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Conscientious objector, WWI: Bow Brickhill
Bow Brickhill War Memorial

Oh joy. Yes, in the wonderful world of work it’s that time again - ‘Appraisals’!

And how times have changed. We never had those when I was a lad, but then we had ‘Personnel Departments,’ run by ‘Personnel Managers.’

Of which, as I recall, one old dear in a previous life had been an MI6 operative, whilst the distinguished gent at Marconi Avionics had flown Lancasters during the war.

But now we have ‘H.R.’ Departments. Staffed mainly it seems by 25 to 35 something fillies, a decorative species for whom the sales team of Hello magazine must no doubt be truly thankful. And it seems these denizens of the latter day all communicate in some strange tongue, whereby the ‘bleedin obvious’ is often expressed in terms of pretentious strangulation.

But enough of the present, and so to past times of national crisis, when regarding recruitment there was little time for frills or fancy. The outbreak of the First World War had caused few to think that this would be anything but short lived, but after Mons this notion was dispelled, and so came the need for ‘Kitchener’s Army.’

Yet as the conflict stagnated into trench warfare it became apparent that even this patriotic surge was insufficient, and so to provide potential replacements the Derby Scheme was introduced, whereby men could register their willingness to serve, and thus be called upon when needed.

However, not all were willing to serve, which then lead to conflict with the authorities when conscription was introduced. And so on Friday, January 12th 1917, Lieutenant J. McFarlane, from the Bletchley Recruiting Office, represented the military at the Fenny Stratford Police Court when a young man of Bow Brickhill, claiming to be a conscientious objector, was charged with being an absentee from the Forces.

To this he pleaded not guilty, stating that he had a conscientious objection to all forms of military service. In evidence police constable Hedges said that the previous evening he had seen the man at his father’s house at Bow Brickhill, and told him he had orders for his arrest. The man said “All right,” and was then taken to the police station. In court, Lieutenant McFarlane said that on December 16th an ‘action’ had been issued to the prisoner to report and join up. However, he had failed to comply, and when the chairman of the Tribunal asked if the man had been rejected by the military medical authorities, Lieutenant McFarlane said that he had been classed B1 Reserve, and, because this was a category in which men were not immediately required, had been told to go home until called.

Inspector Callaway, of the police, said that the man had been fined 40s last April for a similar charge, and that the money had been paid. On that occasion the prisoner was taken to Oxford, where after demanding a medical re-examination he was offered some papers, which he refused to accept.

The man confirmed that he had received the notice to join up, but had paid no attention to that, nor a letter from the Bletchley Recruiting Officer. In further evidence, Lieutenant McFarlane said the man had appealed to both the Local Military Service Tribunal and the Area Tribunal, but the verdict of each was that he not a bona fide conscientious objector.

Saying that he would rather face the death sentence than do any military service, the prisoner was fined 40s and handed over to a waiting military escort, which took him the same day to Oxford.

Yet he didn’t remain there for long, for the following morning he left by train and was driven from Bletchley to Bow Brickhill.

However, following a telephone message ‘a man in blue’ was waiting, and he was taken back to the police station. As for the sequel, in May 1917 at a meeting of the Newport Pagnell Board of Guardians it would be reported that a young man -‘from a village near to Fenny Stratford’ - who had been taken into the army against his will, had been admitted as a patient to the county asylum. As one member commented, “The Army have done him to death and sent him to the Asylum. It is a scandalous shame.”

Payment would duly be sought from the War Office for the man’s maintenance.