Councillor Hopwood (to a conscientious objector at Shaw Tribunal, asking for exemption):
I think you are exploiting God to save your own skin. It is nothing but deliberate and rank blasphemy. A man who would not help to defend his country and womankind is a coward and a cad. You are nothing but a shivering mass of unwholesome fat!
Attempting to explore the background of Rose Allatini’s Despised and Rejected, I spent yesterday in the Special Collections Room at the University of Bradford library, reading through four years’ issues of the Tribunal magazine, the organ of the No-Conscription Fellowship. I take this paper to be the original of the Dove in the novel.
The magazines are fascinating. Each of them is a single sheet folded to make four pages, about quarto size. Issues appeared weekly, and the price was a penny. The early issues especially are packed with information about what was happening at tribunals around the country, and editors relate with ironic glee some of the daftest and most extreme things said by the officials who sat in judgement on conscientious objectors. The opening quotation is a good example. Here are some more:
At Clowne tribunal:
Chairman: Have you read where He went into the Temple with a whip and lashed them all out?
Applicant: But He did not kill them.
Chairman: No, but He probably would have done if he had had a gun.
The Military Representative at Sheffield tribunal said there was only one ground of total exemption at his Tribunal, and that was ‘death’
Chairman: If you are so gone on humanity, are you not willing to raise a finger to help humanity?
Chairman: What are you prepared to do?
Applicant: To agitate for peace at once.
An eighteen-year-old was told he was ‘too young to have convictions so decided or settled as to entitle him to any exemption whatever.’
The paper reports what is happening to C.O.s, including those who were transported to France and threatened with the death sentence. There are stories of brutalities, and also of suicides. Those who produced the magazine saw their role as to publicise everything that was happening, to prepare others for eventualities, and to create a community of solidarity.
One expression of that solidarity was the formation of a choir, who went singing outside Wormwood Scrubs prison, to show the C.O.s inside that they were not alone.
Clifford Allen, a prisoner, wrote about this to the Tribunal in 1917
‘England Arise’, ‘The Red Flag’, ‘Auld lang Syne’, Lead, Kindly Light’, and many other songs and hymns will live in our memories all our lives and be associated with those nights when we stopped our hard labour for a while (or our reading if it was Sunday) and took courage from the knowledge we were not forgotten.
The paper’s line was absolutist, arguing for those who refused non-combatant service or work of national importance, but as the War progresses there are items about how men from Non-Combatant Corps are being transferred to fighting units. In June 1917, for example, there was concern about a move to transfer all ‘A’ category men in the RAMC to the infantry.
The magazines give a vivid picture of the bringing together in wartime of social groups who had previously had very little to do with one another. On the one hand the military, and on the other the nonconformist righteous (whose nonconformity could be expressed in religion or left-wing politics, or a combination of both). The worthies sitting on the tribunals have very little comprehension of those who object to what to them seems obvious, the duty of a man to defend his country, while the applicants are totally unable to accept that they can be ordered to kill others.
As the war progressed, the magazine printed fewer absurd quotations from Tribunal chairmen. Is this because familiarity had blunted the patriotic indignation of the local worthies, or because there had grown an increasing (though unwilling) acceptance of the objectors’ right to express their concerns? The magazine’s headquarters were repeatedly visited by the military, but it was never closed down.
I like this story from late 1917:
Some C.O.s in a military barracks were threatened by their commanding officer with punishment for inciting mutiny. It turned out that some soldiers from the barracks had been sent to a local munitions factory, but had only received soldiers’ pay. At the end of the week they were mocked by the girl employees who had received £2 for the week’s work.
The soldiers consequently sought information from our friends on the subject and next morning refused to go to the munitions factory, and were placed in the guard room.