Frank Booth: Conscientious Objector
2 Frank Booth: Conscientious Objector
The idea of interviewing Frank Booth, my husband’s uncle, grew out of both my interest in conscientious objection, catalysed by my own peace activism, and the desire that his grandchildren and grand-nephews should have the opportunity to understand their strong peace heritage. Though this is w ritten for the family, I hope to persuade Frank to allow a copy of it to be lodged in the small conscientious objectors archive in the Imperial War Museum, where I spent several interesting afternoons on preparatory research. The putting together of this document has been long delayed. I am essentially a deadline person and I did not have one, Frank being far too gentle to make demands tosee it all. However, Frank’s 90th birthday seems a most appropriate occasion for this to be unveiled to the family. Ihad hoped to follow this initial interview with at least onemore and possibly some wider research into Frank’s father, sister and conscientious objector friends. I may still do so bit do not want to delay presenting this first interview further. This interview is about Conscientious Objection - others have interviewed Frank about other aspects of his life. An article in the local magazine Reflections in October 2010 recorded the impact that Frank the teacher had on young people and the school at which he taught. I think the story of Frank the walker is yet to be written.
Frank is not the only or even the first conscientious objector in his family. His father was a conscientious objector during the First World War (1914 – 1918), when it was dangerous to declare it. His sister joined him in objecting to the Second World War (1939 – 1945). Furthermore, Frank’s wife, Audrey, tells me that Frank’s grandfather wrote to the local paper protesting against the Boer War (1899 – 1902). Frank’s children are too young to have been called up for national service but they and other members of the family have regularly attended anti-war and CND protests. For Frank, as he makes clear in his interview, his conviction extends to opposing war, not just rejecting his own direct participation in violence. The main section is the transcription of my interview with Frank conducted on 1 February 2003 at his home in Sutton Scarsdale. It is preceded by a very short overview of conscription and conscientious objection in the UK and followed by a list of some of the books and websites I have used as a basis for further reading. Liz Philipson, 2011. Cover photograph by Tom Booth (Frank’s grandson) 2011.
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A brief introduction to the history and context of conscientious objection
4 Frank Booth: Conscientious Objector
Conscription Forced enrolment into armed forces and societies’ acceptance of this as a necessary “norm” can be traced back to ancient times. It was practiced in the Greek and Roman empires and in Europe, including in Britain; serfs were expected to follow their lords into battle. The first recorded mass conscription in m odern history was by Napoleon, whose military successes popularised the idea of conscript armies in Europe. Folk songs in Britain record the activities of the press gangs which kidnapped men into service (e.g. “Here’s the tender coming”). In the UK, national legislation for conscription was not enacted until 1916 during the First World War. It was reintroduced when the rumblings of the Second World War began to be felt in Europe and “military service” was amended to “national service” and was not ended until 1960. Elsewhere in the world young men and women are still required by law to serve in a military capacity for a given period of years, including in some European countries (e.g. Spain, Israel, and Turkey). “Informal” and illegal
conscription is regularly practised by several armed insurgent groups (e.g. Colombia, Sri Lanka and Nepal) which sometimes includes the conscription of child soldiers.
The Universal Right of Conscientious Objection Conscientious Objection was not formally recognised as a universal right by the Human Rights Committee of the United Nations until 1989. It defines Conscientious Objectors as individuals “who have claimed the right to refuse to perform military service on the grounds of freedom of thought, conscience, or religion”. This recognition was the culmination of a long campaign and many countries, including Britain, had already made legal provision for Conscientious Objectors. However, the continuing right to object (i.e. the right of people already in the armed services) has proved a more difficult area of jurisprudence, despite its incorporation into international standards. Frank Booth: Conscientious Objector 5
World War One: Conscientious Objection in Britain In Britain, the law introducing conscription in 1916 included a “conscience clause”. Objectors had to face a tribunal to argue their case as to why they should not be called up. Over 16,000 men applied and had to choose one of three categories: “Absolutists” opposed conscription and war and believed that alternative service may support the war effort. Tribunals had the power to offer full exemption to them. “Alternativists” were prepared to undertake civilian work not under military control and they could be exempt from military service on condition they undertook such work as directed. “Non-combatants” were prepared to be called into the army on condition they did not handle weapons at all and the tribunal could agree to put them on the military register with that proviso. However, all too often, the tribunals were influenced by the prevailing jingoistic nationalism and many men were forced into the army or into alternative service against their conscience and ended up in prison. 6 Frank Booth: Conscientious Objector
The brutality of war in the trenches and the horrific attrition rate resulted in more desperate demand for men to replace casualties, adding to the pressure against Objectors. At the front, wounded and shell shocked men were sent back to fight. Once under military orders and mobilised any man refusing an order risked execution. 305 British soldiers were executed for cowardice, desertion or other military offences during the First World War. A memorial to those executed was erected in Staffordshire in 2001. It is a statue modelled on Private Herbert Burden who joined the Northumberland Fusiliers at 16 and was shot for desertion. There was some opposition to conscription and a few brave people who supported the Objectors. The “No-Conscription Fellow ship”, was against any kind of conscription and stated that the act must be repealed in full lest “militarism will fasten its iron grip upon our national life and institutions”. Those who signed its leaflet, primarily from the Independent Labour Party and the Quakers, were all fined or imprisoned. Mainstream history records the
prevailing jingoism and suffragettes handing out white feathers to men not in uniform. However, the suffragists joined with many trade union women in opposing conscription and in Huddersfield there was an active movement demonstrating at tribunals, blocking the arrest of Objectors and the council voted against the call-up. It was to be many years before the brutal treatment of Objectors in the First World War was publicly acknowledged as wrong. On 18th October 1916, 26 year old Harry Farr was executed for cowardice. He had spent two years in the trenches and been hospitalised with shell shock for 5 months. He was unable to hold a pen when he was forced back to the front â€“ he refused. His 21 year old widow lost her pension and she and her three year old child were evicted from their home for non-payment of rent. His own family, who had a military background, disowned him and never spoke his name again and his widow was in no position to resist societal censure. Just before her death she came into contact with Andrew MacKinlay MP, who was leading a campaign to obtain pardons for men like her husband. Harry Farr became a
test case in that campaign and was pardoned in August 2006, ninety years after he had been wrongly executed.
World War Two and national service: Conscientious Objection in Britain There was more humane treatment of Conscientious Objectors in the Second World War and a greater recognition. The tribunal system continued in a similar fashion but a right of appeal to an appellate tribunal, chaired by a High Court Judge, was introduced. The Government recognised and consulted the Central Board for Conscientious Objectors, an umbrella group for groups supporting Objectors, set up in 1939. During World War Two, the numbers of objectors rose to 61,000 and women were, for the first time, required to do some kind of war service. By the end of the war over 5,000 men and 500 women were charged with offences conFrank Booth: Conscientious Objector 7
nected with Conscientious Objection and most were sent to prison. A further 1,000 were courtmartialled and imprisoned for refusing to obey military orders. Despite their greater numbers and more humane treatment, declaring oneself a Conscientious Objector still took considerable courage. Objectors were routinely ostracised, often abused and risked abuse of their families and future job opportunities. War propaganda again bolstered jingoistic sentiments. The fascist nature of the enemy in this war also split the socialists who had been one of the support bases of Objection in the previous war.
Other examples of Conscientious Objection:
Conscription did not end with the end of the war. National Service required men of 18 years to spend two years in the army followed by three and a half years in the national reserves. National service was finally abolished in 1960 and the last conscripts discharged in 1963. Between 1945 and 1960 a further 10,000 Conscientious Objectors registered, some of whom went to prison.
Greece, which requires its male nationals to undertake one year of military service, did not recognise the right of Conscientious Objection until 1998 and between 1950 and 1995 over 3500 Objectors were imprisoned. As always, there was limited support for the Objectors. In 1987 the London based Fall Out Marching Band spent three weeks in Greece supporting Michalis Maragakis who was imprisoned as a Conscientious Objector. Rupert and Mick Kahn, nephews of Frank Booth, were members of the Band and Mick joined the Greek trip.
8 Frank Booth: Conscientious Objector
The US-Vietnamese war (1955 – 1975) resulted in hundreds of thousands of military and civilian casualties in Indo China and just over 58,000 US service members. It also resulted in anti-war protests across the world and a new generation of Conscientious Objectors in the USA. Many “Draft dodgers,” as they become known, left the USA and found sanctuary in other countries – particularly Canada and Scandinavia.
Contemporary wars Throughout the 20th century people were forced to fight in wars against their will and that continues in every continent. Britain is at war in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya and though there is no longer conscription, people in the armed services are being asked to undertake duties against their conscience and refusing to do so. They face court martial for refusing to obey orders, though under international law they have a continuing right of conscientious objection throughout their military service. Conscientious objection is an important and hard won right which needs continual defending but it is the scourge of war itself which is the root of the problem. The pacifists who were the bedrock of the Conscientious Objection movement of the First World War had a much larger vision of peace. The struggle for that vision is in its infancy.
Frank Booth: Conscientious Objector 9
Interview of Frank Booth by Liz Philipson 1 February 2003
10 Frank Booth: Conscientious Objector
[start of Side A] LIZ: So, when did you decide that you were definitely going to be a Conscientious Objector, I mean how long was it before you were called up and how long did you have to think about it? FRANK: I suppose I was brought up in a pacifist household, and therefore, it was inbred to a large extent. We were a Methodist family, and I worked within the Church, Methodist Church. At one point, when I was quite young, I’d been a Sunday School teacher for a while. And since the previous Superintendent of the Sunday School was called up, I was Superintendent of the Sunday School. So, a lot of it of course is Christian origin, and the fact we did grow up in the atmosphere of anti-war, I don’t think I would really have had any other course, I never thought of any other course. LIZ: You never questioned that you might actually... FRANK: No, not that I would ever go and kill, because this was the basis of it all, to inflict suffering on other people, is totally against upbringing.
Liz: And yet the Superintendent of the Sunday School prior to you, had gone. FRANK: He had gone. Yes. LIZ: Did that not make you think? FRANK: No, uhhm, perhaps what made me think more was that my, first, well adopted cousin really, who was 6 years older, with whom I had a very close bond, he was against fighting but he did, I don’t think he actually had to go before a Tribunal, maybe he did, I don’t remember that, but he did not go into the Armed Services, but went into the Royal Army Medical Corps. And, I thought well this was supporting it too closely. So I mean [??] LIZ: mmmh. FRANK: I’d be 18 when I got my Call Up papers, and that would be 1939. No wait a minute, it might have been a little bit later, because the war had been in operation for a while before I actually got the papers. I was working as a journeyman joiner, and this was, to some extent on house building but to a large extent on house repairs. And Frank Booth: Conscientious Objector 11
the, the boss of this small firm was, he accepted the fact that I was a Conscientious Objector, and didn’t make any fuss, until... LIZ: Ok, so the boss of building firm was somewhat sympathetic. FRANK: He wasn’t sympathetic, but he accepted it, and it was, his eldest son was, he’d gone to the Air Force, and then later I think it was after Call Up papers had been issued, that the youngest son also went into the Air Force. And when I finished my apprenticeship, I served that for 7 years, no 6 years, a 6 year apprenticeship, then, when I was 21 he said he couldn’t really accept me as an employee when both his sons were serving in the Forces. I got the push. LIZ: Was he quite nice about that? FRANK: Uhhm, reasonable, it was reasonable. It wasn’t warm. LIZ: Was it a surprise to you? FRANK: [pause] Not entirely, although, [laughs] to a large extent I’d been running the Timber Yard for him as well as doing the joinery work, because the Tipper Yard man had also gone into 12 Frank Booth: Conscientious Objector
the Forces, so that, I suppose I felt a little bit disappointed that that wasn’t accepted that I’d been helping him out and that. But no, I wasn’t really surprised. And then of course I had to go along to the Employment Exchange, and, I don’t remember what the first job was that they offered me, but it was certainly something connected with working for the Forces, as a joiner, because I’d been given a conditional acceptance that I was a C.O., that I continue in my present occupation. And, uhhh, I turned down this job at the Employment Exchange LIZ: You can’t remember what it was? FRANK: I can’t remember what that one was. So, the immediate response to that is “oh well you don’t get any Employment Benefit for 6 weeks” and this happened on another occasion, then I was asked to go locally to fit out a Telephone Exchange. And I accepted that, worked on that. When I was nearing completion of that job, the man said “oh I would like you to come down and do similar work on a building at one of the Army Barracks down South”. So of course I turned that one down,
and got the similar response from the Employment Agency, that, “oh well you’re out of benefit for another 6 weeks”. LIZ: So how many times did you lose benefit? FRANK: Three, or four, I suppose it was three. And then the next proposal was to go and work at Grimsby and Cleethorpes where they’d just had a bomb raid and they were wanting joiners to do work on repairs, so that was quite acceptable. When we’d finished all the repairs, there was a call, at that stage they’d just started sending the Flying Bombs over, V-2 and V-1, and we had a call for Volunteers, I suppose this went out all over the country, generally, and quite a number of the men on the firm I was working for, also volunteered. So we went down, as a unit. LIZ: And this was to rehabilitate following... FRANK: This was to build repairs and, yes, whenever there was an incident we were there the next morning, putting back doors, covering up windows, replacing roofs etc.
LIZ: And the unit you went down with, were other people within that unit C.O.’s? FRANK: No. There was one. One was a Jehovah’s Witness. I’m afraid I didn’t really agree with him a lot [laughs] on a lot of things, but. LIZ: Bad luck, wasn’t it? FRANK: We didn’t [laughs], we didn’t get together at all, really. LIZ: How many were you, in the unit? FRANK: Uhh, it would probably be 15 to 20 men, something like that. This is builders and joiners. LIZ: What, so, the other men, how come they weren’t called up? FRANK: Most of them were over the age of Call Up. Part of them were Irish, who’d come over to work. LIZ: So they weren’t liable? FRANK: They weren’t liable for Call Up. One or two Medical Releases as well. Oh, I’m skipping, prior to the Grimsby job I was sent to work on a hospital, in the counFrank Booth: Conscientious Objector 13
try just south of Lincoln. And this was, for a military hospital, but I really couldn’t quibble on that, and I did 15, 18 months on that. Quite a few of the men were accepting my objections, but there were one or two that didn’t. And, it was a very rough camp that we were living on. And it was suggested that we form a Committee, to improve the conditions on the camp. And they wanted one person from each room. So, none of the men in the room that I was in wanted to be on it, and they pushed me to go on to this Committee. And on one occasion, we were in the Canteen, and the food wasn’t much good, and we were taking it in turns to be on duty to take any complaints and see if we could get them rectified. And one man was “oh I’m not going to eat this, I can’t put up with this stuff ”. I happened to be on duty at that time, I said we’ll have to take it back and see if we could improve it. And he threw it down on the floor, he wasn’t going to have any help from any so and so Conschie. And the Chairman of the Committee, who, he was on duty[?], came along and remonstrated with this chap, and backed me up considerably. I think that was perhaps the only verbal objection I got. There was quite often 14 Frank Booth: Conscientious Objector
an atmosphere of non-acceptance but, he was quite abusive, [...??...] he wouldn’t receive any help. That came in between the working near home, and going to Grimsby. So I was working down in London right through to the end of the war. LIZ: When you went down to London, there was no problems or anything? I mean to what extent did people realise you were a Conscientious Objector, you went down to London with a group of 10 or 15 men, some, the majority of whom weren’t Conscientious Objectors. FRANK: Oh, no they were mainly, there was only this one other person. The rest were supportive of the war, in their views. LIZ: Did you talk about it in the group much? FRANK: Very little. But I’d got an extremely nice Joiner’s Foreman, who was sympathetic. I think he was excused for Medical Reasons. But the fact that I got this support from, helped, and there was an older chap as well, who didn’t agree with me but we got on very well together even though
he didn’t. And the person that I worked with for a lot of the time, came down from the North. And again, he didn’t agree, he didn’t disagree, and we actually worked extremely well together, as a pair. So that I had an easy time as far as that was concerned. LIZ: Do you think that the fact that you were in this group of men and had a sort of place, within the group, was sort of protective, protected you from the sort of onslaughts that you had with this guy in the Canteen? FRANK: Yes, probably. Yes, I think that helped. LIZ: What about, how long did you stay in London? FRANK: [pause] It must have been two and a half years. LIZ: Did you get home at all, during that time? FRANK: Oh yes, we had leave, a long weekend every 6 weeks, long weekend consisted of travelling on Friday, and travelling back on Monday morning[?]. LIZ: And you didn’t have any sort
of discussions or debates within that group? FRANK: No. LIZ: What kept you going, if you like, to some extent although you were insulated from abuse and so on, it still must have been quite an isolated position. FRANK: Well, no, it wasn’t, because prior to leaving home, I’d been introduced to, I suppose is the term, to a Woodcraft Group. No, let me go back a little bit further. Before I registered for Conscientious Objection, I had been going along to Peace Pledge Union, in Chesterfield, where there were quite a lot of Quaker members, and they of course gave me a lot of support. And at one of the meetings we had a lady come along to talk about the work of the Woodcraft Folk, and I was at that time Superintendent of the Sunday School, so I was interested in working with the children anyway. And I saw this as a very valuable way of dealing with children, and went along to a couple of the meetings of the Chesterfield Woodcraft, and started a fellowship in our local village. And so I had been working with children for probFrank Booth: Conscientious Objector 15
ably 3 years, perhaps even a little bit longer, before going away from home. When I was in Grimsby I contacted the local group there, so I used to go along to their meetings. LIZ: This is Woodcraft... FRANK: This is the Woodcraft Folk. And when I was in East Ham I had a very close relationship with the Woodcrafters there, in fact we still continue to correspond LIZ: What, now? FRANK: Oh yes, yeah, yeah. That certainly helped to keep me going. LIZ: So you had FRANK: I had a lot of support LIZ: So you sort of had like-minded people on hand FRANK: That’s right, yes LIZ: So you didn’t feel the need. Did you have any contact with, I can’t remember what they’re called, Central Board for C.O.’s FRANK: Yes, Central Board 16 Frank Booth: Conscientious Objector
LIZ: These are people helping C.O.’s. FRANK: No, no, I didn’t. LIZ: When you were staying particularly in London, the camp you talked about where the person threw the food on the floor, that was in Grimsby was it? FRANK: No, that was earlier, that was building the hospital. Liz: In London, were you in digs, did you have problems getting FRANK: No, to start with we were billeted in a school, because all the children had been evacuated of course at that time. [laughs] I suppose it was rather strange. We went down by coach, and we were waiting to be sent to some accommodation, just outside the station, when the first siren went, that I had experienced, and it was a case of “what do we do now?” sitting here in the coach and AirRaid sirens sounded. And we just looked outside, people were just walking about as per normal, and we thought [laughs] “oh well, if they take it like this we better do the same.” And we were billeted in Wembley Arena, [...??...], it wasn’t the main stand but it was in the
stands in Wembley Pool[?], for two or three days until we were allocated to a district. And of course we were sent out to a district as a unit, this was to East Ham, we were billeted in Manor Park schools LIZ: Oh right! FRANK: for quite a while. LIZ: it? And were you there for all of the war, or just part of FRANK: No, after so long, children were beginning to drift back. I think this would have been after the first onslaught of the rockets, because we got Flying Bombs coming over regularly to start with, and whenever there was an incident in our local areas we had to go out and do repairs. Then there were these loud noises which nobody would explain. and they set up a barrage of firing practice. I suppose it was over at Woolwich, to try and mask the sound of the bombs so that people weren’t thinking that all the noise was coming from the Germans and in fact it was noise from the Woolwich Arsenal. They were trying to cover. LIZ: This was the V-2’s?
FRANK: This was the V-2’s. Of course it soon became common knowledge that after the worst beginnings of the V-2’s children began drifting back, so they wanted the schools back in operation. So we were then sent down to a camp in Canning Town. I don’t know what it had been a base for. It was one big hut with beds set out all along the hut. And I hadn’t been there more than a few months, when the two people around the Woodcraft Fellowship said it must have been rough down there, would I like to go and lodge with them? So I was in clover then of course, that was really Liz: Yeah because then you had got likeminded people, and comfortable, physically comfortable FRANK: That’s right, yes LIZ:... more physically comfort... FRANK: So there’s no wonder we kept in touch. LIZ: Yes. Are they still involved in the Woodcraft Folk? FRANK: Well Wally died a few years ago, and Renee’s still involved, she’s supportive rather Frank Booth: Conscientious Objector 17
18 Frank Booth: Conscientious Objector
Frank Booth (seated at the side of the lorry with his work team in East Ham during the flying bomb (V1) and rocket (V2) attacks on London and district.)
Frank Booth: Conscientious Objector 19
than actually taking an active part. Don’t forget your tea! LIZ: No I’m not! What, when you went to, you said you were sent to Lincoln and sent to FRANK: yeah LIZ: Is that by the Employment Exchange? FRANK: yeah. LIZ: So they sent you. FRANK: We were what they called Designated Craftsmen. The Designated Craftsman was somebody who was a specialist in one particular branch of building work, but if there wasn’t any of that kind of work available at the time, you were put to anything that came up LIZ: [... ?...] labour FRANK: Oh yes, a lot of labouring. I didn’t mind, I didn’t think that mattered at all, because I’ve never been fussy in feeling that I’m a cut above doing rougher work. LIZ: When you said you registered as a C.O., can you talk a bit about the legal procedures you went 20 Frank Booth: Conscientious Objector
through. You got your Call Up papers, would be the start of any legality, yeah? FRANK: Then I had to, I supposed I had to get a form to apply to be registered as a Conscientious Objector, I don’t remember a lot about this. Certainly I had to fill in details, and write a letter with my application, and then just wait for the call to the Tribunal. LIZ: And so, you went in front of the Tribunal in Derby? FRANK: In Derby, yes. As I say the local Minister, I asked him if he for support. I wrote to him to ask if he would support me at the tribunal. LIZ: So what preparations did you make for the Tribunal. You knew the Tribunal was coming, you had a date for it, so, and obviously you knew that you weren’t necessarily going to get... Frank: [laughs] LIZ: ... a sympathetic hearing. FRANK: yes, oh yes LIZ: So what preparations did you
make, both in terms of preparing yourself for it, and in terms of ok contacting the Minister, talking to other people who’d been, what did you do? FRANK: I don’t think I did very much, I suppose these sort of things had been discussed in the Peace Pledge Union meetings, so some extent, not very much, and I had firm views on the fact that I was prepared to go to prison, if it came to that, but LIZ: Did you think it would?
FRANK: yes, but there wasn’t much said there [laughs] because he wasn’t sympathetic. LIZ: So, why did you ask the local Minister for support, if you knew he wasn’t sympathetic? FRANK: Well I didn’t really know anyone of sort of social standing, that would [pause] be the sort of person that a Tribunal would want to listen to. I think when Dad was Objecting, they’d got this little core within the village, which, where they supported each other. Which I hadn’t got, I was rather more on my own, except when I went down to Chesterfield, but of course that was at a distance, it wasn’t
FRANK: Well, I didn’t think there was as much likelihood, I think that the Conscientious Objectors in the First World War had a lot more difficulties, a lot more verbal abuse from, and also much harsher LIZ: So you were the only person interviews before they registered, in your village? and I was aware that things were easier in the Second World War. FRANK: No, a friend of mine who But I don’t remember doing any was younger, and also went before particular preparations a Tribunal, he was already at College at Nottingham LIZ: Other than... LIZ: So at the time you were the FRANK: Well, mentally thinking it only one, but there were others through before, and after? LIZ: and speaking to the local Minister
FRANK: I didn’t know anyone who’d been Frank Booth: Conscientious Objector 21
LIZ: So you were the first one as far as you knew, from your village. And then as far as you knew, there was only one after you. FRANK: Yeah. LIZ: Is this the same village as your father had previously FRANK: Yes. LIZ: So there’s an interesting contrast between the two. FRANK: That’s, oh yes. I wouldn’t really know a lot. LIZ: So ok the Minister wasn’t sympathetic, but this was the only person that you felt was going to, that you were going to be able to ask to stand up in front of a Tribunal. FRANK: Yeah. It was really a case of somebody who knew the sort of things I was doing, because as I say I was working in the Sunday School, and also they had this Youth Club[?], and he was able to vouch for that, and he did vouch for the sincerity of my opinions, and that was really the purpose of that 22 Frank Booth: Conscientious Objector
LIZ: So he was willing at least.. FRANK: oh yes LIZ: to go and say this man has done these things FRANK: that’s right LIZ: and I believe him to be sincere even though I disagree with him FRANK: yes, that was exactly right. LIZ: And so did he say very much? FRANK: Not a lot. LIZ: Was he asked very much? FRANK: No, it was mainly just as you’ve expressed it. LIZ: And what about you, did they question you very much? FRANK: Not a lot. LIZ: And then, did they ask you, they would ask you all the questions about whether you were prepared to accept Designated Work.
FRANK: Yes. LIZ: But apart from that, was there anything that sticks in your mind from the Tribunal, that was unexpected maybe? Frank: No, I’d not expected a sympathetic group of people [... ??...] and, they were, they were cold questions really. There was obviously no sympathy for my point of view. LIZ: Were there any other problems that arose from being a C.O., other problems other than, I thought about Employment and I thought about Housing, but was there anything else?
shy, which didn’t help a lot. But yes, it did me good to be away, to not have to depend on the support. LIZ: How many brothers and sisters have you got? FRANK: Just one, my sister. LIZ: Have you got any documents or records from that time at all? I mean you could probably, there will be a transcript somewhere of your hearing FRANK: the Tribunal, yes, I hadn’t realised that until this one cropped up about
FRANK: I don’t think so.
LIZ: It would be interesting to see
LIZ: Was having to be away from home a particular problem, or was that an adventure itself in some ways?
FRANK: At that stage, I had never felt that I wanted to be away from home. But I accepted it as a necessity, and I realised quite soon after that, that it was actually a good thing for me to have to go away, and stand on my own two feet. I think I’d always been a fairly independent person, a bit of a loner I suppose, but I was always quite
LIZ: I don’t know how you do it but.... And you haven’t got any letters or anything like that, from that. Did you write home? Frank: Oh yes, yeah. In fact most of the time, I used to send a parcel of washing home every week and received one back again. I didn’t have to do my own washing [laughs]. LIZ: And you sent it by the ordinary post? Frank Booth: Conscientious Objector 23
FRANK: Oh yeah. LIZ: Did a lot a people do that? FRANK: I suppose so, I don’t even know. But Mum had provided some denim[?] material which wrapped it up quite nicely, I could make a very firm parcel with this, which withstood quite a long time, with washing going backwards and forwards. LIZ: [laughs] FRANK: I think another thing that helped was that when I started doing the Woodcraft Folk, I’d never done any camping before, and I quickly learned how to camp, how to take youngsters camping, with the strong support of my sister I must say, and the fact that I knew how to look after myself and camp, certainly helped looking after myself when I was working away. LIZ: One of the things was, that I came across a lot in the stuff in the Imperial War Museum, was debates begins Absolutists and Alternativists, was the, these Alternativists these were the people who were Designated Workers, yes? 24 Frank Booth: Conscientious Objector
FRANK: Well not necessarily, this was only in the Building Industries, the Designated Craftsmen, but they were the ones who were willing to accept Alternative Service. LIZ: Right, yeah. FRANK: yeah LIZ: And a lot of this, a lot of the references and a lot of the stuff in the Imperial War Museum’s private letters and diaries, from Alternativists who are trying to sort out their own ideas about what they felt was appropriate work, and what was the distance that they could make from the War Machine if you like Frank: yeah LIZ: Can you remember thinking about this very much? FRANK: Yes [pause] I was quite aware of that. I had been taking “Peace News” regularly for quite a while, and of course these sort of things came up quite frequently LIZ: I take “Peace News” now
FRANK: Yes? I’ve not seen it for a long time [laughs] LIZ: When we go I’ll show you that [laughs] FRANK: Because there were discussions as to whether one should be Absolute in one’s Objections, or whether it was compromising your own ideas to have some kind of alternative work. But you couldn’t, in my view, you couldn’t separate yourself from society to that extent. And I suppose it made it easier that I was told that I was to continue in the occupation that I was already doing, which I loved doing, so, that of course made it easier. LIZ: Yeah, I think there was somebody in the First World War actually, in one of the papers, who was working on the railways, and who had a terrible debate of conscience. Because he was working on the railways, he was allowed, he didn’t even have the question of declaring himself FRANK: yeah, yeah LIZ: as a Conscientious Objector, he had this big debate of conscience as to whether he should
be hiding behind that, or whether he should be declaring himself. Which is an inversion FRANK: Of course, yes, because there were quite a lot of people at that time, who went into agriculture, in fact the two men with whom I worked at the joiner’s shop, they both went, one had a smallholding and went to work on that, the other one was a farmer’s son, and he went to work on his father’s farms and so of course LIZ: they were exempt FRANK: they were exempt. LIZ: What was the attitude toward, I mean Conscientious Objectors potentially, certainly Absolutists were risking a certain ignominy FRANK: oh yes LIZ: in contemporary society. What was the attitude generally within the circles of Conscientious Objectors, to those people who sought exempt occupations without going down the Conscientious Objector route, was there any debate about that, or not? FRANK: Not that I can remember. Frank Booth: Conscientious Objector 25
Frank Booth 1946
26 Frank Booth: Conscientious Objector
There might have been, but not that I was aware of, no. LIZ: Did you have any views about that though? FRANK: Not really, no. You see you certainly couldn’t condemn somebody for not going to fight, when you weren’t intending to yourself. Obviously within this area some went into the mines. LIZ: also exempt[?]. And, in terms of Absolutes and Alternativists, that you felt that you couldn’t separate yourself from society and from the daily life that people were living... FRANK: yeah LIZ: which meant that you felt comfortable with the Alternative path of Conscientious Objection. But you yourself, during that time you refused to do certain jobs FRANK: yes LIZ: so you were constantly having to kind of evaluate FRANK: that’s true, yes. The hospital that we were building, at Lincoln, I was perhaps slightly un-
comfortable to start with, because I knew that it was going to be a military hospital, but there again I felt that I couldn’t refuse to do that sort of work, because of the necessity of it LIZ: the humanitarian FRANK: yes LIZ: Did you discuss these discomforts with different people? Or did you just think about them? FRANK: A little bit at home, I think, with Mum and Dad, but LIZ: What was their attitude? How did they, did they recommend things to you? FRANK: No, they accepted LIZ: They just let you talk your way through it FRANK: yes, yes. Strange, really, we didn’t do a lot of talking in depth at home. And yet we were quite a close knit family, and I was well aware of what my Dad’s attitude was, and when I think about it it was probably things that Mother had spoken of in earlier life, as to his objections and how Frank Booth: Conscientious Objector 27
he stood out [...??...] really come through that[?] LIZ: The, at the time of the Second World War, certainly with hindsight there’s been a lot of arguments made that the fight against fascism made such a qualitatively different war. I don’t know how much that was realised that it was a fight against fascism at the time FRANK: oh yes, yes LIZ: but I think that certainly for people on the left, there was an awareness of fascism in Europe, through Spain earlier particularly, and the Volunteers going to Spain FRANK: That’s right, yes LIZ: and of course Italy. But did you know anybody who had volunteered to go to Spain? FRANK: No, but I was fully aware of the way in which a lot of leftwing people were giving their support by fighting for Spanish people against the Franco regeime. LIZ: What did you think about that? FRANK: very sympathetic 28 Frank Booth: Conscientious Objector
LIZ: It’s quite a complicated issue. FRANK: I know LIZ: That is why I’m asking [laughs] I mean how did you feel about all that in relation to your own positions, and how you FRANK: Very sympathetic to their stance, but I still couldn’t justify taking up arms. LIZ: How did that, was there within Pacifist circles, I mean Conscientious Objection is another question really, but was there a notion of some kind of support for Spain, of how one could support people in Spain who were fighting against fascism, other than through force of arms? Was there any [end of Side A] [start of Side B] LIZ: So we’re talking about Spain, and how that, how old were you at the time of that – 1936, you must have been very young. FRANK: 1935 LIZ: 36
FRANK: [inaudible]. No, I hadn’t [?haven’t] resolved just how one reacts to [oppression?...], I’m afraid, I tend to come back to, well, if we are to use war as a means of sorting out conflict, then we should have sorted out some of the causes of war beforehand. But that’s not answering. LIZ: Were you, I mean I think in the letter that I’ve had a copy of, I don’t know if you saw the one from[?] A.A. Milne [?? – as heard] FRANK: yes LIZ: and in that he said that he stopped calling himself a pacifist, even though he was a Quaker, he started calling himself a Practical Pacifist, and he says “I believe war is a lesser evil than Hitlerism and that Hitlerism must be killed [? – or cured?] before war can be killed [? – or cured?]”. I mean that kind of debate must have been quite common in that circle. FRANK: yes Liz: Did, to what extent did ordinary people in that circle see Hitlerism as being something special, or was it just seen as being another
kind of imperialist war? FRANK: I think, in the early days, I don’t suppose I was really among left-wing thinkers very much, but a lot of young folk, a bit older than myself, used to see Hitler as a rather comic figure, and it was only very much closer to the beginning of the war, and in fact not until the war started that they realised there was so much that was sinister about it and him. LIZ: Is that to do with the sort of rhetoric, because obviously once war started the British Government was interested in portraying Hitler as a very sinister figure as well? FRANK: oh yes, yeah. LIZ: So how much is that to do with, if you like, any political analysis and how much is it to do with, just the influence of the press and change in the press generally? FRANK: I think it would probably be the latter [... ??...] as I say, I wasn’t concerned really within political circles, apart from the atmosphere at home. LIZ: And what about the whole Frank Booth: Conscientious Objector 29
question of the Jews in Germany, was that something that ordinary people knew about? FRANK: We only knew a little, we knew some. And, as far as people in the country, by country I mean in the rural surroundings are concerned, our society wasn’t very active thinking about folk in Germany. But, at the same time, I was aware that in East London there had been a lot of, even hatred of the Jewish communities in the East End and that they wished the Jews to be out of the way so there was sympathy for the Hitler treatment, at the same time. LIZ: So it was not only anti-Semitic but also jingoistic, also British jingoistic, were they also? FRANK: Oh yeah LIZ: So they were holding slightly contrary positions? FRANK: Yeah, yes, that’s true. LIZ: But [pause] the, I mean it’s quite difficult to get a hold of this whole sort of question, however many years on we are from the war, because of all, everything’s been stripped back 30 Frank Booth: Conscientious Objector
FRANK: oh yes, yeah LIZ: and it’s like, you know, the whole thing of South Africa where sort of 30 years ago people were not uncomfortable to be designated as supporters of apartheid FRANK: yeah LIZ: whereas now everybody was outside the South African Embassy, and the same thing applies, so I’m trying to get into the sort of thinking at the time, and what impact that would have had on ordinary Conscientious Objectors, not the eloquent people who were involved in, not the A.A. Milne’s of this world, but ordinary people and how much they would have known, and how much that knowledge would have, whether they would have had enough knowledge to wrestle with their Conscientious positions or not, really. FRANK: I think we were, again this goes back to family, to a large extent, we were very much aware about the propaganda that was put out, and were very loath to accept as truth a lot of the things that were said, during the war. And, I
suppose that helps one’s position. I mean if you were to accept all the things that are put into the papers LIZ: as propaganda FRANK: yes, then it would make it much harder to sustain your objections. I suppose we were very critical at that time. LIZ: Moving on, to [pause] looking now, the world as it is now, I mean we’ve talked about Conscientious Objection very much, because that’s linked inexorably to Pacifism in a broader sense FRANK: yes LIZ: but do you think that any of the moral issues that were raised by Conscientious Objection were made redundant with the ending of National Service? FRANK: I don’t think so, no. No, I think the same things would apply, even though one wasn’t expecting to be called to [...??...] Armed Service, I would certainly still object to participation, as with this present situation. I don’t think war is the right way to go about solving problems.
LIZ: I mean in a sense by Conscientious Objecting you’re making a very public statement about your position, which also would have, or one presumed you’d hope would have an example effect, that it was possible to object in this way FRANK: Yeah, mnnh hmmnh LIZ: And you were doing that by opting out of what was put forward as your duty. FRANK: yes LIZ: Now, if one wants to make a public statement about war, or against war, it’s almost as if that option isn’t there. FRANK: yes LIZ: So anybody wanting to make a public statement has to find other ways of making public statements. So, and certainly some of the more radical peace organisations equate Non-Violent Direct Action, with Conscientious Objection FRANK: yes, mmnh hmnh LIZ: because of the same risks on a personal level. Would you see Frank Booth: Conscientious Objector 31
that as being, can you make that relationship, do you think? FRANK: Yes, but I think probably by now, I’m taking the easy option and not doing anything very much about it. It would be when CND started marching and indeed during the end of the war. I was glad to join similar action and have retained support just by membership of CND, and sympathy to the action that had been taken. But not, I don’t know anything about it really. LIZ: No, but for instance what would you say if one of your older grandchildren got involved in, I don’t know, say attacks on Hawk missiles, these civilian attacks on Hawk missiles FRANK: yeah Liz: where they’d be risking quite a lot, I mean certainly [...??...] FRANK: yes , but they would be supported! LIZ: they would, would you feel proud of them, or would you feel nervous for them? FRANK: Well both! Definitely, 32 Frank Booth: Conscientious Objector
yes. I’d feel nervous for what they’d have to go through, but I’d feel proud of the stand they were taking, yes. LIZ: Do you think that war is more prevalent, or less prevalent than it was at the time you were a Conscientious Objector, I mean it’s hard to say because you were in the middle of a World War at that time, but the tendency to move towards war? FRANK: Well, I think there have been a lot more, shall we say small wars. I don’t think there were the same, sort of limited conflicts, it all came in a big outburst, the First World War. Whether there were any, a lot of lesser things in between those wars, I’m not sure. But I think that peoples have felt that they have enough power today to revolt against intolerable[?] living conditions and I suppose there’s been the greater influence of being in contact with more of the rest of the world [...??... ??...] and [...??...] they are the ones that usually haven’t succeeded, but just resulted in a different dictatorship [...??...]. I think it rather shows that war doesn’t very often achieve the object that it set out to achieve in the first place.
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Additional sources of information:
34 Frank Booth: Conscientious Objector
Peace Organisations http://www.peacenews.info Peace News: a regular magazine for peace activists http://wri-irg.org/en War Resisters International (WRI): an international organisation offering direct support to individual resisters and campaigning on extending the principle of conscientious objection http://www.warresisters.org War Resisters League: A UK branch of WRI http://warresisters.wordpress.com War Resister’s League Blog http://www.whitepoppy.org.uk The white poppy for peace is worn on remembrance day instead of red poppies. “The White Poppy symbolises the belief that there are better ways to resolve conflicts than killing strangers.” http://www.ppu.org.uk Founded in 1934, the Peace Pledge Union is the oldest secular pacifist organisation in Britain. http://www.iwm.org.uk The Imperial War Museum has much material which not only glorifies war but also imperialism. Nevertheless it holds an interesting archive of personal papers of conscientious objectors and another on pacifists. These archives can be viewed at the museum by appointment
Individual Conscientious Objectors: First World War http://www.history.com/this-day-in-history/british-soldier-henry-farrexecuted-for-cowardice Henry Farr Frank Booth: Conscientious Objector 35
Second World War http://justus.anglican.org/resources/bio/224.html Jagersatter Franz Iraq and Afghanistan http://www.exacteditions.com/exact/browse/385/419/8606/3 /3 Michael Lyons and Mohsin Khan
Books Baker, George. The soul of a skunk; the autobiography of a conscientious objector. Scholartis Press 1930 An Objector from the First World War tells the story of his imprisonment for refusing to bear arms and his experiences at the hands of others Brock, Peter. Liberty and Conscience: A documentary history of Conscientious Objectors in America through the Civil War. OUP USA 2002. Based on a rich collection of documents on a war rarely covered from this perspective, this book illuminates the critical role of religion in the history of US pacifism Brock, Peter. These strange criminals: An anthology of Prison Memoirs by Conscientious Objectors from the Great War to the Cold War. University of Toronto Press 2004. This anthology gives voice to imprisoned objectors from UK, US, Canada, New Zealand and Australia. The editor is a pre-eminent peace historian. Bryan, Alex. Bloody Conchie! Quaker Home Service 1986. A memoir of a Quaker Objector imprisoned during World War II. Boulton, David. Objection Overruled. London, MacGibbon and Kee 1967. A study of those groups and movements in England that were opposed to World War 1. 36 Frank Booth: Conscientious Objector
Corns, Catherine and Hughes-Wilson, John. Blindfold and alone. Cassell and Co. 2001. A record of British Military executions during World War 1. Daly, James; Bergman, Lee and; Loeb, Jeff. Black Prisoner of War: A Conscientious Objector’s Vietnam Memoir. University Press of Kansas 2000. Chronicles the story of James Daly, a young black soldier held captive by the Viet Cong and North Vietnamese and subsequently accused (and acquitted) of collaboration with the enemy. Delgado, Aiden. The Sutras of Abu Ghraib: Notes from a Conscientious Objector in Iraq. Beacon Press 2007. Describes the journey of a Buddhist US soldier from fighting to Objection. Elster, Ellen and Sorensen, Majken Jul. Women and Conscientious Objection An Anthology. War Resisters International 2010. Includes World War 2 entries from UK, Sweden, Germany, France, Belgium plus subsequent Objections in Israel, Eritrea, USA, Turkey, Korea, Paraguay, and Colombia. Pearce, Cyril. Comrades in Conscience: The Story of an English Community’s Opposition to the Great War. Francis Boutle 2001. Records the vibrant opposition to the First World War in Huddersfield where socialists, Christian pacifists and wealthy non-conformists liberals combined and lays lie to the oft paraded image of jingoism and women handing out white feathers. Weller, Ken. Don’t be a soldier! The Journeyman Press 1985. A description of the radical anti-war movement in North London 1914-1918. Gioglio, Gerald R. Days of Decision: An oral history of Conscientious Objectors during the Vietnam War. Green Décor 1989.
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