Bert Brocklesby, a school teacher from Doncaster, applied for exemption from military service early in 1916 on religious grounds. Bert went before his local and appeal Tribunals in February and April 1916, and was given exemption from Combatant Service Only by both. To Bert, this was an unacceptable decision – joining the Army, even in a Non-Combatant role meant going against his deeply held conscientious belief that war in all forms was a crime.
He was arrested as an absentee after refusing to obey the order to report to his nearby barracks to be enlisted into the Non Combatant Corps. Bert refused to compromise his principles in any way, and did not even take the step of signing his Army papers – denying the military authorities even this rudimentary control over his life.
For making this stand, and for disobeying other orders, Bert was Court Martialled and would soon become one of a group of Absolutists (known as the ‘Richmond 16’) sent to France from Richmond Castle, Yorkshire, as military prisoners. It seems that Bert managed to drop a cleverly edited field service postcard out of the train while being transferred to France for further punishment. This postcard alerted Bert’s local MP (who sympathised with the principles behind Bert’s objection to military service) that men were being transferred to the combat zone, where, considered to be on active service, they could be sentenced to death for disobeying orders.
Bert would find this out on arrival at Henriville Camp, Northern France.
On June 24th 1916, Bert’s sentence was read out in front of the Non-Combatant Corps Battalion to which the Army believed he belonged:
“The accused were tried by Field General Court-martial on the 13th day of June, had been found guilty and sentenced to death. The sentences had been confirmed by Field Marshal Sir Douglas Haig……………. and commuted to ten years’ penal servitude”
Bert was sent to Dyce Camp to quarry stone with primitive tools in atrocious conditions. Soon afterwards the camp was closed after the neglect of the men working there had resulted in the death of Walter Roberts.
Bert spent the rest of the war in prison, finally being released in 1919. He joined the Friends War Victims Relief service soon after his release, determined to not just protest against war, but provide aid and support to some of its victims.
Based on an article by the Peace Pledge Union.
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