About John 'Bert' Brocklesby
John Hubert (“Bert”) Brocklesby was born and grew up in Conisbrough, near Doncaster in Yorkshire. Brought up as Methodist, Bert had been drawn to both Quakers and Baptists, but had remained with the Wesleyan Methodist Church and become a lay preacher, only later becoming a Quaker.
As an eleven-year-old during the Boer War, he was confused when he realised that both sides were praying for victory to the same God. Bert was 25 when the war broke out.
In the summer of 1914, the prospect of war felt far away to Bert Brocklesby, a teacher in the Yorkshire town of Conisbrough near Doncaster. On Sunday 2 August, Bert, then aged 25, set off for a walking holiday with his brother Harold and his friend Maurice.
Here is Bert's own description of the next few days.
On August Bank Holiday we set off, making for Castleton in the Peak District, where our choir was having its annual outing. Just before we left them we all sang hymns together in the Winnats Gorge. There seemed something very solemn and impressive about this, and we could not at the time realise that we were singing goodbye to Peace - and indeed the funeral song of a whole era. That evening we got about twenty miles further on our road and camped about a mile south of Buxton.
The next day saw us away over Axe Edge (1,500 feet) and as far as Wolverhampton. The whole countryside was seething with excitement as the Germans had invaded Belgium and Britain might be at war at any time. People, seeing us with our camp equipment, asked if we were joining up. We camped in a boggy lane about two miles south of Wolverhampton. The site was soft and wet but our ground sheet kept us dry.
Heading for Kidderminster next morning we passed a newsagent's by the roadside where we saw a placard announcing "Britain declares war on Germany". So that is how we received the most fateful news and from that time the world became a quite different sort of place. We were stunned. War with Germany! How could such a thing be? The ruling houses of Britain and Germany were linked by the closest ties of blood. Queen Victoria had seen to that, thinking it was a sure way to preserve peace.
The first signs of war madness soon appeared. We saw details of the army mobilising and the papers reported thousands of recruits volunteering for service at every recruiting station in the country.
Here I may record my first conviction. However many might volunteer, yet would not I; and for this certainty in my mind, that God had called me to work for his kingdom, that whatever any other man felt he must do, God had not put me on the earth to go destroying his own children.
Neither could I swear away any right to follow my own conscience and to obey the guiding of God's Spirit. It seemed monstrous to me that men should sell their souls to wicked commanders who might order them to commit the foulest crimes.
Very soon the spy scares began to sprout. People wondered who we were, wandering with a tent around the country, just as though a spy would carry around some distinctive mark. At one village in Worcestershire, the local policeman came to identify us. The only mark of identity we could show was Harold's Post Office Savings Bank book. Things were getting so uncomfortable we decided to abandon our tour and make a beeline for home.
Bert insists that he was certain from the beginning that he would not join up. Was he more certain than those who later changed their minds? Is it better to pursue a conviction with certainty or after a period of struggling to make a decision? What do you think?
Bert's brother Philip visited him shortly before his sentence was confirmed. Bert describes what happened after the sentence was read out.
On arrival at Boulogne, Bert and his comrades from Richmond Castle discovered that another group of conscientious objectors had also been sent to France with the threat of being shot if they continued to refuse orders. They did not know whether the other group – which included Howard Marten – had given in or been executed.
Bert was concerned that campaigners in Britain should hear about what was going on and know that they were in Boulogne. He described what happened next.
Bert was sent to Richmond Castle where a unit of the Non-Combatant Corps was based. Within a few days he was on his way to France.
facing arrest for refusing to join the Non-Combatant Corps, Bert handed himself into the police station.
Bert Brocklesby was called before a tribunal in Doncaster when he claimed a conscientious objection to joining the army. He wrote out a transcript of the hearing.
Bert seems to have preached less often as he became more involved in campaigning against the war. He described how he came to know Quakers through the anti-conscription campaign.
A week after his bruising experience in Conisbrough, Bert found himself preaching in another church. He took a more cautious approach, but delivered the same message. He later wrote about the experience.
The war that began in 1914 was expected to be over by Christmas. John ‘Bert’ Brocklesby found himself preaching in his own church just after the beginning of 2015. He wrote about the response he received.
To Bert, war required either hatred or callousness. Writing about the early days of the war, he linked his convictions with a rejection of hatred – and a question about prayer during wartime.
How did Bert come to be such a strong pacifist? Unlike Howard, he did not grow up in a pacifist family. His brothers Philip and Harold joined the army shortly after war broke out.
While most British people supported the war, there were many who shared Bert's determination to oppose it. Others were unsure what to think.