In 1916, the British government made it compulsory for unmarried men of military age to serve in the war effort. Many men made appeals against conscription on a variety of grounds, including their employment in work of national importance, or the inevitability of economic hardship on their families should they join the army. More rarely, men appealed on the grounds that they were Conscientious Objectors.
The minutes and papers from the Central Military Service Tribunal and Middlesex Appeal Tribunal (MH47), held at The National Archives, demonstrate that of almost 9000 appeals made during WW1, only 577 were made on the grounds of conscientious objection. It is estimated that there are 16,000 men on record as CO’s during the First World War. Though small in numbers compared to the millions who served in the armed forces, the experiences of these men has had a profound effect on the way we remember the First World War.
Once such man was Eric Barry Wilfred Chappelow. Born in 1890, he was listed as living in Lonsdale Road, Barnes in 1916, the year in which military conscription was introduced. At his military service tribunal in Barnes, in March 1916, Chappelow was granted an Absolute Exemption from service. This decision was overturned when the military representative in the area petitioned the decision. Chappelow took his appeal to the Central Tribunal who refused to hear his second appeal.
Having been rejected on appeal, Eric Chappelow – despite being a conscientious objector – was considered to be a soldier absent without leave, and thus liable to arrest. He was arrested in April 1916 and tried at Mortlake Police Court. He was fined, and handed over to Kingston Barracks. It was during this time that a photograph was taken of him for the Daily Sketch – showing him wearing a blanket, perhaps in punishment for refusing to wear khaki. Later in the month, Chappelow was court martialled, and it seems from his records he spent time in Wandsworth Prison. In September 1916, Chappelow was working with the Friends Ambulance Unit as part of their General Service section on an estate in Garsington.
This farm belonged to Philip Morrell and his wife Ottoline. Opposed to the war themselves, they offered the estate as a farm on which conscientious objectors could find refuge and employment. Throughout the First World War it attracted visitors such as Bertrand Russell, Siegfried Sassoon and DH Lawrence. The National Portrait Gallery holds in its collection photographs of Eric Chappelow, alongside Lady Ottoline, most likely taken by her husband whilst at Garsington.
Details of Eric’s life after his time at Garsington are difficult to come by. He seemingly appears on marriage records for Lewisham in 1921. A search through British Library records showcases Eric’s busy career as a poet. The 1939 register places Eric again in Lewisham, and his name appears in death records for 1957. His story tells us much about the wider experiences of conscientious objectors in Britain during the First World War. The pressures felt by CO’s were widespread – society in 1914 was almost unanimous in its support for war with Germany and attitudes towards men who did not hear the call to fight were not viewed favourably. CO’s in prison at the end of the war were in many cases released much later, in order to give demobilised soldiers a head start in finding employment. In 1926, conscientious objectors were stripped of the vote.
Hear from conscientious objectors themselves in these interviews conducted by IWM. If you have information on Eric Chappelow, or other conscientious objectors in Richmond, then please contact Daniella Hadley at Daniella.Hadley@richmond.gov.uk.
Why Garsington Manor was Britain’s Most Scandalous Retreat – Guardian
Eric Chappelow’s Record, Friends Ambulance Unit – Quakers