Wednesday 28th June 1916: Two conscientious objectors from Luton are in France where they expect to be sentenced to death for refusing to serve. The death sentence has already been passed on four men, though it was commuted to ten years penal servitude, and another thirty men are expecting to receive the same punishment. The two men are Quaker Harry E. Stanton and Bernard Bonner, an International Bible Student.
Mr Stanton has described his experiences to his mother, who lives at Wellington Street in Luton. He was assigned by the Local Tribunal to non-combatant service, and his appeal against this was dismissed. He was called up for March 8th and was handed over to the military on March 11th. At the first barracks to which he was sent he was subjected to various forms of coercion and threatened with a rifle by an N.C.O. who told him he “would be the end of him”. He refused to be examined or to strip, and was sent to another location where he was again punished. After another move he was put in detention for seven days for refusing to drill. According to a friend “He had rather a stiff time – ninety-six hours’ bread and water diet, with an interval of twenty-four hours’ ordinary prison food. It pulled him down a good deal, as he is not naturally strong. I found him, however, facing his difficulties with great fortitude – contented and happy in the course he is feeling it right to take in the service of truth, and grateful to his gaolers for any little kindnesses they show him.”
Mr Stanton was expecting to be court martialled, when he and sixteen others were sent to France on May 8th. They have been at Boulogne for most of the time since then. In his letters to his mother his only complaint has been that the room in which they were confined was dark and he could not read and write properly. He told her “Keep a brave heart whatever happens – right will triumph some day”. Before he left home he told her that if he had to be shot he would be. Bernard Bonner’s experiences have been very similar to those of Mr. Stanton. He appears to have been at Felixstowe, where the men had been sentenced to 28 days detention and had been put in irons and on a diet of bread and water On 19th June he wrote a letter from the Field Punishment Barracks, Boulogne, which was quoted in the House of Commons on Monday:
“Things are moving very slowly. We twelve have been court martialled, and four are on the way back to the homeland. They have received a very heavy sentence, as we also expect. They were read out on the 15th, and the sentence was death, but commuted to ten years’ penal servitude. Think of that for one’s convictions! … Amongst [the other conscientious objectors] are seven other I.B.S.A. men. They are fine fellows. We are now all together in one room, and our food has been changed since the time of the 28 days finished on the 8th, so conditions are a little better. … I expect my situation has caused many who before did not think about me to enquire how I am, as it must have done all over the country, who thought that such could not happen.”
Source: Luton News, 29th June 1916