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.

1 comment:

  1. New post on Aberdeen Protest blog, March 2018: -
    Dyce Conscientious Objectors Camp Committee (1916)
    March 19, 2018 by aberdeenprotest
    "Dyce Camp was set up in August 1916 to house around 250 conscientious objectors who had been in prison for refusing to fight in World War One. The men were put to work breaking up granite rock for use in road building. The camp was tented, with basic facilities, and soon after arriving one man died of pneumonia. After a public outcry and a debate in Parliament, the camp was closed down in October.
    "The men quickly formed into the Dyce Quarry Camp Committee, who campaigned about their conditions in the camp, stating that the camp was not in readiness to receive, and that there was a major lack of medical attention. To publicise their campaign the Committee published their own news-sheet, The Granite Echo, edited and published by one of the Committee, Guy Aldred (1886 – 1963). Aldred, was an author and publisher (The Bakunin Press), and an anarchist communist. He lived in Glasgow, was part of the Glasgow anarchists, and wrote and edited numerous anarchist periodicals and pamphlets.
    "Related entries: World War Two conscientious objectors."
    References: The Granite Echo: Organ of the Dyce C.O.’s (2 issues 1916, issue 1 sourced online) and Dyce Work Camp, Conscientious Objectors and Public Opinion in North-East Scotland 1916: A Documentary History (Joyce Walker, 2011).
    Sources: The Granite Echo: Organ of the Dyce C.O.’s (2 issues 1916) (British Library)