Printer Friendly

Tensions ran high in the city between those for and against conscription laws.

SOME 16,000 conscientious objectors refused to fight in the war as conscription laws enlisted two-and-a-half million extra British troops from 1916 onwards.

That's according to the Imperial War Museum, which also said the new rules, introduced on January 27, 1916, under the Military Service Act, came into force in the UK and required every unmarried male between the age of 18 and 41 who was not in a reserved occupation eligible for conscription into the armed forces.

But there was a small section of society who objected to such orders and, according to Margaret Brooks, writing in the Imperial War Museum Review back in 1988, men objected to service for four reasons.

She said the most common was a religious one, including Christian fundamentalists who took the Bible's "Thou shalt not kill" at its word.

There were then left-wing political activists who saw the war as an imperialist one and an example of the ruling classes creating a conflict fought by the workers, although there were many on the left who supported the troops.

The third group of people to object were made up of humanists, a philosophical and ethical stance who saw it wrong to kill, while the fourth group objected to the Government trying to intervene in their lives.

Ms Brooks said these people then fell into three categories: "alternativists", who were prepared to undertake alternative civilian work, not under any military control; "noncombatants", who would accept the call-up on the condition of having a non-combat role in the army; and "absolutists", who believed any alternative service supported the war effort.

Authorities in Wales made a big effort to make sure no one got away with avoiding a call-up, and roundups were held, where men were stopped in the street to ask them why they weren't in uniform, the Wales at War website reads. It also says not even miners were safe from conscription, and the Government even took a small percentage of men from every mine to recruit them in the army.

With the passing of the Military Service Act, the attention of many anticonscription activists turned increasingly to helping the "conscientious objector".

And, like in many of the UK's cities and towns, the issue was rife in Cardiff.

Two leaflets advertising public meetings in November 1916 and appearing on the National Archives' website provide a fascinating insight into the tensions that existed in the Welsh capital.

The first meeting was organised to take place at The Cory Hall in Cardiff, on November 11.

Its poster described conscription as a "national disaster", and called on the Government to review the administration of the act and "to guarantee that there shall be no further extension of the act during the war, and an immediate return to an entirely voluntary system on the conclusion of peace".

It added: "This conference views with alarm the recent progressive invasions of liberty of person, speech and opinion in this country, and demands the immediate restoration of the traditional rights of British citizens.

"This conference is of the opinion that the time has arrived when the objects for which this nation entered the war may be secured by negotiation.

"It therefore urges His Majesty's Government to seek the earliest opportunity of promoting negotiations with a view to securing a just and lasting peace, and to assure the Government of its unqualified support in any step it may take to bring this war to a satisfactory and honourable end."

It was to be chaired by Councillor James Winstone of the South Wales and Monmouthshire Conference, and put on by an organisation called the National Council for Civil Liberties.

But according to the archives, after hearing about the organisation of that meeting, a "great patriotic citizens' demonstration" was quickly thrown together and organised, with the event's leaflet reading: "Britons Beware".

The meeting was to "protest against false peace agitators", and set to take place on November 10, 1916, the day before, at Wood Street Congregational Church in Cardiff.

Those in attendance would include the Lord Lieutenant for Glamorganshire and Lord Rhondda of Llanwern among others, and was to be chaired by Major General Sir Ivor Herbert, Lord Lieutenant for Monmouthshire.

A performance by Mr Arthur Angle's Orchestra was to be put on, as well as an organ recital.

In addition to support for conscription, the meeting planned to put on a so-called "Monster Open-air Demonstration and Procession", in opposition to the anti-conscription meeting at Cory Hall.

The archives also show organisers of the "patriotic" meeting tried to get the anti-conscription event prohibited under the terms of the Defence of the Realm Act.

But having failed that, "patriots" met at Cardiff City hall the next day, half an hour before the other event was due to start, with the intent of marching to Cory Hall on Station Terrace in Cathays, led by brass bands.

Once there, they stormed the hall, forcing the speakers off the stage and tabling a resolution calling for the war to be prosecuted "to the bitter end".

But this wasn't the only time tensions arose between those opposing and supporting the Government's conscription laws.

According to historian David Egan, opposition to the war was not confined to a small number of conscientious objectors, adding that there was were "growing anti-War factions as the reality of the Western Front kicked in".

Speaking on the Doves and Hawks BBC Radio Wales series last year, which explored the growth and impact of pacifist and anti-war movements, he said one faction was "a kind of nascent Marxist tradition that was very small, but became associated with the British Socialist Party in particular".

He added: "But, of course, there was another remarkable tradition associated with Tonypandy (where riots had broken out in 1910 in response to a lockout by mine owners), the Miners' Next Step (a radical manifesto written by a group of miners' leaders), the Unofficial Reform Committee, which was industrial unionist and syndicalist. It was a very diverse kind of political tradition."


An anti-conscription rally in West Yorkshire. Right, posters for the meetings in Cardiff on November 10 and 11, 1916
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2016 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Title Annotation:Features
Publication:South Wales Echo (Cardiff, Wales)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Nov 2, 2016
Previous Article:Church in 'urgent' call to find relatives of war congregation.
Next Article:NEIGHBOURS KILLED ON THE BATTLEFIELD; Our website, WalesOnline, features a powerful tool which enables you to find family members or people who lived...

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2019 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters