Sue Smith shares with us her MA dissertation on ‘Conscientious Objectors and the Oxfordshire Military Service Tribunals in 1916’

The ‘Local Bigwigs’ and the ‘Cold-Footed Brigade’: Conscientious Objectors and the Oxfordshire Military Service Tribunals in 1916 This dissertation examines the conflict in 1916 caused by conscientious objection to military service in the First World War. Local Military Service Tribunals set up to hear appeals for exemption from military service were the location for power struggles. The objectors claimed moral authority, the Tribunals and the Army required patriotic duty. The Church was divided between respect for individual religious belief, and the demands of the state. The study seeks to establish how powerful figures from Oxford, an ancient university town, exercised national influence to achieve fair treatment for the conscientious objectors. . It suggests that the Oxford objectors had influence on national policy. It analyses if and how the objectors influenced public opinion. It assesses the different ways in which the Oxfordshire Tribunals treated the conscientious objectors differently according to religion, political views, social class and education, discriminating in favour of the ‘gown’ (the university) and against the ‘town’.  The study suggests that the history of conscientious objection should be viewed in a wider narrative, as part of a discourse about the development and the exercise of twentieth century individual human rights and what the state can legitimately demand of its citizens. There have so far been few local studies examining the connections between government policy and the treatment of conscientious objectors as it developed, and this study provides a contribution. For the full dissertation, click...

‘I remain your Loving Wife Lizzie’ – Letters in a Skip

I remain your Loving Wife Lizzie, transcribed, edited and with an introduction by Roger Jefferies (London: Greenwich Exchange, 2017) ISBN: 978-1-910996-15-7 www.greenex.co.uk The sub-title of this book, Letters in a Skip 1917-1919, sums things up neatly. Here is one of those accidental survivals from the First World War, casting a remarkable light on the experiences of ordinary people. Of the hundred or so letters found outside a house in Broadstairs, Kent, all but two were written by Lizzie Green from the Old Kent Road to her husband Tom, who served in India. Lizzie longed for Tom’s return and thought a lot about money, health and her child. She imagined sex with Tom and wrote enthusiastically about her new false teeth. The postal system was an everyday rhythm with global reach. Life was a round of work – Lizzie was a corset maker; Tom left a job as a sewing machine agent. The war comes home in bombing raids and rising food prices, but in so many ways the letters challenge familiar stories about the conflict. Tom did not hurry off to enlist at the start of the war but was conscripted in 1916; local men died, so did women. Lizzie’s opinion of the war in April 1918 might surprise some 21st readers acclimatised in the current centenary to a history of patriotism and sacrifice. War was rotten, ‘properly murder’ and endless: ‘Why should all men suffer and wives and children be parted from one another and not only that being killed at the same time just to suit the King’s greed’. This is profoundly political as a statement of...

A Permanent Memorial to a Controversial Case

Contributed by David Hewitt Under tall trees, in a quiet garden, a memorial has been unveiled to a controversial case from the Great War. The memorial stands next to the Cenotaph in Thornton Cleveleys, on the Fylde coast, and its subject is Joseph Blackburn. He was a market gardener from the town, who was forced to fight even though he had already volunteered to do so. I have written about Joseph before, and also about an earlier, more transitory commemoration of his case. Joseph, the war, a strike and a maddening memorandum Two strikes, a hundred years apart Joseph had been made exempt from military service by five councillors in Thornton who accepted his own account of the job he did. But that exemption was taken away by the Central Tribunal, which sat in Westminster, was chaired by the fourth Marquess of Salisbury and was the final authority in cases of this kind. Lord Salisbury and his colleagues didn’t hear from Joseph, who said he couldn’t afford to travel to London, but that didn’t stop them from returning a damning judgment in his case. They said he wasn’t a market gardener at all, but “a mere hawker of fruit and vegetables”, and within days, Joseph was putting on a khaki uniform. The five councillors went out on strike because of the judgment in Westminster, and Lord Salisbury would eventually conceded that a mistake had been made. But that didn’t help the man himself. He died in the fields of Picardy, in the dog-days of the last summer of the war. For a while, Joseph was lost to history, but...