Researched and written by Brian Bouchard
The death of a private soldier in one of Epsom’s hospitals during 1917 sadly was not an infrequent event but this had been an unusual case and did not result from wounds suffered in battle.
Alfred, whose birth had been registered in Pancras for the June Quarter of 1894, was the second child of Alfred Robert Eungblut, pianoforte tuner and repairer maker of 69 Brecknock Road, St Pancras, and his wife Jane Maria nee Cockman.
Alfred, junior, became apprenticed as a pianoforte tuner, later described as having a ‘highly-strung temperament’, who had been imbued with a boundless enthusiasm for his beliefs, and conducted a class at a Presbyterian Church.
After the introduction of conscription for single men aged between 18 & 41 from March 1916, Eungblut became a member of the No-Conscription Fellowship and details of his treatment subsequently appeared in the pages of The Tribunal, the official paper of the Society written to inform the public about the Military Service Act and the Conscientious Objectors who fell foul of it. “The Tribunal reported on the lives of COs – from their motivations and reasons for Objecting to War to their experiences at Tribunal, in prison and beyond. It was written clearly, and often movingly, with the intention of keeping COs and their thousands of supporters and sympathisers updated with the latest information in the struggle against conscription and militarism.”
The boards to which men could apply for exemption from Military Service on various grounds – only one of which was ‘a Conscientious Objection to the undertaking of combatant service’ – sat in town halls, parish churches and local schools and sought to secure as many men as possible for the army. A tribunal could grant absolute exemption to a man who had a genuine, strongly felt objection to war but reportedly only 2% of applicants were deemed to qualify.
During May of 1916 Eungblut himself claimed absolute exemption from his obligation for Military Service at a tribunal in St Pancras but met with refusal.
It appears that he then absconded but gave himself up on 12 September 1916 before being taken to Fovant Camp, Salisbury, the next day to be court-martialled as Private 204130 of the 1st Battalion, London Regiment (Royal Fusiliers).
The outcome of that hearing at court-martial on the 28 September 1916 was recorded as ‘Non-NCC (Drafted into a combatant unit and disobeyed orders) 1 (R) London CM (Court Martial) Hurdcott 28.9.16 (at Fovant Camp, Salisbury) – 6 months HL (With hard labour) commuted to 112 days in Wormwood Scrubs’.
It has been reported that in prison, ‘the separate confinement proved a great torment to his highly-strung temperament’. The decision of a Central Tribunal at Wormwood Scrubs on 18 October 1916 regarding Eungblut was recorded ‘CO class A, to Brace Committee’. The Home Office Scheme, which operated under direction of the Brace Committee, was for men who did not take their cases to the tribunals or who had refused the tribunal’s decision or had had their appeals rejected, and had been arrested by the military authorities. Having been “fetched” by the army, these men refused to obey orders and were court-martialled and imprisoned. Army Order X (AO 179, 1916) from May 1916 directed that COs convicted by court-martial of offences against discipline who had been sentenced to a term of imprisonment, should be held at the nearest civil prison. It was also proposed that these men should not be discharged from the army, but placed in Class W of the Army Reserve, created by Army Order 203, 1916, for ‘soldiers whose service is deemed to be valuable to the country in civil rather than military employment’.
On 10 November 1916, however, Alfred Eungblut was certified to be insane and removed to an asylum.
A written question from 14 March 1917 appears in Hansard: “Mr. Chancellor asked the Secretary to the Local Government Board whether he is aware that Alfred Eungblut, a conscientious objector who voluntarily gave himself up on 12th September last, was court-martialled at Salisbury, sentenced to two years’ hard labour, sent to Wormwood Scrubbs [sic], and from there to Epsom lunatic asylum; and, seeing that this man was driven insane by the ill-treatment that he received at the hands of the military, and is now in a serious state of health and possibly dying, will he say what action he proposes to take?” In reply the Hon. Member was told that if had any evidence to support this very serious allegation, he should submit it to the Army Council.
Subsequently, a notice from the Superintendent of the Long Grove Asylum, Epsom, revealed that this man had died there on 11 June 1917 (aged 23). The primary cause of death was given as ‘myocardial degeneration’ and the secondary as ‘heart failure’. His mother was present at his death.
Bearing in mind the death of Arthur’s uncle Charles Henry Eungblut at the early age of 34, it might be inferred that genetic heart disease led to his sudden cardiac death, albeit hastened by stress imposed by the proceedings following his application for exemption from military service. He was interred at Morden Cemetery and, as a final irony, the Commonwealth War Graves Commission records his name on a Screen Wall to the Cross of Sacrifice amongst the war dead whose graves have not been marked by a headstone.
Alfred Arthur Allen Eunblut’s name appears in an Army Register of Soldiers’ Effects held by The National Army Museum. On 18 March 1918, his father withdrew a credit of £9:4:2 in the name of Alfred R Rogers (sic) and his mother, then Jane M Rogers, is found to have been awarded £3 War Gratuity in 1919.
A change of family surname may have been prompted by publicity over A A A Eungblut’s case since the following announcement had appeared in The London Gazette, 14 September 1917: –
“I ALFRED ROBERT ROGERS, heretofore called and known by the name of Alfred Robert Eungblut, a natural born British subject, of 69, Brecknock-road, Holloway, in the county of London,. Pianoforte Maker, hereby give public notice, that by a deed poll, dated the 30th day of July, 1917, duly executed and attested and enrolled in the Central Office of the Supreme Court, on the 21st day of August, 1917, I formally and absolutely renounced and abandoned the said surname of Eungblut and declared that I had assumed and adopted and intended thenceforth upon all occasions whatsoever to use and subscribe the name of Rogers as my surname in lieu of the said surname of Eungblut, and so as to be at all times thereafter called, known and described by the name of Alfred Robert Rogers exclusively.—Dated the 21st day of August, 1917.