c.1884 to 18 July, 1949
He was was 32 years in 1916
Arthur lived at 102 Arngask Road, Catford, together with his wife Mary Jane Strawbridge, nee Phillips, who was born in Bristol. They had married in Lewisham on 19 December, 1905 and in 1916 had two children Arthur Ernest and Ivy Josephine. His father William Henry lived at 181 High Street Deptford and Arthur is shown as having attended the Ricardo St. School in the 1880s together with his sister Ellen. His brother William Robert Raitt was also a conscientious objector.
He worked as a deputy receiver for the Metropolitan Water Board. His motivation in objecting to combatant duties seems to have been religious and he is known to have worked as a volunteer with the YMCA.
Conscientious Objection during the First World War
Arthur attested before the Derby tribunal on 10 November, 1915 that he was willing to serve in the Royal Army Medical Corps and he believed that this was agreed by the Recruiting Officer. This was ignored, however, and he was called up to the King’s Royal Rifle Corps where he was court martialled for refusing to obey an order on 7 August, 1916 and sentenced 112 days hard labour in Wormwood Scrubs. On 16 September his brother William wrote to T.E. Harvey MP, who took up the cause of imprisoned conscientious objectors, that “the circumstances of the case are as follows: being anxious to do all in his power to help his country in the time of trouble, my brother attested for RAMC work only making it quite clear to the Recruiting Officer that he would not take human life, but would do anything to save life”. Having been called up into a fighting unit Arthur repeatedly protested and appealed for a transfer, obeying orders until he was instructed to practice bomb throwing.
The Central Tribunal at Wormwood Scrubs found him a genuine conscientious objector on 15 August, 1916 and recommended his transfer to the Home Office Scheme. Had this been accepted, he would in all likelihood have been discharged to a work camp immediately, but at the same time others, including a friend Major Coates whom he was acquainted with from his YMCA work, were acting to get him transferred to a Non-combatant unit. Although authority was given for his transfer to the Non-Combatant Corps on 29 August, his prison sentence was not remitted until 6 November, 1916 when his release was ordered. William had expressed concern that Arthur was not fully recovered from an illness when imprisoned, and on 16 November Arthur wrote a letter of thanks to T.E Harvey from the YMCA Convalescence Huts in Winchester.
His army records show copious correspondence backwards and forwards between the NCC, the KRRC, and Wormwood Scrubs trying to find his original attestation form and trying to find out if the Recruiting Officer had actually promised that he could serve in the RAMC. Otherwise, Arthur’s time in the 5 Southern Company of the NCC appears to have been uneventful until 2 August, 1918 when he was charged with hesitating to obey and order, insolence to a superior officer, and absenting himself from Royal Engineering Works. He was harshly sentenced to 14 days Field Punishment No. 2. It is not know how the punishment was carried out in his case, but at the very least it would have included tough extra drill and fatigues and could well have included being shackled for up to two hours a day, restraints used included the so called figure of eight where hands were pinioned behind the back, an extremely painful practice. Field Punishment No 2 only differed from Field Punishment No 1 in not allowing the soldier to be tied to a fixed object such as a gun carriage wheel, a practice known by ordinary soldiers as “Crucifixion” see ref below. Where COs were subjected to military discipline, it was often because they refused to do work that they considered aided combat, such as handling munitions or because their officers found them an irritant. On the 9 December, 1918 Arthur was sentenced to seven days Confined to Barracks for insolence to an non-commissioned officer. It is possible that with the war over non-comisssioned officers who were battle hardened men returning from the front, were transferred to the Non-Combatant Corps, and were unused to dealing with conscientious objectors; or that conscientious objectors in turn were anxious to be demobbed and less tolerant of army discipline, particularly when as in Arthur's case he had suffered from an extreme example of it.
Arthur was eventually demobilised on 29 August, 1919.
After the First World War
He died in Lewisham Hospital on 18 July 1949 and his address was given as 141 Bellingham Road, Catford. His wife died 1967.
In May 2015, Arthur's great granddaughter Cherie Bennett emailed LHAC from Dunedin, New Zealand. Her grandchildren had been studying about the ANZAC's and Gallipoli and she knew snippets of information from her grandmother about her father who served in the war, but her mother also told her about her husband's father Arthur Raitt who was imprisoned because he was a CO. She thought putting the 2 stories into a book would give them an insight into how very difficult life could be if you fought in the war, but also immensely difficult if you were a CO and were true to your beliefs.
Cyril Pearce, University of Leeds, Pearce Register of British Conscientious Objectors
Record of Service no 3414 at NA W0363/R254
Letter 16.9.16 in T.E.Harvey MP Correspondence Friends House Temp.Mss.835 Box.5
NA/MH47/1 Central Tribunal Minutes;
National Probate Calendar
Clive Emsley “Why Crucify Tommy?” History Today, Vol.62, Issue 11 November 2012
Ann O'Brien, Volunteer, Lewisham Local History and Archives Centre, June 2015
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