THE APPEAL TRIBUNAL
Be it known unto thee, O king, that we will not … worship the golden image which thou has set up.
Daniel III, 18.
About three weeks elapsed from the time I sent in the application form, before I received the notice of hearing from the Middlesex Appeal Tribunal. This time, I was to present myself at the Westminster Guildhall on the afternoon of August 1st 1916.
When I entered the court I noticed a small band of men on the right, to whom I felt inexplicably attracted and seated myself with them. As they were each called to face the tribunal, from time to time, amongst other cases, I leaned that this group were also conscientious objectors (COs). The case of one of these immediately preceded my own. He was a schoolmaster from Harrow and I was particularly struck by the way he defended himself from the hostile onslaughts of the chairman. At one point the chairman exclaimed with something approaching horror, “Do you teach these ideas to the children under your charge?” “The question does not arise.” “Precisely what do you mean by that?” “The question does not arise because the school curriculum does not cover it.” “Supposing it did, would you teach these ideas?” “If I did what I conceive to be my highest duty, I should.” That seemed to convince the chairman that the schoolmaster had sealed his own fate, as far as he was concerned and he nodded to the Military Representative who rose and commenced a battle royal with his victim. Finding that all his strokes were parried, frequently being turned upon himself, he came forth with the question, which at that time was considered by the militarists to be the coup de grace for COs. “If you saw a German soldier assaulting your wife, what would you do?” The schoolmaster adopted Jesus’ approach, “I also will ask you a question,” he demanded of the Military Representative, “Supposing I were in the army as a despatch rider and was carrying important despatches, when I saw a German assaulting my wife, would my first duty be to my wife or to my despatches?” Without a seconds hesitation the Military Representative, who was a commissioned officer, tumbled into the trap by briskly replying, “To your despatches of course.” “Very well then,” replied the schoolmaster, “I AM carrying despatches for MY King.”
The officer sat down hastily, covered in confusion, while I chuckled inwardly at this skilful exposure of the hypocrisy and hollowness behind the question. However in spite of his vanquishing of both the chairman and the Military Representative, as upon all COs, the schoolmaster was bestowed the usual formula, “The appeal is dismissed.”
It was then my turn and I was first asked routine personal details. He next pointed out that I was stated to be occupied for some portion of my time in dispensing for the V.A.D. and asked if this were so. Upon my replying in the affirmative, he looked towards the Military Representative who rose saying that he failed to understand how it was that I would not do this work under the R.A.M.C. I replied that it was because there were other things involved besides war to which I had objection. This seemed to puzzle him immensely and he asked me to explain. I said that for one thing I could not salute an officer for whom I had no respect, for by so doing I would be acting a lie. He being an officer sat down with a slow shake of the head as though he would say, this man has gone so far wrong that there is little hope of reclaiming him. Once again I heard the monotonous repetition of the formula from the chairman, “The appeal is dismissed.”
As I was leaving the council chamber I was met at the door by a young man who informed me that he had been through it all and he enquired if I knew where to get the green form. I asked what this might be and he explained that it was the application form asking the Appeal Tribunal, for leave to apply to the Central Tribunal. This struck me as an arrant piece of imbecility, was it likely that the Appeal Tribunal would grant leave to appeal against their own decision? I was beginning to get weary of this endless succession of forms, which led nowhere and therefore replied, “What’s the use?” His quiet rejoinder revived my fighting spirit, “As far as you are concerned, nothing. It is only that the authorities cannot say that you have not given them every opportunity of treating you fairly.”
Having obtained the green form from the office, under the heading Reasons for Appeal I wrote concerning my reasons for refusing to be a dispenser in the R.A.M.C. In particular my inability to salute an officer, my refusal to attend church parades, which is a desecration of the Sabbath and my refusal to travel from place to place on Sundays.
This communication evoked from the clerk the reply that the Middlesex Appeal Tribunal would not grant me leave to appeal to the Central Tribunal. With that, for the present at least and so far as I then knew, for all time, my transactions with the tribunals came to an end.
Whose Image and Superscription?
The story of a First World War conscientious objector