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peterwarr

Sheffield Quakers In World War One

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I’m writing about Sheffield conscientious objectors during World War One, and need to cover the attitudes and activities of the city’s Quakers (members of the Society of Friends).

I see that the Quaker position (generally one of pacifism) allowed freedom of choice, so that some Friends in fact served in the army. For example, Herbert Barber (previously a Master Cutler) lost two sons killed in action. However, I’ve not been able to locate any other Quakers from the city who either supported or opposed the war.

Many reports describe the Friends Ambulance Unit, with volunteers who were non-Quaker as well as Quakers, but I can’t discover any named Sheffielders who joined that.

Can you help with any information about specific local Quakers in the WW1 period, please?

Many thanks.

Peter

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Have you asked at Sheffield Meeting House? There is a Library there and there may be some information there. Also when someone dies in Friends a testimony or biography is written about that particular Friend so there may be a record in central records re Friends in London.

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Peter came across this :

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

"Conscientious Objectors, Richmond Jail

Today I saw something truely humbling. I was looking at the archives of the Northern Friends Peace Board, getting them ready to deposit in a library, and came across a series of photos taken in the '70's, I think, of the graffiti by conscientious objectors in Richmond Jail.

I came across these two verses, by one HE Hancocks, of Sheffield, from June 21st 1915:

Ez for war I calls it murder

There you has it plain & flat

And I ain't to go no furder

Than me testimint fur that


If yer takes a sword and drors it

And go sticks a feller thro'

Gov'ment ain't to answer fur it

God'll send the bill to you.

Not great poetry, I suppose, but heartfelt nontheless. It made me realise even more that poetry's in everyone's soul, not just in the mind of the clever, and when people are in extremis, they don't turn to prose. No doubt they'll not put this in any anthology of first world war poetry, most of which seem to ignore the conscientious objectors, but this is just as meaningful to me as anything by Owen, and shows that not everyone buys into war propaganda, in any age."

I don't know what happened to Mr Hancock, or how far he suffered for his beliefs; but I salute him: fellow poet, fellow human, fellow child of God.

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There was a programme on Radio4 (available as a radio 4 podcast, Coast and Country 30/08/12, Yorkshire), the first half of which was about Richmond castle, and included the conscientious objectors there. In particular the Richmond 16. According to the programme there had been a tv programme about them earlier.

They visit the cells where these people were held, and where the graffiti is found.They're hoping to be able to open them to the public next year. The graffiti has been recorded by English heritage.

They were called Absolutists, as they absolutely refused to do any war work, even down to peeling potatoes. They were imprisoned at Richmond, and eventually sent to France to the front line. Once there they could be shot for disobeying an order.

Worth a listen. (The person in the programme who had researched the 16 was called John Healey.)

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Seek out the Peace Pledge Union - they have a database of 5,000 or so COs

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Looking at the interesting information from Dunsbyowl (25 July 2013), it's puzzling why Mr Hancocks was in jail in June 1915. Conscription was not introduced until January 1916, so he wasn't there because he refused to be called up. Some other anti-war activity?

There's a lot we don't know!

Peter

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I’ve now been in touch with Richmond Castle about imprisoned COs in WW1.

“Conscientious objection” took a range of forms – some more definite than others. The complete refusers are usually termed “absolutists”, but there were many others with a less extreme stance. Absolutists were likely to be imprisoned, but Richmond Castle has no records of COs imprisoned there. The “Richmond 16” (above) who left behind the graffiti, were locked up in the Castle for only a few days before being sent to France. Their death sentences were later reduced to imprisonment. The Castle has almost no information about the 16, but it appears that none of them came from Sheffield.

In addition, Richmond Castle was one base for the officially-sanctioned Non-Combatant Corps, so there were a lot of original COs there – ones who had accepted a non-fighting role in the war and were not imprisoned. Some men moved between different CO positions. John Bonsall, previously living in Duke Street with a haulage business in Bard Street, started as an absolutist and then moved to become a cook in an army camp in France.

Most COs were not themselves Quakers. Indeed, there was no requirement for a religious basis for a man’s position. (Some claimants before the Sheffield Military Tribunal argued that Socialism was their religion.)

I’ve also been in touch with the Peace Pledge Union. It turns out that their WW1 material about individual COs is also limited, but they’re working to compile a more complete register. They told me about brothers William and Joseph Parkin, who were both imprisoned with hard labour in Wormwood Scrubs and then Dartmoor. They had been bone cutters in a Sheffield cutlery factory, but it’s not known which one.

I guess we’re making progress, but the jigsaw is a long way from being complete!

Peter

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I realise this is an old post, BUT I have been transcribing the Ecclesall Bierlow Union Workhouse, Register of Inmates and noticed that some of the Belgian refugees were admitted to the workhouse in October 1914 reference NHS 21/5/6/3. This might have been temporary.

Not relevant to "Quakers" but I know that you are interested in the Belgian refugees.

Angela

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