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John 'Bert' Brocklesby

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.

Praying for victory

Monday 25 August 2014
John 'Bert' Brocklesby

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.

I had had, since that day of liberation described above, no enmity nor hatred for any person. Still less could I have hatred for any German. Not only was I unable, but it seemed immoral, at the behest of the government to start hating millions of people I had never even seen.

Your true militarist would probably retort, "You can kill 'em without hating 'em; an order, you know!" This would seem to me even more horrible; absolutely soulless without even any emotional mitigation of the crime. In criminal procedures, calculated crimes are always considered more heinous than passionate crimes, and would indicate a more depraved state.

Not being a militarist I don't know the answer to this next question, but would ask to be informed. Some authorities say that men cannot be properly trained as soldiers in a shorter time than eighteen months. As I cannot think it takes all this time to learn to operate his particular instrument of destruction, is this time needed to make him sufficiently callous and soulless so that he will do anything he is ordered to do?

Thousands of bombs in a munitions factoryMention of Germans reminds me that I got what was perhaps my earliest lesson in international pacifism from a young German who had left his own country to avoid being conscripted and had settled in Conisbrough as a pork butcher. August Walter was an example of industry, but became unpopular during the Boer War because he was able to see the issues with an unbiased mind. His neighbours called him "pro-Boer". One day, I (at that time about 11 years old) saw him working in the yard below the large room, a former furniture factory, where we brothers played. I called out "Pro-Boer!" and dodged out of sight. August came upstairs and asked me if the Methodists were praying for victory. I said they were. He then told me that Paul Krueger was a Christian; did I suppose he was praying for victory? I supposed so. "Well," he remarked, "that puts God into a fix, doesn't it?" And he left me to think it over.

And I remembered that simple word-play when fourteen years later we were again praying for victory. Frequently there came Orders for Intercessionary Services for public use in the chapel. As we were taught by Christ to pray for our enemies there was always one prayer for them, invariably (I seem to remember) that God would turn their hearts; but never that our hearts should be turned; they of course didn't need any turning.

A hundred years ago most people would have thought in terms of whose side God is on. This dilemma might be more commonly expressed now as “How do we decide on which side ‘right’ sits?” What is the best possible outcome for this, or indeed, any conflict?

Memorial stone for conscientious objectors
Wednesday 30 March 2016

Bert's brother Philip visited him shortly before his sentence was confirmed. Bert describes what happened after the sentence was read out.

Sketches of what a CO feels like
Wednesday 23 March 2016

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.

Drawing on cell wall
Wednesday 16 March 2016

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.

A conscientious objector in prison sustained by the spirit of international brotherhood
Wednesday 9 March 2016

facing arrest for refusing to join the Non-Combatant Corps, Bert handed himself into the police station.

Conscientious objectors singing love songs to huns
Wednesday 2 March 2016

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.

Pamphlet challenging national service
Monday 9 November 2015

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.

Brocklesby family photograph
Monday 2 November 2015

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.

Monday 26 October 2015

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.

Monday 18 August 2014

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.

Monday 11 August 2014

The beginning of war saw thousands of men rush to enlist. Those who chose not to do so faced criticism.

Monday 4 August 2014

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.

Related Materials

Monday 25 August 2014

In World War I, many Christians were appalled by the support offered to the war by church leaders.

Monday 25 August 2014

Bert was very critical of church leaders who sought to justify the war with Christian arguments. Nearly all church denominations in Britain included both supporters and opponents of the war, although in most the supporters were in the majority.

Latest Tweets

30th Mar
We rejoiced at leaving that land of death behind. We learned later about the battle of the #Somme https://t.co/r0jRYe8HTX #WW1 #whitefeather
30th Mar
I said, “If I jumped overboard, I would be in Seine”, but the penny didn't drop https://t.co/r0jRYe8HTX #WW1 #whitefeather
30th Mar
We were moved first to the Field Punishment Barracks recently vacated by the first group of COs https://t.co/r0jRYe8HTX #WW1 #whitefeather
30th Mar
It is, I think, a longstanding tradition in the army to acknowledge the courage of the enemy https://t.co/r0jRYe8HTX #WW1 #whitefeather
30th Mar
We were heartened to find that the men of the first batch were putting up such a fine resistance https://t.co/r0jRYe8HTX #WW1 #whitefeather