Making a stand: William Trevor Jones of Pontyberem (1901-75)

By Jeffrey Mansfield

Trevor family photo

Trevor with his wife and daughter, Rhinedd

“If the right to life is the first of all human rights, being the one on which all other rights depend, the right to refuse to kill must be the second.”

– Memorial stone to Conscientious Objectors

Temple of Peace, Cardiff

If you were asked to name the people and places associated with the search for peace during the 1930s, you probably wouldn’t mention William Trevor Jones of Pontyberem.

Yet some of the most important players in the peace movement were all guests at the Pontyberem home of William Trevor Jones – coal-miner, Christian, Labour Party activist and conscientious objector (CO) in the Second World War.

George Lansbury, Clement Attlee, Scott Nearing, and Canadian journalist Douglas Carr, all visited Trevor, as he was known.

With kind help from Rhinedd Rees, Trevor’s daughter, and her husband Alban we are able to reveal the hidden history of Trevor’s life and his experiences as a C/O. It is a cameo of industrial south Wales at the time.

Family montage.jpg

Trevor then (left), daughter Rhinedd now, with husband Alban (right)

Early life

A coal-miner at age 14, he joined the Independent Labour Party (ILP) in 1918 after hearing an election speech by local Labour candidate, Dr. Williams. Asked to set up a branch of the ILP, he recruited four other colliers, and was elected Secretary.

He resumed his education by taking adult education classes and almost gained a scholarship to Oxford, failing by only one mark. During 1926 he supported the General Strike and acted as Secretary to the Children’s Distress Committee. When his ILP branch decided to join the (new) Labour Party in 1928, he was elected to Pontyberem Parish Council, on which he served until 1969.

In 1930 he attended Coleg Harlech to continue his education but had to leave after one year and return to Pontyberem after his father was killed in the colliery. He later said that his time at Coleg Harlech had been a great influence on him and made him more capable of service to society.

coleg .jpg

Trevor at Coleg Harlech, highlighted in the bottom row

Between 1934 and 1935, Trevor’s Labour group were active in promoting the Peace Ballot in their region, and he began serving as Trades and Labour Council Secretary.

Though he came from an Anglican family he did not approve of what he felt was a militarist stance by the Church, and on marriage he became a Welsh Independent.

War breaks out

At the outbreak of World War Two in September 1939 Trevor was employed as an Insurance Inspector with the Co-op Insurance Group.

The National Service (Armed Forces) Act was passed into law, requiring all males aged between 18 and 41 to register for military service. Registration was by age group and took a long time, so it wasn’t until June 1941 that 40-year-olds were registering. Trevor’s 40th birthday was on 17th May 1941 – his time to register was imminent.

However, as a committed Christian, he decided to apply to register as a Conscientious Objector (CO) on religious grounds.

The application

His application was received at the Ministry of Labour and National Service in Cardiff on 13th June 1941, just one day before the deadline. The original papers pertaining to his application, kindly provided by Rhinedd, give a fascinating insight into the process.

He begins with a statement of his Christian values:

“As a professed Christian and a humanitarian, I profoundly and conscientiously believe that War, in all its aspects, is in direct contradiction to the Life and Teaching of Jesus Christ.”

He states his conviction that only by following Jesus can Man be liberated:

“The salvation of mankind does not lie in the way of force.”

Finally, he claims his moral right to the dictates of his own conscience and stands:

“On the firm conviction that to me each man is a potential Christ.”

The hearing

His application was heard by the Local Tribunal in Carmarthen on 18th July 1941. We have no record of what was said, but it is known that these hearings could be hostile and often tried to persuade, guide or command the applicants into some form of service.

Interviewed in 1972, Trevor said he was expected to leave his job with the insurance company and go back to the mine. Mining was a ‘reserved occupation’ and miners of his age were exempt from conscription, but he refused to do so because he didn’t believe it was right for him to take another collier’s job, which would have subsequently meant that collier having to join the army instead.

The application was granted and he was registered unconditionally in the Register of Conscientious Objectors, effective 23 July 1941. He said in 1972 that he felt he had ‘got off lightly’ in front of Judge Frank Davies at Caerfyrddin.

Aftermath

Like other COs he encountered rejection. Rhinedd recounts that some people spat on him, and threw stones on the roof when he was addressing meetings. But despite undercurrents of hostility, he had support in his chapel, where there were other COs, and he was elected Deacon. He continued working with the Insurance, which he could not have done had he been shunned. He was even asked to provide references, evidence that he was recognised as a man of conscience.

But the whole experience took its toll: after the war he became less confident and suffered a nervous breakdown, giving up his job as Inspector to become an ordinary Agent.

older trevor.jpg

Trevor in his later years

Final thoughts

The coalfields, the Independent Labour Party, and the religious faith which nurtured Trevor have now either disappeared or are less visible in society. But the courage which he and other COs showed is everlasting and serves as an example to us all.

“Mae Alban, Catrin, Anwen a finnau yn ymfalchio yn fawr ar ei safiad a’i ddewrder ar gyfnod anodd iawn. Roedd yn berson egwyddorol ac roedd yn barod i wrthwynebu anghyfiawnder a chasineb yn erbyn cyd-ddyn.Bu’n driw i’w ddaliadau trwy gydol ei oes.”

-Rhinedd Rees, Hydref 2017

“Alban, Catrin, Anwen and I are very proud of the stand he made and his bravery during a very difficult period. He was a very principled person and was ready to oppose injustice and hatred against his fellow man. He was true to his beliefs throughout his life.”

-Rhinedd Rees, October 2017

Thank you to  Rhinedd for your involvement with this piece and the family photographs.

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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.

 

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.

Cardiff’s Conscientious Objectors: Religion and Politics

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 the second instalment, Maggie Smales looks at the ‘Cardiff’s Conscientious Objectors: Religion and Politics’.

Religion:

Details for most of Cardiff’s COs are sparse, but where the Pearce Register reveals motivation, it is clear that religion, and membership of certain denominations in particular, was the most common.

We can deduce that at least seven of the men were Quakers. The Religious Society of Friends declared its commitment to peace in 1660 and since then has opposed all wars.  Quakers resisted the introduction of conscription in 1916 and many chose to register as conscientious objectors. However most of these Quaker men in Cardiff did choose to join some kind of non-combatant service, feeling this was the quickest way to end the war.

For example, the architect Laurence Angus joined the Friends War Relief Victims Service (FWRVS) as a volunteer at the start of the war and went with them to France in November 1914.  Nonetheless when conscription was introduced, he was brought before the Military Service Tribunal for Dinas Powys and Llandaff in April 1916 but was granted Exemption from Combatant Service conditional on remaining with the FWRVS.  He went on to serve with the FWRVS until the end of the war. Norman Edmunds is reported as hut building in France with the FWRVS from August 1915.

The Christadelphians were another religious group who were committed to pacifism from the time of their foundation in the first half of the nineteenth century.  They avoided activities that are regarded as “of the world” including military service.  Five Christadelphians are identified on the Pearce Register.  Like William Jones, they all accepted work of national importance.  William was actually allowed to stay where he was as manager of the Maypole Dairy (a national chain at the time) in Canton. This was felt to be punishment enough in view of his poor health and the fact that densely populated Canton was not a particularly salubrious area.

There were four men in Cardiff identified as members of the (Plymouth) Brethren, another denomination which refused to carry arms.  Thomas Charles Mason, a furniture packer from 33 Llanfair Road in Canton, was typical.  He joined the Non-Combatant Corps in Cardiff in June 1917 and was finally demobilised in January 1920.

One man whose case was mentioned in the press was Arthur Spurgeon Gage (born 1893), son of a carriage builder, who in the 1911 census was living with his parents in 211 Mackintosh Place in Roath.  Arthur was the Secretary of the Student Christian Movement in Wales, which made him more prominent than many COs, and a local minister, Llewellyn Williams, wrote to Y Cymro on 1 August 1917 to protest:

AT OLYGYDD Y CYMRO.

Annwyl Syr, A fedrwch chwi fforddio ychydig o’ch gofod prin i air ar y paragraff a ganlyn, a ymddangosodd ym mhapurau Caerdydd heddyw-Gorff. 23.

(To the editor of Y Cymro

Dear Sir, Can you afford some of your limited space to air the following paragraph, which appeared in today’s (23 July)  Cardiff papers .)

Arthur S. Gage (24), Welsh Secretary of the Students’ Christian Movement, was charged at Cardiff today with being an absentee under the Military Service Act. Defendant claimed that the law of conscience was above the law of the land, and that was absolutely contrary to the life and teaching of Christ. Defendant was fined £5, and ordered to be handed over to the military.”

The Reverend Williams went on to write about the value and important of the Student Christian Movement and to regret:

Ond y mae’n amlwg fod y gwaith, er ei bwysiced, yn ddibwys ddigon yng ngolwg ein hawdurodau milwrol, ac i bob golwg, y maent o’r farn v bydd egwyl o orffwys yn awyrgylch iachusol Wormwood Scrubbs neu Dartmoor neu Garchar Caernarfon yn llawer mwy o wasanaeth i’r wladwriaeth ar ran Mr Gage na chynorthwyo i Gristioneiddio Colegau Cymru, a gwasanaethu’r Gymdeithas sy’n dipyn o swcwr i’r bechgyn a’r genethod di brofi a sy’n heidio o gysgod a gofal cartrefi i wynebu bywyd coleg a’i beryglon diri.

(But it is clear that the work, important though it is, is trivial in the eyes of our military authorities, and apparently they think that a break in the wholesome atmosphere of Wormwood Scrubbs or Dartmoor or Caernarfon prison will allow Mr Gage to serve the state better than assisting Christianity in the University Colleges and serving a movement which brings succour to inexperienced boys and girls who come from the shelter and care of home to face the countless dangers of college life ‘.)

Arthur had been posted to the Non-Combatant Corps of the Welch Regiment in Oswestry, but refused to go.  He was court-martialled on 4 August 1917 and sentenced to 112 days imprisonment with hard labour in Wormwood Scrubbs.  The following month, the Central Tribunal found him to be a Conscientious Objector class A and at the beginning of November 1917, under the Home Office Scheme, he was sent to Knutsford Work Centre in Cheshire.  Pearce notes that he went on to do postwar work with the Friends War Relief Victims Service.

Politics

A second group of COs were political activists of the left who saw the First World War as an imperialist war and as an example of the ruling classes making a war that the workers had to fight. Nine men on the Pearce Register are identified as being members of the No-Conscription Fellowship (NCF), sometimes in combination with membership of the Independent Labour Party (ILP) and/or the Trades Union Movement.

An example was James Ewart Edwards, born in 1883. The son of a schoolteacher, in the 1911 census he was still living with his family in the schoolhouse in Eglwysilan.  He became a schoolteacher himself and was an NCF member and a trade unionist.  Pearce notes that the Military Service Tribunal in Cardiff awarded him exemption from combatant service only. He was called up and given a medical, but was found to be unfit for military service, transferred to Army Reserve Class W, and allowed to return to his teaching post. He was one of four Cardiff LEA teacher Conscientious Objectors asked to resign by the City Council.

 

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.