Friday 24 March 1916
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‘I do not appeal on account of my trade but as a conscientious objector’
For the first time, the Tribunals hearing appeals against enlistment were faced with men who declined to serve on grounds of conscience. Some of the exchanges are reproduced here together with an editorial comment and other stories that arose from this. The members of the tribunal were Cllr Thomas Hill (chairman), Cllrs C E Learyod, F F Rhodes, T F Doyle, Mr Ernest Illingworth and Mr J A Burton (representing the military authority). ‘There were 32 cases to be dealt with and of these 22 were conscientious objectors. A large number of the public attended and the accommo- dation of the room in which the Tribunal was held was taxed to its utmost.’ Arthur Emmett, boot machine operator, employed at Windhill Co-op Society, objected to joining the army on conscientious grounds. The chairman: How long have you held these opinions? – For about five years. Have you made your views known to people? – I have not gone about shouting to people but I have been connected with religious work for five years.. What sort? – The Plymouth Brethren. What action would you take supposing we had to be invaded by the Germans and they did with us what they have done with people of Belgium and France? – I do not know. No man knows what he would do under such circumstances. Mr Burton: I suppose you have thought about those countries? – Yes, I have. Navy Has it occurred to you what you would do for your breakfast tomorrow morning if everybody had taken your views? – I am quite confident there would have been no war. Yes but I am asking you under present circumstances, if we had no Navy how would you get your food? – I have never asked for the protection of the Navy. In early days people lived upon the land of this country. I am quite convinced that if we had no Navy we should be able to provide the food that was necessary. My good man, we are not living in the Garden of Eden now we are in the year 1916. You have told the Tribunal that you will take no hand in assisting your country but will remain at home and profit by the labours of those who think differently, who are defending their homes and their country, and profit also by their sacrifices. Do you really tell the Tribunal that? – I have not asked them to sacrifice anything for me. If they did not do so I should take the consequences. Do you think it is right to take up that attitude? You enjoy the advantages but you will not do anything to secure them. – I have taken my stand for the early Christians. Talk about 1916, never mind the early Christians. Do you think our Lord Jesus Christ would tell you to consider yourself? – I am not considering myself, I am considering humanity whom I think I am serving. I would like you to stick to England and Yorkshire and the year 1916. – I was not born in 1916. The world has travelled two generations
A large batch of “conscientious objectors” appeared before the Shipley Tribunal on Wednesday evening and they brought a good many sympathisers with them. It was evident to the careful listener that most of them had been trained for the occasion but even with their statements cut and dried they by no means made a creditable show. One man objected to everything and really did not know what he wanted. Even when the Tribunal granted what he asked for, he observed “I shall appeal against your decision.” With one or two exceptions, these men of conscience had the same tale to tell and their attitude was well summed up by the Military Representative who said they were prepared to remain in England, enjoying all the comforts and privileges they could get, while others were making great sacrifices to maintain those priceless possessions. One man who, singularly enough, is in the Army Pay Office, actually declared that “there is no work in England today that is not either directly or indirectly connected with the war.” Still this same person objected to being connected with the military machine! The truth is that he is ready to render services to the nation provided that he remains in perfect safety in
England, has a good bed, regular meals and receives good wages. What a sensitive conscience and what a patriotic spirit! Conscientious humbug After sitting through the whole business we could not help thinking that here had been much “conscientious humbug.” Men who are determined to escape military service can soon discover that they have extraordinarily sensitive consciences. Those who have a desire to preserve their own skins and spend their lives in comfort and ease need to be constantly reminded that others are pouring out their life’s blood for their country, which is not without its conscientious cowards. We have heard some of these latter profess to be so gentle that they “couldn’t kill a fly.” Poor things! The wonder is they grew up. Wives whose husbands have fought for their country in this supreme crisis in our history and fathers and mothers whose sons are nobly doing their duty in the battle line, will read the paltry excuses of many “conscientious objectors” with feelings of indignation and disgust.
Batch of objectors in Shipley
After hearing that members of Baildon Tribunal had been criticised for some of their decisions, Cllr H Williams, chairman of Baildon District Council, said: ‘The Tribunal has given to public men one of the hardest positions ever created in English public life. ‘The work carries with it the responsibility of life and death and I sometimes think that the powers and duties are scarcely fitted to ordinary civilians. ‘There is no member of the Tribunal but feels the weight of his responsibility. The Tribunal is composed of human beings with human faults. It is open to criticism. I have heard that the decisions of the Tribunal have been criticised very freely and objected to. ‘I am not surprised but I take the opportunity of publicly stating that all the members have sincerely and conscientiously tried to do their best. If they have failed and have made mistakes they can make no apology, except the mere statement that they have done their best.’
Council chairman defends Tribunal
We are not living in the Garden of Eden now we are in the year 1916
Cllr Doyle: Have you the same objection to non-combatant service? – I have, I consider the man who assists is as bad as the man who does it, and the man who helps to murder is guilty of that murder, according to our law. The chairman: It is quite evident you do not wish to help the country at all. – I do wish to help my country and all humanity. Application disallowed. Reserved occupation Fred Rennard, an overlooker at Saltaire Mills, said he knew he could have got exemption by claiming to be in a reserved occupation but his conscience would not allow him to appeal on that ground. He did not believe all that he had read about the atrocities in Belgium. Mr Burton: Would you like to leave the wife whom you recently married to the tender mercies of the Germans? – I am claiming to stop here and look after her. (laughter) By asking her to cook your breakfast and dinner? – Well, I need looking after. Mr Burton: I cannot congratulate your wife! The application was refused. A clerk named G Wm Hodson, in the Army Pay Office at York, said he was a socialist and an internationalist. He believed that war was a big game
Lawrence Daker, woolsorter in the employment of Messrs C.F. Taylor & Co., appeared. He had been conscientiously opposed to war two or three years and this was a time when he had to make his views public. Mr Burton: Do you not think it is bad for your reputation to bring them forward among young men of your own age? – I am proud of my conscientious objections. Regardless of what other people think about them? – Yes. Cllr Rhodes: You only found your conscience when the war started though, did you? – That was the only time it was necessary to mention them. Mr Burton: But where does your objection end? Does it end behind a rifle, a gun, or what? – I refuse to accept military training at any price. I shall not fight at all. Will you accept non-combatant service? – No. There is too much work in that I suppose. – It is against my mind. As soon as my conscience tells me it is time to go and fight, I shall go. Your conscience tells you what you should not do. Does it never prompt you to do what you should do? – Can you prove to me what conscience is? I want you to go and think it out what conscience is. Application refused.
I am proud of my conscientious objections
A bootmaker called Ernest H Brown, in the employ of the Windhill Co-op Society, Ltd., asked for an impartial hearing and added that Cllr Doyle was sitting on the Tribunal with the consent of the I.L.P. because they allowed him to do as his conscience dictated. Cllr Rhodes: It is very kind of you. (laughter) The application was refused.
Impartiality plea
between the ruling classes of each nation, using the people as pawns. The Chairman: Is your work in connection with the Army? – Yes it is. Mr Burton: But it allows you to go about in your own time and go home at night to sleep and not like those men in the trenches who are watching night after night for your benefit. You do not mind your present connection with the Army? – It is a bread and butter question to a certain extent. There is no man without bread and butter today, if he is ready to work for it. – There is no work today which is not directly or indirectly connected with the war. You ask the Tribunal to think that your conscience is so sensitive as to prevent you from joining the Army? – I will not take life or help in the taking of life. Application refused. Francis Charles Perry, a student, who had conscientious objections to taking part in warfare, said he was studying for an examination which would take place about June. The Chairman: Is it a final examination? – Yes, it is for B.A. Mr Burton: Could you not take that at a later date? – No, it would be impossible, I should lose everything I had learnt. It would drive everything out of my head. You think in a short time you would
forget your preparations for it? – I am sure I should. That is a strange value to put upon a university education. It cannot be worth much. Do you not think we are rather pressed in this country just now? – Well, of course, that relates to the other part of my claim. Yes, but the point is whether or not you are serving your country better in getting ready for this degree or whether you are helping the men at the front. – I believe teaching is one of the highest forms of social service. Postponement granted to enable the applicant to take his examination.