Cahill, William Phillip

He was born in Lewisham in July 1889 he died on December 4, 1963

William Philip Cahill lived at 60, Limes Grove, Lewisham together with his wife Harriet (nee Dobson) whom he had married in October 1914. William was the Chief Clerk in the foreign correspondence department of a controlled Greenwich firm. He described himself as a free-thinker and an agnostic who objected to the war entirely on moral grounds. He was a member of the Dulwich Branch of the No-Conscription Fellowship, his mother Sarah Cahill was the branch secretary in 1917.

Conscientious Objection during the First World War
William's appearance before the Lewisham Military Service Tribunal was reported in the Lewisham Borough News on August 11, 1916 under the sub-heading Expected Sentence of Death. He is reported as saying that he had been offered a war badge conditional on his going on the war work that his firm were doing, but he declined to do so. He told the tribunal he was prepared to continue to do the work he was currently doing as it was entirely connected with the firm's export trade, but as he believed absolutely in the sanctity of life he was unwilling to undertake any work, even burying the dead in France, that he considered essentially part of the military operations. He believed that were he to be sent to France he would probably be sentenced to death "the same as 34 other conscientious objectors had been". He was granted a non-combatant certificate and said he would appeal.

His appeal was heard at the Metropolitan Asylums Board Tribunal and is reported The Kentish Mercury, September 6, 1916 under the sub-heading The Spartan Mother New Style as he asked his mother to confirm that he had held beliefs as a conscientious objector for practically all his life.

Prison experiences

William was an absentee and his arrest was reported on 29 December, 1916. He had been taken under guard to the 17 London Regiment and first court-martialled at Winchester on 24 November when he was sentenced to two years hard labour in Wormwood Scrubs prison. At the Central Tribunal at Wormwood Scrubs held on January 20, 1917 he refused to accept the Home Office Scheme's conditions

He was an absolutist and was subjected to a cycle of disobeying orders, being sentenced to a period of hard labour in civilian prisons and on discharge being handed back to the army for the cycle to recommence. Clare Cole, an associate member of the Dulwich Branch who visited and corresponded with conscientious objectors, says that he "put up a fine fight, and suffered greatly in health throughout his imprisonment" and he was eventually discharged on medical grounds by order of the Secretary of State on 18 January, 1918. At the time of his discharge he had been courts martialled three times, sentenced to hard labour and imprisoned in Winchester, Wormwood Scrubs and Wandsworth prisons.

After the First World War
The Lewisham 1926 Electoral register shows him and his wife living at 12 William Street and the 1932 register shows him living with his wife, mother and his sister Catherine Mary at 75 Old Road, SE18, which was his mother's home from 1922.

Cyril Pearce, University of Leeds, Pearce Register of British Conscientious Objectors
Lewisham Borough News on August 11, 1916
Kentish Mercury, September 6, 1916
Clare Cole, The Objectors to Conscription and War, published Manchester: Workers' Northern Publishing Society, 1936 ref. (p.57)
Dulwich N-C.F What are Conscientious Objectors? July 1917 in the Cumbria Archive Centre ref:D/Mar/4/97

Ann O'Brien, Volunteer, Lewisham Local Studies and Archives centre. January 1915

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