Yeates, Harry


Harry lived at 40 Garthorne Road, Forest Hill together with his wife Grace Gwendoline, nee Spicer, and his two daughters nine year old Mildred Grace and six year old Margaret Pearl. Harry and Grace had married in the Wesleyan Church in Camberwell on 28 November 1906.

He was employed by the International Tract Society and he was a Seventh-day Adventist.

Conscientious Objection during the First World War
Harry was the first married conscientious objector to appear before the Lewisham Tribunal. In his written claim he stated that he was opposed to war, believing it to be contrary to the teaching of Jesus Christ and that, as a member of the Seventh-day Adventists he kept the Sabbath from sunset on Friday until sunset on Saturday. The tribunal chairman, Mr Mead said that they could not take into account his keeping of the Sabbath and Harry again confirmed his opposition to war on grounds of conscience. He provided a certificate showing he was a baptised member of the church and he said that twelve years previously he had relinquished his business position because it interfered with his observance of the Sabbath. The Chairman Mr Mead, referring yet again to his belief that Britain was engaged in a just war, said that he too objected to war, but unprovoked war is contrary to Christ’s teachings and the German’s were guilty of this.

Harry expressed a willingness to undertake farm work, care of the sick and wounded and store supplies. His father who was present confirmed that Harry had resigned his position as a traveler in canned goods, work he had undertaken together with him, because it interfered with his observance. He also said that he felt Harry had grounds enough for exemption because two of his brothers had volunteered and he also had a wife and two children to take care of, although he opposed him in his claim of conscientious objection. At this point Harry is reported as saying “I felt that the conscientious objection must come first”

He was granted a Non-combatant certificate and his father then accused the Tribunal of prejudice because he was a conscientious objector, to which Mr Mead replied that they had come to the conclusion that Harry's was an honest and honourable objection.

War Service
He was conscripted into the Non-Combatant Corps 7 Eastern Company on 22 August, 1916 and at some point he was transferred to the 4 Southern at Lewes. He was disciplined because on Saturday 9 September when he was absent from parade and had refused to obey an order, and again that on Wednesday 12 December, 1916 when on active service he refused to obey a lawful order. Although his record does not say what the order was, a number of NCC men Lewis were disciplined at that time for refusing to handle munitions. Then on 5 January 1917 he was sentenced to 14 days hard labour in Lewis County Prison for refusing to obey orders on the Sabbath (ref A Century of Adventism in the British Isles p.17 link below). His army records are very faint and difficult to read and he may have been released from prison to the Army Reserve under the Home Office scheme, although his military service records also show that he was demobbed from the NCC on 10 January, 1919 which might suggest the army became more accommodating of his desire to observe the Sabbath.

After the First World War

Cyril Pearce, University of Leeds, Pearce Register of British Conscientious Objectors
Lewisham Borough News June 30 1916
A Century of Adventism in the British Isles

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

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