Neal relations at Cuckoos Cup, The Wrekin

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 {1}, 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 {1}.

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 is now Queenstown Road.

The new evidence:

Sydney C Howes at May 1916 is listed as living at 102 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.


  1. Now that the project has ended, the “permanent digital memorial” site for Lives of the First World War (at June 2019) no longer contains material from the Pearce Register, only a reference to it, plus the connected blog pages have also disappeared, so Cyril Pearce’s own background article is no longer available. An Heritage Fund blog piece does give some background, though. The record transcription for Sydney C Howes originally gave 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” (reference now only shown as ID: 8469783). Also see: info about the Fellowship on the Working Class Movement Library website (which also has info about conscription). Sydney does appear on PPU’s ‘Men Who Said No’ list, and that website also has a section about the No Conscription Fellowship.
  2. 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 Tribunals page on The Men Who Said No (PPU) website for more on exemptions that could be granted. Also see the Military Service Act 1916 page on The Long, Long Trail, plus Historic UK or Parliament’s Living Heritage page. Redditch Military Service Tribunal (Worcs WW100) has images of some key and example documents.
  3. Our other grandfather Levi ‘Len’ Watkins also didn’t see active service, although he undertook tank training in summer 1918. As a miner he would have been low down the call-up list, having enrolled on 16th February 1916, just before conscription came in.
  4. UPDATE There is another conchie in the tree. Jesse Shephard, the father-in-law of second cousin Muriel, was “sent to work in the vegetable fields in the Lee Valley of London”. He does have an entry on the Conscientious Objector records, which says he did farm work in Feltham (April 1917 to November 1918).
  5. Cutlock & Co now has a round-up of articles dealing with World War One topics.
  6. An insight into the radical politics of Battersea in the early 20th century comes from an article about John Archer (1863-1932), the first black mayor of an English Borough (1913-14) – pdf from British Library Online Gallery (discovered via an Ancestry blog), Sadly nothing about the war period, but a mention of Charlotte Despard leads to a Wikipedia entry – amongst a long list of political activity including as a prominent suffragette, she was involved in Battersea Labour Party and “she toured the United Kingdom speaking against the use of conscription in the First World War, forming a pacifist organisation called the Women’s Peace Crusade to oppose all war.” Surely someone that Sydney knew.



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