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Selwyn Henry Frederick Hayes

Lifetime: 1886-1962

Reference: MH47/9/56


An extract from Selwyn Henry Frederick Hayes' application for exemption

Selwyn Henry Frederick Hayes appealed on 8 March 1916 against the decision of the Teddington Local Military Service Tribunal to refuse him an exemption from conscription on the grounds of his conscientious objection to the undertaking of combatant services. His appeal documentation should have been destroyed in the 1920s but by an administrative oversight the records of the Middlesex Tribunals survived and are now held by the National Archives. All the records of the Middlesex Tribunals are available online and can be downloaded free of charge.

A mandatory National Register of able bodied men had been announced in the middle of 1915. By the end of that year, the supply of volunteers who had initially responded in a wave of patriotism to the call to arms embodied on Lord Kitchener’s iconic poster, had dried up as the catastrophic realities of modern warfare became grimly evident. Accordingly, in 1916 the government was reluctantly forced to introduce Conscription. Until this point the British had been proud of the fact that, unlike their continental neighbours (France and Germany), their force was entirely formed of volunteers. Conscription was initially limited under the terms of the first Military Service Act, which came into force in March 1916, to unmarried men aged between 18 and 41. However, shortly afterwards, in May 1916, conscription was extended to include married men by the Second Military Service Act.

The legislation provided that the Tribunals could hear appeals for exemption on set grounds including: infirmity or ill-health; employment in work (military or otherwise) of national interest; being trained or educated in work in the national interest; if serious hardship would ensue as a result of conscription and (most controversially) conscientious objections to the undertaking of combative service.

In practice, the Tribunals were seldom sympathetic to conscientious objectors or “conchies” as they were known and who were viewed by the majority of the population simply as cowards. The No-Conscription Fellowship (“NCF”) had been founded in 1914 by the socialist Fenner Brockway. By the time the first Military Service Bill was introduced the NCF had 10,000 members including such prominent figures as philosopher Betrand Russell. The number of registered conscientious objectors rose to 16,000 over the course of the war. Of these 7,000 ultimately did serve in the army in a host of non-combatant roles particularly as stretcher bearers. A further 3,000 did work of national importance e.g. on farms or worked with the (Quaker) Friends’ Ambulance Service in France. The remaining 6,000 initially preferred prison to service although many subsequently accepted roles in workcamps. The hard core who resisted even that final scheme are known as “Absolutists”. Those who were imprisoned were treated extremely harshly with 41 being illegally sent to France where they were subjected, first to a court martial and, subsequently, to Field Punishment Number One i.e. being tied to a wagon wheel.70 conscientious objectors died in prison and the stigma remained after the war. Conscientious objectors could not vote for five years.

Selwyn Henry Frederick Hayes describes himself as an “auditor” on his appeal documentation. At the time of his appeal he was a thirty year old unmarried man living at 25 Bushey Park Road, Hampton Wick. He had been born in the third quarter of 1885 in Basingstoke where he was baptised on 13 August 1885. By the time of the 1891 Census he had moved with his parents Johnny and Edith Hayes and siblings to 1a Priory Grove, Vauxhall. Ten years later, the family had made the move to Teddington where they lived at 1 Shalford Cottage, Teddington. Selwyn, now aged 15, was a Railway Clerk like his father, John H F Hayes (44). Selwyn was the eldest of five children. He had one sister, Mabel F B Hayes (14) and three brothers: Fred S Hayes (12); Cecil B J Hayes (9) and Percy R Hayes (7). By 1911 his father had presumably died as his mother Edith (56) is listed as head of the household at 30 Coleshill Road, Teddington. The family now comprised Selwyn; his mother; Mabel (aged 23 and working as a telephonist); his brother Fred (now 22 and employed as a Railway Clerk); Cecil (20 and working as a joiner’s apprentice) and Percy (18 and employed as a Railway Messenger).

The family appear to be members of the upwardly mobile working class. Selwyn’s Employment Records at the London & South West Railway Company survive. He joined as a junior clerk in the audit office in November 1899, aged 14, apparently on the recommendation of a Colonel Campbell. Initially he was paid £30 per annum. However, he rose through the ranks receiving regular pay increases and a promotion (in 1903) to Clerk. By 1914 he was earning £110 per annum. He had also passed an accounts course at the LSE in 1910/11 and he now met the property qualification for the electoral roll as he is included on the voting list in 1913 for Teddington. He was listed as a lodger with 2 rooms on the second floor of his mother’s house at 30 Coleshill Road for which he paid 15 shillings rent a week. His career was progressing well; and then his record reports (in red) his summary dismissal on 27th November 1915 for misconduct. The nature of that misconduct is not specified. However, it is tempting to speculate it might have been connected to his refusal to “attest” in the National Register his willingness to fight.

His original application for an exemption made on 24 February 1916 (the “Feast of Saint Matthias”) suggests a well educated, thoughtful and principled young man. His grounds for applying for an exemption, rooted in religious and social idealism, were:

I believe in the sanctity of human life and the brotherhood of man, therefore I will never be involved in organised mechanical murder. I deny the right of any man or government to say “that you shall bear arms “; and therefore, from deep spiritual convictions, I refuse to bear arms; nor can I help or assist, in any way whatsoever, the prosecution of war. All war is wrong. For this reason I cannot undertake alternative service, whatever may be the penalty. War denies the brotherhood of man; war is the negation of Christianity. It appeals to brute force and stifles the nobler and gentler passions of man: it is a relapse to barbarism, and is contrary to the Will of God. Conscription takes away I liberty of person II freedom of conscience III freedom of speech. My principles and religious convictions are unalterable and I am prepared to suffer all the consequences of my action and belief.

Predictably, his application was refused by Local Tribunal on 6 March 1916 on the ground that he was not a member of any particular Religious Denomination but was a member of the NCF. Selwyn appealed unsuccessfully on 8 March to the County of Middlesex Appeal Tribunal at the Guildhall against the decision of the Local Tribunal. His grounds of appeal are interesting both for the extent of the bias he alleges was shown by the members of the Local Tribunal at his hearing and for the manner in which he alleges the hearing was conducted. He claims that the decision “went against the weight of the evidence produced to the Tribunal.” He adds that although the Chairman and other members were satisfied as to the genuineness of his claims there was “no effort made by the tribunal to carry out the provisions of the Military Service Act”. Further, he alleges bias on the part of several members of the tribunal who were “pronounced conscriptionists” and who “ made no attempt ……..to act in a judicial capacity”. The questions to which he was subjected were, he complains, “irrelevant, and absurd”. His Appeal was refused on 29 March 1916 and his application dated 1 April 1916 to appeal to the Central Tribunal also failed.

The records of the NCF, now held by the Working Class Movement Library in Manchester, reveal that Selwyn was a Quaker attending the Friends Meeting House in Kingston. After his Appeal to the Central Tribunal against conscription failed, he was classified as a Class A Conscientious Objector. He was ordered to serve in the Non-Combative Corps at Hounslow. His refusal to serve resulted in his arrest and remand on bail at Teddington Police Court until 17 April 1916. He was tried at Feltham Police Court, fined and handed over to serve at Hounslow Barracks. He continued to refuse to serve. A Court Martial followed on 28 April 1916 at which the army imposed a sentence of six months’ hard labour on Selwyn. He served one hundred and twelve days of his sentence at Wandsworth Military Prison. The treatment of Conscientious Objectors in prison was notoriously harsh. They were held in solitary confinement and subjected to a punitive regime by warders who despised their refusal to fight. Selwyn was released from Wandsworth on 28th August 1917, under the Home Office Scheme, to a work camp at Dartmoor. Here the regime was slightly more humane and conscientious objectors were allowed to roam over the Moor after their work was complete. The Absolutists refused even to make this accommodation with the authorities and, in fact, after two months Selwyn did elect to return to serve at Pentonville Civil Prison on 5 November 1917.

Unfortunately, at this point Selwyn Henry Frederick Hayes disappears from the official records and so it is impossible to determine what happened next. He was visited by the Society of Quakers who visited Conscientious Objectors in prison. It may be that the records of the prison visitors or of the Kingston Meeting house 9both of which are held at the Library of the Religious Society of Friends in Euston may be bale to shed some light on his post war life. However, the Probate Records do note he died on 4 August 1962 at St John’s Hospital Junction, Andover, Hampshire and that he left an estate worth £872 8 s 1d to his widowed sister.

The first phase of this Project is to gather information about the men commemorated on the Hampton Wick War Memorial who fought in the Great War, also known as World War I, WWI or the First World War.

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