Conscience of Haringey? The 350 men who said no to World War One

Thursday 6 December 2018
John Hinshelwood, Haringey First World War Peace Forum, leading a 'remembering conscientious objection' walk. Photograph: Vaughan Melzer 

 

The Haringey First World War Peace Forum (HFFWPF), a community group based in north London, has been mapping the biographies of 350 of the borough’s men who objected to serving in the First World War for moral, political or religious reasons.

These men had to apply to a local tribunal, which would hear each case and decide whether to grant an exemption. While most of the official records in the UK have been destroyed, some of the Haringey files survived.

They provide rare insights into the lives of a group of people who were at odds with their government, and some of their biographies are accessible on the Layers of London website. This is a digital project run by the Institute of Historical Research at the School of Advanced Study, University of London. The groundbreaking online map allows people to understand and share different aspects of London’s history.

The HFFWPF, has uncovered no less than 31 sets of brothers in Haringey who were conscientious objectors during the Great War. Among the most notable are the Walker brothers, five young men, in a family of eight siblings, aged between 33 and 16, who in 1916 all refused to enlist or to obey any military orders.

On being arrested, they were treated so harshly that their situation led to questions being asked in the House of Commons. The uncovered records show that the oldest of the brothers, Charles, wrote to their sister Annie: ‘The details of abuse, entreaty and physical violence are too numerous to mention. We were made to stand to attention by ourselves for one and a half hours under broiling sun. Harry [his youngest brother] tottered and fainted.’ They did not give in. All served repeated prison sentences with hard labour until they were released, with other conscientious objectors (COs), in April 1919.

Joanna Bornat from HFWWPF says that ‘Online mapping of this collection of material has shown us that it was often proximity that led to ideas such as these spreading, and Haringey had a long tradition of political dissent which meant that the anti-war movement had many supporters.’

The records show that traditions of dissent are strongest when supported by families or neighbours. But why Haringey? The concentration of COs in north London was higher than in the rest of the country and these networks included Quakers, Christadelphians, and socialists. Refusal to enlist took a great deal of courage, and accounts of these histories illustrate a side of the war, which has not had much recognition nationally or locally. A plaque, commemorating Haringey’s 350 conscientious objectors will be installed in May 2019. 

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Notes for editors:

  1. For further information, please contact: Maureen McTaggart, Media and Public Relations Officer, School of Advanced Study, University of London +44 (0)20 7862 8653 / Maureen.mctaggart@sas.ac.uk.
     
  2. Layers of London brings together, for the first time, a significant collection of digitised historic maps, photos and other information provided by key partners including the British LibraryThe London Metropolitan ArchivesHistoric EnglandThe National ArchivesMOLA (Museum of London Archaeology). The website allows users to explore and contribute to the many different 'layers' of London's history from the Romans to the present day.
     
  3. The Institute of Historical Research was founded in 1921 and is one of nine institutes that comprise the University of London’s School of Advanced Study. The IHR is dedicated to training the next generation of historians, and to producing and facilitating ambitious, innovative historical research.  The Institute helps foster public understanding of history and its social, cultural, and economic importance, advocating for the long-term future of the discipline and supporting its growth and development.  It offers a wide range of services both onsite and remotely which promote and facilitate excellence in historical research, teaching and scholarship in the UK, by means of its library, events programmes, fellowships, training and publications. It is a leading centre for the creation of digital resources for historians, and promotes the study of the history of London through its Centre for Metropolitan History and the Victoria County History.
     
  4. The School of Advanced Study (SAS), University of London, is the UK’s national centre for the promotion and support of research in the humanities. SAS and its member institutes offer unparalleled resources, facilities and academic opportunities across a wide range of subject areas for the benefit of the national and international scholarly community. Last year SAS welcomed 892 research fellows and associates, held 1,903 events highlighting the latest research in the humanities, received 25.9 million online visits to its research resources and platforms, and hosted 173,493 visits to its specialist libraries and collections. The School also leads Being Human, the UK’s only nationwide festival of the humanities. Find out more at www.sas.ac.uk or follow SAS on Twitter at @SASNews.
     
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