After the introduction of the Military Service Act in 1916, many local men appeared before the local Military Tribunal to seek an exemption from service and could appeal decisions to the West Kent Tribunal in Maidstone. I’ve written about some of these stories in a previous post. Many of these men were seeking exemptions on health grounds, working in a reserved occupation work or family commitments.
In Sevenoaks, and across the country, some men refused to serve on religious grounds. As conscientious objectors they stated that they could not take another man’s life. The Act allowed for objectors to be absolutely exempted, to perform alternative civilian service, or to serve as a non-combatant according to the decision of the Tribunal.
Around 16,000 men were recorded as conscientious objectors: 4,500 objectors were sent to do ‘work of national importance’ such as farming, 7,000 were given non-combatant duties, and around 6,000 were forced into the army, and when they refused orders, they were sent to prison. However, cases regarding conscientious objectors formed only around 2% of Military Service Tribunals’ cases.
As most of the files for conscientious objectors were destroyed in the 1920’s, I have had to rely on newspaper reports for information. I would be very interested to hear from any relatives of who might have more information on these men and what happened to them and their families following their decision to take such a stand.
Stories from the Tribunal
In March 1916, Charles Edward Farrant, 26, of 42, Cobden Road, was a cowman employed by Mr Mond at Combe Bank, and applied for absolute exemption on religious grounds. His case was supported by his employer, who stated that he was looking after pure bred stock. His exemption was refused and he was recommended for non combatant service.
Harold John Mann was a 22 year old schoolmaster of Heatherleigh, Dartford Road, employed at the New Beacon School. Mann stated that the religious views he had been brought up with prevented him from taking life in any circumstances. He also had to support his mother. In his case a temporary exemption was granted for three months.
Leslie Frank Hoad was living a 2 Gilehurst Villas, Argyle Road and had been employed as a draper’s assistant, when he appeared before the Sevenoaks Tribunal in September 1916. The fact of his conscientious objection was accepted without argument and Hoad stated that he had given up his job to work on agriculture near Swanley to demonstrate that he was willing to do something of which the country had need.
The Sevenoaks Chronicle reported Leslie’s appearance before the local Tribunal
However, the committee refused to grant an exemption. He subsequently appeared before the West Kent Tribunal in January 1917. This Tribunal granted him an exemption for three months, conditional upon him remaining in employment on the land. Leslie was working as a motor tractor driver when next reported as having been granted a further four month extension when he appeared before the county Tribunal again in July 1917.
Alfred Mannington Sayers appeared before the Tribunal in June 1916 and pleaded guilty to a charge of not reporting himself for military service. Detective Coley gave evidence against Sayers, stating that he declined to go because he was a conscientious objector. The defendant’s father, agreed that there was no doubt that his son was an absentee but argued that it was well understood that ‘the tribunals had not administered the Act’. The Chair denied this and highlighted the responsibility of the court to carry out the law; the defendant had been ordered to do something by a competent authority and had not done so. He went on to remark that
defendant might be a perfectly amiable young man and did not want to hurt anyone at all, not even his country’s enemies. The bench would accept that for him.
The court then imposed a fine of forty shillings and the defendant was handed over to a military escort.
De Barry Cox, aged 22, of 4, Barrack Corner, was another man arrested by Detective Coley for not reporting for military service on the grounds of conscientious objection. He was fined fifty shillings, which was to be deducted from his military pay, and handed over to the authorities.
De Barry Cox served with the Non Combatant Corps
Jack Harbour a railway porter, of Greatness Terrace was similarly charged. Records for both Cox and Harbour survive, showing that each served subsequently served in the war with the Non Combatant Corps.
Herbert Sears was another conscientious objector who served with the non combatant corps. Sears had worked for the Rector of Sevenoaks, Revd. John Rooker, managing the rectory farm. He died in October 1918 of pneumonia and is buried in the churchyard at St Nicholas, together with his wife who died only days after her husband.
Harry Raven, 33, of Sunnyside, Clarendon Road, was the manager of a shirt making and hosiery business in Picadilly. Raven claimed to be
A true and consistent follower of the Lord Jesus Christ, whose commands he must obey. Thou shalt love thy God and thy neighbour as thy self
Raven was willing to do farm work, though he had no experience of it. The tribunal refused his case and recommended him for non-combatant service.
At the same hearing, James Samuel Bolton a married signwriter of Bradbourne Villas, Bradbourne Road stated ‘I hold it wrong to terminate human life unnaturally’.
Thousands, he added, were suffering innocently owing to the use of arms, which secured the victory to the stronger side, whether it was in the right or wrong. Bolton said that he was not a member of any religious body and pleaded that he was only able to keep himself, his wife, and family without being a burden to the community, and without being able to take part in philanthropic work. He remarked that he was not averse to agricultural, railway or police work. The tribunal refused the case and Bolton declared that he would exercise his right to appeal.
George Mullen appeared before the tribunal in June 1918. Mullen was the manager of a grocery business in St John’s for his employer, Mr Frank Rowley. Aged 44, he had been classified as grade 2 and his appeal had been supported by the Local Food Control Committee (by casting vote of the Chairman). A solicitor for Mr Rowley stated that he had had bad health for two years and had 700 registered customers for sugar. Mr Mullen had managed the business and been with him for 22 years. There were two other shops and the other manager was not fully qualified. It was revealed that Mullen was a member of the International Bible Students’ Association and conducted meetings at Tunbridge Wells. Mullen was questioned on the information that he had a son of eighteen serving in the navy, replying that he allowed his son to hold his own opinions.
Rowley’s solicitor argued that if Mullen were taken, the business would have to close down as he was not fit enough to run it on his own and he could get no one else capable to run it for him.The Tribunal dismissed the appeal but gave 56 days before call up in view of Mr Rowley’s condition.
Objectors at Greatness Farm
Many conscientious objectors worked on the farms in and around Sevenoaks. No doubt some of these men were local but others, such as thirty-six year old Walter Flexman, had been a manager and buyer in the books and stationary department at Hamleys store in London. Flexman had lived on Brondesbury Road, North London, but in 1916 was resident at 11, Bethel Road and working for Mr Wood of Greatness Farm.
Walter Flexman had been granted a conditional exemption from combat service only in August 1916 and was offered work on the farm from the September, at a rate of three shillings day. In that December he was required to apply for a renewal of his exemption, which was supported by his employer on the farm, Mr Wood, who stated that after three months, Flexman was a real help on the farm; to lose him would be to lose valuable experience and require time in training new workers.
Walter Flexman’s employer supported his case for renewal of his exemption
Walter Flexman was granted a renewal. At around the same time, his employer, Mr Wood appeared before the local Tribunal in the case of a Mr Cheeseman, a worker on the farm. Cheeseman was described as a skilled farm labourer. Mr Wood stated that there were six conscientious objectors on the farm but they were not skilled farm hands and had taken the place of other men who had gone to fight.
Walter’s certificate of exemption
A committee member asked how they men worked, to which Mr Wood’s reply was laughter and Mr Cheeseman was given a conditional exemption.
On the limited evidence available, the Sevenoaks Tribunal appears to have conducted its hearings in a business like way. Few men who appeared before it as conscientious objectors were granted complete exemptions. More often cases were dismissed and the applicant recommended for non combatant service. There is little evidence of local hostility toward conscientious objectors and their families but this must have existed. No doubt individuals and their families were ignored, given white feathers and viewed with suspicion by those whose friends and relatives were serving.
Public opinion generally viewed conscientious objectors with suspicion and disdain and the Sevenoaks Chronicle did occasionally carried criticism of conscientious objectors, from printing popular jokes to reporting the speech of the Earl of Denbigh when he visited Sevenoaks in January 1918.According to the Earl
We should spare no effort to make the women understand the things the Germans did. Let the women of Kent think about it, because probably they might be the first to feel it. If the British women knew and realised one quarter of the German ideas; they would see to it that no conscientious objector would dare to show his contemptible face in the public street.
Occasionally, the paper also printed criticism of objectors from serving soldiers. Rifleman H Woodfine from Hither Green, wrote a letter from Salonika in June 1916, which was printed in the Chronicle (the writer’s link to Sevenoaks is not noted). Woodfine wrote
The boys are making huge fun of the conscientious objector. In the times of Nelson and Wellington, such people would be shot. They ought to go and see places like Mons, Ypres, Louvain, Rhiems, and Alsace. I think this would alter their attitude.
After the Armistice, a concerned parent wrote to the paper, indignant at the thought that the rights of conscientious objectors would be put before those who had served.
I saw in your last issue an appeal from one of the Territorials in India. I myself have a son serving there, who has been away for the past four years and a half, and who is anxious to return. The idea of releasing conscientious objectors before the man who has done his duty! I hope this will meet the eyes of those who shouted for the men to join! Are they still shouting to get them released?
A DISGUSTED PARENT
Conscientious Objectors were still viewed with suspicion after the war and were not allowed to vote until 1926. However, many of the objectors from Sevenoaks appear to have carried on living and working in the community after the war. George Mullen took over his former employer’s shop when Frank Rowley died in 1922. During the Second World War, Alfred Sayers published a collection of poetry – Poems of 20 years, that the Chronicle featured prominently, which suggests that by then he was viewed as a respected member of the local community.
It would be interesting to hear from anyone with more information on any of these men who took the difficult and principled decision not to fight.
Knole, the imposing Sevenoaks seat of the Sackville family, has long played a role in the life of the town and did so during the First World War. Lord Sackville served with the Army, seeing action in Gallipoli, Palestine, Egypt and France, while his wife was an ardent fundraiser for wartime charities, and daughter Vita worked with the local VAD. The estate also played a role as a military camp and training ground from 1914-1918. The house has always been an employer of local people and I wanted to investigate what impact the war had on the staff and the running of a great estate.
In 1916, the Kent Messenger reported that before the war there had been 71 employees on the estate, now reduced to 52. The paper noted that when the Derby Scheme had been introduced, Lady Sackville ‘did her best to get all the employees to attest, and all within age did so’. However, this reported attitude contrasts with Lady Sackville’s later letter to Lord Kitchener, which bemoaned the loss of so many staff from the estate. She wrote
“I think perhaps you do not realise Lord K, that we employ five carpenters and four painters and two blacksmiths and two footmen and you are taking them all from us.”
Bombardier William Robert Copper
Three of the men on the Sevenoaks War Memorial were employed at Knole before they enlisted. According to his obituary, William Robert Copper (1883-1917), a bombardier with 24th Siege Battery, Royal Garrison Artillery, had worked at Knole for six years before joining the army. He was a keen cricketer and played regularly for nearby Godden Green, where many of the workers from the estate lived and where he is also remembered on the village war memorial.
Thomas Edmund Pattenden (1877-1918), a sergeant with 1/5th Battalion Royal West Kents, worked as a wicket porter at Knole, living on site with his wife, Florence, and their two children Doris and John.
Thomas spent most of the war in India, where he died and was buried in Jubbulpore Cantonment Cemetery in 1918. His widow continued in his role as wicket porter at Knole until the 1930s. Thomas’s grandson, Ian, has spoken about his grandfather for the Knole Stories project.
Oliver Older (1878-1916) was born in Sevenoaks and, after working in London for some years, had returned home and was working as a groom at Knole before serving with the 6th Battalion, Royal West Kents. Oliver died of his wounds in October 1916 and is buried at Heilly Station Cemetery, Mericourt-L´Abbe, France.
A fourth man on the memorial, William Goss Hicks (1882-1917), was headmaster at the Lady Boswell School, and son of the butler at Knole, William Hicks senior.
On 1 July 1916, in an article entitled The National Importance of Knole, the Kent Messenger reported the case of Adin Clifton Jeffery (1878-1940), works foreman at Knole, before the West Kent Appeal Tribunal, which heard the cases of men who were appealing against the decisions of their local tribunal. George Saer represented the Knole Estate for Lord Sackville with Mr Knocker, of well-known Sevenoaks solicitors, Knocker & Foskett.
How the Sevenoaks Chronicle reported the story
According to the report, Jeffery had been in post for five years and his father had held it for thirty years before him. The Tribunal heard that he had tried to attest under the Derby Scheme but had been rejected because of an enlarged heart. Jeffery’s solicitor stated that he had attempted to go before a Medical Board but had been unable to get an appointment.
The tribunal heard that Knole contained 365 rooms and its roof covered approximately 7 acres, with, as Jeffery testified, 17 baths and 40 lavatories, as well as several sets of heating apparatus, all of which had to be kept in working order. Further evidence was given of the scale of Knole and the work required to maintain the estate
…some part of the roof of Knole had to receive attention every day, and the antiquated drainage system required constant attention. In addition to the house, there were nine farms on the estate, two being in hand. Fifty tons of firewood per week were being cut for the troops, and about 7000 fir trees had been cut for the Government during the past eighteen months.
The case was made that no replacement would know the workings of the estate like the defendant
It would not be possible for anyone to pick up in a few months the ramifications of the dainage system, of which the only plan was 150 to 200 years old, and that was useless, as there had been additions from time to time.
Mr Knocker emphasised the national importance of Knole and said that the appeal was not in Lady Sackville’s interest, but for the nation.
Colonel Atkinson, military representative at the tribunal, suggested that the medical board were overworked and although he noted that it was only by a small majority that Jeffery had been allowed to appeal his case to this hearing, he was prepared to agree that Jeffery was doing essential work and, in view of his age, would not press for him to serve. Atkinson expressed his opinion that all the employees at Knole had done splendidly.
The court ordered that the case should stand over under regulations until Jeffery was called up when he would have seven days to appeal again.
Adin Jeffery continued to work at Knole until his death, aged 62 in 1940, when he was working as steward. The Sevenoaks Chronicle noted in his obituary that he had been a keen member of the town Choral Society and sang in the choir of the Vine Baptist Church for nearly 40 years. He had died suddenly, collapsing in his chair, while going about his normal duties. According to the paper,
It was fitting to say that he loved the great house of Knole. It was a joy to him that he dwelt under its roof, and he found continual happiness in serving it, and the members of the family residing there, whom he honoured. Often he said that he hoped to end his days at Knole, and it was given unto him to continue his service to the last moment of his life within its walls.
In a mark of the esteem in which he was held, Lord and Lady Sackville, Eddy and Bertram Sackville West all attended his funeral and sent flowers, as did Vita Sackville West.
The case of another Knole employee, Edwin Thomas Harding, aged 45, of Upper Park Lodge, Knole, who had been employed for two years, came before the Sevenoaks Tribunal in 1918. Again appealed for by Lady Sackville, on behalf of her husband, he appealed on the grounds of the risk to the house from fire breaking out. It was pointed out that
with the exception of the butler, who was 68 years of age, he was the only man about the house during the day who understood the fire appliances.
This case divided the tribunal panel. The Chairman and one other felt that they had taken other men from Knole and that considering the treasures that were in the house they ought to give consideration to the appeal. However, another panel member, Mr White, took the view that it would be a public scandal if they exempted him, because there were plenty of men engaged outside the house if they were wanted in case of fire and the local fire brigade could attend within five minutes.
Harding himself testified that he did everything that was necessary in the house when a man’s work was required and spent his whole time in the house, being the only one who understood the fire appliances and able to attend to them if he should be required.
A query as to whether there had been any attempt to replace him was met with the reply that there were now no men in the garden excepting very old men and boys. The gardeners now, in common with other head gardeners, had to dig instead of supervising.
It was proposed that two months exemption be given but an amendment was moved by Mr White and a fellow panel member that no exemption be given but that he should not be called for 56 days. This was carried by three votes to two, leaving Mr White to remark that
…he recognised that Knole was a sort of national treasure-house, but it was the larger national interests they had to study and that was the Army.
The risk of fire in the house was a real one, as demonstrated in December 1918 when Lord Sackville’s son-in-law, Harold Nicholson, was awakened by smoke and managed to raise the alarm and put out the blaze with the help of the night watchmen and tradesmen. The paper reported that the fire was thought to have been caused by an overheated hearth and
There is no doubt that Lord Sackville as well as his son-in-law had narrow escapes, the beam (that had caught fire) being the main support of his Lordship’s bedroom floor.
Private Leonard Edwin Harding
Harding’s son, Leonard Edwin (1899-1991), had served with the Royal Fusiliers from March 1917. The Chronicle reported in May 1918 that he had been missing since 24 April. However, Leonard Harding survived the war and long after, living to be ninety-one.
The Kent Messenger carried news in March 1917 of how one former Knole gardener had been injured on service at home. Driver William Smith of the Royal West Kents, son of Mrs Smith of Godden Green, had been badly injured by a kick in the face from a mule at Kennington, near Ashford. According to the paper, his teeth were knocked out and his face so badly cut that it had to be sewn up.
Later that year, in September 1917, it was reported in the ‘Our Boys’ column of the Sevenoaks Chronicle that Private John W Potter had made a surprise visit to his parents. Potter had worked with his father for five years in the Blacksmiths Forge at Knole and had joined the army in November 1916 aged 19. Putting his training to good use, he had been selected for ‘flying machines repair work’ and was employed in the Royal Naval Flying Corps workshops.
Charles Tye of Godden Green was another member of the Knole staff, who had been employed as a tradesman before joining the Royal West Kents. According to the Kent Messenger in August 1918, Private Tye had been in France for about fifteen months and his wife had just received word that he had sustained serious injuries to his shoulders, thigh and one of his legs, and was being treated in hospital.
Men from all parts of the Knole estate served during the war, some paying the ultimate price. The tribunal records also offer a fascinating glimpse of how Knole, its owners and their remaining staff were perceived. They, like others in the town and across the country, were required to make sacrifices.
Though the War Office had taken many of the men from Knole, it was overreaching itself when William Reynolds of Back Lane, Godden Green, received his enlistment papers. Reynolds had been in the army in his younger days and had seen service in India. However, aged 67, the Chronicle reported that ‘He treats the matter quite as a joke’.