July 25, 1894 to July 28, 1989
45 Broadfield Road, Catford
Wilfred George Bligh* was single and a draper. He lived at this address with his father Frederick George, his mother Charlotte Ann, brother Harold Willoughby and sister Margaret, he was the eldest child. He was a Congregationalist and a member of the Dulwich Branch of the No-Conscription Fellowship and the Fellowship of Reconciliation.
Conscientious Objection during the First World War
His appearance before the Military Service Tribunal in Lewisham was reported in the Lewisham Borough News on March 17 1916. He was described in a letter of support as a sincere and devoted young Christian man who attended Hither Green Congregational Church. Wilfred told the tribunal that "he had a conscientious objection to war and believed that the present war would cease, if the majority refused to have any part in it". He also believed in the universal brotherhood of man and objected to war because it involved the destruction and injury of his fellow men, and said that if he took the non-combatant certificate he would be in "the machine". The chairman of the Tribunal remarked what distinguished this war from all that had preceded it was the absence of disease because of the measures taken to prevent it and that far from taking life he could be helping save lives. (Note: this was at a time when trench fever, a disease of squalor spread by lice, was endemic among the troops in the Western Front).
Wilfred was arrested as an absentee and his appearance at the Greenwich police-court was reported in the Kentish Mercury on May 26, 1916 under the headline More Lewisham Laggards : “Peculiar or Convenient Views? Appearing in court with him on 24 May were Herbert Henry Miles and Archibald Miles. Considered the ring leader Edward Harby appeared the previous day. Wilfred was from the court taken under escort to 36th Battalion Royal Fusiliers at Mill Hill Barracks and was court martialled at Shoreham on 30 June. He was sentenced to one-year commuted to 112 days and was imprisoned in Lewis. At the Central Tribunal held at Wormwood Scrubs on 17 August, he was found to be a genuine conscientious objector and was referred to the Home Office Scheme.
He worked under the Home Office Scheme at Denton Camp and the Wakefield Work Centre.
He was a member of the Fellowship of Reconciliation and was also supported in his actions by the No-Conscription Fellowship, Dulwich Branch. In H.S Moate Autograph Book (Pearce Collection) 1918 there is a poem and a water-color of his.
After the First World War
He is shown on the 1920 Electoral Register living at the same address.
Note:* His name is shown as 'Blyth' in the Lewisham Borough News and as 'Blyh' in the Central Tribunal Records, but Kelly's Directory and the 1911 census confirms that Bligh is the correct spelling.
His daughter Katharine Bligh wrote on 25 July, 2015:
He was born at Hither Green then in the county of Kent where there were still green fields and when he was about five or six the family moved to Catford. His father was Frederick George Bligh and his name should be in the 1911 census and the electoral roll too (I haven’t checked). I was interested to see that my father’s name is still on the Lewisham electoral roll in 1920 because by then he was actually in Jordans in South Bucks. In the first two or three years after the First World War the new village of Jordans was being built to preserve the character of the countryside. My father was one of the founder members of the village and lived in a hut while his parents built the house where he subsequently lived until his death on 28 July 1989, aged 95. During the war, I think when he was in Wakefield, he met, or corresponded with, a fellow CO, Fenner, later Lord, Brockway and they became friends. When Fenner was MP for Slough, just eight miles away, they saw each other from time to time and both were involved in CND of which Fenner was a co-founder and took part in the first Aldermaston to London march in 1958 and subsequent marches from Aldermaston to London.
I have in my possession a picture my father painted of his cell in Wakefield. It is very dismal and bare with a floor of stone slabs and bare brick walls, a wooden stool, a tin dish for his food, a bucket for a toilet, a long wooden board (presumably his bed) stood up on end against the wall with a pillow resting on top and a small window set high in the wall. There is also a towel hanging on a hook in the wall and a very small corner shelf on which sits a few items including a mug and four books.
25 July 2015
Cyril Pearce, University of Leeds, Pearce Register of British Conscientious Objectors
Lewisham Borough News March 17, 1916
Kentish Mercury May 26 1916
Dulwich N-C.F What are Conscientious Objectors? July 1917 in the Cumbria Archive Centre ref:D/Mar/4/97
Ann O'Brien, Volunteer at Lewisham Local History and Archives Centre, May 2014, revised July 2015
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