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.

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.