Tricking the police
Bert Brocklesby was not the only peace activist to resort to coded messages during World War I. In 1918, the police made a systematic effort to suppress a newsletter called The Tribunal, published by the No-Conscription Fellowship (NCF).
Whatever the police did, they were unsuccessful. On one occasion, they smashed the NCF's printing machinery, not knowing the NCF had access to another printer. The next week the paper appeared as usual, with the headline “Here we are again!”.
Lydia Smith, who was editor of The Tribunal at the time, later described how they had managed it.
When the police went to 'dismantle' – as they called it – the second printer, they were jubilant. They did it very thoroughly – it wasn't able to start again – and said, “That'll be the end of that”. And therefore when we came out with “Here we are again”, Scotland Yard took it very badly and for – how long? – nearly eighteen months, they tried to find out how we printed it and where we printed it and who was doing it.
They took a room opposite us, opposite the office, in the Adelphi. We knew that. We saw them going in and out. They kept watch on us. I don't know if they watched at night as well as day but I thought they did. But they never found out, partly because they were so convinced that I was standing in for a man. I think I looked very young in those days and they couldn't believe that I was the editor. They didn't believe it for a moment.
They never found out how the material came to me and how I got it to the printer. Actually every week an old lady slipped down the stairs as though she was going to see the caretaker. Then the old lady slipped out and I gave her the copy, and away she went. And never did they find out. So we were able to come out every week, right up to the end of the war and indeed after it.
Source: Lydia Smith interviewed by the BBC, 'Prisoners of Conscience: No to the state', 1969 (available at www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/p01t27mf).
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.
Many conscientious objectors rejected the idea of military 'solutions' to conflict. Hannah Brock of War Resisters’ International shares her thoughts on resisting militarism today, using some of the ideals of those who objected 100 years ago.