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Willie Brooke Clapham

Willie Brooke Clapham, Conscientious Objector

Willie Brooke Clapham was born the 9th of October 1893, the son of Bradford-born insurance agent, Nathan Clapham and his wife, Ossett-born, Emma (nee Watson), who were married in 1887. Emma Watson was Nathan’s second wife, his first wife, Alice Robinson, having died in 1882. They had one child Mary Hannah Clapham who married William Brundle on the 4th June 1900.

In 1901 the Clapham family lived at High Street, Gawthorpe and before that at Wakefield Road, Earlsheaton. In 1911, Nathan and Emma Clapham were living in a six-roomed home on High Street, Gawthorpe with four of their six children. The eldest child is James Edwin Cecil Clapham, born 1890, and a labourer in a coal mine. Willie Clapham was working as a gardener. Their two girls are Ethel Clapham, born 1891 (died 1950), working in 1911 as a weaver, and Ida Clapham, born 1901 (died 1981), who in 1911 was still at school. Their two eldest children, Claude Watson Clapham, born 1886, and Evelyn (a boy), born 1889, have both married and left home. All of the children were born in Earlsheaton. Nathan Clapham died in 1932.

No army service record appears to have survived for James Edwin Cecil Clapham (known as Cecil), but Willie Brooke Clapham's and Claude Watson Clapham’s records have survived.

Willie Brooke Clapham of 14, High Street, Gawthorpe, aged 23 years, a labourer, was called up to serve his country on the 21st October 1916 and his medical classification confirmed he was fit for General Service. He did not sign his enrolment, but was appointed to the Yorks and Lancs Regiment with the regimental number 37676. He was wiling to do civilian service, but his tribunal allowed him only non-combatant service, which he refused, and his case went no further at the County Appeal Tribunal.

Willie Clapham was posted on the 23rd Oct 1916 and on the 24th Nov 1916, he was tried by court martial at Pontefract for 'conduct to the prejudice of good order & military discipline.' He was found guilty and sentenced to imprisonment without hard labour for 112 days. He was held in the Guard Detention Room from the 21st October 1916 to 27th November 1916 and then was sent to Wormwood Scrubs prison on the 28th November 1916 and appeared before the Central Tribunal there on the 3rd January 1917. He was offered, and he accepted, the HO Scheme but it is not clear as to which Work Centre he was first sent. He was transferred to Army Reserve “W” on the 20th of February 1917 and released from prison on the 22nd of February 1917. On the 28th August 1917, Willie Clapham was transferred to Princetown Work Centre (formerly known as Dartmoor Prison) in Devon.

Dartmoor prison was originally built for French prisoners from the Napoleonic wars. At the end of 1916 it was reopened to house over 1,000 British COs and renamed 'Princetown Work Centre'. 200 of the COs were put to work inside the ex-prison's walls. The rest were sent out to the moors, either to farm (crushing grain) or to work in the quarry (carting granite) for nine hours a day. In the midst of the moor the COs cleared a rectangular patch and built round it a 7-foot-high drystone wall and decades later was still known as 'Conchies Field'.

By 1917 the comparative comfort of Dartmoor was arousing anger in the press, enraged that 'The Coddled Conscience Men' were 'Princetown's Pampered Pets'. An MP suggested they should be exchanged for wounded prisoners-of-war captive in Germany. In the House of Lords a Princetown visitor reported on the 'intellectual anarchy' he had found there. 'Why not send the conchies somewhere where they could be put in touch with enemy bombers? The dropping of a bomb might bring about a sudden conversion, or at least a truer view of the political situation.' Sometimes the prisoners were assaulted by resentful civilians.1

Willie Clapham was discharged on the 31st of March 1920 having been, reluctantly, in the Army for 3 years and 162 days. Willie Clapham died in 1972 aged 79.

Willie Clapham's brother Claude Watson Clapham was born on 15th November 1886 and baptised at on 6th March 1887 at Earlsheaton Methodist Chapel. He lived with his parents at Wakefield Road, Earlsheaton. Shortly after his birth the family moved to High Street, Gawthorpe and Claude made his home there after his marriage to Margaret Gertrude Teasdale at Gawthorpe Parish Church on 4th January 1910.

Margaret was born in Fyzabad, West Bengal, India on the 4th of June 1890. Claude Clapham was an errand boy for a milliner’s shop in 1901, aged 14, and then a newsagent, living in Gawthorpe, in 1911. The couple had no children. Their address into the war years was 14, High Street, Gawthorpe.

Claude Watson Clapham's service record has survived. He was aged 29 years and 9 months and married when he enlisted in November 1916. Whilst on active service training at Sunderland in March 1917 he was admonished for overstaying his leave. He was posted to France on the 11th of April 1917 and joined the 8th Battalion, York and Lancaster Regiment on the 9th May 1917. On or before the 8th of August 1917, Claude received a severe gun-shot wound to his left thigh, which resulted in the amputation of his leg.

On the 9th of August 1917 he was posted home, and on the same day the War Office, via the Infantry Record Office at York, urgently sought the address of Claude’s next of kin of his wife, which was confirmed as High Street, Gawthorpe. Elsewhere in his record his wife’s address in December 1916 was given as Mrs. M.G. Clapham 23, Casa Loma Block, Portage Ave, Winnipeg, Canada. This was the address to which her Separation Allowance (11s 1d per week) and an allotment of Claude’s army pay (3s 6d per week) had been paid since 21st November 1916. The Army was confused as to her address and the confusion was compounded on the 2nd of December 1918 when the Regimental Paymaster reported that "it was impossible to trace Mrs. Clapham" and that the Officer Paying Imperial Pensions, Ottawa "is making no payment of September Allowance."

It appears that Claude's wife Margaret Gertrude Clapham had left Gawthorpe shortly after his enlistment in November 1916 and by early December 1918 she could no longer be located.

Margaret Gertrude Teasdale, was the daughter of James William Teasdale born 1857 in Liverpool, who joined the 2/8th Regt of Foot in 1876 aged 19 and served in India, Afghanistan and Cork where he married in 1883. He was then posted to Burma and then back to India when he was invalided out with dysentery. In 1897, James Teasdale was working as a commissionaire and by 1901 was living in Liverpool. It could be that he was still alive in 1916 when he would have been 59 years of age, and he may have been living in Canada at that time. Possibly Margaret Clapham went to stay with her parents whilst here husband Claude was fighting in WW1?

Meanwhile, on the 20th of December 1917, Claude was granted furlough, pending admission to Roehampton Queen Mary’s Convalescent Hospital. He remained in the army until the 14th of October 1918, when he was brought before the Invaliding Board at this Hospital with a view to discharge from the service. His discharge was confirmed on the 16th of December 1918 with a weekly pension of 27/6d for 13 weeks from the 17th of December 1918 and then 22/- a week for life. Claude Watson Clapham died in 1949, aged 63 years, and was buried at Ossett Holy Trinity on the 18th of July 1949.

Private Claude W. Clapham, 36460, 8th Battalion, York and Lancaster Regiment was awarded the British and Victory medals. He did not serve abroad before the 31st December 1915 and after his medical discharge from the Army he was awarded the Silver War Badge.

Another brother of Willie Brook Clapham who served in WW1 was James Edwin Cecil Clapham and who is recorded in the Electoral Register, 1935-1938, Spen Valley with an abode of 27, Dewsbury Road, Ossett and another address of "Laundry" in the township of Heckmondwike. There is a medal card for a James C. Clapham, Private 235477 in the 9th Battalion York and Lancaster Regiment, who enlisted on 13 November 1915 (therefore a volunteer) and was discharged on the 21st February 1919. However, this may not be James Edwin Cecil Clapham, but it is likely.

James Edwin Cecil Clapham married Martha Auty Lord (who was also recorded in the 1935-1938 Electoral Rolls with the same address(es)) in 1915 and Cecil, of The Bungalow, Fearnley Avenue, Ossett died on the 12th of January 1963. Probate was granted on the 21st of March to his wife Martha. He left £4774 5s.

There doesn't appear to be any army service for Willie's elder brother Evelyn Clapham, but he too was a colliery worker. He married Charlotte Booth Foster at Mount Zion Chapel, Ossett on the 18th of December 1909.


1. "Conscientious Objection in Britain in World war One: Dartmoor" - Peace Pledge Union Web Site