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

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