Fenner Brockway and Lilla Brockway were both opposed to the First World War and over the first few weeks of the conflict exchanged letters through Sweden with Rosa Luxemburg, Clara Zetkin and Karl Liebknecht where they discussed the the war. of the Second International to prevent a European war. (1)
The Independent Labour Party (ILP) was the only British political party to oppose. Liebknecht wrote to Brockway in December 1914, that only the "Russian, Serbian and ILP comrades had... saved the honour of Socialism". (2) Alexandra Kollontai pointed out that the left underestimated the moral influence of the old bourgeois world on the mood of the populace." The left relied on appealing to self-interest but in a crisis people do not follow their self-interest and "the governments of the bourgeois states understood popular psychology" better than the left. (3)
Alfred Salter was a member of the Society of Friends. He argued that the question of war was a religious question, but religion went far beyond Christianity, "for every man has a religion, though he may not know it." There were two main religions in the world: materialism and faith in God. Materialism believed in the power of money and the use of force. Salter took the second approach. "What would Christ do in my place?" He concluded: "I cannot uphold the war, even on its supposedly defensive side, and I cannot, therefore, advise anyone to enlist or to take part in what I believe to be wrong and wicked for myself." (4)
Ada Salter was also against the war. Although religious her main argument against it was political. In an article in the The Labour Leader she attacked those in the Labour Party who supported the war. "Comrades in all lands.... we have had to ask ourselves whether it is any good making speeches and passing resolutions against war in general during a time of peace, if now, when the test has come, we are in favour of this particular war." With socialists, she wrote, it always seemed to be like this: "We are against the last war; we are against the next war; but we are not against the present war... How dare we uphold wars? How dare we take upon ourselves the responsibility of taking life?" (5)
Fenner and Lilla both feared the introduction of conscription. Lila suggested that a letter should be published in the Labour Leader, the newspaper of the Independent Labour Party (ILP), suggesting an organisation that was opposed to conscription. On 12 November 1914 a letter appeared in the Labour Leader: "Although conscription may not be so imminent as the Press suggests, it would perhaps be well for men of enlistment age who are not prepared to take the part of a combatant in the war, whatever be the penalty for refusing to band themselves together as we may know our strength. As a preliminary, if men between the years of 18 and 38 who take this view will send their names and addresses to me at the addresses given below a useful record will be at our service." (6)
There was a great response to the letter and 150 people joined the organisation, the No-Conscription Fellowship (NCF) in the first six days. (7) A follow-up letter was published on 3rd December: "Whilst there may not be any immediate danger of conscription, nothing is more uncertain than the duration and development of the war, and it would, we think, be as well of men of enlistment age (19 to 38) who are not prepared to take a combatant's part, whatever the penalty for refusing, formed an organisation for mutual counsel and action. Already, in response to personal appeals, a large number of names have been forwarded for registration, and many correspondents have expressed a desire for knowledge of, and fellowship with others who have come to the same determination not to fight. To meet these needs 'The No-Conscription Fellowship' has been formed, and we invite men of recruitment age who have decided to refuse to take up arms to join. (8)
Clifford Allen, the manager of the first Labour Party daily newspaper, the Daily Citizen, and the author of the pamphlet, Is Germany Right and England Wrong? (1914) where he argued against Britain becoming involved in an European war, became Chairman of the NCF. "We have got to face the only possible outcome of our Socialist faith - I mean the question of non-resistance to armed force. Don't let us deceive ourselves. The sacredness of human life is the mainspring of all our propaganda. In my opinion there can be no two kinds of murder." (9) Allen was elected as chairman of the NCF and Brockway became secretary of the organisation. (10)
Allen explained the purpose of the No-Conscription Fellowship: "As soon as the danger of conscription became imminent, and the Fellowship something more than an informal gathering, it was necessary for those responsible to consider what should be the basis upon which the organization should be built. The conscription controversy has been waged by many people who, by reason of age or sex, would never be subject to the provisions of a Conscription Act. The chief characteristic of the Fellowship is that full membership is strictly confined to those men who would be subject to the provisions of any such Act." (11)
Fenner Brockway developed a good relationship with Allen: "I was fascinated by Allen. In physique he was frail and his charm had an almost feminine quality, but never had I met a man with a keener brain, or more confident decision. He was tall, slight and bent of shoulder; his features were clear-cut and classic, but his skin was delicate like that of a child; his shining brown hair was waved, his large brown eyes had sympathy in them and also a suggestion of suffering. His voice was rich and deep, surprisingly so far such a slight physique... I recognised him at once as a potential leader; his personality was so dominating, his mind so clear." (12)
On the outbreak of the First World War the leaders of two suffrage organisations, Women Social & Political Union (WSPU) and National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies (NUWSS) suspended all political activity. Emmeline Pankhurst and Christabel Pankhurst, the leaders of the WSPU, organised a demonstration in London. Members carried banners with slogans such as "We Demand the Right to Serve", "For Men Must Fight and Women Must Work" and "Let None Be Kaiser's Cat's Paws". At the meeting, attended by 30,000 people, Emmeline Pankhurst called on trade unions to let women work in those industries traditionally dominated by men. She told the audience: "What would be the good of a vote without a country to vote in!". (13)
Millicent Fawcett, the leader of the NUWSS supported the war effort but she refused to become involved in persuading young men to join the armed forces. Despite pressure from some members of the NUWSS, Fawcett refused to argue against the First World War. At a Council meeting of the National Union of Women's Suffrage Societies held in February 1915, Fawcett attacked the peace efforts of some suffragists. Fawcett argued that until the German armies had been driven out of France and Belgium: "I believe it is akin to treason to talk of peace." Her biographer, Ray Strachey, argued: "She stood like a rock in their path, opposing herself with all the great weight of her personal popularity and prestige to their use of the machinery and name of the union." (14) Several members of the NUWSS resigned over this issue. This included Catherine Marshall, Parliamentary Secretary of the NUWSS who choose international pacifism over Fawcett's "patriotic feminism". Marshall decided to put her efforts into the No-Conscription Fellowship. (15)
In December 1914 Lilla Brockway joined forces with Emily Hobhouse, Margaret Bondfield, Sylvia Pankhurst, Helena Swanwick, Maude Royden, Anne Cobden Sanderson, Ada Salter, Isabella Ford, Katharine Glasier, Margaret Ashton, Elsie Duval Franklin and Marion Phillips to write an open letter to the women of Germany and Austria. "Some of us wish to send you a word at this sad Christmastide… Though our sons are sent to slay each other, and our hearts are torn by the cruelty of this fate, yet through pain supreme we will be true to our common womanhood. We will let no bitterness enter in this tragedy, made sacred by the life-blood of our best, nor mar with hate the heroism of their sacrifice. Though much has been done on all sides you will, as deeply as ourselves, deplore, shall we not steadily refuse to give credence to those false tales so freely told us, each of the other? Do you not feel with us that the vast slaughter in our opposing armies is a stain on civilisation and Christianity and that still deeper horror is aroused at the thought of those innocent victims, the countless women, children, babes, old and sick, pursued by famine, disease, and death in the devastated areas, both East and West? Peace on earth is gone, but by renewal of our faith that it still reigns at the heart of things. Christmas should strengthen both you and us and all womanhood to strive for its return." (16)
Lilla Brockway became the honorary Secretary of the NCF, until early in 1915 when an office was opened in London to handle the growing membership. (10) By October 1915 it claimed 5,000 members. (18) The authorities became very concerned about the activities of the No-Conscription Fellowship. Horatio Bottomley, the editor of the John Bull Magazine wrote a full page article demanding the arrest and execution of Fenner Brockway. (19)
Members of the NCF included Clifford Allen, Bertrand Russell, Philip Snowden, Bruce Glasier, Robert Smillie, C. H. Norman, C. E. M. Joad, William Mellor, Arthur Ponsonby, Guy Aldred, Alfred Salter, Duncan Grant, Wilfred Wellock, Herbert Morrison, Maude Royden, Violet Tillard, Ramsay MacDonald, John Clifford, Helena Swanwick, Catherine Marshall, Kathleen Courtney, Marian Ellis, Edith Ellis, Eva Gore-Booth, Esther Roper, Catherine Marshall, Alfred Mason, Winnie Mason, Alice Wheeldon, William Wheeldon, John S. Clarke, Arthur McManus, Hettie Wheeldon, Storm Jameson, Ada Salter, and Max Plowman. (20)
Over 3,000,000 men volunteered to serve in the British Armed Forces during the first two years of the war. Over 750,000 had enlisted by the end of September, 1914. Thereafter the average ran at 125,000 men a month until the summer of 1915 when numbers joining up began to slow down. Leo Amery, the MP for Birmingham Sparkbrook pointed out: "Every effort was made to whip up the flagging recruiting campaign. Immense sums were spent on covering all the walls and hoardings of the United Kingdom with posters, melodramatic, jocose or frankly commercial... The continuous urgency from above for better recruiting returns... led to an ever-increasing acceptance of men unfit for military work... Throughout 1915 the nominal totals of the Army were swelled by the maintenance of some 200,000 men absolutely useless for any conceivable military purpose." (21)
The British had suffered high casualties at the Marne (12,733), Ypres (75,000), Gallipoli (205,000), Artois (50,000) and Loos (50,000). The British Army found it difficult to replace these men. In May 1915 135,000 men volunteered, but for August the figure was 95,000, and for September 71,000. Asquith appointed a Cabinet Committee to consider the recruitment problem. Testifying before the Committee, Lloyd George commented: "I would say that every man and woman was bound to render the services that the State they could best render. I do not believe you will go through this war without doing it in the end; in fact, I am perfectly certain that you will have to come to it." (22)
The shortage of recruits became so bad that George V was asked to make an appeal: "At this grave moment in the struggle between my people and a highly-organized enemy, who has transgressed the laws of nations and changed the ordinance that binds civilized Europe together, I appeal to you. I rejoice in my Empire's effort, and I feel pride in the voluntary response from my subjects all over the world who have sacrificed home, fortune, and life itself, in order that another may not inherit the free Empire which their ancestors and mine have built. I ask you to make good these sacrifices. The end is not in sight. More men and yet more are wanted to keep my armies in the field, and through them to secure victory and enduring peace.... I ask you, men of all classes, to come forward voluntarily, and take your share in the fight". (23)
Lord Northcliffe, the press baron, now began to advocate conscription (compulsory enrollment). On 16th August, 1915, the Daily Mail published a "Manifesto" in support of national service. (24) The Conservative Party agreed with Lord Northcliffe about conscription but most members of the Liberal Party and the Labour Party were opposed to the idea on moral grounds. Some military leaders objected because they had a "low opinion of reluctant warriors". (25)
C. P. Scott, the editor of The Manchester Guardian, was opposed to conscription, for practical reasons. He explained to Arthur Balfour: "You know that I was honestly willing to accept compulsory military service, provided that the voluntary system had first been tried out, and had failed to supply the men needed and who could still be spared from industry, and were numerically worth troubling about. Those, I think, are not unreasonable conditions, and I thought that in the conversation I had with you last September you agreed with them. I cannot feel that they had been fulfilled, and I do feel very strongly that compulsion is now being forced upon us without proof shown of its necessity, and I resent this the more deeply because it seems to me in the nature of a breach of faith with those who, like myself - there are plenty of them - were prepared to make great sacrifices of feeling and conviction in order to maintain the national unity and secure every condition needed for winning the war." (26)
Margaret Bondfield was opposed to conscription as she thought it would influence the military tactics used in the war: "One of the great scandals of the First World War was the attitude of mind (an old one coming down from the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries) which regarded human life as the cheapest thing to expend. The whole war was fought on the principle of using up man-power. Tanks and similar mechanical help were received with hesitation and repugnance by commanders, and were inadequately used. But man-power, the lives of men, were used with freedom." (27)
This view was expressed in a pamphlet published by the Independent Labour Party: "The armed forces of the nation have been multiplied at least five-fold since the war began, and recruits are still being enrolled well over 2,000,000 of its breadwinners to the new armies, and Lord Kitchener and Mr. Asquith have both repeatedly assured the public that the response to the appeal for recruits have been highly gratifying and has exceeded all expectations. What the conscriptionists want, however, is not recruits, but a system of conscription that will bring the whole male working-class population under the military control of the ruling classes." (28)
H. H. Asquith, the prime minister, "did not oppose it on principle, though he was certainly not drawn to it temperamentally and had intellectual doubts about its necessity." Lloyd George had originally had doubts about the measure but by 1915 "he was convinced that the voluntary system of recruitment had served its turn and must give way to compulsion". (29) Asquith told Maurice Hankey that he believed that "Lloyd George is out to break the government on conscription if he can." (30)
Fenner Brockway wrote an anti-war play, The Devil's Business (1915). In August 1915 the The Labour Leader office in Manchester was raided and Brockway was charged with publishing seditious material. The main objection was a short-story by Isabel Sloan, "which described how a British and German soldier killed each other in battle, but before dying realised that their experiences, their loves and ideals made them one." The government lost its case but soon afterwards bookshops in Manchester and London were raided and material produced by the Independent Labour Party were seized. (31)
David Lloyd George threatened to resign if H. H. Asquith, did not introduce conscription. Eventually he gave in and the Military Service Bill was introduced by Asquith on 21st January 1916. John Simon, the Home Secretary, resigned and so did Arthur Henderson, who had represented the Labour Party in the coalition government. Alfred George Gardiner, the editor of the Daily News argued that Lloyd George was engineering the conscription crisis in order to substitute himself for Asquith as leader of the country." (32)
In a speech he made in Conwy Lloyd George agreed that Asquith had reluctantly supported conscription, whereas to him, it was vitally important if Britain was going to win the war. "You must organise effort when a nation is in peril. You cannot run a war as you would run a Sunday school treat, where one man voluntarily brings the buns, another supplies the tea, one brings the kettle, one looks after the boiling, another takes round the tea-cups, some contribute in cash, and a good many lounge about and just make the best of what is going on. You cannot run a war like that." He said he was in favour of compulsory enlistment, in the same way as he was "for compulsory taxes or for compulsory education." (33)
Alfred Harmsworth, Lord Northcliffe, ran a campaign in his Daily Mail against those men refusing to be conscripted. A. J. P. Taylor has argued that Northcliffe and Lloyd George reflected the mood of the British people in 1916: "Popular feeling wanted some dramatic action. The agitation crystallized around the demand for compulsory military service. This was a political gesture, not a response to practical need. The army had more men than it could equip, and voluntary recruitment would more than fill the gap, at any rate until the end of 1916... Instead of unearthing 650,000 slackers, compulsion produced 748,587 new claims to exemption, most of them valid... In the first six months of conscription the average monthly enlistment was not much above 40,000 - less than half the rate under the voluntary system." (34)
In 1916 Fenner Brockway and Clifford Allen were arrested for distributing a leaflet criticizing the introduction of conscription. When they refused to pay their fines, they were sentenced to two months in Pentonville Prison. "We were taken to Pentonville in one of the old horse-drawn Black Marias. Tiny little boxes lined its sides, with larger boxes at the far end. We were all locked in, but we could see and hear each other through grilles. In the passage between the boxes a policeman sat. I served only ten days; the NCF Committee had decided that if Allen were arrested my fine would be paid so that I could direct the organisation." (35)
Soon after being released, Allen was conscripted and prosecuted under the Military Service Act. Allen appeared before the Battersea Tribunal on 14th March, 1916 where he explained why he refused to serve in the armed forces: "I am justified in interpreting my Socialist faith according to my own judgement. There is an increasing number of Socialists who are opposing all war, and I count myself amongst that number. The same might be said of the Christians who believe the churches have abandoned the teaching of Jesus Christ... If every one shared my views there would be no invasion. No civilised country would think of attacking another country unless that country was a source of danger owing to its being armed." Allen also made it clear that he was unwilling to take part at all in the apparatus of war. (36)
Allen won a lot of support from members of the NCF but David Lloyd George, the Secretary of War, who had been one of the leading politicians opposed to the Boer War made a speech where he insisted that conscientious objectors who refused to take any part in the war would be treated harshly: "I do not think they deserve the slightest consideration. With regard to those who object to the shedding of blood it is the traditional policy of this country to respect that view, and we do not propose to depart from it: but in the other case I shall only consider the best means of making the path of that class a very hard one." (37)
On the 17th May, 1916, Fenner Brockway and eight members of the National Committee were arrested and prosecuted under the Defence of the Realm Act. for publishing a leaflet criticising conscription. "We were sentenced to fines of £100 each or two months' imprisonment. The Committee decided to pay the fines in the cases of Edward Grubb and Leyton Richards, but on the appointed day in July the rest of us gave ourselves up at the Mansion House to fulfil the two months' sentence at Pentonville Prison." (38)
The peace movement suffered terribly during the war. Alfred Salter later recalled the impact that this had on the Independent Labour Party (ILP) in Bermondsey: "For a while it seemed as if the whole fabric of our organisation so laboriously built up in the past years was doomed to go under. We the ILP were the most unpopular section in the borough. Our individual members were the most hated and vilified of all the people in South London. On several occasions our building was only saved from destruction by a miracle." (39)
Alfred Salter's own house was attacked by an enraged patriotic stone-throwing mobs. (40) On one occasion, when Ada Salter and Charlotte Despard were speaking at a peace meeting in Fort Road, Bermondsey, "patriots" attempted to burn down the building. (41)
In November 1916, Fenner Brockway was arrested under the Military Service Act. (42) Brockway had previously been granted exemption from military service on condition that he would do "work of national importance". His friend, Edmund Harvey, the Liberal Party MP for Leeds West and a member of the Society of Friends, defended Brockway by arguing that his work for peace was of "national importance". (43)
The government now considered the No-Conscription Fellowship a dangerous organisation and the police made many raids on the offices. Staff would be arrested and might spend a night in a police-station cell while the material confiscated was assessed for treasonable content. (44)
Persecution of NCF Members
While Brockway was in prison, Violet Tillard was appointed General Secretary of the No-Conscription Fellowship, She would visit men in prison. Corder Catchpool later recalled that she was "of inspiration in personal contact, and of strong, quiet leadership in common counsel... Violet Tillard was the first, except one member of my own family, to greet me on my release from prison, and I shall never forget her welcome." (45)
Alfred Salter formed a Bermondsey branch of the No-Conscription Fellowship. After making several anti-war speeches the local newspaper asked: "Is Dr. Salter Pro-German?" Several of his patients sent letters to the newspaper defending their doctor. One wrote: "When my father and I were both so ill that we thought there was no hope for either of us. Dr. Salter attended us night and day, although he knew his chances of being paid were very small. There are many other poor people in Bermondsey who have cause to be grateful to him." This general affection for the doctor among the people led local editors and political opponents to refrain from the viciousness which they voiced towards other opponents of the war.. As Fenner Brockway pointed out: "The truth was that the main feeling in Bermondsey was respect for Salter as a man and a doctor rather than as a pacifist... This general affection for the doctor among the people led local editors and political opponents to refrain from the viciousness which they voiced towards other opponents of the war." (46)
By July 1916, nineteen members of the Bermondsey ILP were in prison as conscientious objectors. Others agreed to work as farm labourers. This included Herbert Morrison, who became a land worker at Norton, near Letchworth. When he was asked by the Wandsworth Tribunal if he belonged to any religious denomination, he replied, "I belong to the ILP and Socialism is my religion." (47)
Charlotte Despard, who had been active in the struggle for woman's suffrage, and the leader of the Women's Freedom League, was active in the No-Conscription Fellowship in Bermondsey. She was one of its members who encountered hostility from the local population. Salter later explained: "Our individual members were the most hated and vilified of all people in South London. On several occasions our building was only saved from destruction by a miracle. Once when Mrs. Despard and some sixty women were holding a peace service in our hall, 200 Canadian soldiers from Blackheath marched up the Old Kent Road to burn down the Institute and assault its occupants. They were diverted by the police, and directed down East Street to the J Browning Hall Settlement in Walworth. On another occasion a murderous gang on its way to smash our windows was barred and broken up on Greyhound Bridge. Our public propaganda was almost brought to a standstill; repeated attempts were made to upset our meetings and to refuse a hearing to any of our speakers. Very few people will ever know the extraordinary difficulty we had in keeping going during this terrible period of the first two-and-a-half years of the war." (48)
C. H. Norman, the treasurer of the Stop the War Committee and a member of the National Committee of the No-Conscription Fellowship, was arrested. John Howard Whitehouse asked H. H. Asquith in the House of Commons questions about his treatment: "Is Mr. C. H. Norman is still confined in Wandsworth Detention Barracks; whether, on 23rd May, he was confined in a straight jacket, which was too small and caused him great agony; whether the then commandant, who has since been removed, mocked at him; whether Mr. Norman fainted and was left unconscious on the floor for an hour; whether he was afterwards taken to hospital; and whether he returned to the barracks on 31st May and was again subjected to brutality by the then commandant?" (49) The Times reported that Norman had also been forced-fed through a nasal tube. (50)
Martin Ceadel has argued that after the introduction of conscription the No-Conscription Fellowship changed "from being a small propaganda body it became a substantial movement - though never as substantial as implied by its grossly exaggerated boast of 15,000 members in the summer of 1916 - and the acknowledged voice of the whole conscientious objection movement." (51)
The National Committee of the NCF included Clifford Allen, Fenner Brockway, Catherine Marshall (Secretary), Bertrand Russell (chairman) and Alfred Salter (Treasurer). Ada Salter and Violet Tillard were placed in charge of Maintenance for the families of conscientious objectors. This project was largely funded by Marian Ellis and her sister Edith Ellis, who donated "huge sums of money". (52)
Ramsay MacDonald also became more involved in the organisation of the NCF. MacDonald organised a Central Fund for dependents of imprisoned COs:"The Central Fund was not centralised but districts were co-ordinated by Ada: she could move a surplus from one district to another with permission. Typical of ILP's decentralised centralism. Ada had a separate office in Lincoln's Inn Fields. It co-ordinated the NCF branches relief work all over the country." (53)
Alfred Salter visited members of the No-Conscription Fellowship in prison. This included Isaac Hall, the grandchild of a slave on a sugar plantation in Jamaica, who was sent to Pentonville Prison: "I was horrified at the spectacle of a living skeleton-a gaunt, bent, starved, broken man, a coal-black man with ashen lips and sunken eyes. But he was broken only in body; his soul land spirit were as resolute as ever. One of the warders told me that Isaac Hall was the bravest man he had ever met." Salter took up Hall's case and after successfully obtaining his release he took him home to Storks Road where "he was sheltered for nine months until a passage back to the West Indies could be secured." (54)
Alice Wheeldon, Willie Paul, John S. Clarke and Arthur McManus, established a No-Conscription Fellowship network in Derby to help those conscientious objectors on the run or in jail. This included her son, William Wheeldon, who was secretly living with his sister, Winnie Mason, in Southampton. On 27th December 1916, Alex Gordon arrived at Alice's house claiming to be a conscientious objector on the run from the police. Alice arranged for him to spend the night at the home of Lydia Robinson. a couple of days later Gordon returned to Alice's home with Herbert Booth, another man who he said was a member of the anti-war movement. In fact, both Gordon and Booth were undercover agents working for MI5 via the Ministry of Munitions. According to Alice, Gordon and Booth both told her that dogs now guarded the camps in which conscientious objectors were held; and that they had suggested to her that poison would be necessary to eliminate the animals, in order that the men could escape. (55)
Alice Wheeldon agreed to ask her son-in-law, Alfred Mason, who was a chemist in Southampton, to obtain the poison, as long as Alex Gordon helped her with her plan to get her son to the United States: "Being a businesswoman I made a bargain with him (Gordon) that if I could assist him in getting his friends from a concentration camp by getting rid of the dogs, he would, in his turn, see to the three boys, my son, Mason and a young man named MacDonald, whom I have kept, get away." (56)
On 31st January 1917, Alice Wheeldon, Hettie Wheeldon, Winnie Mason and Alfred Mason were arrested and charged with plotting to murder the British Prime Minister David Lloyd George and Arthur Henderson, the leader of the Labour Party. At Alice's home they found Alexander Macdonald of the Sherwood Foresters who had been absent without leave since December 1916. When arrested Alice claimed: "I think it is a such a trumped-up charge to punish me for my lad being a conscientious objector... you punished him through me while you had him in prison... you brought up an unfounded charge that he went to prison for and now he has gone out of the way you think you will punish him through me and you will do it." (57)
Sir Frederick Smith, the Attorney-General, was appointed as prosecutor of Alice Wheeldon. Smith, the MP for Liverpool Walton, had previously been in charge of the government's War Office Press Bureau, which had been responsible for newspaper censorship and the pro-war propaganda campaign. As Tom Bell observed: "F. E. Smith was the Counsel for the Prosecution. It is doubtful if a more spiteful, hateful enemy of the workers ever existed. He blustered and threatened to send them to the front to be shot, etc. but a more subtle hand was at work." (58)
The case was tried at the Old Bailey instead of in Derby. According to friends of the accused, the change of venue took advantage of the recent Zeppelin attacks on London. As Nicola Rippon pointed out in her book, The Plot to Kill Lloyd George (2009): "It made for a prospective jury that was likely to be both frightened of the enemy and sound in their determination to win the war... The prosecution had pointed out that it would be difficult to find jurymen in derby who would not be biased in their opinion of the Wheeldons." (59)
The trial began on 6th March 1917. Alice Wheeldon selected Saiyid Haidan Riza as her defence counsel. He had only recently qualified as a lawyer and it would seem that he was chosen because of his involvement in the socialist movement. Sheila Rowbotham pointed out: "Dr Saiyid Haidan Riza was treated with patronizing derision by the judge. Although money had been collected for the defence of the four people accused in the case, no barrister could be found who was willing to defend them until Riza, described variously as a Persian or an Indian, who, probably because of racial prejudice had difficulty in getting cases, took it on." (60)
In his opening statement Sir Frederick Smith argued that the "Wheeldon women were in the habit of employing, habitually, language which would be disgusting and obscene in the mouth of the lowest class of criminal." Smith asked Wheeldon if she regarded Arthur Henderson as "a traitor to the working classes?" She admitted that she had said this in the past. Smith then asked her if she hated David Lloyd George? She replied: "I do." Smith added: "You would like to do him a mischief?" "He's not worth it." "But if he was, you would?" Wheeldon replied: "Yes." (61)
Smith went on to claim that the main evidence against the defendants was from the testimony of the two undercover agents. However, it was disclosed that Alex Gordon would not be appearing in court to give his evidence. Basil Thomson, the Deputy Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, argued in his book, The Story of Scotland Yard (1935) that when Lieutenant-Colonel Frank Labouchere, the head of PMS2 (Ministry of Munitions intelligence agency), told him that Gordon had claimed that there was a plot to kill Lloyd George: "That set me thinking: either the agent was a person with a criminal history, or he had invented the whole story to get money and credit from his employer." (62)
The judge disagreed with the objection to the use of secret agents. "Without them it would be impossible to detect crimes of this kind." However, he admitted that if the jury did not believe the evidence of Herbert Booth, then the case "to a large extent fails". Apparently, the jury did believe the testimony of Booth and after less than half-an-hour of deliberation, they found Alice Wheeldon, Winnie Mason and Alfred Mason guilty of conspiracy to murder. Alice was sentenced to ten years in prison. Alfred got seven years whereas Winnie received "five years' penal servitude." (63)
In January 1918 Violet Tillard was appointed General Secretary of the No-Conscription Fellowship, (64) In May 1918 Tillard was arrested under the Defence of the Realm Act and was fined £100 and costs for refusing to furnishing the name and address of the publisher of a leaflet which was circulated by the NCF. (65) When she refused to pay the fine she was sentenced to 61 days' imprisonment. (66) In prison she refused "to obey those prison rules which she felt to be immoral and enforced with the object of degrading prisoners." (67) A friend said: "She (Violet Tillard) united a deep hatred of all evil institutions with a quiet and tender regard for human beings." (68)
In May 1918, Edith Ellis, a member of the NCF, was prosecuted under the Defence of the Realm Act, for her involvement in the publishing a pamphlet titled A Challenge to Militarism without submitting it to the Censor. (69 The Society of Friends stated that "We feel that the declaration of peace and goodwill is the duty of all Christians and ought not to be dependent upon the permission of any Government Official. We therefore intend to continue the publication of such leaflets as we feel it our duty to put forth, without submitting them to the Censor." (70)
In court, Edith Ellis stated that "because of our religious belief, we do not feel it right to submit the outcome of our deliberations to an official of Government. We believe we must act in accordance with the dictates of God, ourselves." When Edith spoke "the court was visibly impressed as, with the timbre of her woman's voice, she told in calm words of her immutable conviction." Edith was fined £100 with 50 guineas costs and subject to three months in prison on default of paying the fine, which she refused to do and it is claimed that she suffered poor health because of time in Holloway Prison. (71)
Throughout the war Fenner Brockway was treated as a traitor. He even spent one night in the Tower of London. He was later transferred to a dungeon at Chester Castle and finally served his sentence in Walton Prison in Liverpool. Brockway continued to write, and after meeting a soldier imprisoned for desertion, wrote an account of the Battle of Passchendaele. The article was discovered and Brockway was sentenced to six days on bread and water. (72)
Brockway was released but in July 1917 he was sentenced to two years' hard labour. Brockway, like most other conscientious objectors, was not released from prison until six months after the First World War came to an end. When released in April 1919, he had served a total of twenty-eight months, the last eight in solitary confinement. (73)
A month ago Europe was a peaceful group of nations: if an Englishman killed a German, he was hanged. Now, if an Englishman kills a German, or if a German kills an Englishman, he is a patriot. We scan the newspapers with greedy eyes for news of slaughter, and rejoice when we read of innocent young men, blindly obedient to the world of command, mown down in thousands by the machine-gun of Liege. Those who saw the London crowds, during the nights leading up to the Declaration of War saw a whole population, hitherto peaceable and humane, precipitated in a few days days down the steep slope to primitive barbarism, letting loose, in a moment, the instincts of hatred and blood lust against which the whole fabric of society has been raised.
We are all young men, and life is a precious thing to such men. We cherish life because of the opportunities for adventure and achievement which it offers to a man who is young. They say our country is in danger. Of course it is, but whose fault is that? It will be in danger in fifty years time, if our rulers know they can always win our support by hoisting danger signals. They will never heed our condemnation of their foreign policy if they can always depend upon our support in time of war. There is one interference with individual judgement that no state in the world has any sanction to enforce - that is, to tamper with the unfettered free right of everyman to decide for himself the issue of life and death.
The No-Conscription Fellowship (N.C.F.) was founded in November 1914 by a young Labour Leader journalist, Fenner Brockway (1888-1988), initially at the prompting of his wife, Lilla, to mobilize men of military age against conscription. The members of its National Committee were mostly young, middle-class I.L.P. socialists such as Clifford Allen (1889-1939), its Chairman, who, like Brockway, worked for the socialist press, and Morgan Jones (1885-1939) and J. H. (Jimmy) Hudson (1881-1962), both schoolteachers. Only a few came from outside the ranks of socialist activists: the Revd Leyton Richards (1879-1948), for example, a Congregationalist who had already, unlike most British pacifists, found himself in conscientious disagreement with conscription in the form of the compulsory military training introduced in Australia in 1910, shortly before he came there to spend three years as minister of a Melbourne chapel and the philosopher Bertrand Russell, a Whiggish individualist who had espoused 'pacifism' during the Boer War but did not join the I.L.P. until 1915 and even then insisted that he was not a socialist... Its moment of ostensible failure, the introduction of conscription in 1916, was to prove its finest hour: from being a small propaganda body it became a substantial movement - though never as substantial as implied by its grossly exaggerated boast of 15,000 members in the summer of 1916 - and the acknowledged voice of the whole conscientious objection movement. In particular, it proved an efficient information and welfare service for all objectors; although its unresolved internal division over whether its function was to ensure respect for the pacifist conscience or to combat conscription by any means, sincerely "conscientious" or otherwise, had reduced it to a demoralized state by the last year of the war.
Every individual gives loyalty to something which counts more than anything else in life. In most men and women this supreme allegiance is inspired by national patriotism; if their Government becomes involved in a war it is a matter of course they will support it. The socialist conscientious objector has a group loyalty which is as powerful to him as the loyalty of the patriot for his nation. His group is composed of workers of all lands, the dispossessed, the victims of the present economic system, whether in peace or war.
I knew one man who was very badly treated as a Conscientious Objector because he wouldn't submit to a medical examination. Had he submitted, he would have been grade 99 and they would never have had him. He was half-blind and weedy but he just wouldn't on principle.
Sex before marriage was the natural female complement to the male frenzy of killing. If millions of men were to be killed in early manhood, or even boyhood, it behooved every young woman to secure a mate and replenish the population while there was yet time.
For a while it seemed as if the whole fabric of our organisation so laboriously built up in the past years, was doomed to go under. We were the most unpopular section in the borough. Our individual members were the most hated and vilified of all people in South London. On several occasions our building was only saved from destruction by a miracle. Once when Mrs. Despard and some sixty women were holding a peace service in our hall, 200 Canadian soldiers from Blackheath marched up the Old Kent Road to burn down the Institute and assault its occupants. They were diverted by the police, and directed down East Street to the J Browning Hall Settlement in Walworth. On another occasion a murderous gang on its way to smash our windows was barred and broken up on Greyhound Bridge. Our public propaganda was almost brought to a standstill; repeated attempts were made to upset our meetings and to refuse a hearing to any of our speakers. Very few people will ever know the extraordinary difficulty we had in keeping going during this terrible period of the first two-and-a-half years of the war.
Very heavy casualties in the first weeks of the war had made it clear that compulsory military service was likely. In 1915 the No-Conscription Fellowship (NCF) was set up. The fellowship contained many pacifists, particularly Quakers, who campaigned successfully for a conscience clause to be included in the conscription legislation of 1916. Conscientious objectors seeking exemption from military service were required to attend a tribunal to have their claim assessed. Each tribunal contained a military representative with the right to cross examine applicants to establish their sincerity. Those who could persuade the tribunal of their belief that any form of support for war was morally wrong could obtain complete exemption. Those who were prepared to do civilian work which would release others for war service could be exempted provided they did that work. And those who were prepared to be non-combatants working under military direction but not required to use weapons could be put on the military register on that basis.
The tribunals were, in general, composed of members, some of them women with sons or husbands in active service, who had little sympathy with conscientious objection. At their hearings, applicants were frequently subjected to abuse from the public galleries. Famously, Lytton Strachey was one such to be abused. Very few obtained exemption, either conditional or complete. Most were either classified as non-combatants and were drafted into the Non-Combatant Corps, the NCC (or No Courage Corps as the press dubbed it), or were rejected completely. The discipline in the NCC imposed by the soldiers in charge of the units was harsh and refusal to undertake a task or, particularly, to wear a uniform resulted in charge, court martial and imprisonment in foul conditions. Before long there were numerous conscientious objectors on the run, some of them escapees from what were effectively prison camps. Many of them went underground and were aided by networks composed largely of NCF members, suffragettes, feminist and other socialists, Sinn Feiners, left-wing shop stewards and IWW seamen.
Despite the ordinariness of their daily occupations, Alice Wheeldon and her two elder daughters were active politically: this they saw as part of their civic duty. Alice's husband, William, fourteen years her senior and a drunkard prone to violence, would have none of that and her youngest daughter Nellie, developing political awareness, concentrated on helping her mother in the shop. The three activists were members of the NCF and the Socialist Labour Party, long term militant suffragettes (members of the Women's Social and Political Union), pacifists and feminist socialists. Hettie Wheeldon, also a rationalist, believed in free love and a woman's right to birth control whether by contraception or abortion. Like many suffragettes she was, with some justification, suspicious of marriage which she saw as an institution devised by men to enshrine their right to own and dominate women. This did not deter her from becoming engaged to the deportee shop steward Arthur MacManus whom she met either while he was helping to stir things up in Sheffield or when he was on a fraternal visit to munitions workers in Derby.
MacManus, following his removal from Glasgow, had secured a job with the Cunard shipping line in Liverpool and by the end of 1916 was helping to smuggle deserters and conscientious objectors across the Atlantic, sometimes by way of Ireland where his former friendship with Connolly (who, dying of his wounds and strapped in a chair, had been executed by firing squad in Dublin in April 1916 for his role in the Easter uprising) ensured he had helpful contacts. Alice's only son William was a pacifist and devout socialist and, denied exemption by the tribunal which heard his application, was in hiding waiting for help to leave the country from Hettie's fiancee. Her sister Winnie's husband, Arthur Mason, the chemist, was also a pacifist and socialist and was expecting that, although he was a lecturer, his application for exemption would be similarly rejected. Given their backgrounds and NCF connections it is not surprising that the Wheeldon family was actively engaged in helping escapee conscientious objectors, an unlawful activity, and had been of interest to the authorities for some time.
One fine evening two military policemen appeared with a handcuffed prisoner, and, in full view of the crowd and villagers, tied him to the wheel of a limber, cruciform fashion. The poor devil, a British Tommy, was undergoing Field Punishment Number One, and this public exposure was part of the punishment. There was a dramatic silence as every eye watched the man being fastened to the wheel, and some jeering started. Lashing men to a wheel in public was one of the most disgraceful things in the war. Troops resented these exhibitions, but they continued until 1917, when the War Minister put a stop to them, following protests in Parliament.
I believe that an important modification of the death sentence also took place in 1917. It appeared that the military authorities were compelled to take heed of the clamour against the death sentences imposed by courts martial. There had been too many of them. As a result, a man who would otherwise have been executed was instead compelled to take part in the fore-front of the first available raid or assault on the enemy. He was purposely placed in the first wave to cross No Man's Land and it was left to the Almighty to decide his fate. This was the situation as we Tommies understood it, but nothing official reached our ears. Let the War Office dig out its musty files and tell us how many men were treated in this way, and how many survived the cruel sentences. Shylock, in demanding his pound of flesh, had got nothing on the military bigwigs in 1917.
My own view - as of the Independent Labour Party with which I was associated - remained one of opposition to the war, and there were a number of Liberals who shared this view in general. There would be no point in denying the considerable public enthusiasm for hostilities. The overwhelming majority of the people supported the Liberal Government in its declaration of war after Germany's invasion of Belgium. Every possible influence was brought to bear to create that attitude. The Conservatives were for the war. All the newspapers were in support, and there was no difficulty in whipping up public opinion to near fever pitch.
I remember an open-air I.L.P. meeting I addressed on Hampstead Heath one Sunday morning. I had given my audience our views as to the cause of the war, and expressed the conviction that the involvement of Britain in it had been wrong. My audience was very hostile. I spoke amid a great deal of violent and angry heckling. Ultimately I was dragged off the platform and taken by force to the nearby pond. There was some dispute at the edge of the pond, however, when the police intervened, and although my pince-nez glasses were flung into the water, I was not. This was a common experience among the anti-war speakers, except that some of them did get a ducking.
I had always regarded war as criminal, but believing war among civilized nations to be practically impossible, had never given the subject much thought. I was not alone in this belief, which most of the intellectuals of my generation shared. When the war came, I never for a moment thought of it as other than a gigantic piece of criminal folly; the nation, I considered, had simply gone mad, and it was incumbent upon a wise man to stay quiet until the fit had passed.
Never for a moment did it occur to me that it was my duty to participate in the madness by learning to fight. On the contrary, I thought that I ought to do whatever I could to avoid being implicated. I was, therefore, a potential conscientious objector from the first, my objection being based not on religious grounds but on a natural reluctance on the part of a would-be rational and intelligent individual to participate in an orgy of public madness. So far as concerned any moral obligation I conceived myself to have in the matter, I thought it my duty to try and stop the war by any means in my power. I did, in fact, write a number of violent anti-war articles in Pacifist papers and took part in Pacifist meetings which were almost invariably broken up by persons who believed themselves to be fighting, among other things, for free speech. I emphasize this attitude of mine not because I am particularly proud of it, but because it may help to render intelligible my astonishment that it was adopted by so few of my fellow intellectuals, who disbelieving like myself in the possibility of war until it came, condemning it as an outrage on civilization when it did come, nevertheless with very few exceptions either went out to kill themselves, or more frequently hounded on young men to do their killing for them?
As a leading socialist absolutist, Clifford Allen, informed his Tribunal in March 1916: "I am a Socialist, and so hold in all sincerity that the life and personality of every man is sacred, and that there is something of divinity in every human being, irrespective of the nation to which he belongs." Like the N.C.F.'s credo, this declaration defined a position which was undoubtedly both pacifist and political: it revealed that even when inspired by political values true pacifism springs from a`moral' imperative rather than from "political" expediency.
Indeed, once Allen and his fellow absolutists found themselves in prison they became more than ever convinced of the difference between pacifism, rooted in the individual's conscientious adherence to what he knew to be right, and the strategy of war-resistance which, however justified in political terms, was itself a form of coercion. By May 1917, after a year in gaol, Allen had come to realise that even by sewing mailbags he was releasing labour for the war-effort and decided to cease all co-operation with the prison authorities; yet he refused to urge others to do likewise as part of an organized campaign, since he believed that such a decision could arise only out of "profound conviction". From this perspective an organized campaign against war could itself be regarded as riding roughshod over the individual conscience in the same way, albeit not to the same degree, as conscription.
The Great War of 1914-18, breaking out as it did when I had just reached manhood, has played so large a part in forming my views of human nature and of human society, it has contributed so largely to the formation of my deepest political convictions, that I feel I must say something of the considerations which have made me an uncompromising Pacifist. I believe that war is the greatest evil that afflicts mankind; I believe that the next war will destroy our civilization, and I believe that nothing but the refusal of a sufficient number of human beings to fight, whatever the circumstances may be, can prevent it. These beliefs I hold with considerable emotional intensity; in fact, I feel so much more strongly about them than about any others, that the whole of my attitude to politics is coloured by them. I must try, then, to say in some little detail why I hold them. I propose to consider first the various arguments of those who hold that war, although always regrettable, is sometimes necessary, who hold even that the necessity may sometimes do good, in the light of my own experience of the Great War....
It is sometimes argued that circumstances arise in which war is the course which religion dictates. So far is this from being the case, that war violates every principle of the religion in which Western civilization professes to believe. During the last war this became so obvious that every effort was made to suppress the teaching of Christ and to prevent it from being known. Persons who drew attention to the precepts of the Sermon on the Mount were persecuted, while conscientious objectors who endeavoured to act in accordance with them were abused, imprisoned, placed in solitary confinement and tortured. The record of what was done to conscientious objectors during the war does not make pleasant reading. Meanwhile the Christian religion remained, as it had always been, the official religion of all the belligerent countries, the assistance of the Almighty was simultaneously invoked by all the combatants, and atheists were looked upon with disfavour as being likely to cause Him offence.