Conscientious Objection

Military Service Act 1916.
Military Service Act 1916

The Peace Pledge Union explains that: -
"In 1914, after 20,000 casualties had been recorded in the first two weeks of the war, compulsory call-up for British men looked increasingly likely. Pacifist members of the No-Conscription Fellowship, set up in 1915, successfully campaigned to secure 'the conscience clause' in the 1916 Conscription Act: the right to claim exemption from military service.

Over 16,000 men made that claim. They were required to attend a tribunal (an interviewing panel with legal authority) to have the sincerity of their claims assessed. The government meant well: these tribunals were intended to be humane and fair. But it was left to local councils to choose the people who actually sat on the panels, and they often selected themselves. They were a mixed bunch: businessmen, shopkeepers, landowners, retired military officers, civil servants and the like, most of them too old to be called up. Most were also strongly patriotic and therefore prejudiced against anyone whom they thought was not. Often they were people 'of not very great depth of vision or understanding', genuinely confused about their task and its complicated guidelines. A few tribunal members were women, who seemed particularly incensed by the conscientious objectors' (COs') point of view. Another hazard for COs was that each tribunal panel contained one army-selected member, attending every hearing and with the right to cross-examine each applicant. These 'military representatives' had a common aim: to get as many men as possible into the army to fill the gaps left by the dead.

The COs came from all walks of life, and varied widely in their ability to cope with often rude and aggressive interviewers. Some didn't get a chance to say a word, other embarked on well-prepared argument. Whatever they said, the result was the same: only a handful received full exemption, and many were denied any form of exemption at all.

The COs fell into three categories, all providing difficult choices for them to make:
  • Some were 'absolutists', opposed to conscription as well as war, upholders of civil liberty and the freedom of the individual - values thought to be respected in Britain. Absolutists (most of whom were committed pacifists) believed that any alternative service supported the war effort and in effect supported the immoral practice of conscription as well. The tribunals had the power to give these men complete and unconditional exemption.
  • Some were 'alternativists', prepared to undertake alternative civilian work not under any military control. Tribunals had power to exempt them from military service on condition that they actually did this work.
  • 'Non-combatants' were prepared to accept call-up into the army, but not to be trained to use weapons, or indeed have anything to do with weapons at all. Tribunals had power to put these men on the military register on this basis.
But the tribunals didn't use their powers with much judgement or sympathy. Not only did they rarely grant unconditional exemption, they also often allocated absolutists or alternativists to non-combatant duties. In many cases applications were turned down altogether, which meant that the men were liable for call-up as ordinary soldiers. These unwilling conscripts could be arrested and handed over to the military; if they disobeyed military orders they would be court-martialled and sent to prison."

Surrey Men in the Pearce Register of British WW1 Conscientious Objectors may be found online at The list includes only a handful with local addresses of which particulars have been traced for the following examples:

Walter Saxty Clarke

Worple House, Worple Road, Epsom

Walter William Munday Clarke married Florence Ada Saxty at Epsom on 1 January 1893. The birth of their son Walter Saxty Clarke was registered in Epsom District for the March Quarter of 1894. Walter, senior, may be found in business as a Grocer at 179 Hook Road and in Pound Lane, Epsom, but the family lived on Worple Road.

Walter S. Clarke is reported to been arrested as an absentee on 18 May 1916 and to have served as an Army postman until July 1917. At a Court Martial at Aldershot on 31 July 1917 he was sentenced to 6 months hard labour in Wormwood Scrubs. Under the Home Office Scheme, administered by the Brace Committee, conscientious objectors moved from the Army to the HOS by being transferred to Army Reserve Class W. There were HOS work centres in various places but, on 3 November 1917, Walter, junior, was sent to Knutsford prison. Conversion to a work centre comprised the removal locks from the doors of cells, which became 'rooms', the wearing of ordinary clothes rather than prison uniforms and permission to go out of the centre in the evenings and on Sundays. Most CO's were given their final discharge from work centres in April 1919.

Walter Saxty Clarke sailed to Nova Scotia, Canada, in August 1919 to start a new life. He returned to marry Gertrude Emma Parkes, registered Brentford 6/1920. In July of that year he embarked on S S Haverford with his parents, new bride, brother Hugh Marshman Clarke and two Parkes relatives to engage in fruit-farming at Hamiota, Manitoba, Canada.

His parents died in 1956 and 1960 to be interred at Hillside Cemetry, Quebec - See image on Walter Saxty Clarke himself is reported to have survived until 1979.

Clifford James George Emery

West View, Manor Asylum, Epsom

Born at Carshalton, 5/8/1894, reg. Epsom District 9/1894, he was a son of Herbert Henry Emery and his wife Minnie Elizabeth, nee Hubbard. His father was employed as foreman in charge at Manor Asylum, Ewell. Members of the family lie interred in Epsom Cemetery. A clerk, he was conscripted into 4th The Queen's (Royal West Surrey) Regiment with a service number 206198 at Kingston upon Thames, 2 March 1917. He was court-martialled at Ramsgate, 16 March 1917, and sentenced to 6 months hard labour. Time served in Wormwood Scrubs prison 26 March 1917 to 5 July 1917 then to Dartmoor. Discharged as surplus to requirements 14 December 1918.

It appears that Clifford J G Emery married Doris E Coppard, reg. Croydon 9/1931, and they had two children born in 1937 & 1943 respectively. His demise aged 73 seems to have been registered at Tonbridge, 9/1967.

Frank Howard Cleobury

15 St. Phillips Avenue, Worcester Park

Frank Harold Cleobury, a son of William Cleobury and Laura Amanda Thompson, was born 6 November 1892. In 1903 he won a scholarship to Aske's Boys School, South London, and remained there until 1908. Entering the Civil Service he became established as a 2nd Division clerk in the Foreign Office.

By 1917 the family had come to live in Worcester Park. At a Military Service Tribunal on 15 February in that year he was granted exemption from combatant service provided that he joined the Friend's Ambulance Unit. From 6 March 1917 until demobilised on 1 January 1919 he worked successively at Jordan's Farm Camp (Old Jordans, Chalfont St Giles, Bucks. the Quaker training centre for FAU), in the London FAU Office, & for Somerset Mental Asylum, Wells.

He married Winifred Sindall, daughter of Alfred John Sindall and Clara Ellen Lucas, reg. Greenwich 6/1922, and subsequently resided in Deptford. There were two children from that union.

Undertaking part-time study, he obtained a BA in Philosophy, 1932, and PhD by 1941. Frank retired as a Principal in the Administrative Grade during 1950.

Subsequently he undertook theological training for candidates for ordained ministry at Wycliffe Hall, Oxford, before being ordained priest in the Church of England, 1951. He became Rector of Hertingfordbury until retirement in 1964 but continued to engage in philosophical writings. His death occurred at Herne Bay, Kent, on 25 March 1981.

Additionally :-

Private 204130 Alfred Arthur Allen Eungblut

1st Bn. London Regiment Royal Fusiliers;
died in Long Grove Asylum, Epsom, another casualty of the Great War.

The death of a private soldier in one of Epsom's hospitals during 1917 sadly was not an infrequent event but this had been an unusual case and did not result from wounds suffered in battle.

Alfred,whose birth had been registered in Pancras for the June Quarter of 1894, was the second child of Alfred Robert Eungblut, pianoforte tuner and repairer, of 69 Brecknock Road, St Pancras, and his wife Jane Maria nee Cockman.

Alfred, junior, became apprenticed as a pianoforte tuner and, later described as having a 'highly-strung temperament', who had been imbued with a boundless enthusiasm for his beliefs, and conducted a class at a Presbyterian Church.

After the introduction of conscription for single men aged between 18 & 41 from March 1916, Eungblut became a member of the No-Conscription Fellowship and details of his treatment subsequently appeared in the pages of The Tribunal the official paper of Society written to inform the public about the Military Service Act and the Conscientious Objectors who fell foul of it. "The Tribunal reported on the lives of COs - from their motivations and reasons for Objecting to War to their experiences at Tribunal, in prison and beyond. It was written clearly, and often movingly, with the intention of keeping COs and their thousands of supporters and sympathisers updated with the latest information in the struggle against conscription and militarism."

The boards to which men could apply for exemption from Military Service on various grounds - only one of which was 'a Conscientious Objection to the undertaking of combatant service' - sat in town halls, parish churches and local schools and sought to secure as many men as possible for the army. A Tribunal could grant absolute exemption to a man who had a genuine, strongly felt objection to war but reportedly only 2% of applicants were deemed to qualify.

During May of 1916 Eungblut himself claimed absolute exemption from his obligation for Military Service at a Tribunal in St Pancras but met with refusal.

It appears that he then absconded but gave himself up on 12 September 1916 before being taken to Fovant Camp, Salisbury, the next day to be court-martialled.

The outcome of that hearing at court-martial on the 28 September 1916 was recorded as 'Non-NCC (Drafted into a combatant unit and disobeyed orders) 1 (R) London CM (Court Martial) Hurdcott 28.9.16 (at Fovant Camp, Salisbury) - 6 months HL (With hard labour) commuted to 112 days in Wormwood Scrubs'.

It has been reported that in prison, 'the separate confinement proved a great torment to his highly-strung temperament'. The decision of a Central Tribunal at Wormwood Scrubs on 18 October 1916 regarding Eungblut was recorded 'CO class A, to Brace Committee'. The Home Office Scheme, which operated under direction of the Brace Committee, was for men who did not take their cases to the tribunals or who had refused the tribunals decision or had had their appeals rejected, and had been arrested by the military authorities. Having been "fetched" by the army, these men refused to obey orders and were court-martialled and imprisoned. Army Order X (AO 179, 1916) from May 1916 directed that CO's convicted by court-martial of offences against discipline who had been sentenced to a term of imprisonment, should be held at the nearest civil prison. It was also proposed that these men should not be discharged from the army, but placed in Class W of the Army Reserve, created by Army Order 203, 1916, for 'soldiers whose service is deemed to be valuable to the country in civil rather than military employment'.

On the 10th November 1916, however, Alfred Eungblut was certified to be insane and removed to an asylum.

A written question from 14 March 1917 appears in Hansard "Mr. Chancellor asked the Secretary to the Local Government Board whether he is aware that Alfred Eungblut, a conscientious objector who voluntarily gave himself up on 12th September last, was court-martialled at Salisbury, sentenced to two years' hard labour, sent to Wormwood Scrubbs (sic), and from there to Epsom lunatic asylum; and, seeing that this man was driven insane by the ill-treatment that he received at the hands of the military, and is now in a serious state of health and possibly dying, will he say what action he proposes to take?" In reply the Hon. Member was told that if has any evidence to support this very serious allegation he should submit it to the Army Council.

Subsequently, a notice from the Superintendent of the Long Grove Asylum, Epsom, revealed that this man had died there on the 10th June 1917 (aged 23). The primary cause of death was given as 'myocardial degeneration' and the secondary as 'heart failure'. His mother was present at his death.

Bearing in mind the death of Arthur's uncle Charles Henry Eungblut at the early age of 34, it might be inferred that genetic heart disease led to his sudden cardiac death, albeit hastened by stress imposed by the proceedings following his application for exemption from military service. He was interred at Morden Cemetery and, as a final irony, The Commonwealth War Graves Commission record his name on a Screen Wall to the Cross of Sacrifice amongst the war dead whose graves have not been marked by a headstone.

Alfred Arthur Allen Eunblut's name appears in an Army Register of Soldiers' Effects held by The National Army Museum. On 18 March 1918, his father withdrew a credit of £9:4:2 in the name of Alfred R Rogers (sic) and his mother, then Jane M Rogers, is found to have been awarded £3 War Gratuity in 1919.

A change of family surname may have been prompted by publicity over A A A Eungblut's case since the following announcement had appeared in The London Gazette, 14 September 1917: -
"I ALFRED ROBERT ROGERS, heretofore called and known by the name of Alfred Robert Eungblut, a natural born British subject, of 69, Brecknock-road, Holloway, in the county of London,. Pianoforte Maker, hereby give public notice, that by a deed poll, dated the 30th day of July, 1917, duly executed and attested and enrolled in the Central Office of the Supreme Court, on the 21st day of August, 1917, I formally and absolutely renounced and abandoned the said surname of Eungblut and declared that I had assumed and adopted and intended thenceforth upon all occasions whatsoever to use and subscribe the name of Rogers as my surname in lieu of the said surname of Eungblut, and so as to be at all times thereafter called, known and described by the name of Alfred Robert Rogers exclusively. - Dated the 21st day of August, 1917.

Brian Bouchard, June 2016