Keighley had a number of conscientious objectors during the Great War period. These came to the fore after the introduction of conscription after the Military Service act was passed in January 1916 and Conscription began in March that year and ended in 1920.
They had to state their case for exemption before local Military Tribunals and they were decided on a case by case basis along with other exemptions for work, hardship and men who had been declared unfit to serve for various reasons. Those who were given exemption were often treated quite badly and there was a social stigma attached and accusations of dodging conscription, and cowardice. Some men served time in jail for their conscience.
Generally speaking the newspaper reports were anonymous with very few men being named, so it's difficult to find out who most of these men were. In a few cases names were given and we have been able to look into their individual cases and supply their details here. Some of these men were forced into the Non-Combatant Corps and we have been able to locate their Army service records.
Reference sources are denoted as:
Keighley News = (KN)
Army service records = (ASR)
The names we have found so far include:
Ashurst, Reuben - refused a medical in June 1917, fined 20 shillings or 14 days imprisonment, but still refused to take a medical. (KN)
Chad, Jesse Rolston - Made a military tribunal plea in November 1916, which was granted to February 1917. (KN)
Demaine, George Frederick - Eastern Corps NCC. He was an absolutist who was sentenced to 2 years (commuted to 112 days) at Lewes Prison in May 1916. Posted 1 week later to Eastern NCC. Sentenced by District Court Martial to 122 days in December 1916. Sentenced in April 1917 to 1 year with hard labour in Mountjoy Prison.
Farrar, Ernest - of Keighley who was the Headmaster of Todmorden Secondary School. The Central Tribunal had decided in October 1916 that he was a political objector and not a conscientious objector, so he was sent for military service in November 1916. He tried to appeal the decision, but this was not allowed. (KN)
Harrison, Horace Gilbert - A member of the Friends' Adult movement since November 1915, at the military tribunal he stated he was willing to do useful work and was orderd to go for non-combatant servce in August 1916. 5th Northern Company NCC (attached to 11th South Staffs). Sent to the 9th Eastern Company NCC in March 1919. Dispersed from the Army in December 1919. (KN) (ASR)
Readyhough, David Brearley - President of the Keighley Branch of the Independant Labour Party, declared he was a conscientious objector to all forms of military service and had spoken and written many pamphlets against to competition in armaments and in favour of universal brotherhood. He also said he belonged to no religious body.
The newspaper report then stated that he was granted exemption from combatant service in May 1917, but a set of service records shows him serving with the 6th Northern Company of the NCC and being court martialled in July 1917 for disobeying a lawful command and sentenced to 9 months imprisonment with hard labour in July 1917, although his sentence was confirmed and given a remission of three months by the Colonel commanding No. 5. B. District, Leeds.
His case seems to have resurfaced at the military tribunal in Keighley in August after he had appealed by letter to the Pelham Committee from Wormwood Scrubs Prison. Mr W. Goddard expressed the opinion that but for "the vindictiveness of the local tribunal who had "tracked him all along the line." Mr Readyhough would have had his case dealt in a fairer manner and would have been released. Other accusations were also made at the time.
Readyhough was discharged in March 1920. (KN) (ASR)
Roe, John Cockshott - He stated he was a Christadelphian and a recognised conscientious objector. He appeared before the Keighley Tribunal in December 1916 stating he had an Army Council certificate of exemption and had agreed to work instead of military service under the terms of the 'Government Committee of work of National Importance.' He stated he had got a job at Clapham Brothers Foundry in Keighley, but that the Army Recruiting Officer had told his employer he was a conscientious objector and he had been dismissed from this employment as a result. He complained at the tribunal and two weeks later a telegram from the War Office ordered the case to be withdrawn at once (without explanation). Roe was discharged by the military tribunal on 14th December 1916. (KN)
Shackleton, Hermann C. - Stated he was a member of the Rationalist Peace Society and had worked with the Rev. R. C. Fillingham of Hexton, on behalf of peace during the Boer War. He had also published many letters in the press, in support of peace. He stated he was willing to undertake work of national importance, although that depended upon the nature of that work. Ordered to take up non comatant service in July 1916. Case was up again before the tribunal as Shackleton claimed to have an appeal lodged with the Central tribunal which was supported by a letter from the Local Government Board. The case was adjourned in November 1916, presumably until these facts had been established.
No further information has been found about this man's case. (KN)
Spedding, Herbert - He was up before the Keighley Tribunal in August 1916, when he stated he was a member of the Keighley Friends Adult School and that he had resigned a position at a Keighley Engineering firm in November 1915, when they went over to war work. He appealed on business grounds. His appeal was allowed, with exemption until October 1, 1916.
At a military tribunal in January 1917, he was charged with being an absentee under the Military Service Act having ignored several call up notices. He stated he was a conscientious objector. He was fined 40 shillings and handed over to a military escort for service.
We also have some information on the following men whom we are still researching:
Sutcliffe, John Hugh Victor of Oxenhope.
Whittaker, Richard A.
We would like to thank our volunteer and friend Liesl Beckles for her sterling work with this research.