Challenging Militarism

NFPB in Sheffield, December 2018

NFPB members gathered in Sheffield for our last meeting of the year, being joined by a number of other Friends from the Area Meeting. On this occasion, as well as some routine business and sharing news of Friends’ peace witness across the North, Friends participated in two workshops.


From The Tribunal 10th October 1918

This is a further update in a series of extracts from the No Conscription Fellowship’s journal, published in the UK between March 1916 and November 1918
For further extracts go to:

The following is an extract from a latter (dated July 21, 1918) from a friend at Christchurch, New Zealand, whose name we are not at liberty to give since it would not be possible to obtain his permission for some months; but the information may be relied on as correct:-

“We are, I suppose, going through similar stages in New Zealand with regard to C.O’s. Just recently they have in one or two places been subjected to much actual physical violence, and also in one case, at least, to untellable obscenities. Every effort is made to stifle enquiry, At Wanganui some men were knocked unconscious, dragged over the yard with ropes that cut into the neck, etc. This was doubtless done with the connivance of authorities in high position, possibly on actual instruction from them. Now every attempt is being made to burke enquiry. Allen, the Defence Minister, states that public enquiry is quite unnecessary. However, he will get a magistrate to make private investigation. The magistrate chosen has already stated that he thinks all conscientious objectors should be put up against a wall and shot; so that one can anticipate his conclusions beforehand. There are some 300 C.O’s in prison and more to come. In the Civil prisons they are well treated, but it is the solitary military prison at Wanganui and in the Trentham barracks they have been abused. It is true that in official and well-to-do classed nothing whatever is known about the C.O.s, and the attitude to them is one of indifference. It is only occasionally that any reference is made to them in the daily prints, though one or two not anti-militarist have taken up their cause. The anti-militarists proper are unable to do so, because they cannot secure a hearing. Miss ______, a gifted woman, though militarist, has lately taken up their cause, and has at least found out that it is impossible to secure a hearing, and that the press is rigidly partisan. Still, now that the married men are being taken from New Zealand, I think perhaps people will be a little more ready to listen to the other side…

The snow still continues to swirl. Fortunately this household has a sufficiency of coal for the next few days, but I feel sorry for the C.O.s and other prisoners some seven miles from here with nothing between them and the bitter sky but a sheet of galvanised iron, and in weather like this, spending the whole of the 24 hours in absolutely unwarmed cells. Possibly they are not worse off physically than the men in the trenches; but it is the solitariness of it that must be so trying and devilish. Few have got the resources within them that John Fletcher has, whose letter from Wormwood Scrubs are those of a saint. Copies of them reach me here, and they are doing good in one or two places.

I go out occasionally to the gaol here. So far the C.O.s have been bright and contented; but this great snowstorm is bound to be detrimental to them. they have nothing a small skylight for illumination. These to-day will be covered with snow; and if a man is ill they take his books and bedding from him during the day unless he is ill enough to go to bed. It will be many days now before they get out to work.”


From The Tribunal October 3rd 1918

This is a further update in a series of extracts from the No Conscription Fellowship’s journal, published in the UK between March 1916 and November 1918
_For further extracts go to:_

The symbolic importance of the red cap and the cross needs no emphasis. The former has attained international significance, whilst the latter, after a chequered history of nearly 2,000 years still points the way to a world-wide fellowship. We are living through times of drastic change. Revolution is in the air. When it comes “will it be a dance of death or a pageant of life?”

Richard Roberts, who asks this question in “The Red Cap on the Cross” (Headley Bros., 2/6 net) believes that the Christian Church is confronted with choice between “new wars and a new religious synthesis,” and enquires “Has it a word with which to face the tremendous emergencies that at hand?” He sees clearly that the modern church with its selfish “gospel of benefits” is not ready to cope with the situation.

The title of his new book – taken from Lamennais’s “Paroles d’un Croyant” – gives the key to what he believes to be necessary if revolution is to bring about the establishment of a new and better society. In 1825, Lamennais wrote “Society is dying; and they are disputing about the clothes with which to cover it, so clear is that the disease is in its clothes.” Like the great French reformer, Mr. Roberts perceives that economic readjustments and political changes, however necessary, are not of themselves likely to take us nearer the co-operative commonwealth. The end of capitalistic exploitation may quite easily be the beginning of a new kind of tyranny. Society needs a new body before it needs new clothes. Class war can effect only a change of clothing. We are members one of another, and if our hopes for the Future are to be realised, there must come a change of heart. “For the old single slogan of Freedom, we must adopt the double slogan of Freedom and Fellowship.”

Mr. Roberts is convinced that the movement of the peoples towards freedom must be actuated by a strong spiritual impulse. Religion and revolution must go hand in hand if the latter is avoid disaster. If the red cap is to accomplish its purpose it must be nailed to the cross. “There is a creative quality, a restless originality in the released moral impulse which drives it to outdo its own best, to stretch out beyond its own highest achievements. it is not satisfied with loving neighbours; it presses on to the love of enemies. Christian morality has a starting point but no terminus.

We must have the will to fellowship – “So true to itself that it will count no man an enemy to be defeated, but a brother to be won, and will go forth with an unconquerable patience, to create a society in which there shall be no rancour or hate or self-seeking, no bitterness or partisanship or any other divisive thing, but a great and willing co-operation in the making of men and in the enrichment of life.”


h3, From The Tribunal September 19th 1918

This is a further update in a series of extracts from the No Conscription Fellowship’s journal, published in the UK between March 1916 and November 1918
For other extracts go to:

“We desire to affirm that we can accept no scheme whatever in satisfaction of our inflexible demand for absolute and unconditional release.” This is the final clause of the resolution carried at the meeting of Absolutists held on Sept. 6 in Wakefield Gaol. There is no hesitation about these men. Two years of the most rigorous prison conditions have not broken their spirit: their first thought is for the principle for which they stand – not for their own well-being or physical comfort. “We are waiting to see what the Government intends before we do anything,” writes Ayles. “We are not going to administer any scheme of confinement or internment – I’ve already told the Governor that if he leaves the gate open I will walk out, and that if I refuse to consent to accept prison discipline or rules except in so far as they are necessary for helath and sanitation and my work outside.”

“About 70 C.O.‘s are here now,” writes Scott Duckers on Sept. 10. “With few exceptions all have done over two years in civil prisons… Our time of action is the subject of endless discussions, and I have lost so much sleep since I first heard of this transfer that I shall think of the place as ‘Jeep-awake-field.’ The first fact that strikes us is that this is the H.O. Scheme over again except: (1) That we do not have to sign away our liberty and (2) that we cannot go outside or have liberty to buy food, etc., for ourselves. To my mind compulsory labour under these conditions is nothing else than Industrial Conscription, and I have decided to refuse compliance with it. This morning about 20 of us flatly refused to work under compulsion; others are cleaning their own cells or else working in the cookhouse or tidying up generally. No one has started Industrial Work… The Deputy-Governor has booked my name as an ‘Absolute-Absolutist,’ and i quite expect that a batch of us will be transferred to a ‘real’ prison again. In the meantime he (the Deputy) is waiting for the Government’s return. Four of us are on report for different objections about work… Whether we shall ever resume work if we go back to hard labour is quite another question under consideration. Some think we should go on as before: others that we should claim that by sending us here the Government have recognised our point about 2 years being the maximum anyone can be expected to stand. Altogether we are having lively times!”

It is evident from the above quotations that the transferred men are not accepting their new position with docility. Their case has not yet been honestly met. The cause for which they stand is dearer to them than life itself, and they cannot be cajoled or bribed into a quiet acquiescence in what is still a denial of the right of individual freedom.


From The Tribunal September 12th 1918

This is a further update in a series of extracts from the No Conscription Fellowship’s journal, published in the UK between March 1916 and November 1918
For other extracts go to:

The fundamental error running through all the proposals for a League of Nations now before us is that of assuming the efficacy of armed force as an ultimate arbiter. We are told that in the event of any member of the League refusing to accept the findings of the International Tribunal, the whole of the armed forces of the remaining members of the League are to be used to coerce the recalcitrant member.

That way madness lies. Mights is not Right when applied by one nation to another, it cannot be right when applied by a group of nations to one of its neighbours.

Mr. Balfour, speaking in the House of Commons on Aug 8, made a very valuable contribution to the discussion as to the right basis for such a League of Nations as would ensure peace. The fact that he was the moment rebuking pacifists does not detract from the value of his contribution. This is what he said:-

“If you can once make it clear to German minds that in modern civilisation the moral view of a majority of nations is sufficient to coerce recalcitrant members of society; then, and not till then, is there some prospect of that peace which the hon. gentleman, as well as everyone on this side of the House desires.”

Now it is perfectly obvious that it is not only to German minds that this truth must be made clear; minds very much nearer home are sadly in need of enlightenment, Mr. Balfour himself does not seem to realise the implication of his dictum. But it is high time for statesmen and peoples of all nations to recognise the fact that armed force – the doctrine of punishment – is a complete failure in whatever circumstances it may be applied; that just as the only result of the penal system applied to our erring fellows has been to create a permanent criminal class ever at war with society, so, too, the only result of a League of Nations based on punishment by armed forces as a last resort would be to perpetuate the very evil it set out to destroy.

Russia was “punished” in 1856; France was “punished” in 1871; and in spite of the fact the blood-soaked Continent to-day bears ghastly witness to the futility of such methods, we are asked to contemplate 3 more years of war with the object of “punishing” Germany. And even some pacifists are to be found who pin their faith to a League of Nations based on military force!

Is it too much to suggest that the way out of this Hell is to give Christianity a trial? A League of Nations based on the Sermon on the Mount is the only practical method of ensuring peace. The force behind such a League would be that of an enlightened people who, realising their brotherhood, would refuse to be led to the shambles for mutual slaughter because “they have not so much madness left in their brains.”

W.J. Chamberlain


From The Tribunal September 5th 1918

This is a further update in a series of extracts from the No Conscription Fellowship’s journal, published in the UK between March 1916 and November 1918
For other extracts go to:

In the “Nation” of August 24th there appears a very fine study by John Galsworthy, entitled “Cafard.” With wonderful sympathy and descriptive power he depicts the feeling of a French soldier, Jean Liotard, who has been suffering from shell-shock and is due to leave the hospital and return to the front next day. The following extracts will show something of the ruthlessness and penetrating sincerity with which Mr. Galsworthy lays bare that aspect of War which our hack journalists try to hide under the tinsel of false glory:—

“He had ‘cafard’ – the little black beetle in the brain, that gnaws and eats and destroys all hope and heaven in a man. It had been working at him all week and now was at its monstrous depth of evil and despair. To begin again the cursed barrack-round, the driven life, until in a month perhaps, packed like bleating sheep, in a troop train, he made that journey once more to the fighting-line – ‘a la hachette – a la hachette!’

He had stripped off his red flannel jacket, and lay with shirt opened to the waist, to get the breeze against his heart. In his brown, good-looking face the hazel eyes, which in these God-deserted years has acquired a sort of startled gloom, stared out like a dog’s, rather prominent, seeing only the thoughts within him – thoughts and images swirling round and round on a dark whirlpool, drawing his whole being deeper and deeper . . . .

He was in the mood to curse God die; for he was devout – a Catholic, and still went to Mass. And God, it seemed, had betrayed the earth and Jean Liotard. All the enormities he had seen in his two years at the frong – the mouthless, mangled faces, the human ribs whence rats would steal; the frenzied, tortured horses, with leg or quarter rent away, still living; the rotted farms, the dazed and hopeless peasants; his innumerable suffering comrades; the desert of no-man’s land; and all the thunder and moaning of war; and the reek and freezing of war; and the driving – the callous, perpetual driving – by some Force that shovelled warm human hopes and loves by the million into the furnace; and over all, dark sky without a break, without a gleam of blue, or lift anywhere – all this enclosed him, lying in the golden hear, so that not a glimmer of life or hope could get at him. Back into it all again! Back into it, he who had been through forty times the hell that the ‘majors’ ever endured, five hundred times the hell ever glimpsed at by those who stayed at home with their slallaries, and eloquence! ‘Les journax – les journax!’ Ah, he was sick of them! Let them allow the soldiers, whose lives were spent like water – poor devils who bled, and froze and starved, and sweated – let them suffer to make the peace!

1918-2018 Some reflections

Northern Friends Peace Board’s trustees gathered in worship at the beginning of November 2018 and were led to share some reflections on the centenary of the armistice.
The peace testimony, today, is seen in what we do, severally and together, with our lives. We pray for the involvement of the Spirit with us, that we may work for a more just world. – London Yearly Meeting, 1993


From The Tribunal August 29th 1918

This is a further update in a series of extracts from the No Conscription Fellowship’s journal, published in the UK between March 1916 and November 1918
_For other updates go to:_

From the “Edinburgh Evening News,” Aug. 14th, 1918:-

A deputation from the No Conscription Fellowship was received in Edinburgh Trades Council at their meeting last night. The Rev. Raymond Hold brought before the notice of the Council the treatment of conscientious objectors who were willing to do work of national importance under the Government scheme, and had accordingly been release from Home Office Camps. It had been found, however, that other men in the works where the conscientious objectors had obtained employment, had threatened to strike. The deputation asked the Council to do all they could to prevent the continuance of such treatment. Mr. Holt said it would be a terrible blot on the honour and reputation of the trades unions if they were found to be more intolerant thant the Government itself. (Applause). The Council, by a large majority, approved of a motion that no member of any trades union should be barred from working because of his political or religious opinions. An amendment that no expression of opinion with regard to action by the trades union should be given, was supported by only four votes.


h3, From The Tribunal August 22nd 1918

This is a further update in a series of extracts from the No Conscription fellowship’s journal, published in the UK between March 1916 and November 1918
_For other extracts go to:_


Information has just come to hand of the extraordinary history of a comrade who has lately been released under the “Cat and Mouse Act” after hunger striking in Pentonville. His appeals for exemption were of no avail, and although neurasthenic and incapable of work, he was conscripted into the Army early in 1917.

After the usual trouble in the hands of the military, who forced him into khaki, he was handed over to the Civil Police and kept in custody for five days at Old Street Police station, from whence he was moved, handcuffed, to Leonard Street Barracks, Shoreditch. Manacled to another prisoner, he was taken from there to the 7th Infantry Labour company, Queen’s West Surreys. He soon found himself in Boulogne, where he refused to work. No notice was taken of him, but he was moved to Steenwich, behind the Ypres lines on the Armentieres front. Here he refused pick and shovel work, and was sentenced to 42 days’ No.2 Field Punishment.

Terrible as these experiences must have been to a boy of his temperament, they did not in the slightest degree shake his faith or induce him to abandon resistance. At the Punishment Compound at Armentieres he was the only conscientious objector, yet he refused to work; and in spite of the loneliness he won through to the extent of being left alone after several paradings. here he actually witnessed the fighting at Messines Rudge which was taking place on the other side of the valley, and was so close to the battle that he was finally shelled out of the compound and hand to be taken to camp to finish his sentence. He was re-examined by a Field Medical Board which passed him fit for light duty only, and was then on the sick list for several weeks. An appeal against his sentence had no result.

Later in June at Neuve Eglise, our comrade refused to ‘clean camp,’ and was again remanded for C.M., which took place at Bailleul. In spite of his own clear statement, and a testimony from the officer who prosecuted, he was sentenced to six g months F.H.L. He was detained at St Omer for a week, and was then sent to Rouen No. 1 Prison. On refusing to work here, he was put in a cell for 12 days on punishment diet, with his arms fastened behind his back in a ‘figure 8’ fot 12 hours a day.

Fortunately he was removed, via Havre and Southampton, to Wormwood Scrubs to finish his sentence. He refused the Home Office Scheme, and completed his term of 6 months’ imprisonment. At Chelsea Barracks on Jan 8th last, our comrade was sentenced to 2 years’ hard labour for refusing to do fatigues at Bassing Road Barracks, Peckham, and was sent to Pentonville. After two months here he refused to work or take food, and was soon in hospital. His mother entreated him to take food, bit after complying with the request for a time, he became confirmed in his attitude of hunger-striking.
He was released on July 3rd for one month which expired on August 1st, and although in a state of health which has been certified by high medical authority as being extremely critical, he has been granted a further respite of only another month.


From The Tribunal August 15th 1918

_This is a further update in a series of extracts from the No Conscription Fellowship’s journal, published in the UK between March 1916 and November 1918.
For other extracts go to:

On August 2nd I went down with two Polish friends to visit the Russians, Poles and other Slavonic comrades attached to the Labour Company in Wilderness Camp, Sevenoaks. At first, I must confess, I felt somewhat bewildered. Numbers of men were brought up and presented to me, and for a while the air seemed charged with something which resembled an Overture by Strauss rendered by an orchestra suffering from hay-fever!

When it cleared a little I found to my great relief that most of my new acquaintances spoke French, some of them German, one or two of them English. My few polite nothings in Czech proffered with much trepidation forged a way into their hearts, and acquaintances became comrades and friends.

There were about 1,000 men in the Camp. Of these only 60 were Russians and Poles, the remainder being of the Hebrew faith. The latter I gathered had appealed in many instances on behalf of domestic grounds, but the former are purely political objectors, holding the belief that in event of their being sent overseas, they will sooner or later be called upon to take up arms against their own people. Many of them have signed a formal protest laying stress upon their passionate support of the Bolshevik government. I use the word “passionate” advisedly, and we should do well to keep this quality of our Russian friends in mind.

Owing to the language difficulty, they can hold little communication with the Jewish members of the Company who in the majority of cases speak only Yiddish and English.

When we remember that these men have been “put” into Labour compamies, and that they are officered by English N.C.O.‘s and commissioned officers, it is not difficult to visualise many awkward situations.

The position has not been relieved by the addition of three Russian officers to the staff. The three officers do not recognise Lenin and Trotsky, and the men whom they command do not recognise Kerensky! The parade ground must frequently have presented a scent rivaling the best of those in “Alice in Wonderland.”

A month ago 500 of these men were drafted out to France, and a fortnight ago another 150 were dispatched from Wilderness Camp for the same destination. A large number of these men have signed the protest mentioned above, and as a result of this, or of some change in policy, they were held up at an English port, and sent, it is believed, to Wales.

While drinking in the tales of adventures past and present which poured from the lips of these political objectors, I did not forget those men who are conscientious objectors as we understood the term. I was able to obtain a complete list of such men who were in the guardroom, together with their regimental numbers and further details regarding the position. That had been rumours of brutal treatment at Wilderness Camp, and I fear that this had been only too true in certain instances. Once the men are in the guardrooms there is less danger of this taking place, but I should like to impress upon all friends and sympathisers of conscientious objectors the need of careful watch over the men who are taken to Camp in obscure and inaccessible places. it is impossible to take effective action unless we possess the requisite knowledge. The War Office does not sanction brutality in the treatment of conscientious objectors, but we must remember that the War Office does not know conscientious objectors by name. To the War Office they represent numbered parts of a huge machine, and not flesh and blood individuals. Might I therefore urge the importance of taking note of regimental numbers?

On Monday, August 5th, I received information that 500 men, among them my delightful hosts of the previous Friday, had been sent from Sevenoaks to an unknown destination.

Readers of the Tribunal will sympathise with me, I feel sure, in my anxiety for their welfare, and my interest in the fight which they must inevitably make, and make soon. M.M.J.


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