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 this fourth installment, Maggie Smales takes a look at those who faced ill-treatment for their behaviour and beliefs.
Ill-treatment by the authorities was the common lot of conscientious objectors. Several of the Cardiff men on the Pearce Register were the subject of questions in the House of Commons. On 10 August 1916, Hansard records that:
Mr SNOWDEN [Labour MP for Blackburn] asked the Secretary of State for War if he will have steps taken to put a stop to the torturing of conscientious objectors by the military at Buttrell Camp, Barry, where two resisters, named Dan Edwards and John Woolcock, are being handcuffed and dragged about a field, kicked, and picks tied about their shoulders, and are being given repeated sentences of detention by the commanding officer, who refuses their demand to be tried by court-martial, the instructions given to the soldiers who assault these men being that they must be tamed here and not allowed to go to a civil prison?
Dan Edwards was from Cardiff and John Woolcock a coal merchant from Cwmavon.
On 19 June 1917 the Labour MP for Whitehaven questioned the circumstances surrounding the death of John Llewelyn Evans of Strathnairn Street in Roath. A Baptist and a member of the No-Conscription Fellowship, John had been called up in June 1916.
T RICHARDSON asked […] whether John Llewellyn Evans, of Cardiff, a conscientious objector, was sentenced to 112 days’ hard labour on the 24th June 1916; whether, in spite of known ill-health, he was passed by the prison doctor as fit for navvying; whether, owing to subsequent exposure and hard conditions, he contracted consumption and died on Whit-Sunday last; whether he is aware that prior to his arrest Mr Evans had never suffered a day’s illness, and was in perfectly sound health; and will he cause inquiries to be made as to who is responsible for this man’s death?
The SECRETARY Of STATE for the HOME DEPARTMENT .[…] Evans was sentenced, as stated, and, in September 1916, having been certified fit for hard labour by the medical officer of Cardiff Prison, he was sent by the Committee on Employment of Conscientious Objectors to work on a road near Newhaven. In March 1917, he was reported to be suffering from chronic bronchial catarrh and general debility, and was accordingly transferred to Wakefield Work Centre, where he was under the charge of an experienced medical officer. In April he was reported to be consumptive, and as soon as the necessary arrangements could be made he was sent to his home in the care of his mother. The War Office were then asked to consider the question of his discharge from the Army, but before the necessary medical examination could be made by the military authorities his death on Whit-Sunday was notified by his father.
It appears clear that his death was due to consumption, and I do not think there is any ground for further inquiry.