Home Office Scheme: Dyce and Dartmoor Work Camps

In June 1916, the Government introduced a scheme to try and reduce the numbers of conscientious objectors in prison. All imprisoned conscientious objectors were to have their cases reviewed. Those believed to be genuine would be released from prison, provided they accepted to undertake work of "national importance" under the control of a new civilian committee, in what came to be known as the Home Office Scheme. Any man who refused, or whose plea of conscience failed to satisfy the Tribunal, would be returned to gaol to complete his sentence. Many of the imprisoned Lewisham and Deptford conscientious objectors were willing to go along with the new proposals, and 31 who were declared to possess a 'genuine' objection to the war were referred to the Home Office Scheme, eventually 19 refused to co-operate while Albert Edward Allen was held not to be a genuine conscientious objector and Archibald Miles was held to be unconvincing and remained in prison. [1]

Many conscientious objectors (COs) believed that “work of national importance” would at least be beneficial to the country, but from the start a spirit of punishment and retribution bedeviled the scheme. The fact that Dr, John McCallum, formerly the Medical Officer of Health for Argyll, was sent as a labourer to an artificial manure manufacturers in Edinburgh, shows that the desire to punish individual COs took precedence over the well being of the many. [2] The war cabinet demanded and element of sacrifice and equality of suffering from its COs, [3] although quite how they hoped to replicate trench warfare did not seem to cross their mind. Other COs worked making fertiliser from dead animals and on manual labour for non-existent projects, stone breaking, replacing plough horses or building roads in rural areas. A number of Lewisham's conscientious objectors rejected the scheme once its purpose became obvious. Among them Horace Valentine Fuller left road building, Edward Harby went absent without leave to protest about the scheme and the Rose brothers rejected the scheme after two months at the Dyce Work Camp.

Dyce Work Camp
Many COs were sent to work camps. Dyce, near Aberdeen, was the most notorious. The men had no housing other than tents, the clothing provided was absolutely inadequate, and they were put to work in a quarry breaking rocks. Opened in the summer, by October the camp was a quagmire, the tents leaked, there was nowhere to dry clothes, and the men were constantly wet. When the first CO to lose his life because of ill-treatment Walter Roberts from Stockport died, the authorities were forced to close the camp down.

Lewisham Conscientious Objectors known to have been sent to Dyce:

Dartmoor or the Princetown Work Centre


Another camp was based at Dartmoor and the prison, renamed the Princetown Work Centre, housed about 1,000 conscientious objectors. Here too the work undertaken by the COs was hard and of a type previously carried out by convicts, breaking stones, sewing mailbags or replacing horses on land work, but at least the clothing provided was more suited to the work undertaken. There were no locks on the cell doors and the COs could associate freely with each other, a delight for many who had experienced months of the prison rule of silence. One CO Eric Dott felt that if you were young and fit you could enjoy your time there to some extent, but if you were ill you received no treatment, and another CO, Henry Firth from Norwich, was to die there from neglect. The health of older COs and those with chronic illnesses suffered. Nevertheless, the Daily Express, some MPs, and many locals were hostile towards them. The public objected to the supposed “coddling” of COs, and the Bishop of Exeter refused men use of the prison chapel.

Lewisham Conscientious Objectors known to have been sent to Dartmoor:

Knutsford, Wakefield and other work-camps
Lewisham and Deptford COs were also sent to other work-camps such as Knutsford, Wakefield and some smaller projects, such as road building and tree felling. Details can be found in individual biographies.

1. Cyril Pearce, University of Leeds, Pearce Register of British Conscientious Objectors (database).
2. T.E. Harvey asked two questions in the House, 14 June and 18 June, 1917 about Dr. McCallum's skills being wasted. No-Conscription Fellowship. London, The C.O.'s Hansard. 27 July 1916-10 April 1919.
3. John W. Graham, Conscription and Conscience, Augustus M. Kelley, reprint NY 1969 pp 169-173

Felicity Goodall, We Will Not Go to War : Conscientious Objection during the World Wars, The History Press, Stroud, 2010
John W. Graham, Conscription and Conscience, Augustus M. Kelley, reprint NY 1969
John Rae, Conscience and Politics: The British Government and the Conscientious Objector to Military Service 1916-1919, London OUP 1970.
Jo Vellacott, Conscientious Objection:Bertrand Russell and the Pacifists in the First World War, Spokesman Books London, 2015 edition

Web Pages
Peace Pledge Union - History of Dyce http://www.ppu.org.uk/cosnew/cos14.html
Peace Pledge Union - History of Dartmoor Work Centre http://www.ppu.org.uk/coproject/coww1a6.html

Images For information on group photographs of COs in workcamps see www.ppu.org.uk/cosnew/cos16.html|. Many were taken to be sent to relatives to reassure them.

Ann O'Brien, Volunteer at Lewisham Local History and Archives Centre, April 2014, Revised September 2015

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