Peet, Hubert William


1886 - 1951


Hubert W. Peet lived at 12 Peak Hill, Sydenham. In 1916 he was aged 30 and a Quaker who was married with three young children. He was joint editor of the Quaker Magazine ’The Ploughshare’, the voice of Quaker Socialism, and he was a member of the Independent Labour Party. The Sydenham Prayer Meeting opened at his house in Peak Hill in 1910, before moving the Sydenham and Forest Hill School of Art in in Venner Road in 1914.

Conscientious Objection during the First World War

He was the Organising Secretary of the Friends Service Committee, set up to support COs. With the army’s permission he visited France in early June 1916 and was accompanied by the Rev. F.B Meyer, Baptist Minister of Christ Church, Southwark. They inspected a Non-Combatant Corps Camp housing some 400 men including the 34 conscientious objectors who were imprisoned and about to be sentenced to death. Hubert spent about a fortnight at the front and Howard Marten, one of the 34 sentenced, believed that the ingeniousness of the No-conscription Fellowship in establishing his contact with them made it clear to the Government that it would be impossible to “mete out any treatment which escaped publicity whilst the knowledge that their interests were always being watched over”. The death sentences were commuted to 10 years hard labour. (see J. Graham ref. below)

Hubert’s appearance before the Lewisham Military Service Tribunal on 5 August, 1916 was reported in detail in the Lewisham Borough News on August 11. He asked for absolute exemption and faced muted, but obvious hostility from the members of the Tribunal who questioned his motives and offered him a non-combatant certificate because, they said, he was not doing work of national importance and would not promise to do it if referred. He appealed and was referred to the Pelham Committee, but on 19 September he again refused to accept anything other than work with the Friends’ War Victims Relief and he was referred back to Tribunal.

He now became an absentee, was arrested and was tried at Croydon Police Court on 14 November, 1916 where he was fined 40 shillings, and was handed over to the Military. He was taken to the Depot of the Royal Fusiliers and court martialled at Hounslow on 23 November where he was sentenced to 112 days hard labour at Wormwood Scrubs. The Lewisham Borough News carried a report of his court martial on December 1, 1916 and quotes him as saying "He had disobeyed and must disobey all military orders because of his conviction that all warfare, and not merely killing, was wrong and contrary to the principles of love taught by Jesus Christ". At the Central Tribunal held at Wormwood Scrubs on 1 January, 1917 he refused to accept the Home Office Scheme.

Prison experiences

Hubert was an absolutist and by January 1919 when he was released on medical grounds he had served three sentences and more than two years in gaol at Wormwood Scrubs, Wandsworth and Pentonville. He described his prison experiences in 112 days' hard labour : being some reflections on the first of his sentences as a conscientious objector / by Hubert W. Peet, London : Ploughshare, 1917. This was one of a number of influential writings about prison conditions in Britain by conscientious objectors that contributed to the campaign for prison reform after the war, a campaign led by the former COs Fenner Brockway and Stephen Hobhouse.

After the First World War

He continued working as a Quaker journalist and in January 1924 he attended a dinner in the House of Commons, held in honour of ex-prisoner M.Ps who had been imprisoned during the war on religious or political grounds. In June 1931 he was appointed the editor of the "Friend" the Quaker weekly newspaper. In 1934 the BBC arranged, in close co-operation with him, a series of religious talks on the radio on the New Christendom. He retired from his post as editor in the autumn of 1949, because of ill-health and died in January 1951.

Hubert's son Stephen Peet, who was born in 1920, was the film maker behind the BBC’s Yesterday’s Witness that ran from 1969 to 1981. Stephen was also a CO and served with a Friends Ambulance Unit in the Second World War.

Cyril Pearce, University of Leeds Register of British Conscientious Objectors.
Felicity Goodall, We Will Not Go to War : Conscientious Objection during the World Wars, The History Press, Stroud, 2010
Lewisham Borough News, August 11 and December 1, 1916
John W. Graham, Conscription and Conscience: A History 1916-1919, Augustus M. Kelly, Publishers N.Y. 1969 Reprint page 123.
There are a number of articles and news items where he is mentioned in the The Times Digital Archive

Photograph taken from the PPU 2014 Commemorative programme page 7

Ann O'Brien, Volunteer, Lewisham Local History and Archives Centre, March 2015

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