Tuesday, 20 January 2015

A Clear-Sighted Optician: "War neither sensible nor satisfactory"

Ealing’s Conscientious Objectors continued
Another Non-Religious Application, 1916-18

Alfred George Melhuish of 68 Meadvale Road, Ealing. Occupation: Optician

Excerpts from Central Military Service Tribunal and Middlesex Appeal Tribunal: Minutes and Papers, Case Number: M5524. (National Archives)

The description for this record states –
Grounds of Appeal:
D: On the ground that serious hardship would ensure [misprint for ensue] if the man were called up for Army service, owing to his exceptional financial or business obligations or domestic position.
F: On the ground of a conscientious objection to the undertaking of combatant service.
Although those were the grounds for the original claim by Melhuish for exemption under the Military Service Act, the first appeal to the Middlesex Tribunal encountered in this set of documents was made, unusually, by the National Service Representative (NSR), and its aim was not to extend the exemption but to withdraw the modification of it which had been granted earlier.
NOTICE OF APPEAL       N.S.R., Town Hall, Ealing, 7th June 1918
(2) Grounds on which appeal made:
That when the case was last presented to the Tribunal the full facts of the position were not disclosed, and that it is improbable that the certificate exempting him from combatant service only would have been varied had it been known at the time that he was an Absentee who had absconded from the Dartmoor Work Centre; and that the said certificate should be withdrawn.
NSR Allowed                 [signed and date-stamped] 12 SEP 1918
Certificate  withdrawn
Return to Non Combatant Corp                  
 [different signature, date hand-written]  D. A. Griffin   June 17th/18

NOTICE OF APPEAL [against the above decision] BY MELHUISH         Date-stamped 2 JUL 1918
(2) Grounds on which appeal made:
That the decision of the Local Tribunal withdrawing the certificate of conditional exemption granted on Feb 25th was made without proper consideration of the facts and the grounds of the appeal by the N.S.M. [sic] were irregular and based upon regulations not contained within the Acts. M.S.A. [Military Service Acts]1916-18.
A. G. Melhuish .
dismiss                 [not signed or dated]
Certificate  of exemption granted by L Tribunal withdrawn
Case fully heard
A NOTICE OF DECISION confirming the above is dated 20 SEP 1918
 [Typescript, separate page] 
Mr. A. G. Melhuish. Age 32  C1 [fitness, in military terms] _8 [68] Meadvale Rd., Ealing
            When the case was presented to the Tribunal on the last occasion, it was not disclosed that Melhuish was an Absentee who had absconded from Dartmoor Work Centre.  Had this fact been known, the Tribunal would not have considered the case at all.
            The certificate of exemption from Military duties was therefore withdrawn, and a fresh Certificate issued in the form previously granted to Melhuish, exempting him from combatant service only.
D. A. Griffin

As a married man, Melhuish was liable for conscription under the second Military Service Act and came before the Ealing Tribunal in summer 1916, which was after the introduction of the questionnaire requiring a detailed account of the basis for conscientious objection.
His answers included [his spelling and punctuation]:-
(1) The use of physical force is diametrically opposed to those fundamental laws which govern & determine the progress of all mankind, therefore I cannot conscienciously deliberately train myself for the purpose of taking aggressive action against those with who I have no quarrel, & with whom I do not desire to quarrel.
(2) I have no objection to combatant service of a character which does not conflict with my conscienctious convictions, but I hold the conviction that the duties should be such as I am qualified to perform.
(3) The question whether a cause is just would not be determined by physical force. Physical Force, would only decide which opponent were the strongest or best equipped & and the victor may be right or wrong. Justice when armed is blindfolded  & as we have abolished physical force in our national & domestic life, & submit instead our disputes to arbitration & reason, so I hold that International disputes should at the beginning, e settled by the same process.
(5) a. [Have held these views] For at least 12 years.
      b. My [illegible] and attitude towards all conflict, is known to many people, but I alone am responsible for interpreting & obeying the dictates of my conscience, & I alone accept responsibility for its inspiration.
(6) Not of any orthodox religious body.
...         Have been for many years, opposed to the use of physical force between nations, as I do not consider this method of settling international disputes, as being either sensible or satisfactory. In support of my attitude I submit the following.
In 1907, I represented Brentford Labour Organisations at the International Peace Conference held in London [in] May of that year.
1914 (Jan) I refused a position, under a large publicity & advertising department, which entailed a lecture tour for purpose of popularising the Army.
About 1913 I spoke, at a meeting in Victoria Hall, Ealing (The Mayor Councillor Eden? in the Chair) against War & in favour of international arbitration.
8 (d) For the purpose of aquiring further knowledge & skill in my proffession, to meet the demand for increased efficiency which may arise after the war, I have recently commenced a course of studies at the Northampton Institute, which would suffer serious interruption.
That the delicate health of my wife [expecting their second child], who has no relatives near at hand, & the fact that my son is at an age when a father’s control & guidance are most essential, are factors which should be considered in relation to my claim.
I submit that the foregoing considerations should weigh with the Tribunal when deciding whether it is in the national interest that I should be taken from a sphere of activity for which I am qualified, & transferred to an occupation for which I possess no ability or enthusiasm.
I am perfectly willing that my services should be used in the interests of the State, in any sphere where the duties do not conflict with my sincere conscienctious convictions, but I do suggest that the position should be one for which my previous experience & training qualify me.

The original application, dated June 8th 1916 and amplified by the above answers (hand-written in duplicate, hence a few copying errors)  to the form sent to him on 9th June, resulted in exemption from combatant service (ECS), notified in a letter of 20 June. (Melhuish had asked for, under grounds F, “absolute exemption from combatant service”, and under D, “temporary exemption from other service under military control”). He did not appeal against this decision, but evidently was not fully aware of what he was letting himself in for.

After 8 months service in the Non-Combatant Corps – i.e. in the spring of 197 – he was writing to the Central Tribunal from The Settlement, Princetown, Devon, one of the work camps for COs, many of them “absolutists” (from whom Melhuish sought to distance himself, a distinction lost on the army in view of his refusal to obey an order) under the Home Office Scheme:-
I claim that the military have not honourably observed the conditions of my exemption – as I was forced to refuse ammunition work, have suffered imprisonment, & been placed upon this Scheme & forced to work with those who apparently have no desire to serve the state in any way.
[Complains of withdrawal of Civil Liability Allowance, causing hardship to wife and family.]
I voluntarily surrendered my claim to total exemption & offered to continue my work as a qualified optician within the army. Notwithstanding this I was placed in the NCC & did not realise that loading ammunition was work which the Tribunal could recognise as reconcilable with a conscientious objection.
Trusting you will be able to assist me to obtain consideration of my case...

He had written on 10 January 1917, before his court martial at Lewes on the 20th (according to Pearce), asking for the papers relating to his original application, using YMCA notepaper supplied for “HM forces on Active Service” and headed “For God, For King & For Country”, giving his address as The Guardroom, 100th Canadian Battln., South Camp, Seaford, Sussex, and signing as Pte. 2125 A. G. Melhuish, NCC, Eastern Company.  The papers were sent to him.

The reply from the Central Tribunal, dated 29 May 1917, was unhelpful, stating that it had no jurisdiction over the allowance and no power to consider revision of  exemption certificates. He accordingly went back as directed to the Local Tribunal. 
After a preliminary enquiry and reminder, he wrote on 9th July 1917:
... I claim a revision of my certificate No, 679 dated June 23rd 1916 on the ground that the conditions have not been satisfied or observed by the Military Authorities.
The Tribunal will be aware that the evidence brought forward by me, entitled me to total exemption as obtainable within the Military Service Act.
In offering me service in the R.A.M.C. & granting me a Non Combatant Certificate the Tribunal were misinformed as to the conditions of service in the said Corps & the endeavour to convert the Non Combatant Corp into a branch of the A.S.C. is obviously a contravention of the terms & conditions under which I express my willingness to become part of the Military Organisation.
It does not appear to me that the Tribunal could possibly accept Munition loading as being reconcilable with a claim to exemption on conscientious grounds.
The Central Tribunal had also communicated with Ealing – which had tried to pass the buck back – confirming that it was up to them to respond to Melhuish.  This followed an exchange of information about the case (in February 1917) when the Military Representative supplied a report concluding:
“that Melhuish was genuine in his Conscientious objection, and would have willingly carried out medical or optical services – he being a practical optician before being called up.
            From the first Melhuish did not exhibit that refusal to serve in any way which was adopted by the general run of those claiming to be Conscientious objectors.”
On 31st July Melhuish wrote a brief note requesting an early reply to his application for a review of his certificate of exemption. On  4th September the clerk of the Ealing Tribunal wrote telling him that the application had been considered at a meeting the evening before, and that the Tribunal “could not see their way to accede to” his request. At some time in late 1917 he appears to have gone AWOL (absent without leave) or “absconded” from Princetown.
In the new year, on 10th January 1918, he was writing from his home address in Ealing:
... I beg to inform you that I have now left the employment under the jurisdiction of the H.O. Committee and I now propose, failing a satisfactory settlement of my case, to contest the attitude of the Ealing Tribunal... I am of opinion that my position this last year has resulted from the mal-administration of the relatives [relevant] clauses of the M.S. Acts by the Tribunal, probably  owing to the fact that the L.G.B. [Local Government Board] circular R97 of Aug. 25th was not to hand at the time of my application on June 23...
 and 6 days later his persistence had got a result:
I am advised by Mr. Walter Davies NSR, that you have kindly consented to my bringing an application before the Tribunal...
In answer to his question as to whether he would have to appear in person, he was told he need only re-submit an application, and was sent a form for this purpose which he duly completed, with a restatement of his claims and standpoint.
Reasons in support of the application          
A non-combatant Certificate is not recognised in the Army Optical Corps, and the Non Combatant Corp is now expected to load ammunition, which I consider as being essentially a part of combatant warfare.
In the event they informed him on 29th January that they declined to alter their previous decision but sent him a letter “for presentation to the Committee on Work of National Importance” indicating some sympathy for and recognition of his position. A month later, after some exchanges with that Committee, the news was better.
[Letter dated 26 February]
I beg to inform you that at a Meeting of the Ealing Local Tribunal held last evening it was Resolved to withdraw the Certificate of exemption from Combatant Service which you now hold and to issue to you a Certificate of exemption from Military Service, with a condition attached that you shall engage on work of National Importance...

Melhuish returned his Certificate of exemption for replacement as instructed, thanking the Tribunal “for a decision which I trust will prove satisfactory to all parties.” His release from the army was under way – at least until the appeal brought by the same NSR (National Service, or Military, Representative) who had played a part in facilitating his application for the certificate’s review.


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  2. Intriguingly, the latest Hazel Holt (Death Is A Word, 2014 – sadly the last, we are told, in the Sheila Malory detective series) has a couple of references to an optician called Melhuish (p.33, 139) and also a mention of First World War pacifism/conscientious objection (p.12).