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The retreat of British forces from Dunkirk early in the Second World War is well known. Here Bletchley historian John Taylor takes a look at those who signed up following the aborted mission - and those that didn't.

Conscientious Objectors
Troops under fire as they flee Dunkirk in all manner of craft.

Sunday Citizen November 3rd 2002

As recounted in a previous article, despite the 'tactical' retreat from Dunkirk the contingent of Bletchley men, despatched with the British Expeditionary Force, had acquitted themselves with great courage in the previous fighting.

Indeed, they gained a well-deserved praise from their commanding officer, himself to be soon decorated at Buckingham Palace for bravery but only to later die in a tragic air crash.

With the national situation now bleak and with no immediate hopes of victorious conclusion, able bodied men were facing call up and Bletchley Employment Exchange became the registration centre.

Aged between 20 and 23, 85 men were the largest number to be called so far and most expressed a preference to join the army. A few choose the RAF and two or three opted for the navy.

Yet on the positive side, the war, was doing wonders for the unemployment figures and from a total of 151, including 13 'casuals from barges', within a couple of months this number had been halved.

In fact by virtue of the increasing male vacancies, opportunities now arose for women to take up employment formerly barred to them and for the first time since World War One they could join the indoor staff of the GPO.

Each military registration invariably threw up a small quota of conscientious objectors, including a young outfitting salesman from the Bletchley Co-op.

He appeared before a tribunal to plead his case, stating that since he had been a member of the Methodist church all his life, he would not serve in the forces or munitions factories.

However he would consider any other non-combatant role and the tribunal agreed with his request.

An officer in the Boys Brigade, another Methodist and a lay preacher, also expressed reluctance for the sharp end as long as he took up agricultural or forestry work, or full time ambulance duties. This again was agreed by the South East Tribunal at Southwark.

In a similar instance, the manager of a local bookshop had resigned from this position in January 1939 to become an auxiliary fireman.

He now appeared before the same tribunal as a conscientious objector which was all rather tragic, since he became one of the town's earliest casualties, killed in action whilst serving with the RAMC. He left a wife and young son.

Plans did not go quite according to form when the proprietor of a local newspaper decided he would also like to be a conscientious objector. Undergoing a bit of a grilling, or more diplomatically when 'severely questioned' by Judge David Davies, at the South East Local Tribunal, he then found himself charged with sanctioning articles alleged to be 'intended to produce defeatism and dismay among the public'.

With his application thrown out he then appealed to the Central Conscien¬tious Objectors Appellate Court, which granted exemption from mili¬tary service on condition he stayed in his present occupation.

A member of the Baptist Church for 12 years, he was also captain of the Bletchley Boys Brigade and at their annual inspection supervised a display of semaphore.

However, to ensure they weren't sending out the wrong signals, the members of the brigade swiftly sent a communication to the local press, stating that in no way were they a pacifist organisation.

Meanwhile, local womenfolk were up in arms about an interview given to a London newspaper by a lady War Office official. Tasked with trying to recruit 6000 women for the ATS, on visiting the town she apparently gained the impression that most of the girls spent their time in cafes and cinemas.

However one sweet innocent declared that 'if I went into the ATS my husband would have to get someone else in to prepare meals and do the housework and no one would benefit'. Try getting away with that one in today's generation!