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.
Eric Cooper
28th February 1916

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.
Anti-war leaflets from the cover of Ken Weller’s book

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Black Lesbian and Gay Centre documentary: Saturday 17th October

A screening of 'Under Your Nose' a documentary charting the journey of the Black Lesbian and Gay Centre (BLGC) that started in Tottenham in 1985.

West Green Learning Centre
Langham Road
N15 3RB

Saturday, 17 October 2015 from 18:30 to 22:00 (BST)

The work carried out - often at huge personal cost - by these activists was largely un-documented.

Facing Thatcherism, Section 28 and AIDS, the BLGC workers marched, produced newsletters and fought for changes which influence the LGBT movement today.

We'd like your feedback on the film and to start a discussion about how best to mark their achievements in the run up to a celebration next year to mark the 30th anniversary.

There will be food, conversation and positive connection, so hope to see you there:) 

There are a few free tickets which those on low incomes and past BLGC workers/volunteers are invited to select.

Veronica McKenzie

Book tickets(*) at

(*) Free for BLGC volunteers

World War 1: Different Voices

No Glory in War
Second annual day school - 2015

Saturday 14th November
Manchester Metropolitan University - Brooks Building
10.30 - 4.30

This event will offer a space for activists, researchers and people interested in different histories of World War 1 to explore alternative narratives and creative ways to build resistance to wars in our time.


Professor Karen Hunt - Keele University
'The Kitchen is the Key to Victory': Women and the Politics of Food in WW1

Alison Ronan
Anti-war women: the view from the provinces. The Hague April 1915 and the
emergence of the Women's International League in the NW

Sonja Andrew - University of Manchester
Art and conscientious objection

Writing peace songs - Aidan Jolly
Researching alternative WW1 histories
Using drama for peace building - WILPF
Resisting war today - Penny Hicks

Other highlights:
  - the WILPF film These dangerous women,
  - the Peace News exhibition The World is my Country, 
  - and a bookstall.

A pdf is available for use as leaflet or poster.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

New from Hackney Radical History

Working Class Club Life and Politics in Hackney 1870 – 1900
Tuesday 17th November, 7pm
Pages of Hackney
70 Lower Clapton Road
E5 0RN
Tickets £TBA
In the heady days of late Victorian London, Hackney was regarded as the most radical – even revolutionary – district of London with a large number of liberal reform and socialist clubs and organisations across the borough. These clubs organised lectures, demonstrations, musical concerts, outings, and education classes, and famous radicals such as William Morris were regular speakers.
Barry Burke and Ken Worpole recreate the world of radical Hackney, to mark the publication a new edition of their original 1980 study.

updates on the Radical History of Hackney site:

1. Somewhere In Hackney - a 1980 film about Centerprise bookshop and other radical projects, now online at the BFI site

2. Centerprise's radical mailboxes - on the diverse radical groups which used the shop as a mailing address:

3. Centerprise, An Phoblacht and a suspect package - the amusing tale of a bomb scare

4. Shots fired at Hackney Council meeting, 1986

5. Blue House squat at Sutton House - an appeal for help with an exhibition about the squat / venue

6. The Provisional IRA in Stoke Newington - bomb factories in the 70s and 90s

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Sorting Out Some WW1 COs: A Bunch of Anarchists

As has been pointed out, the limited way in which the Pearce Register of First World War Conscientious Objectors (COs) has been made available to researchers via the Imperial War Museum’s website is far from ideal from the viewpoint of a radical historian. Locating the records within ‘Lives of the First World War’ tends to emphasise the individual and particular at the expense of any attempt to see a broader picture or assess either the numbers (other than the overall total, currently running at 17,426 records) or characteristics of those who refused the call-up. Without the spreadsheet format enabling sorting and counting by (for example) occupation, location, prison, work centre etc., it becomes extremely laborious and time-consuming to discern patterns of resistance. For that, each transcript has to be looked at and the requisite data extracted and used to reconstruct the relevant section of the database one way or another. 
It has its uses, however, and the results of Cyril Pearce’s massive research work can be deployed in various interesting ways by those who care to dig, and have some idea what they’re looking for.
Keyword ‘Anarchist’
Historians have generally had a blind spot when it comes to anarchists, even when these were not written out of the narrative on purpose – there may be some excuse for this, in some cases, insofar as anarchists are probably less likely than most other people to leave traces among bureaucratic records and archives (fortunately there are other sources, now being increasingly discovered and mined) – and the story of opposition to the First World War has not been much of an exception to the trend. Thus in considering political as against religious motivation for conscientious objection, ‘socialist’ seems to have been the default assumption and label of choice. Searching for ‘socialist’ on the database results in 20 times as many hits as for ‘anarchist’. But to be able to get at transcripts for 25 of the latter is at least a start, and potentially a helpful addition to other work on this topic, most relevantly here that of Nick Heath. In just one article looking at ‘Two little known events’ he supplies a dozen more names for the list (which can almost all be found on the database, although most not with ‘anarchist’), confirming that ‘much more investigation needs to be done’.
As a small contribution, this blogpost looks at some of what can be found out about anarchist war-resisters by merging the two sets of records (keyword-anarchist and names-from-Heath-article) and sorting the information that turns up, variable in quantity and quality though it inevitably is, to draw out a few threads that may suggest more bits of the pattern of resistance.
Guy Aldred
·         Not all formally COs – some ignored the whole system and went on the run, some were not eligible (conscription was initially for single males aged 18-40, married men becoming liable a few months later), 
·         Some Famous names whose stories are available more fully elsewhere, e.g. Guy Aldred, Lilian Wolfe/Woolf (not the only woman who shows up on the database, obviously as an opponent of the war* rather than a CO as such).    
·         Some overlap with the work of Ken Weller as well as Nick Heath’s.
 *... front page article in April 1916 for the Voice of Labour entitled Defying the Act. 10,000 leaflets reproducing the article were run off by [Tom] Keell and distributed by Lilian Wolfe. Some were intercepted by the police. This resulted in a raid on the Freedom Press offices on 5th May, with the arrests of Keell and Wolfe. –  NH  
Not all were necessarily professedly anarchist at the time or consistently anarchist later;and many have a combination of motives attributed to them. Examples:
·         Agnostic (2); Anarchist (5);Anarchist (?);Anarchist/Socialist (?) (2); Communist Anarchist (2)
·         Atheist/ Anarchist; 'Anarchist, Communist, Socialist' etc.; "Communal Anarchist", NCF; 
·         Anarchist/Communist; Atheist, Trade union; Non-Sect[arian], Tolstoyan/Anarchist (3);
·         Anarchist, 'Non-Sect', No-Conscription Fellowship (NCF), Workers' Freedom Group; 
·         Moral and International, North London Herald League;
·         NCF, Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR), Socialist;
·         ILP, 'tending towards Anarchist'; NCF, 'New Church', Anarchist; NCF, Socialist;
·         Non-Sect, NCF, Anarchist-Communist, Esperanto, Vegetarian;
·         Revolutionary Socialist lecturer and labour organiser, NCF;
·         Socialist (?),Assistant Editor of Guy Aldred's "The Spur", North London Herald League, Atheist;
·         Socialist, British Socialist Party (BSP), Atheist, NCF;
·         Theosophist, Anarchist-Communist, SSS [?] - Young Socialist magazine organiser;
            Tribunal convinced he was an Anarchist. 
Tribunals denied anarchists (and most non-religious claimants) any right to a conscience
·             Where 
Work is being done on the geographical spread of COs, mapping clusters and so on, as Cyril Pearce told last year’s Peace History conference. The ‘anarchists’ were quite widely spread, from or associated with: Abertillery; Nottingham (2); Colchester; London – Edmonton, Forest Gate/ West Ham, Harringay, Highgate/ Hornsey, Shepherd's Bush (2), St Pancras, Tooting, Watford; Liverpool; Glasgow (2); Liversedge, Yorks.; Manchester (3); Burnley, St Helens (2); Stockport* (10); Whiteway Colony, Stroud (4).
*... Anarchist Congress held in Hazel Grove, Stockport in April 1915, where the British anarchist movement took a “strongly anti-militaristic attitude… with “only two voices …raised to support those who favored war”. – Nick Heath, - See also article by NH as above, for Stockport and Abertillery.
A few ‘professsional revolutionaries’ – e.g. Journalist - Anarchist journal Freedom, Editor 'The Spur', Editor and contributor ''Freedom' and 'Voice of Labour'. Others include:
·         Lithographer; Cinematograph operator;
·         Cotton operative; Weaver, cotton; Spinner; Doffer - cotton spinning,
·         Dyer's Labourer; Hat leather cutter; Furniture trade;
·         Goods porter; GPO Sorter; Labourer; Market gardener; Mechanic; Miner;
·         Elocutionist, concert artist, Musician, Violinist, and composer, Theatrical and musical professional;
·         Shipping clerk, former railway clerk; Street sweeper;
·         Shop assistant; Tobacconist/Cigar manufacturer.
     ‘War Service’ [sic – their main service was of course to oppose the war and resist its enforcers]

Some got away in time or absconded – 'Evaded the draft' and went to the USA (2); Allegedly made his way to the USA and worked in the Ferrer School in New York; AWOL (See Police Gazette 19.12.16)
Others were caught up in the military machine: Fovant Camp, Blackdown; Court Martial (CM) Chester Castle; Mesopotamia Expeditionary Force; Non-combatant Corps; R.[Welch] Fusiliers; taken to France from Kinmel Park (NCC); Birkenhead (2); NCC Pontefract; Chatham; Hurdcott Camp; Sherwood Foresters (2). It is no surprise that they were among those most harshly treated, the notorious brutality at Birkenhead barracks being one of the worst examples.    
Refusing to obey orders meant court martial and prison, with the prevalent practice of imposing repeated two-year sentences with hard labour. Many saw the insides of several prisons over a number of years, Wormwood Scrubs most frequently, plus or minus one or more of: Winchester; Wandsworth; Brixton ; Gloucester; Walton, Liverpool; Shrewsbury; Rouen Military Prison; Leeds; Manchester, Strangeways; Birmingham; Durham; Maidstone;  Preston; Parkhurst; Exeter; Chester; Newcastle.

In spite of everything many rejected the alternative of government-directed ‘work of national importance’, the Home Office Scheme (‘refused to accept HOS’), although some did proceed to camps and work centres eventually; Dyce Camp; Ballachulish; Wakefield Experiment; Platt Field, Manchester; Denton Road Board Camp; Knutsford; and Dartmoor.

No surprise either that their names are linked with episodes of resistance such as:
·         Hunger strike - released by order of GOC;
·         Wakefield Work Camp - rejected work,
·         Wakefield Experiment 7.10.18 work strike;
·         AWOL from Dartmoor;
·         Liverpool mass Hunger strike 22.7.18 as protest with other COs (2);
·         hunger strike 20.8.18 to 23.8.18;
·         hunger strike, 1.9.17 to 30.10.17;
·         force fed 50 times 'to finish or release him'
·         absentee and forged documents;
·         absconded on a bike and rode back to Glasgow.

Finally (for now), another useful feature of the database is the ‘Sources’ heading which allows the checking and following up of individual stories, and includes documentation from the peace movement and publications by a few radical historians as well as official archives and press reports.

(More names and case studies to follow in future posts.)
Remembering the Real: Refusal, Resistance, Revolt!