Piecing together the anti-war evidence New WW1 'conchy' records


A new record set covering conscientious objectors has been added to the ‘Lives of the First World War‘ website, run by Imperial War Museum and FindMyPast. Added to mark International Conscientious Objector Day on 15th May, the Pearce Register of British World War One Conscientious Objectors collates fragmentary evidence to produce over 16,500 records – see Cyril Pearce’s own background article on the site blog.

The exact status of grandfather Sydney Howes during WW1 has been a little uncertain, with the rather woolly conclusion to date that although not serving in the military, he wasn’t a signed up “conchy”. The new, if rather minimal, evidence provided here gives a firmer view.

Known to date:

  • Teaching in London until some time in 1916,at Park Walk School SW – presumably the primary school which still exists under that name just of Kings Road, Chelsea.
  • In 1916 he moved to a school in Luton, and then in 1918 to Rawdon Friends (Quaker) School near Leeds.
  • At his wedding in Norwich August 1919, he gives his address as 38 Queens Road, Battersea – this may be an error in Dad’s record for Queenstown Road.

The new evidence:

Sydney C Howes in May 1916 is living at Mysore Road, Lavender Hill, Battersea, and is Battersea Branch Secretary for the No-Conscription Fellowship. There is a reference to ‘Details of Court Martial’, but nothing else. {1}

Despite the limited info, the chances of this being a different person are slim to non-existent. Mysore Road is less than 2 miles from Park Walk, an easy cycle for Sydney, and he clearly has a Battersea connection. The moves to teach elsewhere during the war, and in particular in a Quaker school, are also rather telling in this context.

I’m pleased, and proud, to have this confirmation of my grandfather’s principled stance.

Notes

1. Link to Sydney C Howes on Lives of WW1. Info on NCF from Working Class Movement Library.

2. Conscription was introduced 2nd March 1916 for single men between 18 and 41, soon extended to married men. The medically unfit, clergy, teachers and certain classes of industrial worker were exempt – see Parliament’s Living Heritage page.

3. Other grandfather Levi ‘Len’ Watkins also didn’t see active service, although he undertook tank training summer 1918. As a miner he would have been low down the call-up list, have enrolled 16th February 1916, so before conscription came in.

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