Challenging Militarism


From The Tribunal 8th August 1918

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


Now we shall win the war!!
In a war for justice it is right that a just and righteous people should be led to victory in a just and righteous cause by a just and righteous leader. Surely no one better than a just and righteous judge, learned in the laws of the land of justice and freedom could be chosen for the position.

Wizards – even Welsh – must fail, but Time brings the man. He has arrived.

At the Lanarkshire Tribunal, sitting in the County Buildings, Glasgow, on July 22nd, last, was heard the appeal for exemption from military service of William Starkey, Junior, a young International Bible Student, who is so un-British as to claim a conscience.

Willie is a simple lad (not a simpleton, but like many similar throughout the land, clean minded and clear brained), and, believing in the Bible commandment “Thou shalt not kill,” he cannot grasp the revised version, “Thou shalt not kill except in war now preached by the khaki clothed ministers of the Gospel of the Prince of Peace.

Sheriff Lee of Lanarkshire, who presided at the Tribunal soon sized up the situation: no ordinary Sunday-go-to-meeting Christian this, but a just and righteous judge to Israel who has no room for a law which allows a conscientious objection and no mercy for those who believe the British government ever intended such a clause in the Military Service Act to become operative.

“Thou shalt not steal” is a sensible and conscientious Bible commandment which the learned judge is determined shall be obeyed: but “Thou shalt not kile”-! Scrap the Bible.

William Starkey’s father attended the Tribunal on his son’s behalf, and notified me that the appeal was dismissed and permission to appeal to the Central Tribunal refused.

Mr. Starkey, senior, writes me: “I was amazed at the apathy of the Court when confronted with scripture texts: they were simply ignored, and so far as the clause in the Act is concerned, for the conscientious objector, it is a diabolical mockery – for a C.O. has no quarter. However, we can thank God for the strength that enables us to sympathise with even our enemies. I feel I must tell you that during the Sheriff’s questioning, as I was explaining that the Christian is exhorted to render unto no men evil for evil, he remarked that we might as well scrap the Bible if that was it.”

William Starkey, Junior, is the first C.O. from the village of Gartcosh, near Glasgow. It requires great courage for a young lad to stand out in a small village where everyone knows him. This William Starkey has done, and his parents have reason to be proud of him: but we all owe Willie a special recognition in that he has discovered for us the man and the way to win the war.

His Honour, Sheriff Lee, of Lanarkshire, is the man the way is “Scrap the Bible.” So simple a solution after 4 years of slaughter!


From The Tribunal August 1st 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:

Among the mass of poetry which has been inspired by the war it is refreshing to find something which does not hold up for admiration that which every soldier knows to be a revoltingly ugly business. Realism in a war poem is rare. Too often we see murder presented in a false light of glorification. At a time therefore when songs and poetry are being used in the service of militarism, a volume of verse which strives after truth is particularly welcome.

Mr. Seigfried Sassoon is a unique war poet. He alone of our young writers has succeeded in conveying through the medium of verse something of war’s horror and its effect upon the soldier. The “Old Huntsman” is already well known. Those to whom it appealed will be interested in “Counter Attack and other Poems,” which contains his more recent work. This collection was aptly pronounced by a reviewer to be the production of a “soul in torment.” It voices the cry of a heart harrowed by personal contact with the frightfulness of a war which is fast devouring “The unreturning army that was youth.” It has a poignant interest for all who are working for the deliverance of mankind from the horror and misery through which we are now passing. The following for example is a description of a German trench captured in an advance:-

“The place was rotten with dead: green clumsy legs,
High booted, sprawled and grovelled along the saps,
And trunks, face downward, in the sucking mud,
Wallowed like trodden sand bags, loosely filled;
Bulged clotted heads slept in plastering slime”

In “Remorse” we have a poor “Tommy” lost in a muddy swamp:-

“Remembering how he saw those Germans run
Screaming for mercy among the stumps of trees;
Green-faced they dodged and darted: there was one
Livid with terror clutching at his knees…
Our chaps were sticking them like pigs… ‘Oh Hell!’
He thought – ‘there’s things in war one dare not tell
Poor father sitting safe at home, who reads
Of dying heroes and their deathless deeds,’”

He treats with irony and satire in more than one poems the attitude of bellicose old men:

“ . . . . . who died
Slow natural deaths – old men with ugly souls
Who wore their bodies out with nasty sins.”

“The Fathers” is a picture of “two cross goggle-eyed” old men talking platitudes about the war. One says that his son “Arthur is getting all the fun,” and the other replies:-

“Yes, . . . . that’s the luck!
My boy’s quite broken-hearted, stuck
In England training all the year,”

In a “Fight to a finish” Tommies on their return charge in exasperation at the “Yellow Pressmen” who “thronged the sunlit street to the soldiers who’d refrained from dying.”

It would be impossible to give here all the points of view from which the war is painted by the poet. Two more must suffice. Boys are now forced to become soldiers at the age of 18. This fact comes to one’s mind with startling force on reading “Suicide in the trenches,” which shows how a ‘simple soldier boy’ driven to distraction by a winter of ‘crumps and lice’ puts a bullet through his brain. It ends:-

“You snug faced cowards with kindling eye
Who cheer when soldier-lads march by
Sneak home and pray you’ll never know
The hell where youth and laughter go.”

Those acquainted with the attitude take up last year by Mr. Sassoon with regard to military service will see a personal note in “Banishment,” where he says:-

“I am banished from the patient men who fight…

…The darkness tells how vainly I have striven
To free them from the pit where they must dwell
In outcast gloom convulsed, gagged and riven
By grappling guns. Love drove with me to rebel.
Love drives me back to grope with them through hell,
And in their tortured eyes I am forgiven.”

Since the beginning of this war many men have experienced this struggle between the love which moves them to strive to free their fellow men by rebellion, and that which impels them to share the suffering of their combatant brothers.

It is difficult to take up what to so many appears to be a stand of indifferent aloofness, yet to us the way is clear. To assist or acquiesce in keeping alive what Mr. Sassoon calls “The foul beast of war that bludgeons life” is impossible. We believe that a position in the army is incompatible with pacifism. In saying this we do not seek to detract in any way from the value of the peace service which we believe Seigfried Sassoon to be rendering. To reveal the truth about war is to do much, and although to some the material with which he works may appear to be unfitted for poetic expression, none can deny the arresting force of what are undoubtedly sincere creations.


From The Tribunal 25th July 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:

Twelve hundred men in prison to-day have become popularly known as “The Absolutist Conscience Men.” It is a tremendous tribute for the world to have paid them. Even in the midst of a great war most people pause now and again to listen to a voice which is commonly believed to speak within all men: a voice quickly hushed amid the din of battle. To one little handful of men the people look and call them “Absolutist Conscience Men,” expecting them at all times and under all circumstances guided by that voice: following wheresoever it may lead and whatever the consequences may be. It need hardly be said that these men did not set out to make such a stupendous claim, neither do they claim such mastery over self.

“Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.” So with Conscientious Objectors. Some have been born with great ideals, some have achieved a wider outlook than their fellows, but most have had the championing of a great cause thrust upon them.

To simple people like Archbishops who doubt if these men know the duty of citizenship; to honest politicians like Robert Cecil who fear that these men are not all “religious”; those who urge compromise, – these men have but one answer: The great cause, the high ideal, the wide outlook that may be summed up in one word “Fellowship.” Fellowship is Love of Humanity, Hope for Humanity, Trust in Humanity. Fellowship transcends Citizenship. And having championed this great cause, these men have become free citizens of the world. To do good is their religion, to make no compromise with evil their determination.

These men have been taken in almost every case from useful occupations, and very many stayed in the midst of philanthropic and valuable work for their fellows; their posts in many cases remain open for them, in others they have sacrificed all, but many are eager enough to have their services were they free to render them, for they know that these men have always worked hard and well, and the voluntary service some have rendered to their fellows in the past has been generally recognised. Yet they will make no promise to do this or that at the will of a government, they will not even bind themselves to go back to their previous occupations, although this is what most of them hope and intend to do; they will make no bargain with any Military Service Act, the object of which is the prosecution of war and the subjugation of people.

Their motto may be taken as Liberty, Equality, Fraternity, – which does not mean they are are all Socialists or all Christians, neither are they Agnostics of believers in any set of doctrines, but they are one in common brotherhood of humanity; they recognise that Fellowship and Liberty with equal opportunity for service go hand in hand, and to bargain away liberty as a price of exemption from Military Service is as immoral as to acquiesce in the demand that somehow and in some way they shall lay aside their principles and become tools in the bloody work in which all nations are now engaged, and for their immediate gain to become instruments used to shackle conscription and slavery upon themselves and fellows. No! these men will not sell themselves to avoid the penalties and help to fasten conscription on the country; they will take no part in such disservice, for they believe that the highest work of national and international service which they can render at the present time is to demand first and foremost Absolute Exemption from the terms of all and every Military Service Act. Make them free men and they will again be of service to the nation. Bind them and they will do nothing to further the ends of their tyrants.

They are not claiming special treatment, they claim in their own person the right to serve not as slaves serves, cringing before the lash, but as free men who have never bowed the knee to threats and tyranny. They are making the path for you to follow; where one can travel, all can travel. If you let tyranny have its way, if you succumb to religious and moral persecution, you will close the path of liberty to yourselves, but these men will not be conquered, they will not retreat. Two years ago they burned their boats behind them, some did many years ago; if you fail them they will take the consequences.



From The Tribunal July 18th 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:

Of H.R. Cudbird, July 2nd 1918, at Blackdown Camp

“I resist conscription because I am opposed to war and every form of militarism, and after two sentences involving over 18 months’ imprisonment with hard labour, I am still resolutely opposed to any compromise whatever with compulsory military service, whatever the consequences, and I feel I am doing a work not only of national but of international importance.

I do not hold myself liable to observe military law; my inner conviction of what is right is the truest and best guide to conduct and the only one to which I feel allegiance. It is because loyalty to conscience is my true defence that it meets with no recognition by a military Tribunal, since military law knows no truth.

Both religion and morality, however, have a social value greater than their importance to the individual. To be faithful to the vision of a better humanity, to preserve freedom and justice, it is imperative to override military necessity, or military necessity reduces the best ideals to futilities. Conscription is the indispensable tool of militarism wherever it is found, and militarism, like every evil, has its roots in false ideals, the extensions of which cut right across national geographical boundaries. And the increasing extension, likewise in all countries, of those whose humanitarian feelings are outraged by war is also not confined to any artificial territorial divisions. The growth of the collective human spirit is widespread, and it is fostered by a religious faith and a social altruism greater than national sentiment.

If I had obeyed the alleged order I could not justify myself. I do not require to defend disobedience; there is no valid reason why I should obey. This Tribunal administers certain laws, but what is the justification of these laws? They enact conscription, they have militarised British rule, they have destroyed in a few years the whole fabric of religious and political liberty which the genius of England had built up by centuries of struggle. They have combined with the military licence of other countries to devastate Europe, to destroy lives and break numberless hearts; is it not time they were disobeyed. The war has immeasurably increased every danger it was intended to avert. The peoples in Russia, in Ireland, and in Austria, cry aloud that the laws must be broken if humanity is to be saved from the projects of selfish imperialism, the rivalry of ambitious powers and the intrigues of diplomats, and the cry finds an echo in every part of Europe. All the world sees now the futility of war war and longs for the break-up of the military machine, yet hesitates through pride an servility and fear to adopt the only way. This court cannot consider a plan of justification in those proceedings, but history will confirm that such a plea is based on a high conception of the true interests of humanity.

This Evil Thing

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

7pm, St Thomas Of Aquinas R.C. High School, Edinburgh. Michael Mears’ solo play telling the compelling and inspiring story of Britain’s WW1 conscientious objectors. Background and booking details –

This Evil Thing

Friday, November 30, 2018

7.30pm Cross Street Chapel, Manchester. Michael Mears’ solo play telling the compelling and inspiring story of Britain’s WW1 conscientious objectors. Tickets available from and on the door.


From The Tribunal July 11th 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:

Our readers will remember that on May 24, Harrison Barrow, Edith M. Ellis and Arthur Watts, Chairman and Secretaries of the Friends’ Service Committee, were sentenced under D.O.R.A. 27c, for not submitting to the Censor their leaflet, entitled “A Challenge to Militarism.” This led to a very interesting appeal at the Guildhall on July 3.

The endeavour to shut out the public, although the London Sessions are public courts, was typical of the far from impartial treatment that was meted out to Harrison Barrow (who was conducting the case for the appellants) by the Bench all the way through. He overcame this difficulty by gentle persistence and throughout met all the obstacles which were put in his way with great ability and a sweet dignity which bore testimony to his very real faith in the pacifist way of life. It was made perfectly clear by Harrison Barrow himself and by all the witnesses he called, that the Friends’ Service Committee took full responsibility for their refusal to submit leaflets to the Censor, and were guided in their action by the deepest religious conviction and a strong sense of their duty towards humanity. That this position is endorsed by the Society of Friends is amply proved by the fact that on the passing of 27c the Society publicly proclaimed their decision not to submit any leaflets to the Censor. In further evidence of the feeling of the Society on this point, John H. Barlow, Clerk to the Yearly Meeting of the Society of Friends, went into the witness box and read a Minute passed on May 22 at the Yearly Meeting, after proceedings against the F.S.C. had been instituted, supporting the Committee’s action.

It had been said by the prosecution at the formal trial of the case, that no class or sect could be exempted from complying with the regulation, but Harrison Barrow brought forward evidence that there is a privileged class which is exempt, a class which includes the Liberal Publication Department, the Labour Party, Lord Grey, etc., but this was disallowed.

Although Sir Alfred Newton (Chairman) and the other magistrates had appeared very restive and impatient during the hearing of the case, as soon as Harrison Barrow began his own statement the force of his own personality and his very evident sincerity seemed to to take hold of them and they became silent and attentive. Edith Ellis than made her statement; she spoke calmly and impressively and a deep note of conviction rang through every word she said. The rapt attention of the magistrates and those present in court lasted throughout her speech and that of Arthur Watts, which was full of fire and intentsity. Such was the impression created in the Court by the obvious earnestness of the speakers, that one felt that the Bench could not fail to understand such testimony to the power of truthm and it came somewhat as a shock to hear Sir Arthur Newton announcing that he could “hardly contain his indignation” at the way in which the defendants had “deliberately flaunted the authorities and gloried in it.” He dismissed the appeal with costs.

Just as the court was adjourned, Cecil Whiteley (Barrister) arose abd said that he represented a large number of the Members of the Society of Friends who wished him to say that they were law-abiding subjects of the realm and did not identity in any way with the views of the appellants. Although Mr. Whiteley’s remarks were entirely out of order, Sir Alfred Newton expressed himself delighted to hear them.

Edith Ellis was quite firm in her re-refusal to pay her fine (£100 and £50 costs), but the authorities are about to try and obtain the money by distraint. Harrison Barrow and Arthur Watts were taken off at once to serve their six months in Pentonville, where we are sure the thoughts and sympathy of all our readers will follow them.

Seeds of peace and costs of war

The Meeting House in Lincoln was the venue for our late September meeting. Joined by a good number of local Friends and other visitors, NFPB members explored the nature of our peace witness. Friends who had been involved in acts of witness reported both positive and negative experiences. In Conwy, we heard, serious consideration is being given to promoting peace education and appointing a local authority Peace Champion, following witness at the Armed Forces Day national events in nearby Llandudno.


From The Tribunal July 4th 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 following letter received in June from a C.O. in prison, shows that Fenner Brockway is not alone in his attitude towards prison rules:

“For some time past I have been thinking about my attitude here in prison and there has been an inward voice within me urging me to take some stand against this deplorable system of punishment and coercion. This voice I must frankly admit I have avoided, and I have made excuses for not obeying its call. I have not cared to give up my books and letters and visits. Then again I have said to myself, ‘You must preserve your health for future work when you are released, for there will undoubtedly be a great call for your service when that time comes. Also you owe a debt to parents to support them and you must study them as well as your own attitude.’

But I can no longer avoid my inward promptings, and I therefore feel compelled to make a greater stand against the prison system for the following reasons:-

  1. 1. That we are without doubt being illegally punished.
  2. 2. That imprisonment is part of the military regime, and a very vital part, and that although we have proved that we cannot be made soldiers, yet we have not opposed that part of the military machine (prison), the fear of which coerces thousands to continue soldiering.
  3. 3. That by obeying rules and working we are acquiescing in our punishment.
  4. 4. That we are being kept in prison to intimidate men who are likely to resist the Military Service Acts.
  5. 5. That the prison system is based on FEAR, and that to prove that no man can force us to do a certain thing by punishment and threatening would be setting a much needed example to our fellow men.
  6. 6. That prison rules impose conditions that are cruel and immoral, and that we break them on the sly whenever we can. This means we are forced into deceit and some get punished for what we all do, because they are less fortunate than others.
  7. 7. That I should do that which I consider to be right without fearing the consequences/

For these reason I can no longer work in prison, nor obey those rules which I consider to be wrong.”


From The Tribunal 27th June 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 take the following quotations from Mr. H.G. Well’s latest book, “In the Fourth Year: Anticipations of a World Peace.”

“After the war, if the world does not organise rapidly for peace, then as resources accumulate a little, the mechanical genius will get to work on the possibilities of these ideas that have been merely sketched out in the war. We shall have big land ironclads which will smash towns. We shall get air offensives – let the experienced London reader think of an air raid going on hour after hour, day after day – that will really burn out and wreck towns, that will drive people mad by the thousand. We shall get a complete cessation of sea transit. Even land transit may be severly hampered by aerial attack. I doubt if any sort of social order will really be able to stand the strain of fully worked out modern war. We have still, of course, to feel the full shock effects even of this war. Most of the combatants are going on, as sometimes men who have incurred grave wounds will still go on for a time – without feeling them. The educational, biological, social, economic punishment that has already been taken by each of the European countries is, I feel, much greater than we yet realise.

It becomes more and more plainly a choice between the League of Free Nations and a famished race of men looting in search of non-existent food amidst the smouldering ruins of civilisation. In the end I believe that the common sense of mankind will prefer a revision of its ideas of nationality and imperialism, to the latter alternative. It may take obstinate men a few more years yet of blood and horror to learn this lesson, but for my own part I cherish an obstinate belief in the potential reasonableness of mankind.

It is absurd to suppose that anywhere to-day the nationalisms, the suspicions and hatreds, the cants and policies , and the dead phrases that sway men represent the current intelligence of mankind. They are merely the evidences of its disorganisation. Even now we know we could do far better.

Never have I been so sure that there is a divinity in man and that a great order of human life, a reign of justice and world-wide happiness, of plenty, power, hope, and gigantic creative effort, lies close at hand. Even now we have the science and ability for a universal welfare, though it is scattered about the world like a handful of money dropped by a child; even now there exists all the knowledge that is needed to make mankind universally free and human life free and noble. We need but the faith for it and it is at hand; we need but the courage to lay our hands upon it and in a little space of years it can be ours.”


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