Written by Laurence Spring
At the outbreak of war thousands had eagerly enlisted – boys had lied about their age and older men had dyed their hair to look younger. However, by the Autumn of 1915 the long lines which had once been seen at recruiting offices had gone, even though the grinding mills of the Western (and other) Fronts were still demanding more men. Therefore on 15 August 1915 the National Registration Act was passed which required all local authorities to keep a register ‘of all persons male and female between the ages of 15 and 65’, other than those already serving in the armed forces and on 23 October 1915 the Derby Scheme was introduced. This scheme was the last effort by the government to get sufficient men to enlist voluntarily by allowing them to attest to their willingness to serve and then defer joining up until called for.
The Derby Scheme failed to inspire sufficient volunteers and in January 1916 the first Military Service Act was passed which imposed the compulsory enlistment of unmarried men between 18 and 41. In May 1916 the second Military Service Act was passed extending conscription to married men. In theory all men were now in the army, but they could apply for a delay in serving or a permanent exemption if they were:
- In a ‘reserved occupation’ which covered those working for the war effort either in an industry relating to war work, on a farm or in the food, clothing or building industry.
- Their serving would result in serious hardship to their families, business or employment situation.
- They were medically unfit to serve
- They had a conscientious objection to fighting on religious or other grounds.
If a conscript believed they were entitled to be exempted from service they would appeal to their local tribunal. Such tribunals were set up in every urban district, rural district and borough across the country. The tribunals’ proceedings and decisions would usually appear in local newspapers. Some original records of the work of a few of the Surrey tribunals have survived, including Woking, Dorking Rural and Haslemere.
However, if the appellant was not satisfied with the local tribunal’s judgement he could appeal to the county level Appeal Tribunal. In Surrey, the work of the Appeal Tribunal had been divided up between three committees: the Guildford area committee, chaired by Sir Charles Walpole (whose notes of cases and decisions survive as SHC ref CC28/303B), the Kingston area committee, chaired by Mr Tyrril Giles and the Croydon area committee chaired by Sir Lewis Dibdin. Each committee was to be made up of six people, although three were considered a quorum. The Guildford committee held its meetings at the Guildhall on Saturdays from 2.00pm, the Kingston committee met on Wednesdays and Saturdays at County Hall and the Croydon Committee decided to sit on any day of the week at the Town Hall. A fourth committee was established to hear any appeals which might arise from these committees. The committee members were the three chairmen from the other three committees plus Sir Arthur Chapman, Mr Coham and Mr S Kavanagh (SHC ref CC418/1).
In all these three committees heard 7,077 appeals, Croydon hearing 2,900 cases, Guildford 2,087 cases and Kingston 2,029 cases. Of these 1,079 appeals were on the grounds that a person could not serve for medical reasons; 470 cases were allowed and 380 refused. 129 cases were sent back to the medical board to be re-examined, of which 54 were confirmed in their medical grade, 42 were lowered by one grade, 26 by two grades and 4 were reduced by three grades. On the other hand 3 men were found to be fitter than previously thought and were raised by one grade. Their medical grade would mean the difference between serving in a front line battalion or in support, eg. in the Labour Corps. The remaining 100 men withdrew their appeals.
In addition, by the end of the war the cases of 117 conscientious objectors had been heard, of which ‘65 had been put into work of national importance, while 52 were sent to the Non-Combatant Corps. No absolute exemptions had been granted in these cases’ (SHC ref CC418/1). The non-combatant corps had been set up under the Military Service Act for conscientious objectors who refused to fight. It was commanded by regular army officers and NCOs, and its members wore army uniform and were subject to army discipline, but did not carry weapons or participate in battle. Some COs resisted any sort of army service altogether. Many of these ‘absolutists’ or ‘alternativists’ were court-martialled and imprisoned. Some were accommodated in non-army work camps, set up under the Home Office Scheme.
One conscientious objectors was Frank Lloyd Parton, who was born on 22 May 1893 and was the son of William and Elizabeth living at Station Road, Egham. In 1911 he was living in Bedford and is described as an engineering student, although by the outbreak of war he had moved to the family home at Tewkesbury Lodge, Chertsey, and had become a ‘student under the bar’. In 1915 he became a chauffeur driving one of the ambulances of the Friends’ Ambulance Unit, which had been established by the Society of Friends (Quakers) on the outbreak of the war. The first Friends’ Ambulance Unit (FAU) set out for Dunkirk on 31 October 1914 and came under the umbrella of the British Red Cross. The FAU expanded throughout the war and numbered over 1,000 members by November 1918, although not all were Quakers. Certainly Frank Parton’s membership card states ‘NF’ (Not Friend), so he was not a Quaker. His record card records that on 28 July 1915 he landed in France, but he came to believe that this work was helping the military forces too much and so returned to England on 8 February and was discharged from the FAU on 24 February 1916 (http://fau.quaker.org.uk/).
However, shortly after returning to England he received his call up papers and he appeared before the Chertsey Local Tribunal on 28 February 1916 claiming exemption as a conscientious objector. He then appeared at the Appeal Tribunal at Guildford on 18 March 1916 (SHC ref CC28/303B). Both tribunals would only grant him exemption from combatant service, but he was given leave to apply to the final arbiter, the Central Tribunal, to which was sent Frank Parton’s written statement. The Central Tribunal decreed that if he undertook 21 days ambulance service then he would be exempt from non-combatant service.
However, this was not good enough for Frank Parton who took the matter to the King’s Bench, believing it was his right to appear before the Central Tribunal and argue his case in person. The case, known as the King v the Central Tribunal under the Military Service Acts, was heard on 18 April 1916, but it appears that Frank was held up for ridicule as not wanting to save lives. The Court believed his case was undermined because he was living on part of his father’s income who worked in a munitions factory. Even his defence lawyer admitted that ‘I am not here to champion his reason. I personally disclaim [any] sympathy with conscientious objectors’. Even one of the three judges hearing this case commented, ‘there were a good many people who could conscientiously do no work of any kind’. Both these and other statements were met with the laughter of those attending the court. The case was discharged with the judges finding that the Central Tribunal could not possibly hear all the cases if a person argued his case in person. Frank Parton was therefore ordered to serve in a non-combatant role. However, he had won notoriety since his case was reported nationally including in the Birmingham Mail and the Dundee Courier.
Despite this judgement he still refused to go and was arrested in July 1916, fined 40 shillings and handed over to the military authorities. On his arrival at Stoughton Barracks, in Guildford on 5 July, Sergeant A May took Parton to the Medical Board Inspection Room, but he refused to undress and be examined by Major M W Faulkner of the Royal Army Medical Corps on the grounds that he was a conscientious objector. This resulted in him being court martialled during the third week of July for refusing to obey a senior officer. He pleaded guilty, but not before reading a long statement on why he was a conscientious objector and that it was for Christian values ‘rather than for ‘protecting him from bodily suffering or keeping him free from the dangers of losing his life and of securing his continuance in a condition of pleasure and security’. This view had resulted in him being, ‘estranged from relatives, parted from friends, the target for abuse and calumny from his fellow countrymen and, he was faced with a long period of deprivation and imprisonment, in the end to go out into the world that called him a shirker and a coward’ (Surrey Advertiser, 22 July 1916). He was sentenced to six months imprisonment in a civilian prison with hard labour.
After his release he was employed as a forester on Sir John Brunner’s estate in Chertsey as part of the Home Office scheme. However, on 15 August 1918 the “Tragic death of ‘Conchy’” was reported in the newspapers, Frank Parton having committed suicide at his family home by taking the poison, cyanide of potassium. His death was widely reported, even being mentioned in The Times on 16 August 1918. Frank’s obituary stated that he was found by his father who said that ‘his views are not mine’. William Parton added, ‘If a man attacked me I should fight him until there was nothing of him or me left’. Frank Parton’s inquest found that ‘death was due to taking poison while of unsound mind’. Certainly his father had commented on his mental health in his obituary.
However, in a strange twist, after his death, despite all his efforts to stay out of the armed forces and the conduct of others towards him, he was awarded the 1915 Star and the British and Victory medals, since he had served in a theatre of war, albeit as a member of the Friend’s Ambulance Unit.