We know very little about most of Cardiff’s conscientious objectors (COs) in the First World War. There are just 66 names are to be found in the Pearce Register, the most comprehensive list of men who refused to go to war on religious, ethical, political or social grounds, often with only the sketchiest details of their backgrounds, motivation, tribunal, prison or other records.
In her third blog, Maggie Smales takes a look at those for whom being a conscientious objector was a family affair.
The oldest Cardiff man on the Pearce Register was actually too old in 1916, at 64, to be called up for active service. William Trimnell was a herbalist, originally from Bristol, who had lived in Wales since the 1870s and operated from premises in Roath. Trimnell regularly advertised all kinds of medical potions in the English and Welsh press e.g. Y Celt on 7 November 1884.
Dymuna W. TRIMNELL ddwyn i sylw y cyhoedd yn gyffredinol y ffaith fod ganddo yr ystoc helaethaf o Lysiau Seisnig a Thramor, Gwreiddiau, Rhisgl, Blodau, Hadau, Dail, &c., yn Neheudir Cymru.
(W. TRIMNELL wishes to bring to the attention of the general public the fact that he has the largest stock of English and foreign vegetables, roots, bark, flowers, seeds, leaves, etc., in Southern Wales.)
However, it was for a rather different matter that William Trimnell was brought before Ton Pentre police court on 29 June 1916. He was charged with distributing in Gilfach Goch near Tonyrefail “pernicious literature… likely to prejudice recruiting, training and discipline of His Majesty’s forces”. Citizens of the World, the offending pamphlet, contained proposals for armaments reduction and promoted a world-wide organisation against war.
According to the Rhondda Leader of 17 June 1916, the case was dismissed by the Stipendiary magistrate who declared the pamphlet to be:
“…a thing of shreds and patches true, and a crude attempt to apply its principles internationally. We had gone to war to prevent war in the future, and he did not see anything in the pamphlet likely to influence young men not to recruit.”
Within his own family, Mr Trimnell undoubtedly did influence young men not to recruit. Two of his younger sons, both of whom worked with him in the family business, Henry John (born in 1878) and Abraham Joseph (born in 1888), were conscientious objectors.
Henry Trimnell and Abraham Trimnell may have been considered to need more training, or not fit enough, as they were first posted to 60 Training Reserve Battalion of the Welch Regiment at Kinmel Park, Abergele near Rhyl towards the end of 1916. Here, having refused to serve they were both sentenced on 23 November 1916 to 2 years with hard labour, commuted to 1 year 253 days, in Wormwood Scrubbs. They were both brought before the Central Tribunal on 27 December 1916, and having been found to be “Conscientious Objectors Class A”, both were referred to the Brace Committee for posting to suitable work of national importance.
They may have been absolutists, or perhaps their civilian placements were over-ruled, but both were recalled to the army, to different regiments. Abraham, the younger man, was assigned to the Royal Welsh Fusiliers. The regiment had been sent to Ireland at the end of November 1917, and on 23 July 1918 a court martial in Limerick sentenced Abraham to a further two years of imprisonment with hard labour. Henry was assigned to the Reserve Battalion of the Cheshire Regiment and was court-martialled at Seaton Carew near Hartlepool on 27 June 1918 and was also sentenced to two years with hard labour.
The Pearce Register tells us nothing about the specific motivation for the Trimnell family’s pacifist stance. However, it is likely that there were strong socialist ideals in the family. The local press reveals that the oldest Trimnell daughter, Henrietta, or Hetty (born in 1876), who was something of a bluestocking, was an active member of the Cardiff Labour Church.
The Evening Express in 20 August 1894 reported that:
At the Cardiff Labour Church on Sunday evening an able and interesting paper was read by Miss Trimnell on “The Work on the Labour Church and the New Movement.” Miss Trimnell is a student at the Cardiff University College, and those who know her prophesy a brilliant career for this gifted young lady.
Labour churches provided a stepping stone towards socialism for those who found that the established churches failed to condemn the worst excesses of capitalism.
The Trimnell family were not the only Cardiff family with more than one member on the Pearce Register. Another example were the Dodge cousins, Frank (born in 1889) and William James (born in 1892). Their fathers Samuel and James Richard Dodge were brothers from Crewkerne in Somerset, and had settled in Cardiff and founded a business as hay and corn merchants. Both boys worked for the family firm. Frank Dodge , a married man, was brought before a Military Service Tribunal in Cardiff, who must have found him to be a genuine conscientious objector as he was assigned to work of national importance, which he apparently undertook from 31 July 1916 until 25 April 1917, first farm work, then as a porter on the Great West Railway in Hereford and finally market gardening. William James Dodge, also married, was brought before the same Tribunal and assigned to farm and market garden work between 31 July 1916 and 2 October 1917. We don’t know what happened to them then, but since the distribution of corn and grain was the kind of activity considered to be “in the national interest” presumably they returned to their original trades.