|Anti-war leaflets from the cover of Ken Weller’s book|
Monday, October 19, 2015
Two North London Appeals against conscription
(Sorting Out Some WW1 COs, continued)
Only two of the First World War Conscientious Objectors (COs) showing up, so far, in a search for ‘Anarchists’ on the Pearce Register also appear on the case files of the Middlesex Appeal Tribunal. (Nearly all other Tribunal records from the First World War have been destroyed).
One is the man whose record states “Tribunal convinced he was an Anarchist” (National Archives Reference MH 47/10/82; Case Number M475): Eric Richmond Cooper of 44 Stanhope Gardens, Highgate, later 26 St. Ann’s Terrace, NW; Occupation: Theatrical and Musical Profession. Aged 28 and single, he gave his professional name as Richmond and his place of registration under the National Registration Act as St. Ives, Cornwall. In his own words:-
My claim for total & complete exemption from combatant & non-combatant military service is based upon the grounds of my unalterable conscientious conviction against participation in war of any kind whether it is called offensive or defensive. Further I regard all violent & forceful resources as wrong & I repudiate the right of any person or body of persons to exercise control over me in such matters. To undertake any form of military service would be an outrage upon my feelings & my reason. To commit murder either directly or indirectly is an action which is entirely impossible to me & one which apart from my own convictions even society forbids. Whatever shall be the decision of the Tribunals I shall abide by my convictions.
To the Local (Hornsey) Tribunal this meant “... that the appellant’s answers to the questions put to him indicated that he was an Anarchist in his political opinions and that he was influenced by them rather than by conscientious conviction.”
Cooper’s appeal against their decision was made on the grounds of
Inadequate hearing & consequent refusal of claim. Also an erroneous statement was made by a member of Tribunal to the effect that it was not possible to claim absolute exemption from military service. A propos of this I quote a statement made by Mr. Walter Long in answer to a question... [quoting question and answer] ... The statement of the Tribunal is directly contrary to the Act, which says “any certificate may be absolute.”’
I reaffirm my conscientious conviction against participation in war and nothing but total and complete exemption from all forms of military service will satisfy me.
After he’d been messed about by having to wait around on a day when his case was not heard and getting it adjourned, the appeal was dismissed at County level, and leave to take it further, to the Central Tribunal, refused. The next step would normally have been conscription into a combatant unit (since he had refused to consider the non-combatant option), followed by court martial and prison when he refused to obey orders – the sequence recorded under ‘War Service’ as for Joël Matthews, below – but Eric Cooper’s ‘War Service’ is a blank, or rather a question-mark, so perhaps he was one of those who got away, by going on the run and being helped by a support network. At any rate he survived, ending up in Newton Abbot where he died in 1971, aged 83.
Joël H Matthews (National Archives Reference: MH 47/9/111 Case Number: M330) of 17, York Road, Upper Edmonton, was 25 in 1916, single, and unemployed after his last job as a temporary post office worker. He succeeded initially in obtaining a certificate of exemption from combatant service (ECS) from his local Tribunal, but was clear about that not being what he sought, having specified “An absolute certificate”:
I claim an absolute exemption because to undertake combatant or non-combatant military service, or to accept any compulsory change of occupation (the only purpose of which could be to make the nation more efficient in waging war), would be contrary to the following principles, in which I believe:
(a) that human personality must be held as sacred,
(b) that we should work, not for any one nation, but for humanity,
(c) that the results of war must always be evil, and, consequently, war can never be justified.
J Matthews Junr.
24th day of Feb. 1916
The Local Tribunal explained (confirming his view of the implications) that it had
...accepted the statement of appellant on the form of application in support of the claim, and having regard to the fact that the Government are in need of men for the Army, they decided to grant him a certificate of exemption from combatant service only, in order that he may relieve a man who is doing non-combatant work...
Matthews based his appeal on his original claim, arguing: “If the Local Tribunal considered it a genuine application, they should have granted me an absolute exemption; if they considered it not genuine, they should have granted me no exemption whatever.” The Appeal Tribunal chose the second option, not only dismissing the appeal but withdrawing the ECS certificate, asserting (with blue underlining and marginal note) that conscientious objection to non-combatant service was not admissible under the Military Service Act – a vexed question in tribunals all over the country that would take months to resolve.
On a form applying for leave to appeal to the Central Tribunal Matthews restated his position, pointing out that:
The Appeal Tribunal did not seem to understand the nature of a “conscientious objection”. The members did not understand that, when a man is convinced a certain principle is true, he has a “conscientious objection” against violating that principle.
In my original appeal to the following I claimed exemption because of three principles, which I believe to be true:
(a) that human personality must be held as sacred,
(b) the principle of internationalism is a true principle,
(c) that war can never be justified.
I wish to appeal to the Central Tribunal, in order that it may be decided whether “principle” constitutes a “conscientious objection”.
Joël Matthews Junr.
7th April 1916
Leave to appeal to the Central Tribunal was refused; the Appeal Tribunal chairman wrote in the margin of the form: “I see no reason to qualify this application for leave to appeal.” So Matthews joined the ranks (sort-of) of those whose adherence to principle rather than profession of religious belief landed them in the army, followed quickly by prison. The record of his ‘war service’ and imprisonment goes:
Middlesex [Regiment] CM (Court Martial) Dover 16.5.16 - 6 months imprisonment; CM Chatham (AWOL [absent without leave] and Failing to appear on parade) 5.7.16 - 18 months HL (with hard labour) commuted to 3 months, Maidstone CP (Civil Prison); 5 Middlesex CM Chatham (AWOL) 24.11.16 - 2yrs.HL, Maidstone CP; CM (Court Martial) Chatham 22.5.17 - 2yrs.HL, CM Chatham 11.2.19 - 2 yrs. HL, Maidstone CP. “By Jan.1919 had served 3 sentences (3 months furlough) and two years. Maidstone CP (Civil Prison) 18.2.19 to 8.4.19 discharged by order of War Office; Hunger strike - released from prison early 1919 - 9.4.19.”
In August 1916 his case had been considered, as were many others, by the Central Tribunal at Wormwood Scrubs charged with selecting “Class: A – Genuine” COs for referral to the Brace Committee administering the new Home Office Scheme for Work of National Importance. Matthews was judged genuine, and therefore eligible, but refused to have anything to do with the scheme. After the war he undertook work with the Friends' War Victims Relief Service in France, July 1919 to Feb.1921,J (Joël) Matthews is mentioned in a footnote in Ken Weller’s Don’t Be A Soldier (this book is cited as a source for eleven records on the Pearce database), and was evidently active in North London anti-war political life. His motivation is given as: Moral and International; North London Herald League; "Communal Anarchist"; Tottenham NCF (No-Conscription Fellowship); and Atheist.