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Conscientious Objector Day 2020 Blog

May 15, 20209:12 amOctober 5, 2023 9:32 amLeave a Comment

This year to mark International Conscientious Objector Day, our admin and education assistant Rosie has written the following blog sharing the stories of pacifists William and Arthur Raistrick, both from Bradford. 

Conscientious Objector (CO) Day, 15TH of May, is an important time within the peace movement. The day was first established in 1985 to remember those brave souls who held their pacifist beliefs during war time, as well as peace time. Being a CO was tested in Britain during World War one in 1916, when conscription was introduced. Men between the ages of 18-41 were called on to fight, later the age was increased to 51. Over 16,000 men claimed exception from military service under the 1916 Conscription Act. Their reasons varied from moral, religious, and political. To judge whether their claims had any sincerity, the CO’s were called to tribunals to put forth their case. These were very often not places of fair judgment, the interviewers made up of at least one military personnel, whose aim was to bolster the army. The judgement was regularly rejected, and CO’s were sent into the army or to some other work that helped the war. Over one third of the 16,000 CO’s went to prison at least once. I want to take this time to tell you about two of those CO’S.

William (1880-1958) and Arthur (1896-1991) Raistrick were from Bradford. George Raistrick, the father of Arthur and brother of William was a strong trades unionist and was involved in the formation of the Independent Labour Party (ILP) in Bradford. Arthur and William were from a very tight knit family in Saltaire. In 1916, they had attended an ILP meeting in Nelson and were walking the long journey home across Haworth Moor, when they were set upon by police and arrested. Arthur was charged with not registering for military service, he was only nineteen years old. He was sent to the Military Barracks in York where he was sentenced, and then sent to Wormwood Scrubs. William who was a tinsmith, had been married to Laura for fourteen years. They lived together on Field Street, Shipley. He appeared before a military tribunal in Shipley and was given a certificate of non-combative service, which to most CO’s was still problematic as it was still helping the war carry on. So, in 1917 he was charged, along with friend and local newsagent Smith Pickles, and found guilty of being absent under the Military Service Act, he was fined and also sent to Wormwood Scrubs. The Saltaire Times reported ‘There were in Court many women sympathisers’. Bradford has a strong unionist and socialist history and the ILP took a stance against militarism.

Arthur saw his uncle in the exercise yard and spoke to him, for which he was placed in solitary confinement in the Punishment Block. Incidentally, they both spoke in Yorkshire dialect, so what they said was not understood down south in Wormwood Scrubs. On release from solitary the Governor asked Arthur if he was trustworthy, and, on discovering he was trained as an engineer, gave him the locks and keys to maintain. Arthur used the opportunity to pass messages between the COs, including Smith Pickles and Uncle William. When this was discovered the COs were placed in solitary confinement and Arthur was sentenced to two more years imprisonment, without remission. He was sent to Seaton Carew military prison, in Hartlepool. There he was ‘court martialled’ for refusing to put on a uniform, sent to the army cells and received some ‘rough treatment’. Later he was sent to Durham Gaol. Again, Arthur became a trusted inmate and was signed up to library duty. He was released in September 1919, ten months after the war finished. Belatedly he took his place at Leeds University and went on to become a scholar in mechanical engineering and geology.

Both Arthur and William became CO’s because of political grounds. The IPL believed in equality and humanity of all people and this transgressed warzones. Arthur, William, and Smith became Quakers after they were released. The Quakers were visited the CO’s in prison as their beliefs were inline with pacifist.

Written by Ezra Kingston

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