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John 'Bert' Brocklesby

About John 'Bert' Brocklesby

John Hubert (“Bert”) Brocklesby was born and grew up in Conisbrough, near Doncaster in Yorkshire. Brought up as Methodist, Bert had been drawn to both Quakers and Baptists, but had remained with the Wesleyan Methodist Church and become a lay preacher, only later becoming a Quaker.

As an eleven-year-old during the Boer War, he was confused when he realised that both sides were praying for victory to the same God. Bert was 25 when the war broke out.

Meeting Quakers

Monday 9 November 2015
John 'Bert' Brocklesby

Bert seems to have preached less often as he became more involved in campaigning against the war. He described how he came to know Quakers through the anti-conscription campaign.

Pamphlet to challenge national serviceIn this year of 1915, I made my first real contact with Quakers.

Oswald Clark of Doncaster had taken the initiative in founding a local branch of the No-Conscription Fellowship, a nationwide organisation to use democratic means to prevent conscription becoming the law of the land. I joined, and attended the meetings held at the home of Joseph Frith Clark, who was Oswald's father.

Joseph Frith Clark was a great character. While Mayor of Doncaster he had been invited by King Edward VII to meet him at the Royal Box at the Doncaster Race Course. He politely declined, saying that he had never been to the races in his life and felt he was too old now to begin. Of course, JFC lost his knighthood, which I fancy troubled him not at all. It was many years before any royalty came again to Doncaster, but how much JFC's action had to do with that is only surmise.

My impressions of Joseph Frith Clark were of a hoary and infirm old man with a wonderfully young and alert spirit. He seemed to have as keen an interest in the problems we discussed as though they were his problems, and so, I think, they were. He caused me to pray "O God, if ever I reach his age, may my spirit keep as young as his."

Oswald, who was a moving spirit in the Fellowship, proved himself a stalwart pacifist and took the absolutist position from the start.

Sometimes we staged mock tribunals to give our members experience of being cross-examined, but this did not help me so much as the words of Jesus: "They will deliver you up to councils... and before governors and kings shall ye be brought for my sake as a testimony to them... Be not anxious how or what ye shall speak: for it shall be given you in that hour what ye shall speak. For it is not ye that speak, but the Spirit of your Father that speaketh in you." (Matthew 10:17–20)

Bert was clearly inspired and comforted by Jesus's quote about being given the words to speak before rulers. He referred to it on a number of other occasions as he prepared what he was to say when he had to explain his position. How would you prepare yourself for a cross-examination about your deeply held convictions?

This is an edited extract from Escape from Paganism, the unpublished memoirs of John 'Bert' Brocklesby. Used by kind permission of his daughter, Mary Brocklesby.

Memorial stone for conscientious objectors
Wednesday 30 March 2016

Bert's brother Philip visited him shortly before his sentence was confirmed. Bert describes what happened after the sentence was read out.

Sketches of what a CO feels like
Wednesday 23 March 2016

On arrival at Boulogne, Bert and his comrades from Richmond Castle discovered that another group of conscientious objectors had also been sent to France with the threat of being shot if they continued to refuse orders. They did not know whether the other group – which included Howard Marten ­­– had given in or been executed.

Bert was concerned that campaigners in Britain should hear about what was going on and know that they were in Boulogne. He described what happened next.

Drawing on cell wall
Wednesday 16 March 2016

Bert was sent to Richmond Castle where a unit of the Non-Combatant Corps was based. Within a few days he was on his way to France.

A conscientious objector in prison sustained by the spirit of international brotherhood
Wednesday 9 March 2016

facing arrest for refusing to join the Non-Combatant Corps, Bert handed himself into the police station.

Conscientious objectors singing love songs to huns
Wednesday 2 March 2016

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.

Brocklesby family photograph
Monday 2 November 2015

A week after his bruising experience in Conisbrough, Bert found himself preaching in another church. He took a more cautious approach, but delivered the same message. He later wrote about the experience.

Monday 26 October 2015

The war that began in 1914 was expected to be over by Christmas. John ‘Bert’ Brocklesby found himself preaching in his own church just after the beginning of 2015. He wrote about the response he received.

Monday 25 August 2014

To Bert, war required either hatred or callousness. Writing about the early days of the war, he linked his convictions with a rejection of hatred – and a question about prayer during wartime.

Monday 18 August 2014

How did Bert come to be such a strong pacifist? Unlike Howard, he did not grow up in a pacifist family. His brothers Philip and Harold joined the army shortly after war broke out.

Monday 11 August 2014

The beginning of war saw thousands of men rush to enlist. Those who chose not to do so faced criticism.

Monday 4 August 2014

In the summer of 1914, the prospect of war felt far away to Bert Brocklesby, a teacher in the Yorkshire town of Conisbrough near Doncaster.

Related Materials

Pamphlet challenging national service
Monday 9 November 2015

The Bible, and particularly the teachings of Jesus, were a constant source of encouragement to Quakers and other religious pacifists. Today we saw Bert quoting Jesus's words of encouragement to his followers, as they appear in Matthew's Gospel.

This is the passage from which Bert quoted (Matthew 10:16–31) in a modern English translation (the New Revised Standard Version). It consists of advice and encouragement given by Jesus to his followers as they prepared for persecution and hostility.

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We were moved first to the Field Punishment Barracks recently vacated by the first group of COs https://t.co/r0jRYe8HTX #WW1 #whitefeather
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