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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Willimina ‘Minnie’ Melville 28/04/1886–11/02/1967 Minnie was born in Johnshaven, Scotland and volunteered for the British Red Cross in November 1916. She was initially stationed at Whalley Military Hospital as a VAD nurse from 4/11/1916 to 26/06/1917, before moving to Catterick Camp Military Hospital, again as a nurse, from 15/01/1918 until 6/04/1919. Willimina Melville, now Mrs Scales married James Jarvis Scales in 1922 and they were married up until her death on the 11th of February 1967. Minnie and Jim had emigrated and were living in Nanaimo, British Columbia, Canada in 1967. This information, provided by Alathea Anderssohn has been drawn from the Imperial War Museum’s ‘Lives of the First World War’ archive.
Shirley Stephenson visited the museum to tell about the story and final letters of 5444 Private George Brown, 7th battalion, Yorkshire Regiment, the youngest brother of her mother in law. George was the seventh of nine children. Three of his brothers also served in France but survived. In 1915, he left his family home in Brandon, County Durham, to live with his older sister and her family on their farm in North Cowton. Here, he worked for them and was learning the trade of butchery, his sister and husband hoping to set him up, eventually, in his own business but he was called up in May 1916. He enlisted at Croft and was sent to Babworth Camp, Retford. At the beginning of July, he writes to his sister, Mary, and her husband, Tom, asking them to apply to his commanding officer for a month’s leave in order to assist them with haytime saying, ‘……tell him I worked for you and you can’t get anyone else…. I think you will succeed as he can’t refuse.’ Unfortunately, he could because the Regiment was posted to France; three weeks later, ‘we are going to face the foe….. we poor devils with three months’ training.’ By 25th July, George and his Company were training on the French coast ‘…… it is very hot here…… very tiresome marching around in the sand all day….. we get better food than in Retford but not much of it.’ Three weeks later his letter reads, ‘…. I am…
Submitted by Will Young. 1/6th (Perthshire) Battalion, Black Watch (Royal Highlanders) Thomas Young (TEY), my grandfather, was born in 1874 and commissioned into 4th (Volunteer) Battalion, Black Watch in 1898. At the outbreak of the First World War, he commanded “F” (Auchterarder) Company, 1/6th Black Watch, and was mobilised on 5th August 1914 and went with them to their war station which was at North Queensferry on the north side of the River Forth close to the railway bridge. He did not accompany the battalion when it went overseas in May 1915, and until he did go to France he served with one of the reserve battalions at various locations in the UK. TEY re-joined the 1/6th near Arras on 9th July 1916. The battalion went south to the Somme and after their costly attack near High Wood the Officer commanding “C” Company was killed, he took over its command. The 1/6th was withdrawn from the battle area and moved north to Armentieres. They stayed in this area until early October and during this time spent 28 days in the trenches, sometime in a “Rest Camp” and the remainder of the time training or working, and one day at the Divisional Horse Show. The battalion moved back to the Somme and on the 13th November he was wounded at Beaumont Hamel, during the Battle of the Ancre. After treatment in a hospital in France he was evacuated to the UK. He did not return to the front and left the…