CONSCIENTIOUS OBJECTORS

First, a definition from "The Great War"

Second, the physical requirements of a WW1 recruit.

The original height for a man volunteering when war was inevitable,  had not been considered properly and the authorities were inundated with volunteers of every height and shape. Fearing a 'swamping' for there were relatively few uniforms, little accommodation, few officers and little equipment reserves, a minimum height of 5' 8" was set as one of those criteria for enlisting.  This debarred lots of volunteers, and once the numbers had diminished and time had been given to a rethink and a replenishment of the shortfalls mentioned above, the 'doors were reopened' on the 11th October 1914 for recruits with a minimum height set at 5' 5". On the 5th November 1914, that requirement was lowered to 5' 3" where it stayed for the rest of the war.

 

Third, how WW2 recruiting was organised

Records show that the vast majority of conscientious objectors [CO's] were not necessarily averse to wearing a military style uniform, and were willing to "serve" as long as the role they were given was not a combatant role, and therefore they would not be called upon [or expected] to take part in the 'killing machine'.  However, there were one or two who went so far as to refuse to wear a British armed forces uniform even though no weapons or any sort were involved. To them, the uniform itself was indicative of causing physical harm to enemies and to them, a declared anathemaisation.  Here is a story of one such person. Remember that Britain was still at war until the 2nd September 1945 when the Japanese signed the surrender document and WW2 officially came to an end.

 BRITISH ARMY

Conscientious Objector (Treatment)

HC Deb 09 October 1945

Mr. Royle

asked the Secretary of State for War whether he has considered the case of a conscientious objector, named Roy Woodward, now at the State Hill Detention Barracks, Castleton, near Rochdale, particulars of whose alleged treatment at these barracks have been sent on to him; and whether he is prepared to have an investigation made into all the circumstances of the case.

Mr. Lawson

This case has been investigated and the facts are as follow: No. 97007722 Private Roy Woodward was registered as a Conscientious Objector to do non-combatant duties by the Northern Appellate Tribunal on 29th May, 1945, when he appeared on an appeal from the decision of the local Tribunal that he should do full military service. He was posted to the Non-Combatant Corps and was called up on 2nd August, 1945, on which date he reported to No. 12 Pioneer Corps Holding and Training Unit, Prestatyn. On 14th August, 1945, he was tried and convicted by Court-Martial on a charge of disobeying a lawful command, namely, refusing to take a kitbag when ordered to do so. He was sentenced to 56 days' detention and was admitted to No. 15 Military Detention Barrack, Stakehill, Castleton, near Rochdale, to serve his sentence. On admission, his civilian clothes were taken away from him, in accordance with the rules prescribed for Military Detention Barracks and Military Prisons. These rules provide that once a soldier has been admitted to a Detention Barrack his plain clothes will be taken away at the time of the medical inspection, and he will then be dressed in uniform. Private Woodward was given his military clothing to put on. This he refused to do, although efforts were made by the Commandant, the Assistant-Commandant, and also by members of the Staff, to induce him to change his mind.

Private Woodward's father called at the Detention Barrack and was permitted to interview his son. It was hoped that he would succeed where others had failed, but Private Woodward persisted in his attitude and refused to put on any military clothing. For the sake of decency and health he was dressed on several occasions by the Staff, but immediately removed his clothing at the first opportunity, and wore only a towel round his waist. The whole of the time during which Private Woodward was dressed in a towel, military clothing was in his room ready for him to put on.

On 1st September, 1945, Private Woodward was charged with a further offence of disobedience, and was remanded for trial by Court Martial. On 4th September he was allowed to dress in his civilian clothes and was removed from the Detention Barrack to a military unit to await trial. He was brought to trial on 17th September, 1945, and was sentenced to 93 days' imprisonment without hard labour. This sentence will enable him to appear again before the Appellate Tribunal for the purpose of pleading his conscientious objection to military service, and arrangements to that effect are now being made. He is at present in custody at His Majesty's Prison, Strange ways, Manchester.

Whilst Private Woodward was in custody at No. 15 Military Detention Barrack, he was treated with every possible consideration. He was committed to the Detention Barrack concerned as a result of his conviction by Court Martial for an offence against military discipline, and on his admission to the Detention Barrack he necessarily became subject to the rules and regulations applicable to such establishments, which include the wearing of military uniform. He was kept under observation by the Medical Officer who was consulted throughout as to what steps were necessary in the interests of the soldier's health. He was visited by his father twice and his mother once, and his parents would have been permitted to visit him again on 9th September if he had remained at the Detention Barrack. In addition he was granted an interview with a Quaker, Mr. Sutherland, on 29th August, 1945.

It will be appreciated that Private Woodward was sent into the Army on a finding of the Appellate Tribunal, with full knowledge that that course would involve the wearing of uniform. The military authorities, both at the Court Martial of 14th August, in the matter of the sentence awarded, and subsequently in the Detention Barracks, were therefore justified in assuming that it was not unreasonable to require Private Woodward to accept the consequences of the finding, and he must himself be held responsible for the periods of time he spent clad only in a towel, while his uniform was available to be put on.

The case was not discussed in any further Parliamentary Debate.  We must assume that Woodward did his time and was released, not just from Detention but from the Army.