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10 THE 'won't-fight-funks'

WHY WAR? supplement

Tribunal records are few and fragmentary. The description of the tribunal, its participants and arguments here are based on contemporary records.

part one
 - questions begin
 - the case of E. Draper
 - books
ssample documents
- tribunal transcript
 - application for exemption
 - exemption certificate
 - statement
 - newspaper report
 - charge sheet
 - discharge
   Jack's story through
   original documents


It was a raw, grey Monday morning towards the end of March 1916, and Oldtown's Military Service Tribunal was about to sit for the fourteenth time since conscription had been introduced earlier in the year. At least they were able to meet in style, in the Town Hall: only a few decades old, a classic of Victorian architecture, and famous for its well-padded seats. But because the hearings were intended to be held in public, they had to be held in the second largest committee room, famous for its icy draughts.

The first man to arrive, because he had to, was the Tribunal's clerk, John Fielding. He was responsible for the paperwork and for organising the sessions. Fielding was a thin man of 52 who had recently retired early from clerical work on the railway because of his weak lungs. A chilblain-sufferer as well, he had hoped to have seen the last of draught-filled rooms, but he was glad of the pay. Coughing, he laid out the papers for the day's hearings.

Now other members of the Tribunal began taking their places. Colonel Gordon was always punctual, his moustache well brushed and his uniform spotless. He was the Military Representative; every one of the country's more than 2,000 Tribunals had to have one. Short-tempered 67-year-old Raymond Gordon minded deeply that he was no longer a working member of the army; but as a member of this Tribunal, he felt, he could still contribute to the war effort.

Every Tribunal panel also contained representatives of the country's political parties. Harold Hartley was a Liberal. He was the owner of Hartley's, Oldtown's department store, which meant that at the age of 58 he'd felt able to leave the day-to-day work to hand-picked department managers. All but two of them (who were married) had already been called up, though. Hartley was already filling in for the conscripted men himself, so, what with the Tribunal sittings as well, he was as hard-worked as ever.

William North entered the room like a soldier on the march, though he was actually a retired police sergeant. You could tell his job just by looking at him, thought Owen Sedley as he too sat down at the Tribunal table. North, a Conservative, had little time for the Socialist party, of which Sedley was a member: in North's eyes Socialists were among the worst kind of political trouble-maker. To Sedley, now 66, who had worked as a clerk in the textile factories that had made Oldtown so prosperous, Socialism was the best kind of political ideal.

About thirty members of the public - mostly mothers or wives of men seeking exemption from military service that day - were settling down in the public seats as the Chairman of the Tribunal arrived. James Bradfield was a handsome well-built man of 60. In 1915 he had retired from a successful career in London as a civil servant. He returned to live in the district where he was born and where he had always kept a house. They were already talking of making him Mayor next year.

James Bradfield looked amiably at his dozen colleagues. 'Good morning, gentlemen. I trust you passed a pleasant and refreshing Sunday. I had the opportunity to reflect that this panel has so far heard the cases of 557 men, and there are many more than that ahead of us. We need to work fast. Efficiently, but fast.'

Colonel Gordon was pleased by this briskness. He was also pleased by some news he had heard from a friend in the War office, news that meant he would be busy for some time. 'It looks as though there may be rather more than we thought,' he told Bradfield importantly. 'I believe that conscription is to be introduced for married men as well as single ones before the summer.'

'It's a long time since 1914 when everyone was saying the war would be over by Christmas,' remarked Harold Hartley ruefully.

'I hope you aren't blaming the army for that prediction,' said Raymond Gordon sharply.

Owen Sedley gave a bleak smile. 'Well, Colonel, there wasn't much sign that the military disagreed with it.'

William North straightened his back and looked stern. 'Morale needed to be kept up.'

'It still does,' said the Chairman. 'So, Mr Fielding, what have we got today?'
Fielding read from his list. '24 cases of disability. 11 with long-term illnesses. 5 men, two of them widowers, who are the sole providers for immediate relatives. 3 who claim that their occupations require them to remain in their present employment.'

Bradfield thought for a moment. '43. Well, at five minutes each, there's a chance we will finish by luncheon. Good. I have an important business meeting later, and -

'And 5 objectors on grounds of conscience, sir,' said Fielding apologetically but firmly. 'They have been called for this afternoon.'

'Oh dear.' James Bradfield sighed. 'Well, we ought to be able to despatch them fast enough, as long as we don't let them argue. Mr Sedley, I know you have some sympathy with these men: I hope you won't allow that to slow up the proceedings.'

'Their written statements are quite short and clear, at least, Mr Chairman.' Sedley said evenly.

Bradfield half-smiled. 'Then it hangs on what they say to support their statements, doesn't it.'

Colonel Gordon snorted. 'Men like that are nothing but cowards and humbugs, to my mind. Insolent, some of them, too.'

'If you ask me, they ought to be shot,' North grumbled.

Gordon nodded fiercely. 'Certainly one way and another I see only one reason for giving them full exemption: their death!'

'And if I may say so, Mr Chairman,' continued North, 'you ought not to let the public take notes during the proceedings - poisonous ideas should not be allowed to spread. In fact, we should meet in private - they do in Hull and Doncaster, I know.'

Bradfield looked at North coolly. 'I like to think we have nothing to hide. We'll leave things as they are. Right, Mr Fielding: call the first applicant.'

In fact the morning's work went well. Every man was granted exemption except one, whose skills as a hedger and ditcher, the Tribunal decided, would be better used on the battlefield than beside the farmer's fields at home.

When the Tribunal members came back from an unhurried lunch, they were startled to find John Fielding, who had only had time for a sandwich he had brought with him, trying to organise a crowd of people who were pouring into the public seats. These had all been taken, and more people were standing bunched up around them. The corridor outside was full of yet more men and women trying to get into the conference room.

'Who the devil are all these people?' exclaimed Bradfield. 'There was only a handful in the public seats this morning. Fielding!'

John Fielding struggled towards him, breathing hard. 'There has been some publicity concerning the conscientious objectors, Mr Chairman. The applicant Edward Draper, in particular, is a very popular man.'

Some helpful Borough Council officials appeared and succeeded in clearing a way to the Tribunal table. Bradfield turned and said loudly, so the crowd could hear, 'Well, they know they should be silent. They had better behave themselves.' He turned to Fielding. 'Call the first applicant.'

'Arthur Watt: 39 years of age; worker in a factory packing department; address, 23 Hepton Street, Oldtown.' The man stepped up to the bar separating the Tribunal from the rest of the room.

'Have you anything to add to your statement?' James Bradfield asked.

'I would like to state publicly that I believe in the brotherhood of man, and that Socialism is my religion. I am convinced that all war is wrong, and therefore -'

William North interrupted him. 'You're wearing spectacles with one lens blacked out. Why?'

'I lost that eye in an accident.'

'Then why,' said the Chairman, leaning forward, 'aren't you applying for exemption on the grounds of physical handicap?'

Arthur Watt stood even straighter. 'The grounds that matter to me are moral ones, sir.'

'You're wasting our time,' said Bradfield impatiently. 'You are granted exemption on account of your handicap. We shall recommend that you do civilian service working on the land to support the war effort.'

'Yes, I'm quite prepared to work under a civilian authority - '

North was outraged. 'What do you mean, prepared? The Chairman is giving you an order, not making you a proposition.'

'I will do any kind of civilian labour of which I'm capable. I'd be a dustman if necessary - Lord knows they're needed in this borough.'

Bradfield said coldly, 'Such remarks don't improve your standing with us. Leave this room. Next applicant, Mr Fielding. Quickly.'

Fielding gave the details. 'Joseph Sykes, aged 27, skilled textile worker, 15 Shepherd's Terrace, Streamside, Oldtown.'

The Chairman looked at Sykes. 'Where are you employed?'

'At Murdoch's, sir.'

Hartley intervened. 'Mr Chairman, Murdoch's Textiles are now manufacturing materials used for military uniforms and fibre-based military equipment.'

'Yes, I know that,' said Bradfield testily. 'Mr Murdoch has told me so himself. Sykes, has anyone been found to replace you?'

'I don't think so, sir.'

'You're exempted from military service for two months, then, to allow for that to be done. Make sure your manager knows he has to find an older man to do your work. You will receive a summons to attend at the barracks eight weeks from today.'

'But sir, you can see from my statement that I have applied for full exemption on grounds of conscience.'

'To save your skin, no doubt,' said Colonel Gordon scornfully. 'Be thankful for the two months grace you've been given. You'd better pray for the war to end before they are up!'

Bradfield ignored the interruption. 'We do not need to deal with the matter of your conscience here, Sykes. If it's still giving you trouble when you're called up, you will have to re-apply, or bite the bullet: either way, you will be under military authority in two months' time.'

North barked, 'Not that the army wants dishonourable fellows like you in its ranks!'

Sykes said calmly, 'Sir, I have indeed asked that the armed forces should not be burdened with me, and yet you refuse to consider my moral objection to war.'

Colonel Gordon looked both angry and triumphant. 'As I said, these men are intolerably insolent.'

'There is no more to be said, Mr Sykes, or certainly not by you,' said Bradfield. 'The next applicant, Mr Fielding, please.'

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