Tuesday, 22 March 2016

Conscientious Objectors at Bedfordshire Appeals Tribunal

Luton Town Hall 1911 [Z1306/75/10/23/8]

Wednesday 22nd March 1916: The Appeals Tribunal for Bedfordshire sat for the first time today at Luton Town Hall to hear appeals against the decisions taken by tribunals in respect of applications for exemption from military service. All the morning and part of the afternoon was devoted to hearing appeals by conscientious objectors. The Chairman stated that he was looking for evidence that an applicant’s conscientious objection was genuine and of long standing, and would attach weight to any evidence that the applicant belonged to a religious body with well-known views on this question, or to proof that his opinions had been openly expressed fro a considerable period of term.

The first applicant, who appeared to have left the Church of England because he did not want to take on parish work and had a grievance against the vicar, was dismissed as a “bona-fide shirker”. The second case to be heard involved a member of the Society of Friends who had been ordered to undertake non-combatant service by the local tribunal, but who believed to play any part, even as a non-combatant, would be as bad as being a soldier and carrying a rifle. He refused to accept exemption on condition that he would accept employment in some work which the Tribunal considered of national importance and his application was refused.

The longest case was an appeal by the military representative against the absolute exemption of an individual who described himself as an “ambassador of God”. It was alleged that the man’s conscientious objection was not proved, that he had equivocated in reply to questions, and that he had used his influence to prevent others engaging in military service. After discussing the case in private, the decision of the local tribunal was confirmed and the man exempted. One case was adjourned for a fortnight to give the applicant time to prove that he was to be engaged on work of national importance, such as for a railway or dock company. The majority of the remaining cases were also refused, including an appeal by a member of the International Bible Students’ Association who stated he was prepared to accept “the extreme penalty” for refusing to serve.

All the conscientious objectors whose appeals were refused asked permission to appeal to the Central Appeals Tribunal. They were told this would only be possible if an important question of principle was raised, which in these cases it was not.

Source: Luton News 23rd and 30th March 1916

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