He was born in Catford and was 28 in 1917.
59, Perry Hill, Catford
In the 1911 census Walter Edwin Miles is shown at this address together with his brothers, Archibald, Cyril and Herbert Henry*. They were all conscientious objectors as was his brother Henry "Havelock". Also living at this address in 1911 were his father Arthur, mother Margaretta Jessie and a brother Arthur E. Their father's business as Arthur Miles & Sons Upholsters at 59 and 59A Perry Hill and also at a yard at Rutland Road, Catford is listed in Kellys Post Office Directory.
(*see note below)
Walter was employed as a piano tuner and was a member of the Dulwich Branch of the No-Conscription Fellowship.
Conscientious Objection during the First World War
He did not appear with his brothers at the Military Service Tribunal in Lewisham in March 1916, but was arrested on 15 September, 1916 as an absentee who failed to respond to his call-up. He was taken under guard to the 3 Hampshire Regiment and was then court-martialled at Portsmouth on the 26 September, for refusing to obey orders. He was sentenced to 112 days hard labour and imprisoned at Wormwood Scrubs, where at the Central Tribunal on 18 October his claim to be a conscientious objector was found to be genuine.
Walter was an absolutist and believing that any alternative service supported the war effort and conscription and he refused to co-operate. He was returned to his regiment and was again court-martialled on 6 January 1917 and again on 13 June. He was repeatedly sentenced to hard labour and imprisoned in Wormwood Scrubs, Wandsworth, and Portsmouth before being sent to Wakfield Prison on 13 September 1918.
He was one of 120 absolutists involved 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 prison 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. Walter Edwin being sent firstly to Walton Prison Liverpool and then to Strangeways, Manchester.
He was supported in his stand by membership of the No-Conscription Fellowship.
Conscientious Objectors still in prison in April 1919 were released only 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. On release he was given a dishonourable discharge papers and told that he faced another two years in prison if he tried to sign up again!
After the First World War
As a conscientious objector who had been courts martialled and imprisoned Walter would not have been allowed vote for five years from the end of the war, but his name is to be found on electoral registers for 59 Perry Hill from the 1920s onwards.
Cyril Pearce, University of Leeds, Pearce Register of British Conscientious Objectors
Ann O'Brien, Volunteer at Lewisham Local History and Archives Centre, May 2014
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