The Centenary of the 1917 Balfour Declaration: Britain, Palestine and Israel

By Jane Harries, Cymdeithas y Cymod peace activist, human rights observer and Wales for Peace Learning Coordinator.

Balfour Declaration WCIA Debate Leaflet Oct 2017

The Marble Hall of the Temple of Peace and Health in Cardiff was packed to overflowing on the evening of 18th October 2017, the air thick with expectation. The Cardiff Branch of the United Nations Association (UNA) had brought together two eminent speakers to talk about the historical context and present consequences of the Balfour Declaration – a document whose centenary is marked today, 2nd November.  It was clear we were in for an interesting evening.

So what was the Balfour Declaration, and why should we remember it today?  Does it have any significance for us in Wales?

The Balfour Declaration is in fact in the form of a letter written by Arthur James Balfour, Foreign Secretary in David Lloyd George’s wartime coalition government, to Lord Rothschild, a leader of the Jewish community in Britain.  The key words are as follows:

‘His Majesty’s government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.’

Balfour_portrait_and_declaration

The first speaker, Avi Shlaim – Jewish historian, Emeritus Professor of International Relations at the University of Oxford and married to the grand-daughter of Lloyd George – started off the evening with a historical analysis.  He defined the Declaration as a typical colonialist act. The British had no moral or legal right to give a ‘national home’ to Jewish people in Palestine, having consulted neither with the Arab leaders, nor the Jews nor the British population. Nor was Palestine theirs to give.

Behind the scenes there were political motives. David Lloyd George wanted Palestine for the British in order to gain influence over the French and because of access to the Suez Canal.  He also wanted to dismember the Ottoman Empire and was willing to engage in double dealing to do so. Overtures were made both to Arab leaders and also to the Zionists, whom Lloyd George regarded as powerful and influential.

Jews had lived scattered across the globe before the First World war but at the end of the 19th century a nationalist Jewish campaign grew up in the form of Zionism, whose aim was to establish a national home for the Jews. Zionism particularly appealed to Lloyd George, steeped as he was in the Biblical passages and hymns of his chapel upbringing. This deep emotional connection may have been one reason why he became influenced by Dr Chaim Weizmann, Zionist Leader in the UK and later first President of Israel. And so Lloyd George’s government bowed to Zionist pressure and issued the Declaration, ignoring other Anglo-Jewish voices at the time, including Edwin Montagu, the only Jew in the cabinet.

Balfour_Declaration_War_Cabinet_minutes_appendix_17_October_1917

The second part of the Declaration is often forgotten – that is that the civil and religious rights of ‘existing non-Jewish communities’ in Palestine (over 90% of the population at the time) should be respected.  The British Mandate in Palestine, issued by the League of Nations in 1923, included a responsibility to implement the Balfour Declaration.  The Mandate was, however, essentially pro-Zionist and led inevitably to the series of events we are familiar with today: the Arab revolt of 1936 – 39, the rise of Zionist terrorist activity against the British and Palestinians, British withdrawal from the region, and the foundation of the State of Israel mirrored by the Palestinian Nakba (= catastrophe, mass migration) in 1948.  The Israeli- Palestinian conflict is one of the most entrenched in the world and continues to blight lives today.  This is particularly true for the Palestinians, who have seen their homeland shrink and their human rights whittled away under a now 50-year military occupation.  Even the area which the British government recognises as a future state for the Palestinian people is now occupied by 700,000 Israeli settlers.

The second speaker, Professor Kamel Hawwash of Birmingham University, Palestinian commentator on the Middle East, explained the consequences of Balfour today.  He outlined the effects of the Israeli Occupation for those living on the West Bank, including loss of land, freedom of movement and livelihood, difficult access to education and health care, and subjugation to continuous harassment and violence.  In the Gaza Strip the population essentially lives in an open prison, deprived of many resources we take for granted, including clean water and proper sewage systems.  He then turned his talk to address an unusual question.  The state of Israel is more or less exactly the same size as Wales.  What would be the situation today if the Balfour Declaration had promised a homeland for the Jewish people in Wales, not in Palestine?  Using parallel maps, he brought this supposition to life, with swathes of Welsh land having been taken up into the State of Israel and Cardiff a divided city.  This helped us to see the Declaration from a different perspective.

As the evening wore on, there was strong feeling from one young member of the audience that the speakers were one-sided; she pleaded to hear the other side.  A student of Atlantic College, it appeared that she had spent a lot of time listening to the arguments of Palestinian and Israeli students living in her house. So what can we say about the Balfour Declaration that is more balanced and even positive?

The Balfour Declaration was of its time – as Avi Shlaim said essentially a colonialist document – so perhaps it should be judged as such.  It feels obvious from the wording of the document that the author was trying to balance what was felt to be a justified case for the Jewish people to have a homeland with the rights of the indigenous population. The problem is that this double-dealing didn’t work out in practice, with both sides seeing the British as compromising their cause.  And are we really justified in thinking that such a declaration or deal couldn’t be made today – for oil, or influence, or post-Brexit trade deals?

Balfour Palestine Mandate

It is true that Jews have been persecuted over centuries, including in pogroms in the late 19th and early 20th century. In a humanitarian global society, we surely would applaud the attempt to offer a safe haven for the persecuted, and the Balfour Declaration can be seen as such. What wasn’t foreseen, however, was that those persecuted may turn persecutors in their turn and deprive the indigenous population of their rights. What would the authors of the Declaration today say to the descendants of the 750,000 Palestinians forced to flee their homes in 1948 – and some again in 1967 –  many still living in refugee camps across the Middle East?

Balfour - West_Bank_&_Gaza_Map_2007_(Settlements)

Theresa May has talked about her ‘pride’ in the Balfour Declaration and in the creation of the State of Israel, a key ally for Britain in the Middle East.  Whilst rejoicing that persecuted Jews, including Holocaust survivors, found a homeland in Palestine, what do we feel about the plight of the dispossessed? Theresa May’s current government supports a 2-state solution in principle. What does the perpetuation of a military occupation do to the soul and psyche of the Occupier? Surely a conflict that is allowed to go on for so long cannot bring good for either side.

The Balfour Declaration is not a document that people know much about in the UK.  In Palestine it is part of everyone’s awareness – generally recognised as the starting point from which everything began to unravel, leading to a continuous process of dispossession which continues today.  To illustrate this point let me take you back to an August evening in East Jerusalem in 2012. At the time I was serving as a human rights observer on the West Bank and that evening we were called to an incident in Silwan. When we arrived we realised that the cause of the problem was seemingly small: an Israeli settler had parked his car in the middle of the road, preventing people from moving up or down. It was however Ramadan, and just before the breaking of the fast, and tempers get frayed. As we started talking to local residents and the Israeli armed police who had inevitably arrived, the expected question came: “Where are you from?” “Britain”, we said. “Ah, Balfour!” the local resident retorted – and went off into a tirade. The good thing was that once this had blown over he started joking with us, and the tension was released. The settler moved the car, and the incident passed off without any repercussions. This was not a lone incident, however. I have lost count how many times I have had to apologise for Balfour on the West Bank.

Bearing everything in mind how do we, the present generation, view the Balfour Declaration?  On the positive side, we can see it as an attempt to be balanced and to provide safety and security for persecuted Jews. It certainly was instrumental in the events leading to the creation of the modern State of Israel.  It can also be seen as an essentially political deal – an attempt to favour those who were believed to have influence whilst paying lip-service to the Arab leaders. It is hard to avoid the reality however, that the Declaration set off a string of events in the region which still have repercussions today, resulting in one of the world’s most intransigent conflicts and spelling death, dispossession and poverty for thousands.

Balfour-Israel-Palestine_peace.svg

The Israeli Palestinian Peace Process

Some sources:

The Balfour Declaration – Wikipedia: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Balfour_Declaration

The Balfour Declaration – New Statesman, a more critical view: https://www.newstatesman.com/books/2010/08/arab-palestine-jewish-rights

The Balfour Project  – Lloyd George –  critical view of Lloyd George’s part in the Declaration: http://www.balfourproject.org/lloyd-george/

Avi Schlaim: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Avi_Shlaim

What is Wales had been offered as a Jewish Homeland – Middle East eye> http://www.middleeasteye.net/columns/what-if-wales-had-been-offered-jews-homeland-palestine-zionist-israel-526573400

Article on Theresa May’s stance – Independent: http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/balfour-declaration-israel-palestine-theresa-may-government-centenary-arabs-jewish-settlements-a7607491.html

Chaim Weizmann: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chaim_Weizmann

Palestine – Israel: Effects of Occupation – an educational pack (from the US): http://www.palestineinformation.org/dig_deep

Jane Harries’ blog from Palestine: https://janeharries.wordpress.com 

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Storytelling for Wales for Peace: Ann Pettitt

By Vivian Mayo

Welsh men and women from all backgrounds have gone on to achieve great things. Many of these people became famous by their activities in the First and Second World War; whereas others made a name for themselves in sport, music and architecture, which can be seen in so many buildings around the country. The names of these individuals have been immortalised through engravings in walls and buildings, their stories can be retrieved on the internet or heard in school, colleges and universities.

There is one fascinating story in the history of Wales which hit some headlines in the early 1980s. The Greenham Common camp and the champion of this campaign was a woman called Ann Pettitt. The interesting thing about this story, is how it started and who was behind idea and how that sharing made a difference. A young woman by then, she inspired other young women in her surroundings and turned her ideas to be a massive protest which spread nationally.

The saga of this campaign began with the news in 1979 which suggested that the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (Nato) decided to base cruise missiles at Greenham and missiles were to arrive in Britain from the United States. Ann was inspired by a march which had taken place in Copenhagen and decided to embark on a 120 mile walk from Cardiff to Berkshire airbase with a group of women. Her sharing just sparked and became the exodus of that protest.

Ann Pettitt

The scale of Greenham campaign attracted support and groups merged from around the country and letters were written to prisons where women were imprisoned for trespass or other surrealist crimes such as breaching the peace. Letters linked with women’s peace groups and sister camps set up in the wake of Greenham, in Britain and internationally, including the missile ‘defence’ base in in some part of Britain. It is suggested that the letter writing was a symbolic too, from the open letters to base commanders and local townspeople to the handwritten newsletters and the personal networking that started from Greenham.

Ann Pettitt can be remembered as an inspirational leader, who influenced friends and women around her, as well as energising and creating a sense of direction and purpose. The idea attracted a group of forty women and from there, this women campaign group was organised successfully. Their voices were raised against the arrival of a cruise with missiles in 1981 and that action will never be forgotten in the history of Wales and Britain. The impressive thing of this story is the strength of the protest became and the resilience from this group of women. The march was long and lots of things happened on the way: they were harassed by police, received some abusive threats from members of the public and were called by all sort of names. However the group remained unwavered, determined to finish their course. And the most inspiring thing about this, is the leadership quality and the vision of Ann, a young woman. Truly real tells us that a vision can be persuaded from anywhere around our social spaces. But how sad it is that in so many cases see a vision just sit on it.

I am convinced that if Ann didn’t have the courage to share that idea, this historic event could have never be done or taken place. By then Ann Pettitt was 19 years old and a mother to a young baby, but that didn’t stop her from taking an action against something that she didn’t like. She found the idea of nuclear arms coming to the country very disturbing and together with other women thought of made their concern known to the society. And that led women of all ages to this historical campaign. Ann now runs a tile business from her home in West Wales and doesn’t oppose nuclear power outright but suggest that she’d do it all again if something make her angry enough.  Unfortunately there is no image of Ann on her own in that event.

 

Those Marvellous Women: Welsh Women’s Petition For Peace

By Gwenllian Jones

Following the death of thousands of men in the First World War, families and communities were in despair and in need of new hope. This came in the form of a social revolution for peace.

War destroyed the fundamental role women had adopted in Welsh society. The traditional roles as mothers, wives, sisters and daughters were invaluable to Welsh communities; however without sons, husbands, brothers and fathers, women lost the significance of the relationships they had with one another. Women in the interwar period adopted the role of peace pilgrims in Wales, as Welsh women sought to deflect the possibility of another great war to protect future generations from the destruction that war created.

Welsh women’s contribution to peace has been examined by pioneers of women’s writing in Wales by the likes of Katrina Gass and Sydna Williams. Examining the contribution women made to peace campaigns in Wales will not only offer new discussions on women in Wales but also challenge conventional ideas that women were not politically or socially active. The position and role of women in Wales has often been overlooked, neglected or downplayed.  A key contribution, often an overlooked campaign, that represented how women in Wales did indeed offer much of their support for the overall fight for peace was the American peace petition and memorial. This petition and memorial was an attempt to appeal to the women of America to plead the American government to join the League of Nations.

The petition was first discussed at the Welsh school of social service in Llandrindod Wells in August 1922. A national conference in Aberystwyth in May, 1923, proposed that the women of Wales had more to offer in their roles as peace pilgrims in Wales and were given the opportunity to take charge of collecting names, forming a committee, creating the memorial, to take the petition and memorial to America and present to Government officials and the American president Calvin Coolidge.

Mrs Peter Hughes Griffiths

Courtesy of Bangor Archives

The Welsh council of the League of Nations was founded in 1922, with financial support from the MP David Davis and led by the Reverend Gwilym Davis. Many men from Wales, derived from non-conformist areas, did not desire to fight in the Great War and because of this certain areas in Wales became known as pacifist regions. These men such as the poet Gwenallt desired to create a Welsh council that fought for peace rather than war, in which case the Welsh council of League of Nations gained mass support within Wales. Within three years of its formation, the League of Nations ‘boasted’ a membership of 31,299 with 571 branches in Wales and Monmouthshire. Following the proposal’s made to the women of Wales, the League of Nations fully supported the women’s claim to create a petition and memorial that would appeal to an international nation and collaborate the campaigns of men and women’s organisations and guilds.
To successfully complete the process, a women’s executive committee was created with twenty members including Mrs Hughes Griffiths as president, Mrs Huw Pritchard as organiser of North Wales and Miss E.Poole as organiser in South Wales. A form was created in both Welsh and English and given to each house and farm in Wales. In total the petition was signed by 390,296 women in Wales and Monmouthshire, representing 60% of the female population in Wales.
A script was created for the memorial and was written by Cicely West. The script highlighted the key reasons why women in Wales desired peace through emphasising the connection already made with America through Henry Richard and Elihu Burritt. Another key emphasis and also significant to highlight were how the women portrayed themselves as women who were not motivated politically. The key reasons why the women of Wales campaigned for peace were their concern for the future of civilisation to live in a warless world, to create humanitarian measures for trafficked women and children and to monitor the trade of opium and any other drugs. The repetition of the women emphasising the already connection between America and Wales and emphasis on a warless world highlights how determined these women were to portray themselves as peace pilgrims protecting the next generation from another Great War.

“Our constant hope and prayer is that our message may contribute something towards the realisation of the proud heritage of a warless world.”

On the 19th February 1924, a delegation consisting of Mrs Hughes Griffiths, Miss Elined Prys and Miss Mary Ellis left for America on the White Starliner Cedric from Liverpool with the memorial and petition. The women arrived in New York and were greeted by the welcoming committee of the United Association of American Women with Mrs James Lees Laidlaw as chairman. In total the welcoming committee were four hundred to five hundred women from America and represented the voices of twenty thousand American women in total. In New York, Mrs Peter Hughes Griffiths gave a speech on the origin, nature and purpose of the memorial and petition. The following day the women were taken to Washington for a second presentation of the memorial and petition in order to meet president Calvin Coolidge, other government officials, the Committee of the World Court, the National League of Women Voters and the National Council for the Prevention of War. The Annual Report of the League of Nations in Wales stated in 1924 that the women, addressed their audience in saying “our constant hope and prayer is that our message may contribute something towards the realisation of the proud heritage of a warless world.”
Many national and local newspapers reported on the campaign, ranging from areas such as Belfast and Aberdeen. The Belfast newspaper reported that the script was “regarded as the finest pieces of manuscript written in modern times”, additionally “the first time in history that the women of one country have presented a memorial to the women of another country”. The reports indicate how significant this form of campaigning from women in Wales meant to the league of Nations and to women’s organisations across Wales and Britain.

A game of cat & mouse: military challenges to the Home Office Scheme

In this final section of Maggie Smales‘ substantial research into Cardiff’s conscientious objectors, the author reveals the legal battles faced by Cardiff COs.

In March 1917, Philip Snowdon again raised the case of a Cardiff CO in the House of Commons.  Sydney Goodman from 62 Whitchurch Road was a Congregationalist deacon and lay reader who had been offered exemption from military service in May 1916 on condition that he accepted work of national importance.  However, at the end of December 1916 after some months working as a farm labourer, Sydney was suddenly arrested as an absentee, kept in cells for a few days and then handed over to the Training Reserve Battalion at Kinmel Park near Rhyl.  Here he was court-martialled on 19 February 1917 and sentenced to 2 years imprisonment with hard labour.

Hansard notes on 20 March 1917:

Mr SNOWDEN asked the Under-Secretary of State for War if he will order the immediate release of Sydney Goodman, at present detained at the guard room No 7 Camp, Kinmel Park who, while working on a farm at Bridgend, Glamorgan, and holding a certificate of exemption so long as he remained at that work, was illegally arrested on 30 December, and, after irregular proceedings at the Police Court, was handed over to the military authority, and having subsequently refused to obey military orders, has been court-martialled and sentenced to two years’ hard labour; and will he say what action he proposes to take with respect to the conduct of the military representative in committing this illegal act of arrest?

Sydney Goodman was far from being the only CO who was consigned to “work of national importance” and then had the decision over-ruled by the military authorities.  A long-running case was that of Henry Thomas, a Cardiff University student of Mount Street, Merthyr, who refused call up. His case went to-and-fro between Merthyr and the King’s Bench (the High Court) several times in the autumn of 1917 and the spring of 1918.

The Merthyr Stipendiary magistrate, Mr R. A. Griffiths, summed up the case in September 1917:

Defendant was tried at Merthyr 23 May 1916 as an absentee, when he was fined 40s and handed over to the military authorities. Whether one sympathises with his conscientious scruples or not it must be admitted that from first to last defendant has shown the courage of his convictions. There can be no doubt that his abhorrence to slaughter is deep and abiding. I am satisfied that no amount of discipline or hard treatment would ever make a soldier of him. Shortly after joining the colours he was court-martialled for his opinions and sentenced to six months imprisonment.

(Whilst serving his sentence Henry Thomas was called before the Central Tribunal at Wormwood Scrubbs)

Defendant appeared before the Central Tribunal and was found to be a Conscientious Objector; was transferred to Class W, Army Reserve, and was placed under the Home Office Scheme […] In pursuance of this arrangement he worked at Warwick, Lyme Regis and Dartmoor. On the 25th May last (ie 1917) a sub-agent at Dartmoor came to him and, without giving any reason, told him to go home. He returned to Merthyr Tydfil, where he has remained ever since.

On the 29 May a notice was sent to him recalling him to the colours. Having regard to this notice he was arrested by the Merthyr Police at the instance of the military, and brought before this court on a charge of being an absentee. There was no evidence before me – nor was it ever alleged – that the defendant had failed to comply with the conditions laid down by the Home Office Committee.

On the facts which I have just recapitulated, […] I came to the conclusion (on 19 June 1917) that the defendant – to quote the words of the letter of 24th August (1916) – had ceased to be subject to military discipline and the Army Act.” I, therefore, decided that he was not an absentee. […]

The Pioneer of 11 May 1918 takes up the story:

Henry Thomas, as some of our readers will readily recall, is a Merthyr CO who accepted work under the Home Office Scheme. He worked in various centres, including Lyme Regis, where, it is alleged by the Home Office Committee and denied by Thomas, he and some fellow C0’s jeered at some wounded soldiers. He was transferred to the Dartmoor Centre I from where he was sent home by the sub-agent, who in reply to Thomas’ question as to the reason for being sent home, notified defendant that he could give no reason.

Thomas was subsequently arrested as an absentee and brought before the Merthyr Stipendiary (Mr R. A. Griffiths) who refused to convict on the ground that the terms of the circular letter issued by the Committee to Thomas whilst serving his sentence in Cardiff was a contract removing Thomas from the army, conditional upon the Central Tribunal finding, as they did in fact find, that Thomas is a genuine conscientious objector, and his undertaking work of national importance under the scheme.

The prosecution appealed against this finding and the case was sent back by the Law Lords for rehearing. The rehearing resulted in a similar decision in Merthyr, and again an appeal was made to the High Court, where it came up for hearing on Thursday, April 25th, and was again remitted for rehearing.

Tantalisingly, the Pearce Register does not tell us how this story ended.

 

 

The ill-treatment of Cardiff’s conscientious objectors

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.

A family affair: Cardiff’s conscientious objectors

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.

Who were Cardiff’s First World War Conscientious Objectors?

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.

Over the next five days, a different blog will be published to offer an insight into the lives of these men who have remained out of the spotlight. In this first instalment, Maggie Smales looks at the ‘Cardiff’s Conscientious Objectors: the Young and the Old‘.

From the Register we can deduce that most COs were single men in their early to mid-twenties. The youngest for whom we have a date of birth (18 August 1900) was a grocer’s assistant called Bertie Crocker, who lived in 7 Glamorgan Street in Canton and was a Baptist.  When Bertie was eighteen years old he was called up to the Royal Welsh Fusiliers. He refused to sign his army papers and was court-martialled in Cardiff on 16 September 1918 and sentenced to 6 months hard labour in Wormwood Scrubbs.  He went in front of the Central Military Tribunal in Wormwood Scrubbs on 4 December 1918, almost a month after Armistice Day.  Here he was finally accepted as a ‘Conscientious Objector Class A’ and was referred to the Brace Committee Home Office Scheme which organised work of ‘national importance’ for men who were found to have a ‘genuine’ conscientious objection.  On 13 December 1918 Bertie was transferred to Army Reserve Class W for men ‘whose services are deemed to be more valuable to the country in civil rather than military employment’ and he was sent to work on Dartmoor.

One of the oldest men to refuse call up was a Mr T Stephens, who was 44 in 1918, married and a foreman in a flour mill.  He went before Glamorgan County Military Service Tribunal and in October 1918 it was decided that in view of ‘his age, domestic circumstances and his trade’ he should be allowed to stay where he was. Mr Stephens worked for Cardiff and Channel Mills, owned by the Spillers company; at least one other conscientious objector, a furniture salesman called Mr GS Lavers, was also directed to work there by the Military Service Tribunal in May 1917, as this was considered to be work of ‘national importance’.

Another man in his early 40s when he was called up was Walter Sirrell.  Born in Hereford in 1876, by the time of the 1911 census Walter was living in Cardiff at 110 City Road with his wife and three children all under the age of 10.  His occupation was given as ‘Shopkeeper, Tailor and Outfitter’.  At some point he had also lived in Llandrindod and so his arrest caused interest in the district.  The Brecon and Radnor Express reported on 13 June 1918:

‘Mr Walter Sirrell, formerly of Llandrindod Wells, has been arrested at Cardiff as an absentee under the Military Service Act, and has for two weeks been a prisoner in gaol. He has refused all Army service as a conscientious objector. He is 42 years of age, married, and several children. During his residence at Llandrindod Wells he was manager of Mr C. M. Binyon’s outfitting business, and he was for some years Hon. Secretary of the United Temperance Society, a teacher in the Friends’ Sunday School, and a Christian Endeavourer.’

There was even a short notice in Y Cymro on 20 June 1918:

‘Yn y carchar y mae Mr Walter Sirrell, gynt o Landrindod, am ei fod yn gwrthod gwneud dim gyda ‘r fyddin am ei fod yn wrthwynebwr cydwybodol.’

(Mr Walter Tirrell, formerly of Llandrindod, is in prison for having refused to have anything to do with the war and for being a conscientious objector.)

After about a month in prison he went before the military tribunal in Cardiff on 3 July 1918 and was sentenced to six months hard labour in Wormwood Scrubbs.  Six weeks later, the Central Tribunal at Wormwood found him to be Conscientious Objectors Class A and referred him to the Brace Committee.  However he was clearly an absolutist who refused any form of alternative service, as the next reference to him in the Pearce Register is that he was serving a sentence to Cardiff Civil Prison in May 1919, six months after the end of the war.