#whitefeather diaries

The Non-Combatant Corps – a real alternative?

Tuesday 1 March 2016

When conscription came into force, the government set up the Non-Combatant Corps, a unit of the army that did not carry weapons. This was intended to satisfy people with a conscientious objection to killing.

As we saw in today's entry, Hilda supported those who rejected alternative service. In yesterday's entry, Howard refused to join the Non-Combatant Corps – as did most conscientious objectors. Altogether, less than a fifth of all British conscientious objectors served in the Corps. On 14 March 1916, the Friends Service Committee – set up to support Quakers facing conscription – joined with the No-Conscription Fellowship in a joint letter to the Prime Minister on the issue.

The letter was signed by Robert Mennell and Hubert Peet on behalf of Quakers and by Fenner Brockway and Clifford Allen for the No-Conscription Fellowship.

We consider it at once our duty to acquaint you with the opinions of conscientious objectors regarding the new Army Order establishing a Non-Combatant Corps.

The government should understand that the men for whom we speak can, under no circumstances, become part of this corps, which we observe will be under the control of the War Office, and in every sense part of the military machine.

The suggestion that we could afford assistance in the manner indicated shows an entire misunderstanding of our convictions. We have repeatedly attempted to make clear that our position is one of fundamental objection to war on religious or moral grounds, and that no plea of necessity or of policy can justify us in participating in its prosecution.

It will therefore be seen that our objection covers any form of military service, combatant or non-combatant, and also, for all but a few of us, any form of civil alternative, under a scheme whereby the government seeks to facilitate national organisation of the prosecution of war.

The only transfer from present occupations to which the great majority of the men for whom we speak could consent, would be such as would afford them greater opportunity of working towards the attainment of peace and towards the removal of international and racial hatreds. This, we maintain, is the highest service we can render to our fellow men, now and at all times.

Source: Quoted in Objection Overruled: Conscription and Conscience in the First World War by David Boulton (Dales Historical Monographs, 2014). 

Related Materials

Maternity ward, Châlons-sur-Marne
Tuesday 1 March 2016

Hilda saw her work as a form of pacifism in action but was concerned about the situation of pacifists in Britain facing conscription.

Mobile phone on old-style newspaper
Tuesday 1 March 2016

Reflections on war, peace and conscience in the form of thoughts, memories, letters and diaries from Quakers in the York area.