15 THE MEN SENTENCED TO DEATH

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The sudden transference of COs to France in May, 1916, marked the crest of the wave in the efforts of the military authorities to ‘break’ the movement. Riding rough shod over the promises of the highest civil authorities that objectors would not be taken out of the country, they transferred to France from Landguard Fort, Harwich, from Richmond Castle, Yorks and from Seaford some fifty men, thirty five of whom received the death sentence.

The first rumours of the intended move came from Harwich, where the Eastern N.C.C. was stationed and where a party of the earliest arrested C Os was in irons at Landguard Fort. A Quaker Chaplain was hurried down as soon as possible, but before his wire was delivered saying that the men were gone, information was received that the N.C.C. and its C.O. prisoners were on their way to Southampton. This warning was conveyed by a letter thrown out of the train by one of the ordinary N.C.C. men while passing through a London suburb.

Efforts were promptly made to reach the party at Southampton, where they were delayed by the discovery of an outbreak of measles in the corps; but before this could be accomplished and before personal representations to Mr. Asquith led to the sending of a telegram ordering their retention in this country, the prisoners had been separated from the rest of the men and shipped to Le Havre—sure evidence that the Army authorities intended making an "example" of them.



In France the men were released from custody and returned to ordinary N.C.C duties, the first real contest with the Military Authorities did not come till May 10, when the seventeen men of the Landguard party, alone in the midst of the BEF, began their refusal to be coerced into being soldiers. On the parade ground at Cinder City an extraordinary scene was witnessed.

They were hustled into their places in different parts of the ranks, and the order ‘Right turn! Quick march!’ was shouted. The company moved briskly off, but dotted on the parade ground were seventeen conscientious objectors still in their original positions. And in their original positions in every sense they stood to the end, the bulwark of our movement, tested and not found wanting.

Subsequent happenings are best described by some quotations from the account of his experiences, written by one of the men.



Physical ill treatment, bullying and threatening ensued (coupled with many encouragements to "Stick it!" from the privates), and finally some of the men (the party was split up) were ordered 28 days' Field Punishment No.1, to receive which they were marched to the Field Punishment Camp at Harfleur. Refusal to work in the quarry led to their return to the main camp.

    


Many volunteer and conscripted soldiers were sentenced to death and some were shot at dawn.