28 March–3 April 1916: COs at the Battersea Tribunal

The Battersea Military Service Tribunals meeting on 28th March was one of several – they met on Thursday, Saturday and Tuesday.  The Tribunal seemed to be in reasonably sympathetic form, going by the reports in the South Western Star, but that did not make them any more likely to allow a claim for exemption.  The grounds for application for exemption were normally classed by a letter, which would denote which type of application it was i.e workplace or health, but occasionally a longer explanation is added.

G H Jarratt of Eversleigh Road applied for exemption as “E & Conscientious” [E was “ill health and infirmity”] – a claim which was disallowed. Unusually, the South Western Star, doesn’t mention him in its coverage of the tribunals, and it also ignores Frank Newnham, whose grounds are “objection to killing”, but it does mention J H Hollowell of Stewarts Road, whose application came under “religious”.

James Henry Hollowell was a dispenser’s assistant (described as a “pill maker” with the British Drug House in the 1911 census), and lived with his parents, three siblings and grandmother. According to the report in the Star, he objected to the killing of mankind, but was willing to undertake RAMC or sanitary work.  The Tribunal objected to this, saying that a conscientious objection could not be considered if the man was already attested.  Hollowell was then praised for being “reasonable”, as he had tried and failed to get in to the RAMC and “didn’t want to trouble you if I could possibly avoid it”.  Impressed with this, the Tribunal then promised to recommend him for the RAMC, whilst disallowing his claim for exemption.

This recommendation did not get him very far, as his army medal card shows that he served in the Rifle Brigade and the Kings Own Royal Rifle Corps – although details of what he was doing are not specified. He survived the war, however, marrying in St George’s Battersea in August 1918 his occupation is described as “soldier”, and he lived to be 71.

The coverage of the Tribunal also includes a note that Mr Tennant is “inquiring into the allegation” that one of the military representatives had referred to the Non-Combatant Corps as the “No Courage Corps”. This was not an unusual attitude, as this article explains.  It’s not clear who Mr Tennant was, he was not a member of the Tribunal and the newspaper does not give any further information – presumably, everyone at the time knew!

Battersea Military Service Tribunal minutes, ref: MBB/2/25/2

South Western Star available on microfilm

More about Military Service Tribunals can be found here.

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8-14 February 1916: Conscription and Free Speech in Battersea

The Battersea Council meeting of 9th February 1916 contains the information that the Battersea Trades and Labour Council made representations to protest that their meeting in Latchmere Baths was cancelled by the Baths Committee. No explanation is given in the minutes as to why the meeting was cancelled – the report submitted to the meeting by the Baths and Wash-houses Committee refers only to their spending and not to any decisions they might have made. The South Western Star, reporting on the Council meeting, had a rather fuller version of events – as is often the case – referring to it as a “noisy demand for ‘free speech’”, which took up two hours of the meeting.

An unusually large number of persons, several being women, were in the gallery. Mr Grundy, leaning over the rail, was prominent. The explanation of this is that an unpatriotic movement was suspected.

The meeting had been to consider action to repeal the Military Service Bill, passed on 27th January, which brought in conscription. It appeared that the hall had been hired by the Battersea Trades and Labour Council, but was in fact hired by the local branch of the No Conscription Fellowship, according to the paper. The letter from the Trades and Labour Council stated that they had “decided to enter an emphatic protest at such action in attempting to stifle free criticism of the measure” – hence their deputation and the rather more lively meeting described by the Star. The fact that the hall had been hired by the No Conscription Fellowship lead to accusations of duplicity, as the Trades and Labour Council did not have a direct interest in the matter. The leader of the deputation, Mr Carmichael, claimed to be astounded that the cancellation had taken place in Battersea, a borough noted for its free speech, especially during the Boer War – there was an active Stop the War Committee during the Boer War – and with an MP who had done six weeks in prison for free speech thirty years ago. Comments on “where John Burns was now” came from the gallery, as his opposition to the war was well known, although Mr Carmichael pointed out that Burns had voted against the Military Service Bill. He also pointed out that Trade Unions had assisted with recruitment because they thought it would keep away conscription and that the Trade and Labour Council had held a practically unanimous vote to affirm their own opposition to conscription.

The clerk who booked the hall had been under the impression that it was for a Trade and Labour Council meeting, and when the Committee realised that it was not they had held long discussions over what to do. A small majority had concluded that the best decision was to cancel the meeting, a decision upheld by their chair, Mr Simmonds, who thought that “in the present circumstances…the committee were justified”. Mr Bigden argued that it was “most monstrous that the Council should allow the use of the hall” for a No Conscription meeting, and other members argued that the Council should not be the arbiter of patriotism in the borough. This was followed by Mr Brogan launching what the Star called “a tremendous onslaught on rebels and labour, and unpatriotism”, an accusation which caused Carmichael to shout that he was a liar, resulting in him being removed from the chamber whilst Mr Brogan continued that “conscription has come, partly as a result of their apathy in regard to recruiting…Now they had conscription he felt it was his duty to loyally accept it”. The paper records insults to the No Conscription Fellowship and arguments about past bad behaviour at meetings and if that would be comparable to holding a No Conscription meeting, before eventually the Council decided not to refer the matter back to Committee and to carry on with the rest of the business of the day.

Very little of the debate is reflected in the minutes, even though it took up two hours of the Council meeting and showed that the matter of conscription was a controversial one. Many members of the No Conscription Fellowship ended up before the Military Service Tribunals, including Clifford Allen, who write extensively for Fellowship’s news-sheet, The Tribunal, which we will be coming back to in future posts.

Battersea Borough Council minutes, ref: MBB/1/16

South Western Star available on microfilm