Wigan’s Conscientious Objectors

Cameron Fleming has been volunteering at the Wigan archives as part of his sixth form work experience.

He researched  conscientious objectors from Wigan. The GM1914 blog  is a way of sharing other stories and experiences of COs from the Greater Manchester area, providing a valuable resource for those who are interested in these often untold and forgotten stories.

Conscientious Objectors of Wigan

Between August 1914 and December 1915, 2,446,719 men volunteered into the armed forces. In the first few months, in Wigan alone, 3,000 men volunteered. However, the next wave of soldiers, shown by the National Registration Act research, were more reluctant.

Due to the nature of the war, there was a shortage of soldiers so in January 1916  conscription was introduced for all men 18-41 under the Military Service Act. There were exemptions on grounds of employment, dependants, health or conscientious objection.

Medical Soldier

A  soldier serving as a Medic

Tribunals were set up nationwide to decide upon whom to send to war, give non-combat duties or delay conscription. Conscientious Objectors were around 6% of cases locally with cases on religious grounds often given more consideration than political grounds. Even if the appeal was granted, rulings may give temporary exemption or non-combat roles (e.g. Medic). The tribunal in Wigan had 11 members from varying backgrounds. All were over the age of 41.

Fred C.Critchley, 33, objected service on “conscientious objection” grounds as he “refuse[d] to take a life.” The tribunal gave him a non-combat role.

Eli Ernest Trotter, 25, refused because his point of view was that “war is wrong from all standpoints.” He refused to be part of a military machine as a socialist party member. He received a non-combat role. His brother, John, claimed he was too short at 4ft10in. He refused a non-combat role saying: “If I have to go, I will go as a right man or not at all” and was conscripted.

Albert Stoker, 22, applied on conscientious and employment grounds but his claim of conscience to the workers who fought while “capitalists were reaping the benefits” was struck down as he was a capitalist employing 30-40 workers. He remained in his combat unit.

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