Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Patriots and Pacifists

Llandrindod's Baptist Tabernacle would hardly seem a likely setting for a mini-riot; but such was the case in the summer of 1917 when the Welsh branches of the Fellowship of Reconciliation - who had been holding a conference in the town - organised a public meeting entitled "The Church and the World after the War."

Word got about that the meeting might be of a pacifist nature, which soon attracted the interest of a sizeable party of "patriots" also visiting the town for a bowling tournament.  They were not disappointed because the first speaker - John Davies, the Dowlais miner's agent and a former Labour mayor of Merthyr Tydfil - was soon ranting about profiteers and "other gamblers in the lives and blood of their fellow men."

These sentiments naturally outraged the patriotic section of the audience who were soon singing Rule Britannia and God Save the King.  Faced with disorder the Llandrindod deacons hurriedly ran up the white flag and abandoned the meeting.  The mob, by now some hundreds strong, repaired to South Crescent to pass resolutions in favour of the war while Mr Davies and his friends were forced to beat a hasty retreat.

Handily the newspapers have left us the names of some of the more strident patriots, and with the help of the 1911 census we find:

Goodfellow, solicitor, born Devon, age 49, from Caerphilly
Errington, commercial traveller, born Durham, age 56, from Cardiff
Atkinson, agent, born Lancashire, age 53, from Swansea

Am I spotting something of a pattern here?

Of course this had little to do with Radnorshire, with both patriots and pacifists being mainly summer visitors to the town. What I think you can find in local attitudes to the war is the age-old Radnorian search for a modus vivendi, a means of quietly getting on with life alongside far more powerful outside forces.

We can see this in the frustrated work of that angel of death Captain Shrimpton, the county's  military recruiter.  Shrimpton had worked out that there were 2173 unstarred men in the county - males between the ages of 18 and 41, eligible for military service and not working in reserved occupations.  His job was to get these fellows into khaki.  It must have seemed to him that the job of the local appeals tribunal was to keep them safe at home.

Out of 1035 appeals heard in the summer months of 1916 only 35 had been disallowed (3.4%). Since the county tribunal system - it's members in the main were local councillors - had been set up in Radnorshire just 33% of appeals from those in urban districts had been disallowed, while in the rural districts only 13% had failed to get an exemption or a delay.

How long this reluctance to send local men to the colours was kept-up I'm not sure and most of the appeals allowed were in respect of perceived work and family commitments. There were a few Radnorshire conscientious objectors though - the three Jenkins boys from Penybont, who served with the Friends Ambulance Unit, for example.

1 comment:

Jac o' the North, said...

Some things never change. Still the same people singing Rule Britannia.