Conscientious Objectors’ Stories
The men held in the cell block at Richmond Castle in 1916 came from many different backgrounds, but had one thing in common – all were conscientious objectors, who refused to take any part in the war effort, whether in combat or support roles. Some of them, known as the Richmond Sixteen, were taken to France in May 1916 where their resistance, in a war zone, potentially carried a death sentence. The stories of some of these men are outlined below.
Norman Gaudie (1888–1955)
Norman Gaudie was called up soon after conscription was introduced in 1916. At the time, he was a clerk in the accounts department of the Eastern Railway, Newcastle, and reserve centre forward for Sunderland Football Club. A devout Congregationalist, he believed that any participation in the war effort would be a denial of his faith.
In early March 1916 he applied for total exemption from military service on religious grounds. He was granted exemption from combatant roles only, and just over a month later was arrested and handed over to the military after failing to report for non-combatant service. His clothes were forcibly removed when he resisted medical examination in Sunderland, and at Newcastle barracks he was made to wear khaki before being sent to the Non-Combatant Corps at Richmond Castle.
Once there, Gaudie spent several periods in detention for continuing to refuse orders. Yet despite his ordeal, his wartime diaries record moments of solidarity and optimism. He thrived on debates with other conscientious objectors, sang hymns, read, recited the Bible and even managed to play chess on a pocket chessboard. His friend Bert Brocklesby (see below) drew a likeness of Gaudie’s mother on their cell wall, copied from a photograph he kept in a secret pocket.
Just over a month after arriving, Gaudie became one of 16 men from Richmond sent to France, court martialled and sentenced to death. Their sentences were immediately reduced to ten years’ penal servitude. Back in Britain, Gaudie spent the rest of the war in civil prisons and work centres in Winchester, Dyce (near Aberdeen), Wakefield, Armley, Leeds and Maidstone.
After his early release in 1919, like many conscientious objectors Gaudie struggled to find work and acceptance in his local community. This even extended to his passion, sport – the chairman of his local cricket club objected to him playing.
Alfred Myers (1884–1948)
- At Richmond: 6–29 May 1916
Alfred Myers came from a large family in East Cleveland and before the war worked with two of his brothers in the ironstone mines. A member of the Independent Labour Party and a devout Wesleyan Methodist, he played a key role in his local community. He was a tenor in the Wesleyan Carlin How choir, a Sunday school superintendent and trustee of the local church.
At his hearing for exemption from compulsory military service, Myers asserted his belief in an international brotherhood of man, and stated that he ‘could not conscientiously kill, nor assist in killing’. But like so many others he was only granted exemption from combatant service and was sent to the Non-Combatant Corps at Richmond Castle.
In the cells at Richmond, Myers’s tenor voice was put to good use. With two other conscientious objectors, Brocklesby and Gaudie, he sang the hymn ‘Nearer My God to Thee’ in three-part harmony. Myers’s performance wasn’t as perfect as the other prisoners hoped, however – they had to bang on the cell floor to keep him in time.
Following his ordeal with the rest of the Richmond Sixteen in France, Myers was sent first to Dyce Camp, near Aberdeen, and then Maidstone prison. Others of the Richmond Sixteen were also there, and Myers worked alongside Brocklesby in the laundry.
On his release, the effects of imprisonment were evident. Brocklesby described in his memoirs how on their journey home ‘poor old Alfred … was suffering from an emotional or nervous reaction and felt unable to go further alone’.
Clarence Hall (1896–1973)
- At Richmond: 2–29 May 1916
On 29 May 1916 Clarence Hall wrote ‘Sent to France with 17’ on his cell wall at Richmond Castle. Rumours had spread that the 2nd Northern Non-Combatant Corps, to which Clarence and his brother Stafford were attached, were preparing to go to France and that men held in the cells would be joining them. Hall had just enough time to inscribe his name, membership of the International Bible Students Association (IBSA), and dates of detention on his cell wall.
Before the war Hall had been a clerk at a joining and contracting business. In 1916, after having his application for total exemption from military service refused, he was ordered to join the Non-Combatant Corps. He refused to sign his army papers, and was forced into khaki at Fulford Barracks, York. Later he was given seven days’ detention in the cells at Richmond Castle. Despite the dire circumstances, Hall used his confinement to discuss religion and theology with other conscientious objectors.
On his return from France he was imprisoned at Winchester before undertaking work at Dyce Camp, Wakefield and Knutsford work centres. He had a succession of jobs after the war including working for a paper manufacturer and as a sales representative. When war broke out again in 1939, he undertook fireguard duties in Hull.
Charles Rowland Jackson (1895–1974)
- At Richmond: 29 April to 29 May 1916
‘Those with whom we have come in contact cannot understand our being so quiet and confident, when … the situation is so serious’, wrote 21-year-old Charles Rowland Jackson from France in June 1916. One week earlier he, with the rest of the Richmond Sixteen, had been sentenced to death, a sentence which was immediately commuted to ten years’ penal servitude.
Secretary for the Leeds branch of the IBSA, Jackson’s confidence was rooted in his Christian beliefs. As he explained, ‘we have learned so much of the Lord’s care during the past few weeks that we are prepared to leave all in His Hands’.
Before the war Jackson was a clerk at a Leeds wool merchant and, like his father, became a conscientious objector. While his father was exempted from service on condition that he completed work of national importance, Jackson was sent to join the Non-Combatant Corps at Richmond Castle.
Soon after arriving there Jackson was detained for 11 days while awaiting trial for ‘insubordinate language’. He spent 48 hours in solitary confinement on a punishment diet of bread and when finally sentenced, was given six months’ imprisonment. He only served three days before being sent to France with the rest of the Richmond Sixteen.
By 5 July 1916 Jackson was back in England and imprisoned at Winchester before being granted civilian work, first at Dyce Camp and later at Longside, Warwick and Dartmoor.
After his release Jackson married and his family later emigrated to Australlia. At some point he left the IBSA, but he remained a Bible Student for the rest of his life.
Richard Lewis Barry (1890–1949)
In March 1916, 26-year-old Richard Lewis Barry stood before six members of the Long Eaton Urban District Tribunal held at Zion Hall, Long Eaton, Derbyshire, claiming exemption from conscription on the grounds of his socialist views.
All six tribunal members listening to Barry’s case were lace manufacturers. Barry worked as a twisthand in the Frank T Sutton Lace Manufacturing business at Cavendish Mill on Bennett Street, Long Eaton. Working mostly with cotton, twisthands were so called because they made a high quality twisted lace. They were highly skilled and could earn a good wage.
When both the local and appeal tribunals refused his claim, Barry protested about the unfair administration of the Military Service Act. Local newspapers recorded his articulate grievances.
After failing to present himself when summoned, Barry was handed over to the military authorities. He spent 56 days in detention at Normanton Barracks, Derby, and Wakefield Military Prison, before finding himself in Richmond Castle for refusing to go on parade. There, he wrote many inscriptions on the cell walls. Court martialled three more times in the course of the war, Barry was eventually released in April 1919.