Plymouth Brethren

During the First World War a real debate was conducted among the Plymouth Brethren about the right action to take. [1] The outcome was that some of their number served in the army, some felt that they should become absolutists, but by and large the majority co-operated with the Government while refusing to bear arms. These men accepted conscription into the Non-combatant Corps and also formed the second largest number of faith groups appearing before the Pelham Committee. [2]

Appearing before the Lewisham Military Service Tribunal
There are records for fifteen Brethren COs living in Lewisham in the Pearce Register of British Conscientious Objectors and so far two other names have been found in the local press. There were five Brethren Halls in Lewisham at the time [3] and its conscientious objectors were members of different branches of the faith; no records have yet been found that show any of Lewisham's Brethren belonging to any other organisation. Thirteen joined the Non-Combatant Corps (NCC), of whom one Henry James Green was court martialed and subsequently transferred to a Home Office scheme work-camp, while two did Work of National Importance.

Initially the Lewisham Military Service Tribunal found it hard to accept that some Brethren might claim a conscientious objection to conscription while others they knew of were serving in the army. Tribunal Members apparently tried to educate themselves on the Plymouth Brethren religions beliefs, in the Chairman's case by using an encyclopaedia, and did not always get it right. From information held at present it is probable that the MST offered non-combatant certificates to almost all Brethren who came before them and these in turn were accepted, though often with distress as in the case of Frank Griffin Stone. Mr Harry, the Military Representative, charged with making conscription work was the only person who objected to their being granted non-combatant certificates as he did with William Turnbull, but then he did so frequently and for many other reasons.

Two men were referred to the the Pelham Committee A.H. Burr and Hedley R. Elliott, and they worked locally under the provisions of the work of national importance scheme as millers. Ten of the other Lewisham Brethren on the Pearce Register served in the NCC at home and two, Horace Cecil Stanley and Samuel Lang, were sent to France. In 1918 during the great German offensive Samuel Lang was subjected to army discipline as he with others refused to take up arms. Like all other members of the Corps they waited a long time to be demobbed and Norman Knappett and Henry James Green were among the last Lewisham men finally released, Norman in January and Henry in March 1920.

Included in this table are those who told the tribunal that the were Open or Exclusive Brethren, sometimes in reply to a direct question about which branch of the Plymouth Brethren they belong to, and this is noted in their biographies. As biographies are completed they will be linked to those named on this list. Other names have been found and have been included on Others who resisted conscription.

Burr, A.H Elliott, Hedley R. Knappett, Norman Harold Bruce Lang, Samuel
Long, Douglas Nevill Long, Kenneth Yorke Mitchell, Arthur Neville Reece, Henry George
Sayer, Ebenezer Stanley, Horace Cecil Stanley, Percy Herbert Stone, Frank Griffin
Turnbull, William Zimmerman, Alfred George Green, Henry James

1. Elisabeth Wilson, "The Eyes of the Authorities are Upon Us:" The Brethren and World War I
2. John Rae, Conscience and Politics: The British Government and the Conscientious Objector to Military Service 1916-1919, London OUP 1970. Appendix C
3. Churches in the Hundred of Blackheath, compiled by L.A.J Baker and published by the Greenwich and Lewisham Antiquarian Society 1961.

Web History
Elisabeth Wilson, "The Eyes of the Authorities are Upon Us:" The Brethren and World War I with permission of Brethern

Ann O'Brien, Volunteer at Lewisham Local History and Archives Centre, April 2014, Revised September 2015.

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