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.
Explore more memories from the ribbon
Researched by Katy Douthwaite Cecil Christian Jervelund was born in 1891, the son of a Danish Merchant, Albert Neilson Jervelund, becoming a naturalised British citizen in 1889. Before joining the army, he worked as a Clerk at the local Iron and Steel Works. Charles, his elder brother was a regular Officer in the Yorkshire Regiment and served in India, South Africa and Bermuda. Cecil had been an Officer with the 4th Yorks since 1913 and went to France with them on 18th April 1915. On May 24th, at Hooge, the Germans launched a devastating gas attack, in which 30 Green Howards were killed in action, 70 were wounded and 98 were missing. The heavy toll included Cecil, who was taken to hospital suffering from the effects of gas. After recovering and returning to his unit, Cecil was promoted to Captain on 16th February 1916. He survived the War and appears again in October 1920 when he was once more made a Captain in the 4th Yorks Battalion after they reformed as part of the new Territorial Army. He married Marguerite D Mangin in Ripon, Yorks in 1918 and died in 1942 at Middlesbrough.
Kenneth Henderson was born on the 29th May 1895 at Sutton in Surrey, the third and youngest child of Robert and Janie Henderson. His father was a bank manager. The family were quite reasonably well off as the 1911 census shows the family having 3 servants. By this time Kenneth was at Charterhouse School. His early life is undocumented. On the outbreak of WW1 Kenneth enlisted in the 28th Battalion, The London Regiment (Artists’ Rifles). This was a popular unit for volunteers and a number would be selected to be officers in other Regiments, as Kenneth would be. On the 26th October he landed in France with the Artists’ Rifles and on the 15th March 1915 was made temporary 2nd Lieutenant with the 2nd Battalion, Yorkshire Regiment. During 1915 he saw action with the 2nd Battalion at Fromelles, Festuber and Givenchy. On the 7th July 1916 during the Somme offensive he received his fourth wound of the war. After the war he was with the newly reconstituted 6th Battalion, Yorkshire Regiment, for service in the Russian Archangel campaign. It was here that he received the Military Cross. The London Gazette of the 21st January 1919 read: ‘He has carried out the duties of a Company Commander of a mixed force at Bolshe-Ozerki and has worked in a very efficient way. He has had continuous service on this front since November 1918 and in four engagements in which his company has taken part he has proved to be a fearless and…
Si Wheeler submitted the story of his great grandfather, Dixon Overfield, but it’s also a great example of the impact of war on all those connected to the soldier who served. “Dixon was married to Margaret and they had a daughter Madge, born in 1915. Dixon enlisted in Filey in September 1916. He originally joined the Royal Field Artillery but soon got transferred to the 6th Battalion, the Yorkshire Regiment. He was sent to France and saw action at Arras, before being moved to Belgium. Dixon survived this fight, but twelve days later he too was killed in action at the Battle of Poelcappelle on the 9th of October 1917 when a shell burst just above himself and several comrades. Their bodies were never recovered. Dixon is remembered on the Tyne Cot Memorial. Dixon’s wife died in 1924, leaving my grandmother, Madge, aged 9, an orphan. Raised by two aunts, then entering service at 13, Madge was taken under the wing of her housekeeper boss, Lizzie Andrew and became part of her extended family. Aged 18, Madge moved to London to train as a nurse, working through the Blitz and marrying a Dunkirk evacuee soldier, my granddad, Harry Wheeler. Harry didn’t mind where they settled to start married life, so they moved to Swanland in East Yorkshire, where Lizzie lived. My parents live there to this day.”