Allen, Albert Edward

He was born in Croydon and was 35 in 1917

1 North Terrace, Fairlawn Park, Sydenham,

Albert Edward Allen was a carpenter and trade unionist, a member of the Amalgamated Society of Carpenters and Joiners, the Dulwich Branch of the No-Conscription Fellowship, and the Independent Labour Party.

Conscientious Objection during the First World War
The Lewisham Borough News March 17, 1916 reported his appearance before the Military Service Tribunal and his statement that that he had conscientious objections to all war, especially this war because of the scientific slaughter that was going on and to taking human life either directly or indirectly. He disputed the right of any government to say whether he should take part in warfare and said that he was not a member of any religious body and objected on moral grounds. He was refused recognition as a conscientious objector.

He was arrested on 1 June, 1916 as an absentee and was taken under guard to be conscripted into the 10 Battalion, London Regiment. He was court martialled at Hurdcott (Salisbury) camp on 12 June and sentenced to nine months hard labour, his appeal was heard by the Central Tribunal at Wormwood Scrubs on 4 August, and he was deemed a Conscientious Objector Class-C political to remain in prison.

Prison experiences

Albert was an absolutist and now began a cycle of disobeying orders, being sentenced to a period of hard labour in civilian prison, and on discharge being handed back to the army for the cycle to recommence. From 1916 to 1919, he would serve three sentences of hard labour in Wormwood Scrubs, Exeter, Wandsworth, Brixton and Portsmouth prisons.

Mrs S. Cahill who visited him in Exeter Prison in 1917 wrote to the Parliamentary secretary of the NCF, Catherine Marshall on the 26 August that he was "feeling gloomy and thinking the stand he was taking was useless as no one knew anything about it. Since then I have had two letters from him which are much more cheerful in tone, but in the last he speaks very badly of his health". In another letter sent to Miss Rinder at the NCF head office on the same day, she copied part of a letter from Albert and express alarm about the state of his health as he was a man who was "very big and strong'.

He was one of 120 absolutists who were sent to Wakefield prison in what became known as the Wakefield experiment. The absolutists were offered relatively comfortable conditions as long as they obeyed prison rules. The ‘experiment’ was a failure as they continued to ignore the rules; large numbers of prison officers were needed to control them; the majority ended up in solitary confinement and all were eventually sent back in small groups to other prisons. Albert was sent to Portsmouth.

Conscientious Objectors still in prison in April 1919 were released under what became known as the “Two Year Rule”, whereby all prisoners convicted of army offences would be released if they had served two years or more. When Albert was released, as with all others in this situation, he was dishonourably discharged from the army and was told that he faced another two years in prison if he tried to sign up again!

He was supported in his stand by membership of No-Conscription Fellowship, Dulwich Branch, and the Independent Labour Party.

After the War
As a conscientious objector who had been court-martialled and imprisoned, Albert would not have been allowed vote for five years from the end of the war.

Cyril Pearce, University of Leeds, Pearce Register of British Conscientious Objectors
Lewisham Borough News March 17, 1916
Dulwich N-C.F What are Conscientious Objectors? July 1917 in the Cumbria Archive Centre ref:D/Mar/4/97
Letter from Mrs S. Cahill, Secretary, Dulwich Branch NCF to Miss Catherine Marshall, Parliamentary Secretary of the NCF held with Miss Mashall's papers Cumbria Archive Centre, copied with their permission.
Letter from Mrs S. Cahill, Secretary, Dulwich Branch NCF to Miss Catherine Marshall, Parliamentary Secretary of the NCF held with Miss Mashall's papers Cumbria Archive Centre Ref D/Mar/4/39 copied with their permission.

Ann O'Brien, Volunteer at Lewisham Local History and Archives Centre, May 2014, revised August 2015

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