War Resistance in the West Riding of Yorkshire

One of my distant cousins and her family were involved during WW1 in conspiracy after conspiracy, conscientiousness objectors and more……….but that is a different story.

Last week I attended a local family history talk by Cyril Pearce about pockets of resistance within the West Riding – wonderful as I have an interest in WW1 and in ‘conchies’.

Always one for learning some new snippet or piece of information, nobody knows everything, even though some think they do, I listened with interest.  Although, most of the talk was based around the Huddersfield areas, the information fitted in with other places in different counties.

My information has been gathered from around the Derby area, based on my family, but this opened my eyes to the people who were involved and how they were accepted and treated within their communities.  One of my questions at the end of the talk, based on a copy of an Attestation Paper was ‘did all concientious objectors have an army service number’, to my surprise the answer was yes, as they were called up and therefore were allocated a number.  Many refused to sign and had to follow the consequences of this by either doing non-combatant work i.e. being in a reserved profession, by being in an ambulance corps., or doing aid work of sorts.  The Friends Ambulance Corps is one of these groups (Quakers).  But, saying that, many still refused to do any work that would help the nation at this time, even being in a reserved occupation was too much, and they would have been sent to varioius prisons including Wakefield and Dartmoor.

For the first two years of the war over 3,000,000 volunteered (up to 1916 there had been no conscription) but due to such heavy losses it was decided to bring in conscription.  At first it was only single men had the call, then as time went on and 1918 came, married men and men up to 50 were also included. So, after the passing of various Military Service Acts the No-Conscription Fellowship mounted a campaign against the punishment of objectors and in total about 16,000 men refused to fight.  A  large number of these men were pacifists who believed that killing another human being was wrong, either for religious or conscientious reasons.  The No-Conscription Fellowship had support from many public figures of the time  including : Bertrand Russell, Arthur McManus, Alfred Mason to name a few.

The areas of objectors in the West Riding seemed to be mainly from the woollen areas which seemed to be mainly non-conformist, the mining areas, mainly the traditional church seemed to be lightly affected.  You would think that the mining areas would have the same feelings as there were many Socialist and Labour groups involved with the organisation of objector groups.

Over 120 Huddersfield men appeared before a tribunal for their beliefs, one conscientious objector was Arthur Gardiner.  He was a gifted talker and when attending the tribunal likened himself to German workers who he felt he had more in common with than the men in Westminster – he lost his appeal, was sent to France, leaving the station to waving supporters.  One would think that a C.O. would not blend well back into a community after so many families had lost fathers, brothers and sons, but no, Arthur went on to become Mayor of Huddersfield.

What did I learn from Cyril’s talk, well that the C.O’s had various degrees of how much or how little they would do, or how much they would disrupt the every day goings on ‘at home’. I knew  there were many National groups who were organising anti-war feelings, but I did not realise how many small, local groups including Friends Meetings and Sunday Schools were involved.  Also, I knew there were the ambulance and first aid non combatants but I found out that many went to France to dig trenches, give aid and hand out tea.

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