Making the conscientious objectors count Comfort in a dissenting community?

Cyril Pearce, the key expert on ‘Conscience and dissent in Britain during the First World War’, gave a talk on this subject the other day for the Working Class Movement Library.

This is a subject of particular interest in Cutlock towers due to grandfather Sydney Howes’ appearance in the database that Pearce has compiled, as the secretary of the Battersea branch of the No Conscription Fellowship. More about that in the article ‘Piecing together the anti-war evidence‘. So the afternoon was booked out for the Zoom session, despite participating in another virtual meeting in the morning. {2}

Cyril Pearce has spent a long time compiling whatever records, newspaper articles, family stories and photos etc. that he can lay his hands on, to document the largely untold story of the lives of Conscientious Objectors (COs) and the communities they lived in. He has come up with his own analysis of how widespread war resistance was around the country, in terms of absolute numbers in an area but also creating a ‘CO index’ based on the proportion of the adult male population (out of 10,000). This is all detailed in his latest book, Communities of Resistance {1} – not just raw data but useful graphical analysis and background material on selected places and people.

Syd, Reg (Gunton), Harry (Williams)

The highlight for me from this interesting talk was to realise that Sydney ended the war teaching at a school in the district rated at number 3 on the national CO index, Rawdon UD. Only 15 people were COs, but in a small population this gives an index value of 24.71, far higher than the average. Rawdon is near Leeds, and the fact that it was Rawdon Friends (Quaker) School indicates the likely main factor for this high position.

The attached photo is of interest for a number of reasons but in this context because both Reg and Harry served in WW1. Reg joined what became the RAF at age 17 as a humble counter hand, and Harry signed up just before his 19th birthday – he joined the Army Pay Corps seemingly down to defective eyesight, per his service record.

Notes

  1. The book Communities of resistance: conscience and dissent in Britain during the First World War (a hefty tome at about 550 pages, £30) can be ordered from Francis Boutle Publishers (they don’t deal with Amazon) or try your local independent bookshop.
  2. The talk was recorded and can be viewed on YouTube. Find the link on the WCML events page or go direct (1 hr 18mins).

 

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