Wednesday, 23 March 2016

Married Men Protest at Leighton and Luton

Castle Street, Luton c.1916 [Z1306/75/10/8/3]

Thursday 23rd March 1916: A large audience of attested married men gathered at Castle Street Hall in Luton on Monday night to complain they had not had “fair play” in the way they were being treated in the government. They had been assured when they attested under Lord Derby’s scheme that they would not be obliged to serve until all the unmarried men had been called up. However, the delay between the completion of the recruiting scheme and the introduction of conscription had allowed large numbers of single men to go into reserved trades. As a result married men were being called up much sooner than expected. To add insult to injury, conscripts appeared to be receiving more favourable treatment than attested men. Mr. Hugh Cumberland who chaired the meeting declared “the whole thing had been a bungle from beginning to end, all because the Government had not faced the music, and the only fair way now was to have conscription for everybody.

There were other reasons the Government’s pledge to send unmarried men first had not been carried out besides the delay in introducing the Military Service Bill. The number of conscientious objectors came as a surprise – one speaker said he had no idea there was so much conscience in the country and “the blasphemous, disgusting statements made by many of them made him sick”. A resolution was tabled which included a request that all notices calling up groups of married men be withdrawn until “all single men engaged since August 15th last in reserved occupations, and not actually indispensable, and those sheltering themselves under the plea of conscientious objection, are called up for service, or until a revision of the Military Service Act so as to include all men of military age”. It also requested “that adequate provision to meet domestic and business obligations of married men when called up, be made”. The resolution was carried enthusiastically and was to be sent to the Prime Minister, Lord Derby, and Luton M.P. Mr. Cecil Harmsworth.

Yesterday evening another meeting was held at the Temperance Hall in Leighton Buzzard with over one hundred attested married men present despite bad weather. It was stressed that this was not a meeting of disloyalists, or a “stop the war” meeting. The men were asked to speak “as if a German spy were present, and to make no remark that would tend to please him. Two resolutions were passed. The first recorded the opinion of the attested married men of Leighton Buzzard, Linslade and district that “pledges which form an essential part of their attestation contract have not been and are not being kept” and demanded that “single men should be dug out of munition works and Government offices before any of the married groups are called up”. The second asked that any married man called up for the Army “should be freed from all anxiety as to the financial position of his dependents during his absence”. These resoltuions were also to be sent to the Prime Minister, Lord Derby, and the local Members of Parliament. The meeting closed with a vote of thanks to the Chairman and the singing of the National Anthem.

Sources: Luton News 23rd March 1916; Leighton Buzzard Observer 28th March 1916

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