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Conscientious Objectors and Ossett

Ossett Soldier's Opinion of Conscientious Objectors 1

Lance-corporal Willet, whose letters describing the doings of the first 4th K.O.Y.L.I. were of considerable interest to our readers, has been for some months a draughtsman on the staff of the 2nd Army Headquarters and is no longer in close touch with his old battalion. He, however, writes and interesting letter to Mr. S.N. Pickard, in which he says:-

"Things out her are moving slowly, but surely. I can understand people at home chafing at the war lasting and dragging out so long. They do not know how things stand. They seem to view the war as a sort of elaborated boxing arena, where nothing but brute strength is needed. But this is not so. It is a case of brains against brains. The brute force is only needed in carrying out what the brains have hatched."

He goes on to write with great confidence of the result, and says:

"The English papers seem to have got into a bit of a ferment about the French at Verdun, but, as it says in the good book, 'Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.' The French are capable of doing all that is needed in that direction. If only these Derby men had come up before, instead of hanging back until now! The man who has hung on until it came to practically compulsion, with no reason at all, except the saving his own selfish skin, ought to be ashamed to wear the same cloth as the men who died in their countries cause in 1914. The khaki uniform is a dress of honour. These men should have a dress of their own and be forced to emigrate when the war is over. Thank God there is only a small percentage of such men in the United Kingdom. I would much rather be under a soldier's wooden cross than in their ranks any time.

We have many a laugh out here when we get the papers with reports of the tribunals. I saw that one chap said he would stand by and watch his sisters be assaulted. He said he would pray to God. Much good that would do him! God helps those who help themselves. Praying did not save the Belgians at Louvain, not physically anyhow. May the Lord grant that we shall never need such men.

I have not heard from any of the first 4th K.O.Y.L.I. (he adds), but I think that they are all well and in 'new pastures'. Good luck to them. The name of the K.O.Y.L.I. is a name any man might be proud of."

Military Service - The Conscientious Objector - Complaints in Parliament of Unfair Tribunals 2

The conscientious objector was prominent in the House of Commons on Wednesday. Mr. Philip Snowden declared that some of the tribunals seemed to take delight in hurling scorn and insult at the applicants of this class, instead of treating the applicants in a judicial manner. Many of the decisions were travesties of justice, and having regard in the constitution of some of the appeal tribunals, he had little hope of anything better from them. One chairman had had a bible in front of him, and used texts from Deuteronomy which completely paralysed conscientious objectors who quoted the Sermon on the Mount. Three conscientious objectors were prepared to be shot rather than go into the army, and the death penalty would appear to be the result if they did not obey orders when they were conscripted.

Mr. T.H. Harvey (Liberal, West Leeds) said that many cases had been brought to his notice where conscientious objectors had offered to do work of national importance not under the army, and the offers had been not merely rejected by the tribunals, but the tribunals had refused to consider them in any way. In some cases the tribunals had even stated that they had no power to consider such offers. It was of the greatest importance that the Government should make it clear that they meant the option of exemption to be a reality.

Captain Amery (Unionist, South Birmingham) thought there was a good deal of rough common sense displayed by the tribunals.

Mr. P. Morrell (Liberal, Burnley) complained of the treatment meted out to conscientious objectors by some of the tribunals. The men were brow-beaten, bullied and insulted, and it was grave wrong to English justice, the sense of fair play, and the national conscience if this was allowed to go on without rebuke from the Government.

Mr. J.W. Wilson urged that conscientious objectors should be used in civil labour at home such as unloading ships, and Mr. A. Rowntree said that most valuable service could be got for the state from these men if the right was were adopted, but if their consciences were trampled on, a most serious position might arise.

Mr. Lloyd George said that tribunals had a difficult task in discriminating between the person who had a real conscientious objection and him who made use of it as a cloak for cowardice. It was clear from the evidence that some men only had a conscientious objection to being fired at. He agreed that the test applied to these cases might be improved. Questions as to whether the claimants had expressed conscientious objections before the war, or had made sacrifices for conscience, were relevant and ought to be pressed home.

He had been twitted with being a conscientious objector. That was true; he held very strong views about the injustice of a certain war. What were they to do with the genuine conscientious objector? The Government were entitled to ask that every citizen should contribute something to helping the country. He had conscientious objectors in his own department who were helping him to improve the condition of workers in the workshops. They would rather be shot than fight, but they were doing valuable work which was perfectly consistent with their consciences. Surely conscientious objectors could not object to assisting the R.A.M.C. If he had been recruited in the Boer War, he would not have hesitated for a moment to take part in helping to succour the wounded. What was there inconsistent in a man, who objected to war, doing his best to cure its wounds and repair its damage? If a conscientious objector told him he objected to doing that, he said without hesitation that the real reason was not conscience but fear.

Mr. Walter Long was sympathetic towards genuine cases, but in plain English, he could not understand the position of a man who claimed all the rights of citizenship, who enjoyed the right to live in this country, with all its privileges and institutions, who did as he liked, it might be that he amassed a fortune under the protection of our laws, and then when every institution that we cared for was at stake, when our liberties, our privileges, it might be the lives of those we cared for most were in danger - men who claimed all these privileges and yet declined to raise a hand in defence, even of women and children.

Mr. Long said it was the intention of the Government to devise machinery by which the conscientious objector, when he had established his case to the satisfaction of the tribunal, would have an opportunity of doing some work for the country which would be of importance.

Strong Feelings Against Conscientious Objectors at Wakefield 3

Lively scenes have been witnessed in the vicinity of the Wakefield Work Centre, as the gaol is now called, during the past few days. The 600 conscientious objectors now lodged there include a number who were recently transferred from Knutsford because of the public attitude of resentment towards them, and they seem to have brought their troubles with them, for they find the people of Wakefield hardly more sympathetic and inclined to welcome them with open arms than those of Knutsford were.

It is suggested that there is something about the bearing and manner of the "Conchies" as they move about the streets in the evening that invites, almost challenges, the resentment of the residents. However that may be, Wakefield residents are showing considerable indignation at the presence in their midst of conscientious objectors, and during the past week or so it has not been an uncommon occurrence for crowds of people - men, women and children - to assemble in the neighbourhood of the works centre and greet with taunts the conscientious objectors as they pass. Indeed, at times matters have beyond mere verbal warfare and fisticuffs have been resorted to, some of the young objectors, though opposed to fighting in the army against the Germans in the defence of the country, being ready to use their fists in the defence of themselves. In view of the growing feeling against these men on the part of the residents, extra police have been placed on duty near the works centre to prevent public disturbance.


1. "Ossett Observer", March 18th 1916

2. "Ossett Observer", March 25th 1916

3. "Ossett Observer", June 1st 1918