He was born in Brondesbury and was 23 in 1917
26 Ladywell Park, Lewisham.
Edward William Harby was single and worked as a Wages Clerk. He was a socialist and a member of the Lewisham Independent Labour Party and the Dulwich Branch of the No-Conscription Fellowship. He told a court martial "that without militarism capitalism could not exist, therefore as a Socialist, I am opposed to it" (ref: p.7 Dulwich N-C.F Leaflet, July 1917). He is shown on prison visitor records held by the Society of Friends as an agnostic.
Conscientious Objection during the First World War
Appearance before the Lewisham Military Service Tribunal
His appearance was reported in the Lewisham Borough News and The Kentish Mercury March 17, 1916 under the headings "Dramatic Internationalist" in the former and "A Socialist Demonstration” in the latter. He was reported as saying that: "I believe the world to be my country and all the world to be my countrymen. In no circumstances will I take human life". When told he would be offered a non-combatant certificate and asked if that would satisfy him, he replied that he wanted absolute exemption and said of himself and other so called slackers "We are willing to give our lives for the sacred cause of liberty of conscience and freedom" for "The Tribunal could Russanise their bodies, but could not Russanise their souls". The Kentish Mercury reported that after his application was refused he declared that the Tribunal was biased, the gallery applauded, the Chairman threatened to have the gallery cleared, and then "When the Tribunal rose shortly afterwards the applicant, with a score or so of sympathisers of both sexes sang "The Red Flag" on the Town Hall steps”.
Appearances before the Appeals Tribunal at the House of Commons and the Greenwich Police Court
Under the heading What To Do with Internationalists The Kentish Mercury April 14, 1916 reported that he made a lengthy statement to the Appeals Tribunal declaring his belief that the war was brought about by capitalist society. When asked whether he belonged to any political or ethical body which held these views he told the Chairman that he was a member of the Independent Labour Party. The tribunal considered his answers inconsistent and judged that he must serve in the combatant ranks.
He was arrested as an absentee and his appearance at the Greenwich police court was reported in the Kentish Mercury May 26, 1916 under the headline More Lewisham Laggards : “Peculiar or Convenient Views? Edward applied for a remand in order to obtain legal advice and prepare his defence, a Captain Elvy opposed this on the grounds that the army had been trying to get him since March 2nd and considered him the ring leader. Edward's father refused to stand surety and said he was sorry to have to acknowledge him as his son and he was remanded in custody by the Magistrate Mr Symmons. The following week Edward was fined 40 shillings and handed over to the Military.
Following his Trial in the Police-court
Edward was taken under escort to the 3rd London Regiment at Fovant. He was court martialled for the first time at Sutton Mandeville camp, Salisbury on the June 7, 1916, and sentenced to 9 months hard labour, commuted to 5 months in a civilian prison. Then on August 4 the Central Tribunal at Wormwood Scrubs held him to be a genuine conscientious objector and referred him to the Home Office Scheme. There is a report of his statement to a court martial on page 7 of the Dulwich N-C.F pamphlet What are Conscientious Objectors? July 1917 in the Cumbria Archive Centre ref:D/Mar/4/97
He was sent to road mending at Clare/Haverhill on the August 14, 1916, where he became concerned that the road work was for military purposes and on October 26 he left Haverhill with a pass to go to the Wakefield work camp, but instead went to London to protest about conditions at Haverhill. He became a fugitive, but by December 6 was back in the hands of the army and was now transferred to the 7th London Regiment. He was again court martialled on January 18, 1917, and sentenced to two years hard labour commuted to 6 months. By January 1919 he had been courts martialled four times and had spent more than two years in prison in Wormwood Scrubs, Wandsworth, and Exeter.
Edward was now an absolutist and began a cycle of disobeying orders, being sentenced to a period of hard labour in a civilian prison and on discharge being handed back to the army for the cycle to recommence. He was supported in his stance by the No-Conscription Fellowship, Dulwich Branch and by the Independent Labour Party.
Mrs S. Cahill, Secretary Dulwich Branch of the No-Conscription Fellowship, wrote to Catherine Marshall, Secretary of the NCF’s Parliamentary Committee, on 26 August, 1917 that she had seen Edward in hospital after he had hunger struck in Exeter prison, and he told her the part he dreaded so much (about prison) was solitary confinement. He was about to be removed to Wandsworth Prison where the month's solitary confinement was still in practice, and she was concerned about the effect it would have on him.
Another visitor to imprisoned COs Clare Cole, in her book published in 1936 she quotes a letter from Edward where he writes (18 January, 1918):
"Have you heard of the protest against Capital Punishment which Comrade Dormer of Woolwich and myself have been trying to organise at Wandsworth? Comrade Fuller of Forest Hill has taken part of the organising over and if the original proposals were acted upon all COs would have applied last Thursday for permission to petition the Home Secretary for the reprieve of the unfortunate man now in Wandsworth Prison waiting to hanged.
"Should the reprieve be refused, then I want to see a work strike on the day of the hanging, which would be in about three weeks' time."
He was involved in the the disturbances in Wandsworth in 1919 when militant, anarchist and socialist conscientious objectors went on strike and when the enraged prison Governor called H. Miles "the son of a cesspool". Edward complained and his complaint lead to a parliamentary enquiry.
Conscientious Objectors still in prison in April 1919 were released under the “Two Year Rule”, whereby all prisoners convicted of army offences would be released if they had served two years or more. Edward was then dishonourably discharged from the army and was told that he faced another two years in prison if he tried to sign up again!
After the War
He is recorded as living at 134 Stanstead Road, Forest Hill the address of Cecil and Sidney Rose who were also absolutists, and members of the no-conscription fellowship and the Independent Labour Party.
Cyril Pearce, University of Leeds, Pearce Register of British Conscientious Objectors
Lewisham Borough News and Kentish Mercury March 17, 1916
Kentish Mercury April 14, 1916
Kentish Mercury May 16, 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 and published with their consent.
Clare Cole, The Objectors to Conscription and War, published Manchester: Workers' Northern Publishing Society, 1936
The Tribunal, Thursday, March 6 1919 on the Wandsworth disturbances
Friends House Archives, Euston Road, VOPC Cases.
Ann O'Brien, Volunteer at Lewisham Local History and Archives Centre, May 2014.
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