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: http://wp.me/p3nG6f-aj. 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.
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.
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.