Conscientious Objectors: A Local Mother’s Plea

Shortly after the Military Service Act of 1916 introduced conscription for unmarried men aged between 18 to 41 years old, it was reported that a mother from Norton Fitzwarren appealed ‘for the absolute exemption of her sons’

The Taunton Courier of March 8 1916 gives the account of the tribunal where Mrs Glanfield appealed against the conscription of her farm worker sons, William Ernest, age 25, and Herbert Arthur, age 20.

William Ernest Glanfield stated that as a Christian he could not take up arms without violating his conscience, as it was entirely opposed to the will of God.’

A previous article on the blog focused on the role of Quakers during the First World War: Quakers are more commonly associated with being conscientious objectors. However William Ernest was a member of the Plymouth Brethren, who, along with several other Christian religious groups at the time, sought exemption from conscription on the grounds of conscience.

 Taunton Courier 8th March 1916

Taunton Courier 8th March 1916

The Courier reported that the Chairman of the tribunal questioned William’s conscience further even when he was described as being ‘quite willing to engage in non-combatant service.’

Non-combatant service was the option given to conscientious objectors to participate in war work alongside soldiers on active duty by undertaking work that did not require being armed and fighting.

The outcome of the tribunal appears to be in keeping with many of the time. William Ernest had his appeal refused and was recommended for non-combatant service, and his younger brother Herbert Arthur was granted six month exemption.

W E Glanfield

William Ernest’s exemption noted on the Enrolment Paper

Further research into the brothers following the tribunal shows that Herbert Arthur did not gain additional exemption from active duty and he was conscripted into the Somerset Light Infantry before moving to the Royal Berkshire regiment.

The Courier reported in July 1916 that Mrs Glanfield appealed again on behalf of her younger son Frederick Edgar. Rather than religion, she stated his work on the farm as the reason for his exemption.


3 thoughts on “Conscientious Objectors: A Local Mother’s Plea

  1. I have a very clear original WW1 Photographic Postcard originating from France or Belgium showing ‘one of the sons’ mentioned in the 13th March 2014 piece entitled ‘Conscientious Objectors – a Local Mother’s plea’ . The card shows a head and shoulders image of Mr W E Glanville (stated to be a farmer from Taunton) and a group of what appears to be nine other colleagues in a ‘Non Combatant Corp’- The Card is annotated ‘Tent No.8’. The card shows their tools of trade – a pick and shovel! Helpfully the card is marked with brief details of all ten of the group, which also includes another local man ‘Pte R J Davis a clerk from Taunton’. Also present is an ‘E J Hemmings, a schoolteacher from Weymouth’ and I wonder if most of the group are conscientious objectors, possibly fellow Plymouth Brethren. Each of the individuals has a pencil annotation alongside their name, which may note his religion, unfortunately the abbreviations are obscure to me, but all of the group appear to be variously ‘OB’ or ‘CB’ apart from ‘N Britton a Dustman from Bristol – Prim (Primitive Methodist?). If anyone would like a copy of the image and reverse of the Postcard showing their names etc, please let me know. Likewise if you have any ideas regarding the matter of the ‘abbreviation’ please contact me.

  2. Re earlier note- Subject’s name marked on the Postcard is ‘ W E Glan(d)field’ (apologies – not Glanville as incorrectly stated previously.

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