THE THIRD COURT-MARTIAL
They cast iniquity upon me, and in wrath they hate me.
Psalm LV, 3.
The crime for which I was arraigned before a third court-martial was the exact counterpart of my second court-martial, namely refusal to fetch my kit. I am not sure of the actual date, but from the data I have, it is most likely it was Saturday May 12th 1917.
The court sat in the same block of buildings in which was the orderly room and the four of us (Simons, Brownutt, Ward and myself) were escorted there under armed guard. I was overjoyed to see my wife and father waiting outside. They immediately pressed forwards to greet us and shake hands, but I was apprehensive that too much fraternising in public, with a prisoner under armed guard, would bring down wrath of the Commanding Officer on them. However after introducing the other three, I suggested they wait until we had passed to a more secluded position.
Simons and my father subsequently had a long conversation together, which judging from remarks made to me afterwards, was a source of interest and pleasure to them both. In fact there seemed to be a mutual attraction between them.
My next memory concerns the trial, the chairman first reading my army record and from the army point of view, it was very black indeed. Then directing his gaze towards me he angrily demanded, “What do you mean by coming here again to worry us?” I did not know whether to be angry, indignant, amused or sad and I thought of Ahab’s accusation to Elijah, “Art thou he that troubleth Israel?” And I was tempted to adopt Elijah’s rejoinder, “I have not troubled Israel, but thou.” But of the conflicting emotions, it was sadness that came uppermost and I quietly and gently replied, “I’m very sorry to be here sir, but the matter is quite out of my hands.” I recollect nothing more of the proceedings, but a copy of my court-martial statement is still extant. It runs as follows: -
To the Officers of the Court-Martial
I have long since abandoned any idea I may ever have had that I can make my position understood by the Army Authorities, since it must inevitably be incomprehensible to one who cannot say with the apostle, “Christ liveth in me.” I now perceive more than ever the truth that the Gospel of Christ is ‘foolishness to this world’ and of his saying, “They cannot understand my words, neither will they understand yours.” Nevertheless I will again endeavour to state it shortly.
The reasons for my inability to accept the certificate granted by the tribunals, viz, exemption from everything, but dispenser in the R.M.A.C. are identical with those which prevent my acceptance of the Home Office Scheme and are best expressed in the words of a quotation from one of the books written by the Rev. Silas K. Hocking, “If a Christian becomes a soldier, he yields up his conscience and promises implicit obedience to a power which is not Christian and which does not profess to have a conscience.”
I realise and regret that my constantly recurring appearances before the Court must appear to you as mere obstinacy and in consequence must be a great tax on your patience, but I can only justify myself in the words of Martin Luther, addressed to the Diet of Worms, “Here I stand … God help me … I can do no other.”
Signed H. Blake.
After return to the guardroom, I was permitted the delight of a long and private conversation with my wife and father in the corridor outside. There was so much to speak about after the isolation and great was the ecstasy of close communion with my dearest friend.
The promulgation of sentence was delayed in this instance due to the anniversary of the Battle of Albuera on Wednesday May 16th, when the Middlesex regiment won its name of Diehards and a holiday was celebrated at the barracks. After the bugle sounded the reveille, the band paraded and while I found pleasure in the music, I was not the least interested in the event that occasioned it. On the following day the Adjutant’s time was fully occupied with seven more court-martials.
Promulgation of sentence therefore occurred on Friday, when the ceremony was carried out in the same place as the preceding December. This resulted in we prisoners standing immediately outside our guardroom windows. I well remember that while we were waiting for the Adjutant with the papers, the prisoners inside the guardroom were able to converse with us through the iron bars of the open windows. One remark occasioned a burst of laughter from us all. Muirhead suggested that the uniform I was dressed in made me look like a Salvation Army Captain.
The Adjutant duly announced the Court’s decision. We three old companions in crime were doomed to another two years hard labour. Stephen Ward, not so hardened in crime, got one year hard labour. But in view of our previous experiences, none of us expected to complete the full term. Subsequent events proved we were wrong in our conjectures, which was not destined to fructify, for we all underwent the full term.
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The story of a First World War conscientious objector