In April 1918 the West Somerset Monthly Meeting of the Society of Friends (Quakers) recorded their concern for the plight and suffering of the conscientious objectors, who had been subjected to repeated terms of imprisonment because of their beliefs.
William Brown, of the Wellington Meeting had been acting as Quaker Chaplain at Exeter Prison for two years and had brought the matter to the attention of the meeting.
The Military Service Act of 1916, which had introduced conscription for the first time, was of particular concern to Quakers. Since their earliest days Quakers had been opposed to war, expressing this in their ‘peace testimony’.
During February 1916 special meetings were held in Quaker meeting houses across Somerset to consider how to respond to the new legislation. At Wellington it was decided that members of the meeting should try and get in touch with non-members in the area who were considering refusing military service on conscientious grounds, in order to give them support.
Notices were placed in papers, and bills posted, leading to a meeting at the Wellington meeting house on Monday 20th February, with further meetings being planned in the wider area. On March 9th William Brown made a report to the Monthly Meeting held at Bridgwater stating that contact had been made with 20 young men who had conscientious objections to military service. Friends had also attended military tribunals and supported applicants on their rights to appeal.
The minute books give examples of the continuing support given to conscientious objectors from the Somerset meetings. Friends attended all of the military tribunals to give their support and visited conscientious objectors in prison.
William Brown was appointed as Quaker Chaplain for Exeter Prison, visiting regularly giving messages of love and sympathy. Meetings also concerned themselves with helping the wives and children of conscienctious objectors who had been left without any financial support.
In March 1918 Roger Clark and Amy Morland from the Mid Somerset Monthly Meeting wrote to the Howard Association regarding the suffering of conscientious objectors in prison owing to the reduction of the quantity of food they had been receiving during the previous months. Friends also helped to find suitable alternatives to combatative service for conscientious objectors, usually in the Friends Ambulance Service or working in agriculture.
Wilfred Hinde was a Quaker and conscientious objector from Street. In March 1916 he decided that he was unable to agree with the military acts and would rather go to gaol than take up alternative service offered by the military authorities. In November 1916 he was a prisoner in Wormwood Scrubs, receiving messages of support from the meeting.
Friends discovered in March 1917 that Wilfred, having finished his term of imprisonment was to be transferred to Plymouth by train under escort. Wishing to offer support and sympathy, Esther Clothier, a member of his meeting, managed to briefly meet with him at Taunton Station. Wilfred was subsequently held at Exeter prison, where he received visits and support from William Brown.
This article was written by Judith Blaker; a volunteer for the Somerset Remembers Project.
DD\SFR.w/10 Minute book of the Monthly Meeting, Society of Friends Western Division
DD\SFR.w/19 Minute bok of the Bristol and Somerset Quarterly Meeting
DD\SFR.w/74 Minute book of the Wellington Preparative Meeting
DD\SFR.m/15 Minute book of the Mid Somerset Monthly Meeting