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


A new record set covering conscientious objectors has been published on 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 off 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 at May 1916 is listed as living at Mysore Road, Lavender Hill, Battersea, and is Battersea Branch Secretary for the No-Conscription Fellowship. {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 – the record transcription gives its source as “NCF (No-Conscription Fellowship) Divisional and Branch Secretaries 27.5.16 in Cumbria RO (Carlisle)D/Mar/4/4-5; Not found in NA/WO363”. Info on the Fellowship from Working Class Movement Library.

2. Updated: Conscription was introduced from 2nd March 1916 for single men between 18 and 41 (law passed January 1916). This was soon extended to married men. Only clergy were “excepted”. Those who were medically unfit or in essential areas of work, like coal miners and teachers, could argue for exemption before military tribunals. See the Military Service Act 1916 page on The Long, Long Trail for more details, also see Historic UK or 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 just before conscription came in.

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