have been discharged from 2 situations (because it was hinted to me my place was in the army). I was out of employment for a month (and if I were still out, nothing would induce me to sell my conscience by joining the army). I suffered for Conscience Sake, when if I had chosen the other path I might have been on munitions. I eventually took a place in a country village in Cambs.
But the way opened for me some months ago and I accepted the situation in which I have been ever since. I started there when it was not a Controlled Establishment. But some time after the Government stepped in. It has been suggested to me that I might go on shell making. But my reply was and will remain the same that when requested to change my work from private work to army work, I would rather leave the job.
In Church Life I have suffered also for Conscience sake. After having been connected with one in Acton all my life, until a few months ago, I felt it right to resign, because in my opinion own soul I could not square the teaching of Christ with the war fever that existed there. It meant much to me to have to leave that Church, a loss of friends, etc.
The question that confronts me is – “Choose ye this day whom ye will serve, the God of Love or the God of War.”
I take my stand in what I believe in. “By their works ye shall know them.”
For this reason, Mr. Chairman, I apply for absolute exemption – Because I believe in the sacredness of human life, and that war is contrary to the teaching of Jesus Christ.
And because no man can serve two masters.
For Conscience sake I cannot sell my Soul at the bidding of any  other person or persons, but will stand firm for what I believe to be right, fearing no man, nor even death.
I have lived and worked for the cause I love and as[k] the Tribunal to adjudicate upon my case in the true Spirit of the Act.
P. C. Carter

Carter’s absolutist position was explicit when, aged 20, he made his original application, dated 23rd February 1916:
Because War is against the teaching of Jesus Christ  I claim absolute exemption since I cannot conscientiously undertake non-combatant military service nor can I assent to my normal occupation being made a conditional [/condition of – unclear] exemption as this would convert my work into an acknowledged contribution to the organisation of a nation when at war.

This resulted in the predictable “Exemption granted from combatant service only”, the decision endorsed by the Appeal Tribunal. Attempting to proceed to the next stage, PCC applied for leave to appeal to the Central Committee (already refused, as noted above):
... In this case, at both the local and the Middlesex Appeal Tribunal it was  found that I was a bona fide conscientious objector, and although the Military Representative at this hearing was willing that the decision should stand over till the decision in the test case at the Central Tribunal had been given, the Chairman peremptorily, and without assigning any reason, refused leave to appeal, and dismissed the application.
It is humbly pointed out that the Act of Parliament specially provides for the total exemption of a conscientious Objector and that the matter is of so much importance that it should be argued before the Central Tribunal .I enclose a typed copy of a report of the case which appeared in one of the London Papers.
30th March 1916

Copy of report in a London Daily
[as provided to the Tribunal, typed, by Percival Carter]
“An important case raising the question of the legal position of the conscientious objector under the Military Service Act came before the Middlesex Appeal Tribunal yesterday.”
Mr. Holford Knight, who appeared for the appellant, Percival Carter, of Acton, said that no question of fact was involved, as the appellant had been found to be a conscientious objector by the Acton Local Tribunal. The only question related to the proper effect to be given to that finding, and as the Military Service Act provided that exemption could be absolute, he claimed that complete exemption which the statute allowed for, but which the Local Tribunal, owing to a misapprehension of the Military Service Act, had decided was not open to them to grant to the appellant.”
The Chairman, after hearing appellant, said the Court were satisfied that he was a conscientious objector.”
Mr. Knight. That being so, I claim the complete exemption the Act provides.
Captain Bax (the Military Representative) – This important point as to whether complete exemption can be granted to a conscientious objector is involved in a case pending before the Central Tribunal. As the decision will naturally bind this Tribunal, perhaps the case could stand over.
[Typescript  page 2, misfiled before the preceding section:-]
The Chairman – The Appeal is dismissed.
Mr. Knight [representing Carter] – With great respect, I press the desirability of postponing this case until the point is decided by  the Central Tribunal.
The Chairman – Next Case.
Mr. Knight – I apply for leave to appeal as provided by the regulations.
Chairman – Refused.
Mr. Knight – On what grounds?
Chairman – Next Case.
Mr. Knight – A representation on this case must be made in another quarter.

Any such representation evidently did not succeed, according to the entry for PCC on the Pearce database (early version):
Transfer to Army Reserve Class W 1.11.16; 13.10.16 to 3.8.17 Roadmaking at Newhaven; 24.8.17,  26.10.17 Dartmoor; 25.1.18, 26.4.18 Knutsford; 29.5.18, 26.7.18, 25.10.18. Exceptional employment under Home Office Scheme.

This shows that he was still not at liberty at least until late 1918, following the no more successful appeal to the Tribunal in January that year (first letter above).

  [Letter – clearly in a standard reply format, with details added:-]
2nd February 1918.
 Dear Sir,
In reply to your letter of the 21st Jan asking that your case may be re-heard by the Appeal Tribunal, I beg to inform you that at their meeting on the 31st ult they decided not to grant your request.
Yours faithfully,

Mr. P.C.Carter,
Work Centre, Knutsford,

The most flagrant injustice arose from the wilful refusal of most of those bodies [Tribunals] ever to grant the absolute exemption which alone satisfied the conscience of most objectors [...] The point was clarified in the Local Government Board circular of 3 February [1916], which  [...] made clear that ‘there may be exceptional cases in which the genuine convictions and the circumstances of the man are such that neither exemption from combatant service nor a conditional exemption will adequately meet the case. Absolute exemption can be granted in these cases if the Tribunals are fully satisfied of the facts.’
This was clear enough, and if Tribunals ad acted on these instructions almost all of the misery and scandal that was to follow would never have happened.
                                                                 - David Boulton, Objection Overruled (2014) pp.125-126

Thursday, 4 December 2014

From Ealing to Dyce and Dartmoor: a Third Man in the Picture

(Ealing’s Conscientious Objectors: Case Study No. 6)
Bromberger, Frederick Cole         10, Sutherland Road       West Ealing

When Oscar Ricketts and Alfred Evans, reprieved from their death sentences but landed with 10 years’ hard labour, had been returned from France, they were sent with other Conscientious Objectors transferred from prison to Dyce camp, near Aberdeen, set up in August 1916 as a first work centre for COs. Among their companions in this phase of their ordeal was a former fellow-resident of Ealing, Frederick Cole Bromberger, who was later to proceed to Dartmoor work camp under the Home Office Scheme, as they did.

Conditions at Dyce were such as to make it appear like an alternative death sentence, and for one unfortunate individual it was no less. In March 2014 the BBC, quoting an Aberdeen University historian, Joyce Walker, gave an account of his story:

Extracts from: World War One: The labour camp for peace protesters  - 

Other conchies were sent to the camp at Dyce, situated on a windswept hillside, which is now used as a long-stay car park for Aberdeen airport. They lived in army surplus tents that leaked in the rain and worked smashing granite in the nearby quarry. "The men slept on straw paliases (mattresses) on the ground and they were not permitted to build up with stones or wood to get off the bare ground. So it was very cold and when it was wet, they were on a hill, so the water just ran straight down through their tents."
One of the men in the camp was 20-year-old Walter Roberts, from Bredbury near Stockport, who had refused military service saying he was a Christian who had always renounced violence. Roberts had already been weakened by months in prison when he was sent to the camp. He died from pneumonia on 8 September, five days after his arrival. A Home Office delegation, including some MPs, was rapidly dispatched to Dyce and shown around the camp by the inmates."
"A month later, on 19 October, there was a big debate in parliament about it and at the end of the debate the chairman of the Home Office committee that had come up, a chap called William Brace MP, announced suddenly that the camp was closing. They had decided it would cost too much to make the necessary adjustments, repairs, and arrangements and it would close. The camp closed at the end of October."

Roberts had written home: "All these fellows here are exceedingly kind and are looking after me...”

Bromberger is second from left at the back in the group photograph of 15 men in front of a pile of stones at Dyce. The name stands out in the caption provided by David Boulton (Objection Overruled, 2014, opp. frontispiece)  among the British-looking surnames of most of the others, and may have got him into bother even before he became a ‘conchie’, given the wartime hostility to anything perceived as German. According to the 1911 census, however, he and his immediate family – parents and two older sisters – were all London born. All their given names were more or less English-sounding, except perhaps for "Rosa". His father was described as a ‘Manufacturers Agent Dry Goods’; one sister at 21 was a Commercial Traveller while the other, aged 17 was an Apprentice; Frederick at 15 was still at school. In 1916 he was 21, single, and his occupation was as clerk to a firm of chartered accountants in Victoria Street, London.

Extracts and information from Central Military Service Tribunal and Middlesex Appeal Tribunal: Minutes and Papers, Case Number: M322. (
Notice of Appeal. (2) Grounds on which appeal made:
See letter attached hereto.
  [letter] Dear Sirs,
The Local Tribunal of Ealing having refused  me exemption from the provisions of the Military Service Act, I am now appealing against their decision, as I have a very strong conscientious objection to the undertaking of military duties.
My firm belief is that warfare is contrary both to the spirit & teaching of –Our Lord & Master Jesus Christ  for this dispensation of grace, and therefore I cannot as a follower of the Lord participate in that which he has condemned [..:]
The Christian must hold to the principles of the blood-shed (that of Christ  on Calvary) and not  to those of blood-shedding, for true Christianity consists in the willingness to sacrifice life as a martyr rather than saving it in killing others. Hence I feel bound in loyalty to the King of Kings to have nothing to do with the war whatever.
My conversion was brought about some seven or eight years ago, but not having any occasion to think seriously upon this question of warfare, my convictions have been formed since the outbreak of war. To the best of my knowledge, I became definitely settled upon this matter in September 1914.
I am enclosing testimonials to the sincerity of my views [...]
Yours respectfully,
Fredk . Bromberger
The mention of conversion, together with the surname, may suggest that his background was Jewish, but this is not otherwise indicated in the records. He was clearly no half-hearted  or ‘convenience’ convert in any case; in addition to being able to give chapter and verse (literally – multiple scriptural references) for his beliefs, the testimonials he provided confirmed his zeal in the Christian cause as he saw it.
One of these, handwritten, is from “Arthur S. Booth-Clibborn, Minister of Religion, Late President of the Continental Christian Mission, Son-in-law of the late General William Booth [founder of the Salvation Army]” who stated that he had known Frederick Bromberger personally for more than three years: 
“I certify him to be absolutely sincere in the  conscientious objection[s] he is making to taking any part in warfare, and to their having been held by him as a true Christian and a worker for Christ.”
A second, typed on headed paper and dated 16th March 1916, is signed by solicitor J.H. Mundell, who likewise certifies that he has known F B for a similar length of time and been “associated with him in Christian work in London”. He explains that the applicant’s failure to appear at the Local Tribunal hearing in Ealing was due to a mistake – he was waiting in another room in the Town Hall where different hearings (probably for exemption on other than conscientious grounds, or for "attested" men) were being heard and did not hear his name called.
This had no doubt counted against him:
Reasons for the decision of the Local Tribunal
                The appellant in this case was asked to attend before the Tribunal on the 16th inst, and his name was called in the waiting room three times, but no answer was forthcoming. The Tribunal rejected his claim in his absence after having had the grounds read to them.
It transpired after that section of the Tribunal which had his case before them had concluded its sitting, that the appellant had been attending as a member of the public in another part of the building where the other section of the Tribunal were sitting.
The Military Representative made no observation on this case.
{Signed 18-3-16]
The original application was dated 22nd February 1916, when FCB gave his age as 20 years 10 months. It was made “on the ground of a conscientious objection to the undertaking of military duties” and was accompanied by a letter similar to, though longer than that sent to the Appeal  Tribunal (above).
... I wish to make it quite plain that I object on no other ground than that of what I believe to be  the clear teaching of the Word of God.
... I am quite willing to serve my country through God, while not able to do so apart from Him.
... I have come to  the conclusion after much prayer, that I cannot undertake any duties of a military character – that is work, which is definitely military or which supplies military needs.
The Appeal Tribunal did not endorse the local rejection of the claim, but as usual would only allow it up to a point.
For Appeal Tribunal:
Decision exemption from Combatant Service.
Leave to appeal [To Central Tribunal] refused.
3 Apr 1916
For FCB this was of course not good enough.
10 Sutherland Ave.
West Ealing
To the County of Middlesex Appeal Tribunal
Dear Sirs,
As your decision on Monday the 3rd inst. to grant me non-combatant service does not  in any way meets my convictions in the matter, I am applying to you for permission to appeal to the Central Tribunal. I have no wish whatever to embarrass the authorities in any way, but I must obey God rather than Man...
He followed this the next day with another completed appeal form, with rewritten grounds:
(i) Non-combatancy forms part of the system by which the Nation wages war against her enemies & as such I feel bound in simple obedience to God to have nothing to do with it.
(ii) It is unscriptural to put oneself under the absolute control of another, for this would compel action, whether Christian or not. Daniel 316-18 & 7-10, and Acts 527-29.

The reply was brief and final, leaving no further conscientious option, short of going on the run, but to await arrest:
7th April 1916  
Dear Sir,
Referring to your application for leave to appeal to the Central Tribunal, I beg to inform you that this application was made at the hearing, and refused.
            Yours faithfully                                                                          
for Joint-Secretaries.