"In 1914, after 20,000 casualties had been recorded in the first two weeks of the war, compulsory call-up for British men looked increasingly likely. Pacifist members of the No-Conscription Fellowship, set up in 1915, successfully campaigned to secure 'the conscience clause' in the 1916 Conscription Act: the right to claim exemption from military service.
Over 16,000 men made that claim. They were required to attend a tribunal (an interviewing panel with legal authority) to have the sincerity of their claims assessed. The government meant well: these tribunals were intended to be humane and fair. But it was left to local councils to choose the people who actually sat on the panels, and they often selected themselves. They were a mixed bunch: businessmen, shopkeepers, landowners, retired military officers, civil servants and the like, most of them too old to be called up. Most were also strongly patriotic and therefore prejudiced against anyone whom they thought was not. Often they were people 'of not very great depth of vision or understanding', genuinely confused about their task and its complicated guidelines. A few tribunal members were women, who seemed particularly incensed by the conscientious objectors' (COs') point of view. Another hazard for COs was that each tribunal panel contained one army-selected member, attending every hearing and with the right to cross-examine each applicant. These 'military representatives' had a common aim: to get as many men as possible into the army to fill the gaps left by the dead.
The COs came from all walks of life, and varied widely in their ability to cope with often rude and aggressive interviewers. Some didn't get a chance to say a word, other embarked on well-prepared argument. Whatever they said, the result was the same: only a handful received full exemption, and many were denied any form of exemption at all.
The COs fell into three categories, all providing difficult choices for them to make:
- Some were 'absolutists', opposed to conscription as well as war, upholders of civil liberty and the freedom of the individual - values thought to be respected in Britain. Absolutists (most of whom were committed pacifists) believed that any alternative service supported the war effort and in effect supported the immoral practice of conscription as well. The tribunals had the power to give these men complete and unconditional exemption.
- Some were 'alternativists', prepared to undertake alternative civilian work not under any military control. Tribunals had power to exempt them from military service on condition that they actually did this work.
- 'Non-combatants' were prepared to accept call-up into the army, but not to be trained to use weapons, or indeed have anything to do with weapons at all. Tribunals had power to put these men on the military register on this basis.But the tribunals didn't use their powers with much judgement or sympathy. Not only did they rarely grant unconditional exemption, they also often allocated absolutists or alternativists to non-combatant duties. In many cases applications were turned down altogether, which meant that the men were liable for call-up as ordinary soldiers. These unwilling conscripts could be arrested and handed over to the military; if they disobeyed military orders they would be court-martialled and sent to prison."
"I ALFRED ROBERT ROGERS, heretofore called and known by the name of Alfred Robert Eungblut, a natural born British subject, of 69, Brecknock-road, Holloway, in the county of London,. Pianoforte Maker, hereby give public notice, that by a deed poll, dated the 30th day of July, 1917, duly executed and attested and enrolled in the Central Office of the Supreme Court, on the 21st day of August, 1917, I formally and absolutely renounced and abandoned the said surname of Eungblut and declared that I had assumed and adopted and intended thenceforth upon all occasions whatsoever to use and subscribe the name of Rogers as my surname in lieu of the said surname of Eungblut, and so as to be at all times thereafter called, known and described by the name of Alfred Robert Rogers exclusively. - Dated the 21st day of August, 1917.