I have no country
As we saw in today's entry, Bert's argument before the tribunal focused on Christian arguments against violence and what he would do if Germans attacked Britain. At other tribunals, the arguments could be quite different.
Arthur Gardiner was a socialist who worked as a wool and cotton dyer. He was 26 when he appeared before the Huddersfield Local Tribunal on 20 March 1916. Arthur rejected the notion of ‘national loyalty’, believing that this effectively meant loyalty to the ruling class. He accepted the Marxist idea that the working class have no country.
The exchange went as follows.
Arthur Crosland (military representative) You are against militarism. I am against it too, and always have been. That is no reason why you should not go to fight for your country.
Gardiner I have no country.
Crosland What are you doing here, having no country? Why are you receiving all the benefits of a citizen when you have no country?
Gardiner Whatever benefits I am receiving have only been got by the organised workers wringing them from the master class. I am here this afternoon defending one of the liberties we at present enjoy, the liberty of conscience.
The argument continued, with Arthur insisting that he wished to work for the benefit of all humanity, including British and German people.
Gardiner I realise the interests of the workers of Germany are identical with those of the workers of England and for that reason I cannot march against them and will not.
Crosland And you will not do non-combatant service?
Gardiner Certainly not.
Joseph Blamires (Mayor of Huddersfield) They are fighting against England!
Gardiner No, they are not fighting against me.
Blamires Well, you are a unit in this empire.
Gardiner No, I don't think my name has been brought up at all in the German Reichstag.
Blamires It would have been absurd to do so.
Gardiner Certainly it would. It is not my fault that I was born here. I am neither to be praised nor blamed for it.
Blamires But you are fortunate that you were born here.
Gardiner That may be.
Blamires Well, I am glad you admit so much.
Blamires asks the rest of the tribunal for their views.
Armitage He objects to one as well as to the other and I should refuse it, sir.
Joseph Pickles I think Mr Gardiner has made a splendid case out.
Armitage But he has such curious ideas. They can't be worked.
Pickles I should like to ask the town clerk if this tribunal has the power to grant him exemption on conscientious grounds.
Gardiner Mr Armitage says I have curious views. Because you do not agree with them does not mean I do not hold those views.
The tribunal members continue to talk with each other.
Crosland What sect do you belong to?
Gardiner I am an atheist.
Blamires Have atheists consciences do you think?
Gardiner Oh, yes! I am a member of the British Socialist Party and a member of the Socialist Sunday School.
Crosland (to Blamires) I should refuse it. Whatever you do I shall oppose your decision.
Blamires That won't make the slightest difference.
Members of the tribunal retired to consider their decision. On their return, Blamires said they had decided by a majority vote to grant Arthur Gardiner temporary exemption for two months. He was later ordered to join the army, refused and spent much of the war in prison. He later became a local socialist politician in Huddersfield.
Source: The Worker, 25 March 1916. Also, Comrades in Conscience: The Story of an English Community's Opposition to the Great War by Cyril Pearce (Francis Boutle Publishers, 2014).
Bert Brocklesby was called before a tribunal in Doncaster when he claimed a conscientious objection to joining the army. He wrote out a transcript of the hearing.
Holly Wallis from Conscience outlines the campaign to extend the right to conscientious objection to allow people to legally object to funding the military through the tax system, diverting taxes to be used on the military towards peacebuilding.