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.

Albert E Rudall

By Seren O’Brian

Albert Rudall is the only Newport man mentioned on a commemorative stone in Tavistock Square, London, which records the names of the 69 Conscientious Objectors who died as a result of mistreatment during the First World War.

Albert was born in late autumn 1887 and christened in St Mark’s Anglican Church, Newport on the 2 November. He is mentioned in two censuses; in 1901 he was living at 145 Shaftesbury Street with his parents Tom and Emma, his older brother Thomas and his younger sister Rose, and in 1911 he was living in 25 Wheeler Street, Newport with his parents, and sister. By this stage, Albert was already working as a brewer’s labourer. Otherwise we know that he was one of eight children, of whom five were still alive, and his family was English speaking.

Albert was a member of the Independent Labour Party (ILP) and No-Conscription Fellowship (NCF) both of which were opposed to war.  As a single man aged 28 he was one of the first to be called up under the Military Service Act which came into force on the 2 March 1916.  He refused to serve and was arrested as an absentee on the 30 April 1916, tried on the 1 May by Newport Magistrates, was fined 40 shillings and handed over to the military authorities. His case was refused by the Military Service Tribunal in Newport and the County Appeals Tribunal so he was drafted into the Royal Welch Fusiliers in Cardiff where yet again he refused to obey military orders.

The No-Conscription Fellowship kept records of what happened to every member and published information in sympathetic newspapers such as the Pioneer. On the 20 May 1916 we can read a report from Emrys Hughes, himself a member of the NCF:

South Wales Conscientious Objectors. THEIR POSITION UNDER THE MILITARY NOTE FROM EMRYS HUGHES.

The following summary of the South Wales Conscientious Objectors has been prepared by the Wales Division of the N.C.F. for us, and is complete up to the 10th inst. We have had a letter card this week from Hughes, in which he mentions that […]  G. Dardis, C. James, R. James, E. James (Risca); P. Pope, A. Rudall, A. J. Hewinson, H J. Davies, B. G. Davies D Herbert (Newport); I. Shepherd, J. Shepherd, and W. Jones (Pontypridd); [were] transferred 10/5/16 from Garrison Artillery Barracks, Cardiff, to Kinmel Park Camp, Abergele..

In Kinmel Park, which is situated near Rhyl, Albert was brought before yet another court martial on the 25 May and sentenced to 2 years imprisonment with hard labour, commuted to 112 days with hard labour. The Pioneer picks up the story on the 10 June 1916:

NINE SOUTH WALIANS SENT TO WORMWOOD SCRUBBS. Comrades Percy Pope, Albert Rudall, Arthur J. Hewinson, G. Reynolds, Dorian Herbert, J. H. Davies, Trevor C. Griffiths (all of the Newport Independent Labour Party and No- Conscription Fellowship Branches), Joseph Shepherd (Pontypridd), and W. T. Jones (Treforest) were on Friday removed from Kinmel Park to Wormwood Scrubbs to commence their period of two years’ hard labour for “disobeying in such a manner as to show willful defiance of authority a lawful command given personally by his superior officer in the execution of his office.”

Once prisoners arrived at Wormwood Scrubbs they were allowed to send an “official letter” to their families. The whole form was printed, and all that had to be filled in by the prisoner was their state of health, and how long it would be before they were allowed to write another letter home. We don’t know just what Albert wrote but one of his fellow Newport prisoners is quoted by the Pioneer:

In this case the words, “My sentence is two years,” were added in writing: H.M. Prison, Wormwood Scrubbs, June 3rd, 1916. Dear Father, I am now in this prison, and am in usual health. If I behave well I shall be allowed to write a letter about 7 weeks time and to receive a reply, but no reply is allowed to this. My sentence is two years.  Signature, ARTHUR HEWINSON.

After two months Albert went before the central tribunal at Wormwood Scrubbs and finally was accepted as a ‘Class A’ i.e. a genuine conscientious objector. Under the auspices of the Home Office Scheme he was found ‘Work of National Importance’ mending roads at Clare in West Suffolk.

The Pearce Register doesn’t tell us any more about Albert’s war service but just one month before the end of the war he sadly died as a result of his poor treatment as a conscientious objector. On the 19 October 1918 the Pioneer reports:

In Memoriam. DEATH OF ALBERT RUDALL, C.O. We regret to announce the death of Albert E Rudall, of Newport, Mon. Comrade Rudall was an old I.L.P.er, and one of the original C.O.’s to be arrested under the Military Service Act. After his imprisonment he was released on to the Home Office Scheme and worked at Keddington, Warwick and Dartmoor.

A short while ago he was allowed to proceed home to find work under the H.O. new scheme of Exceptional Employment and, owing to the time-limit imposed in such cases, was compelled to undertake work for which he was entirely unsuited. The result is he has left us for good. His Newport comrades are filled with grief at the loss of so sincere, unassuming, but enthusiastic a supporter of freedom and international brotherhood – a grief which we feel sure will he reflected throughout the whole C.O. movement.

The Shepherd Family of Ystalyfera and Pontypridd in the First World War

By Maggie

Tevia Rudinsky left behind his wife and baby son in Siemiatycze in Russian Poland when he fled to Britain to escape conscription into the Tsarist army in 1877, at the start of the Russo-Turkish war.

Conscription in 19th century Russia was particularly severe – men could be conscripted for 25 years and Jews were explicitly singled out for harsh treatment with boys as young as 12 potentially liable for military service.  Forced conversion was not unusual. Such historic memories, and the fact that Russia not Germany was associated with the most brutal manifestations of anti-Semitism in the years leading up to the First World War, had a considerable influence on the often hostile attitude of Jews of Russian origin to the idea of compulsory service in the British Army.By 1916, when conscription was first introduced, Tevia Rudinsky, now aged 60, and having meanwhile changed his name to Tobias Shepherd and taken on British nationality, was living in Cambria Villa, 3 Tyfica Road in Pontypridd with his wife and his British-born younger children. He owned a successful shop selling glass, paper and decorating materials in Ystalyfera in the Upper Swansea valley.  Three of his younger sons were liable for conscription and all three became conscientious objectors, as did his daughter, the author Lily Tobias.

The Conscientious Objectors

Isaac Shepherd- the oldest of the three young men, was 24 in 1916, and working as a decorator. He was an active member of the No-Conscription Fellowship (NCF).  However, the Conscientious Objector’s Register notes that his main motivation for his decision to resist conscription was his Jewish faith.

On 2 May 1916, Isaac was arrested in Pontypridd with his brother Joseph, tried in the Magistrates’ Court, fined 40/- (£2) and handed over to be taken to the recruiting office in Cardiff.  He was held in Garrison Artillery Barracks in Dumfries Place and then transferred on 10 May to Kinmel Park Camp, Abergele, near Rhyl.

On 31 May 1916, Isaac was sentenced by a court martial at Kinmel Park to 2 years’ hard labour.  He was held in Walton Prison in Liverpool from 9 June until 1 September 1916.  He was then released on leave pending instructions about his Home Office Scheme placement under the Brace Committee.  In comparison to his brothers, Isaac seems thereafter to have been given a relatively easy time by the authorities.  Llais Llafur, the local radical socialist newspaper in Ystalyfera, reported on 30 September 1916:

“As announced in our column last week, Mr Isaac Shepherd… has been released from prison where he has served time as a conscientious objector.  He has now returned to his home at Ystalyfera and will manage the business at the Wern paper stores”.

Isaac was officially transferred to the army reserve class on 20 December 1916.

Solomon Shepherd was 20 in 1916 and working as a wallpaper and glass salesman in the family firm. He was brought before the Military Service Tribunal in Pontardawe on 28 April 1916 where his claim, based on his Jewish faith and ILP and NCF membership, was dismissed.  A county appeal in May 1916 was similarly dismissed and the following month he was arrested, tried in Swansea Police Court on 21 June 1916, fined 40/- (£2) and handed over to the military authorities.

On 1 July 1916 The Herald of Wales & Monmouthshire Recorder reported his trial thus:

Solomon Shepherd, of Ystalyfera, who was arrested at Ystalyfera by P.C. Cook, was charged with being an absentee under the Military Service Act. When the charge was read to him, he replied, “I object on principle.” The police officer produced two circulars found on defendant, and handed them to the magistrates. Major Jessel said defendant had been notified three times – on May 8, June 1, and on June 10 a reminder to report himself in 24 hours. He had taken no notice. He said he did not intend to serve. He had caused trouble. Defendant: I’ve caused no trouble. Major Jessel: It has been reported to me that you have. Mr. J. H. Rosser: If you don’t obey orders you get into trouble. Defendant: I object to it. Mr. Rosser: A great many object to it – shirkers like yourself. Defendant: I am no shirker. If others had done their duty I would not be where I am now. Mr. Rosser: You will pay 40s. and be handed over to the military. You must do your duty and not try to get out of it.

Solomon was held for a couple of weeks in Cardiff Barracks and then at a court martial on 14 July 1916 was sentenced to 112 days’ hard labour.  After serving his time in Cardiff Prison he was released on 13 October 1916 to the Home Office Scheme.

The high number of conscientious objectors held in prison and scandals arising from the harsh treatment of some COs had led to a government decision to provide an alternative for “absolutists” who refused not only to obey military orders but also to undertake any war-related work. The Brace Committee, named after the eponymous Home Office Under Secretary of State, organised work of ‘national importance’ for men whom a central tribunal found to have a ‘genuine’ conscientious objection.  These work schemes were often poorly organised, with the men living in appalling conditions that amounted to imprisonment and punishment by another name.

Under the Home Office Scheme, Solomon was sent to work at waterworks near Llangadog in Carmarthenshire.  Here his health broke down and he went home to see his doctor.  On 6 January 1917, Llais Llafur reported:

Mr Solomon Shepherd, of the Wern paper stores, who has served four months in a civil prison as a conscientious objector, was home during the early part of the week. He has now accepted alternative service, and is engaged on the Llyn-y-Fan water works. The camp, at which about 80 conscientious objectors are employed, is about a nine mile tramp from the nearest station, Llangadock. 

Solomon was recalled to his unit on 21 January 1917.  He must have ignored the summons as he was arrested again on 23 February 1917.  At a court martial on 24 April 1917 at Kinmel Park Camp near Rhyl he was sentenced to 2 years’ hard labour.

Joseph, the youngest of the three brothers, was an academic high achiever who entered Cardiff University in October 1915 with a John Cory Scholarship worth £25 a year and a Glamorgan Exhibition worth £40 a year. He was arrested in Pontypridd with his brother Isaac on 2 May 1915.  Llais Llafur reported on 6 May 2016:

Isaac Shephard (23) and Joseph Shephard (19), Pontypridd (late of Ystalyfera) were charged at Pontypridd on Tuesday with being absentees under the Military Service Act. Both pleaded not guilty and asked for a remand. Isaac said that he wanted to obtain legal advice, while the younger defendant stated that he held a four years’ scholarship at the University College, Cardiff, and wished to consult the Principal and the Registrar. They were each fined 40s. and ordered to await an escort.

After being held in Garrison Artillery Barracks in Dumfries Place in Cardiff, Joseph was transferred on 10 May 1916 to Kinmel Park Camp. From here, next day, he wrote a letter on behalf of himself and his brother, appealing for help, particularly with respect to the provision of kosher food.

My brother Isaac and I are being kept in the above hut owing to our conscientious objection to all forms – combatant and non-combatant – of military service.  We are the sons of extremely orthodox Jewish parents. Our upbringing has always tended to uncompromising hostility to military service, and we intend, Sir, to be faithful to the Jewish atmosphere which we have always breathed.

After describing their arrest and sentencing in Pontypridd, the letter continues:

The armed escort […] took us to Castle Arcade Recruiting Office, Cardiff. Here in addition to the jeers and abuse that always assail the conscientious objector, we had sneers and threats of a very anti-semitic flavour. Despite all attempts at intimidation (threats to be shot, tortured etc.) we refused to sign anything or be medically examined.

During their nine days of incarceration in the Dumfries Place barracks:

[…] we had no complaints to make about our treatment or our food. We expected to suffer hardship and we must not complain whilst suffering it.  At Cardiff our friends and relatives kept us well supplied with food, a hot kosher dinner being sent in every day. Here we don’t know what to do about dinner; we shall probably have to go without any unless arrangements can be made with the commanding officer […]

 At a court martial in Kinmel Park on 25 May 1916, Joseph was sentenced him to 2 years’ hard labour in Wormwood Scrubs. Alongside his Jewish faith, he also emphasised ILP and NCF membership as his motivation for refusing military service.

The Merthyr Pioneer reported on 10 June 1916 that nine South Walians had been sent from Kinmel Park to Wormwood Scrubs on the same day.

Comrades Percy Pope, Albert Rudall, Arthur J. Hewinson, G. Reynolds, Dorian Herbert, J. H. Davies, Trevor C. Griffiths (all of Newport ILP and NCF Branches), Joseph Shepherd (Pontypridd), and W. T. Jones (Treforest) were on Friday removed from Kinmel Park to Wormwood Scrubbs (sic) to commence their period of two years’ hard labour for “disobeying in such a manner as to show wilful defiance of authority a lawful command given personally by his superior officer in the execution of his office.”

Joseph’s case was eventually reviewed by tribunal on 1 September 1916 and he was released to the Home Office Scheme, which in his case took the form of road mending at Clare in West Suffolk.

The Reluctant Soldiers

Meanwhile Tobias Shepherd’s older sons Moses and Barnet followed a rather different path in their attempts to avoid conscription.  Both had been born in Russia, Moses/Moshe, also known as Moss, in 1877 and Barnet in 1884.  They were not included in Tobias’ British citizenship application in 1904, so technically were ‘aliens’.

When conscription was introduced in 1916 the question arose of what to do with ‘friendly aliens’, especially Russian Jews of military age.  It was first agreed that they would be allowed to join the British Army voluntarily; their failure to do so in any great numbers led to a decision in June 1916, finally implemented in summer 1917, to conscript them on the same terms as British citizens or offer them the chance to return to Russia and join the army there.

Barnet seems to have been first conscripted in 1917 and attempted an appeal on the grounds that he had people dependent on him who would not be able to maintain themselves if he were forced to enlist in the army.  On 12 July 1917, the Amman Valley Chronicle and East Carmarthen News reported a second unsuccessful tribunal hearing.

A meeting of the Carmarthenshire Appeals Tribunal was held at Llandilo (sic) on Thursday… Barnet Shepherd, 24, College Street, Ammanford, came up for a re-hearing, supported by Mr. E. Harries, solicitor, Swansea, who said one of the grounds of application, that he was a Russian subject, would not be gone into, as it was laid down that had nothing to do with the Tribunal.

The Clerk said the applicant was 34 years of age, and Class A. The application was dismissed at the first hearing, and a re- hearing granted.’ He claimed in the first instance that he was not liable for military service, being a Russian subject; secondly, he had a wife and five children, the eldest being nine years old. He had been in his present business twelve years, and had a large stock worth £12,000, which would take a considerable time to dispose of… He was only left himself in the business, and it would be impossible for his wife, being ill, or anyone else to manage the business. […] He was practically the only glazier left in the district. He formerly employed five men, and all were in the Army except one. Three of them were glaziers, and he did the glazing now, besides carrying on the shop. His wife was in a delicate condition of health, and had been suffering for two or three years past. If he were called away his business would have to be closed down, and it would not be possible to re-build it after he came back from the Army. He claimed that this was a case within the decision of the Central Tribunal, being a one-man business, and it was a case of serious domestic hardship. […] 

The appeal was dismissed, applicant not to be called up for a month. 

Barnet did then join the army but at some point, probably after the end of the war, he deserted.  On 21 February 1919 the Carmarthen Journal and South Wales Weekly Advertiser reported:

Bertha Shepherd, wife of Pte. Barnet Shepherd, formerly in business in College Street, Ammanford, was charged under D.O.R.A. (Defence of the Realm Act) with withholding information as to the whereabouts of her husband, who is a deserter from the forces; and further with being an alien she changed her residence without giving notice to the registration officer […] Inspector Davies gave evidence and stated that defendant was a Russian subject. Cross-examined he had nothing direct to prove that the wife’s statements were incorrect. Re-examined he understood from her that she was in touch with her husband. Mr. Griffith, addressing the Bench, said the husband was a Welsh-speaking Jew, while the defendant came from some part of Germany or Russia, and had no friends here, and was not conversant with British law. The Bench found the defendant guilty of a technical offence in changing her residence without notification, and she would be fined the costs, with half-a-guinea advocate’s fee. As regards withholding information there was not sufficient evidence to justify a fine.

Moses/Moshe/Moss Shepherd was also called up in 1917 and again tried to avoid military service, in his case (falsely) on grounds of age.  On 20 April 1918, the Herald of Wales and Monmouthshire Recorder noted:

On 26 January of this year Alfred Moses Shepherd (sic), of Grove Place, Swansea, described as a Russian subject, was sentenced to six months’ imprisonment at Swansea Police Court for making a false declaration in order to evade military service. Shepherd appealed against this sentence, and the appeal came on for hearing before the Recorder at the Swansea Quarter Sessions on Thursday.

Mr. Marlay Samson […] for the respondents […] dealt with the various sections of the Military Service Act. When war broke out Shepherd registered as an alien (Russian), and later in 1917 a Proclamation was made by the King calling upon all Russians of military age to join the Colours. These men could either return to Russia for that purpose or remain in this country and join the British Army. Shepherd, on registering in 1914, had said he was born in January 1879, but on his form of appeal for exemption sent to the Tribunal he said he was 44.  In view of that fact (the army) did not oppose the application, and the Tribunal decided that as he was 44 he was ineligible.

Enquiries were (later) instituted and proceedings were taken as the result of which Shepherd was convicted and sentenced. Evidence was then called. Mr. Llewelyn Williams submitted that when Shepherd stated his age to be 44, any doubt cast on that was a matter for a Court of Summary Jurisdiction to decide. The man had not been called before the Tribunal, and in any case the Tribunal could not decide the question of age. Shepherd adhered today to his statement that he was 44.

The Recorder upheld the conviction, but reduced the sentence from six months to one month.

After serving his sentence, Moses joined the army, serving latterly in the 9th Labour Battalion, which was formed in April 1918 from non-naturalised Russians domiciled in UK.  By that stage, following the October Revolution, Russia was out of the war and considered to be an enemy power. As a result the Russians were kept segregated; probably for fear that they might spread the revolution to Great Britain, with the 9th Battalion being stationed at Fort Scoveston, near Neyland in Pembrokeshire.

Like his younger brother Barnet, Moses also deserted at the end of the war.  On 4 January 1919 Llais Llafur reported:

At Swansea on Monday, Mrs Fanny Shepherd (35) of Grove Place, Swansea, was charged with withholding information in her possession which might reasonably be required to furnish particulars concerning Pte. Moses Alfred Shepherd, “he being a deserter from the Russian Labour Company at Fort Scoveston”, from Detective-Sergt. Gubb on 28 November. Defendant refused to inform Detective-Sergt. Gubb of the whereabouts of her husband, Pte. Moses A. Shepherd. Mr. Edward Harris, for the defence submitted that defendant did not know where her husband was, and that she only had a vague idea of the town in which he was staying. She had stated to the detective, when asked, that she would make inquiries. Pte. Shepherd was granted special Jewish leave in September last, and had never returned. A fine of 40/- was imposed.

The Author

Lily Tobias (née Shepherd) was Tobias Shepherd’s oldest daughter and his first child to be born in Wales. Lily was a committed socialist and began to write short pieces for the influential local socialist newspaper, Llais Llafur, in 1904 when she was in her late teens. She and her sister Kate (mother of the poet Dannie Abse) were both active supporters of the Independent Labour Party.  With her husband Philip (they married in 1911) she was also very involved in the Jewish literary and debating society movement in South Wales.

As a political activist and a writer, Lily fought for female suffrage, the rights of working people and a Jewish national homeland in Palestine.  She, like her younger brother Joseph in particular, held a strong socialist pacifist belief that the First World War was being fought for imperialist interests against the interests of the workers.  Fenner Brockway, editor of the Labour Elector (the newspaper of the ILP) and co-founder of the No-Conscription Fellowship, knew her well. He remembered her in conversation with Leo Abse as “an active and belligerent pacifist… showing great resourcefulness and courage in defying the authorities and assisting draft dodgers, and those in prison”.

Lily’s second novel Eunice Fleet drew on her brothers’ experiences as conscientious objectors to draw a picture of a middle-aged  businesswoman trying to live with the negative reactions of herself and others to her late husband’s stand as a conscientious objector in the First World War.  First published in 1933, it was considered radical at the time, making the suffering of pacifists, rather than the suffering of soldiers, its central concern.

Sources

Details of the tribunals and sentences of the three younger Shepherd brothers are taken from the Conscientious Objector Register to be found at https://livesofthefirstworldwar.org/

All newspaper sources quoted can be found in the National Library of Wales digitised database http://newspapers.library.wales/home

Information about Lily Tobias, as well as Joseph Shepherd’s letter to his family from May 1916, is taken from Jasmine Donahaye: The Greatest Need: the creative life and troubled times of Lily Tobias, a Welsh Jew in Palestine  (Honno, Dinas Powys, 2015).