Here’s a very useful resource that I hadn’t come across before. It’s an archive of Welsh newspapers published between 1804 and 1919, which has recently been enlarged by the addition of 27 new publications.
I’ve taken a look through some papers of the War years, to see indications of feelings of dissent. I put the word ‘Conscription’ into the search engine, as one likely to bring reports of controversy, and found evidence of a fierce debate on the subject. The Merthyr Pioneer, for example, is very strongly anti-conscription..
The influence of censorship during the War years is often exaggerated, and the provincial press was much less closely regulated than the London papers.
In Wales, very strong expressions of war scepticism were reported, apparently with impunity.
Here is an example from the Monmouth Guardian of March 1st, 1918. It not only expresses a very strong scepticicsm about the War, but also puts forward a tough socialist challenge to the rich (from which the editor of this Liberal paper thinks it necessary to dissociate himself):
“AN UNPENETRATABLE BARRIER.”
MR. F. W. JOWETT, M.P., AT BARGOED.
On Sunday evening Mr F. W. Jowett, M. P., from Bradford, addressed a large gathering at the Workmen’s Institute, Bargoed, Mr Moses Price being in the chair. Speaking of what he implied as the failure on the Western Front Mr Jowett said that after 3 years of war and all the destruction of life and wealth, they were now no better from a military position than after the battle of the Marne. They were not allowed to know the casualty list, but the latest figures issued for the year 1915 were 850,000, and at the end of 1917 the nations involved in the war, it was said, had lost ten million and there were over fifty million casualties. They were told, year after year, to look forward to victory and, despite offensive after offensive at tremendous cost of life, the break through had not come yet.
He said openly and bluntly that British lives should not be hurled against what the Prime Minister a few months ago called that unpenetrable barrier. If it was an unpenetrable barrier then the country were entitled to ask the Prime Minister and his colleagues why and for what were British lives being wasted to get through an unpenetrable barrier. He said they were approaching, if not famine a very serious shortage of food. The Government instead of anticipating what had taken place, constantly rejected all suggestions by organised labour until these suggestions became belated and could hardly have any effect. The speaker said that the talk of invasion was all a myth and was preached to make them stampede into fear.
He advocated the conscription of wealth on the lines of the Military Service Act. The Military Service Act stated that on and after a certain date all men between the given ages were deemed to have enlisted. He suggested that an Act should now be passed on these lines, that on an appointed date all individuals who had accumulated wealth over and above what that individual could save from his or her earnings from their daily labour should be deemed to be dead for the purpose of levying death duties (laughter and cheers). The present death duties were payable on a 15 per cent. basis, therefore, if this suggestion was adopted it would bring at one swoop into the revenue about £ 900,000,000, but he suggested that the basis should be at 25 per cent. as a start, thus the wealthy would have to pay without impoverishing the poor (applause).
[Mr Jowett cannot by any means be regarded as a rash I.L.P: man, but it is well to remind him and others that his idea of the conscription of wealth aims a blow at the thrifty members of his organisations who have invested their savings in house property to accumulate their capital at the expense of the rent payer. Equally as much as it would to any individual member who may have had a few hundred pounds handed down from their ancestors. Even the funds of the I.L.P. could not be immune to the death duties policy of Jowett because they are not the savings from daily labour.” The average miner would not be affected very much as his savings would be very small from 15s. per day at irregular employment, but the accumulated savings of frequent en- gagements at three, five, or ten guineas a time as perquisites in addition to £400 a year would realise a substantial sum in the course of twelve months.-ED. “B.J.”]