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Threatened with firing squad, jailed then buried in outcast's grave fate of a WW1 pacifist; Emmerdale star moved by Yorkshire clerk's tale; EXCLUSIVE.

Byline: JULIE MCCAFFREY

HE showed courage in the face of certain death during the First World War yet Alfred Martlew was shunned by his community and branded a coward.

The Yorkshire factory worker was a conscientious objector who was steadfastly opposed to violence.

Now, Alfred's life story is being told as part of the documentary series Emmerdale 1918.

The programme commemorates the centenary of the conflict's armistice by retracing the war efforts of men and women from Yorkshire, where the hit ITV soap is filmed.

In tonight's episode actor Bhasker Patel, who plays factory owner Rishi Sharma, traces Alfred's story and it moves him to tears.

Bhasker says: "Even now, each time I think about what Alfred said and did, the hair all over my body rises.

"I stood in the town hall in York, where Alfred faced a tribunal 100 years ago and he said, 'I will not kill another human being.'

"That really got to me. A young guy who stood right there and said, 'No, I won't kill.' I am not for war. I am into sitting down and talking. Today there are many Alfreds out there."

When war was declared, Alfred was 19. He moved from Gainsborough to York to work as a ledger clerk in the Rowntree chocolate works and hoped to settle down with his fiancee Annie.

In March 1916, the government brought in conscription, ordering all single men aged 18 to 41 to join the forces. Factory workers all around Alfred signed up but he did not.

A tribunal was held in York's medieval Guildhall to decide his fate.

Alfred's court papers set out his reasons: "I have a conscientious objection to participating either voluntarily or compulsorily in the taking of human life or to be an instrument for aiding others."

The tribunal concluded Alfred should join the Non-Combat ant Corps, taking a role such as stretcher bearer. However, unwilling to do anything to further the cause of war, he was arrested.

He and 15 other men who refused to fight were sent to Richmond Castle and the group became known as the Richmond 16.

Bhasker, 62, visited the castle cells, where the men were held.

He says: "It chilled me. The Richmond 16 were given only bread and water, and when they complained about sleeping on the wooden floor the guards removed the planks so they would sleep on only cold stone.

"They were strong-willed men who would not compromise their principles, no matter what the punishment."

So the Army decided to make an example of them.

In May 1916 they were taken to the Western Front in France and given 24 hours to make the biggest decision of their lives: Join the war effort or face the firing squad. Alfred stood firm.

He was marched in front of thousands of silent soldiers in what he believed would be his final moments. At the eleventh hour, Alfred's life was saved.

Prime Minister Herbert Asquith gave a secret directive that no conscientious objector in France was to be shot for refusing to obey orders. Alfred was instead given 10 years' hard labour.

Bhasker says: "In Boulogne I stood there on the mound where Alfred and the rest of the Richmond 16 were lined up just like a cruel circus. They must have felt like sacrificial lambs."

Alfred's second cousin, retired Army chaplain Reverend Andrew Martlew, believes the men endured a hellish existence serving their time.

He says: "They were spat at, insulted and physically attacked. The sheer courage of these blokes. They never retaliated - they were absolute pacifists. I'm so immensely proud of Alfred, what he did and what he stood up for."

Alfred was among 16,000 British men recorded as conscientious objec tors. Six million men served.

More than 6,312 of the objectors were arrested; 5,970 were court martialled and jailed.

The most common reason for not serving was pacifism fuelled by religion, followed by political activists who were against the ruling classes making workers fight.

For Alfred, there was one more tragic twist of fate he was sent to a quarry at Dyce, near Aberdeen, but conditions were so grim the camp was closed. He ended up at Wakefield jail but went on the run on July 4, 1917, arriving in York and telling friends he would give himself up.

He met his fiancee and gave her his watch and cash.

A week later, and a year since he had objected, he was found drowned in the River Ouse. It is thought he suffered from depression.

"With all that heart, conviction and stand ing up for humanity, Alfred lived a life away from his sweetheart," says Bashir. "He went through so much - daily physical and mental torture as well as humiliation.

"Maybe he thought about his family's feelings? He must have thought, 'enough is enough'.

"They buried him in a churchyard away from everyone else - as if he was an untouchable who would infect all the other people in the cemetery.

"He was such a strong person. He was up against so many objections. For me, his conviction was the one morally we should celebrate."

Emmerdale 1918, featuring Bhasker Patel, is on tonight on ITV at 8.30pm.

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CAPTION(S):

TEARS Actor Bhasker Patel

PUNISHED Objectors were initially held at Richmond Castle

MENTAL TORTURE Alfred Martlew put to work in Wakefield jail. Above left, his exemption document
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Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Oct 18, 2018
Words:912
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