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Remembering a time when saying no to war was not always an option

ONE of the biggest scandals of the First World War was removing the choice young men had to decide whether or not they wanted to go to fight.

The Military Service Act, which came into force in March 1916, allowed for objectors to be exempted from service on religious, moral and political grounds, but their appeals were judged by a military tribunal which was much less likely to be sympathetic to those who became known as conscientious objectors, many of whom were subsequently imprisoned and or sentenced to hard labour.

There was much public criticism over able men sitting in jail when they could be doing useful labour.

So a project was devised under which the men would break rocks in the north of Scotland for use in road construction.

The conditions at one facility in Aberdeenshire saw it closed down months after a young man died from pneumonia.

That man was 19-year-old Walter Roberts, from Bredbury near Stockport, which was part of the old Cheshire county, who had refused military service saying he was a Christian and had always renounced violence.

Roberts had already been weakened by months in prison when he was sent to the camp, died from pneumonia on September 8, 1916, some five days after his arrival.

Two days before his death he wrote to his mother saying: “As I anticipated, it has only been a matter of time for the camp conditions to get the better of me.

“All these fellows here are exceedingly kind and are looking after me like bricks so there is no reason why I should not be strong in a day of two when I will write more personally and more fully.”

Not all the objectors ended up in such dreadful conditions and many thousands were sent to do ‘work of national importance’, such as farming, and many more performed non-combat duties, such as working as ambulance men or stretcher-bearers in war zones.

William Allington Plant, of 22, Carlisle Street, Alderley Edge was another person who found himself jailed, after being summarily described as an ‘absentee’ at Wilmslow Police Court on May 11, 1916. A clerk by profession and aged 32, he was a Quaker, which held little sway with the court, which gave him a 40 shilling fine and handed him over to the military.

After spending time in prison in the south of England he was released on compassionate grounds in the autumn of 1916.

Wilmslow Historical Society’s Alan Cooper said: “The old county of Cheshire had about 330 COs, including the first to die – Walter Roberts.”

However not all objectors avoided the major conflict zones. A case in point was Hugo Harrison Jackson, the only child of Harrison and Lucy Jackson and was born in 1890 in Wilmslow. The family then moved to Kendal in Cumbria. The family were Quakers and Hugo was my grandmother’s first cousin. He attended Stramongate School and became a science teacher.

When war broke out in 1914, being a pacifist by religious conviction, Hugo joined the Friends Ambulance Unit (FAU) and, after some initial training, went over to Belgium in November 1914. For some time he organized stores but pressed to be allowed to go out with the ambulances. Whilst moving the sick and injured in Picardy along the Aisne front in May 1918, his ambulance became caught up in a rapidly shifting battlefront and was hit by a shell. The driver, N. Gripper was killed outright and Hugo did not survive the journey to the dressings station. He is buried in the joint Anglo-French Military Cemetery at Vailly in France beside his colleague.

He, along with many of his colleagues, was awarded the French Croix de Guerre.

Mr Cooper adds: “Vilified during the war and for years afterwards, ‘the conchies’ are now widely regarded as having considerable courage in defying the prevailing opinion.

“There is a memorial stone to them at London’s Tavistock Garden Square dedicated on May 15, 1994.”

Out of the Silence, on Friday, February 26, from 7.30pm to 10pm at Macclesfield Library – Jordangate, will feature storyteller Simon Heywood who will tell the forgotten story of 20,000 men who refused to fight with first hand accounts from letters diaries and memoirs with original songs composed and sung by Shonaleigh”


View Original Article (Wirral Globe)