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Frederick Peake Sexton

Lifetime: 1882-1955

Reference: MH47/12/81


Frederick Peake Sexton's Definitons & Formulae - a well known work for students of Electrical Installation

Frederick Peake Sexton appealed on 8 March 1916 against the decision of the Hampton Wick Local Military Service Tribunal to refuse him an exemption from conscription on the grounds of (inter alia) 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 stigma attached to conscientious objectors continued after the end of the war and they could not vote for five years.

Frederick Peake Sexton described himself as an “Electrical Engineer & Contractor…Lecturer & Consultant” on his appeal documentation. At the time of his appeal he was a thirty three year old, unmarried man, living with his family at Warwick Lodge (now Wickham House), 2 Upper Teddington Road, Hampton Wick.

He had been born on 18 September 1882 in Lambeth. His father, Frederick Maurice Sexton (born in Hammersmith in 1859) was a civil servant working as an Examiner in HM Patent Office (a job which, perhaps, suggests both a scientific bent and an interest in the scientific innovations rapidly occurring at that time). His mother was Fanny Kezia Sexton (nee Ball) who had been born in Southport. Frederick was the oldest of the couple’s four children. Four years after his birth, his sister, Edith Fanny Sexton, arrived. Tragically she died three years later, shortly before his surviving sister, Frances Hilda Sexton, was born in 1890. The 1890s were a time of many domestic moves for the Sexton family as it grew more numerous (and presumably) more prosperous. By the time of Frances’s birth, the family had moved to Honor Oak , Peckham. Subsequently, the family’s residence is listed in the 1891 Census as 6 Burton Gardens, Greenwich. By 1895 the family had moved on to Blackheath where his younger brother, Walter George Sexton, was born in that year. By 1901, the family had made the move to Hampton Wick. The Census of that year records that they were living at Hollydale, Vicarage Road. Finally, by 1911 the family had moved to the extensive ten roomed Warwick Lodge and had a live-in domestic servant. Frederick (now 28) is described as a Consulting Electrical Engineer with his own business. The family were presumably quite enlightened as his sister, Frances Hilda Sexton, now aged 20 is listed as a “student”.

Frederick attended The Royal College of Science (a constituent college of Imperial College) as a student from 1902 until 1905 and graduated as an Associate in Physics (which was equivalent to a degree at that time). His career as outlined in the appeal documentation suggests that he had received an extensive scientific training. He remained at The Royal College from 1905 until 1906 working as a Demonstrator in Physics. He then moved to Woolwich Polytechnic (now University of Greenwich) where he lectured in Experimental Physics from 1906-1907. Moving closer to home, from 1907-1908 he undertook Research Work at the National Physical Laboratory, Teddington (which had only been opened five years before and was operating on a tiny budget under its founder Sir Richard Glazebrook). The following year saw yet another move: this time as Lecturer in Mathematics & Electricity at the Central Technical School for Cornwall in Truro (a prestigious establishment set up by a millionaire Cornish philanthropist who also established the Whitechapel Gallery, the Mary Ward Centre and the LSE). Frederick’s tenure in Truro was typically brief, lasting only from 1909 until 1910. Indeed, it is difficult to know what the series of impressive, if short-lasting, posts reveals about Frederick. One could infer that he was deeply ambitious and keen to amass as wide a range of experience as possible or perhaps he was overly ambitious or just not very good. Perhaps he was employed on a series of short term contracts. In any event, by 1911 he had decided to set up an Electrical Engineering Contractor’s business in Kingston operating out of 48, London Road and trading as “Thames Electrical Co”. His father provided the Capital and it would appear that as at the date of the Appeal in 1916 the business had yet to generate a substantial profit. Frederick supplemented his business income by working as a Lecturer in Mathematics & Electrical Engineering at Battersea Polytechnic (now Surrey University) from 1912.

Whatever the financial status of his business, by 1916 it is clear that Frederick was making professional progress. He was an Associate of the Royal College of Science and an Associate Member of the Institute of Electrical Engineers (the “IEE” now the IET) (of which he remained a member until his death in 1955). His career after the First World War appears to have been solidly successful. He may not have made a fortune out of his patent application in 1919 for a card game relating to cars but he made a useful contribution to a discussion on starters in the IEE Journal 1922 and published two technical books on Electrical Wiring including Electrical Installation Work [Definitions and Formulae for Students] which ran for many editions in the 1930s but strangely as yet without a reader review on Amazon! He married Dorothy Emma Osborne, a fellow resident of Hampton Wick, at St John the Baptist’s, Hampton Wick on 7 July 1918. The couple appear to have moved to Teddington in 1925 and thereafter lived in a variety of addresses in Surbiton and Kingston. During the Second World War, according to the records of the Imperial College Masonic Lodge, of which he was a member, he trained Electrical Engineering Units of the Royal Army Service Corps and Radio Units of the Royal Navy, R.A.F. and W.A.A.F. His activities in the Second World War might tend to suggest that his conscientious objections to the First were not as deeply rooted as he argued they were! At the time of his death on 2 November 1955 he was living at 182, Elgar Avenue, Surbiton, Surrey.

His original application for an exemption on 19 February 1916 was made on several grounds including that of “an absolute conscientious and religious objection to every form of military service”. In reality the whole tenure of his case suggests that this was far from the real reason for his refusing to fight. He weakens his argument for conscientious objection by mentioning as a ground the financial hardship he would suffer in the event of his being called up: he complains it would be “necessary for me to close up my business” endangering the whole of his capital and a considerable amount of borrowed money thereby losing five years’ work. He also claims to already be carrying out work of National Importance as a wholesale supplier and contractor to various companies including The Sopwith Aviation Co engaged in war work (such work not being entirely consistent with someone who found war morally repugnant!). More convincingly, he argues that he is already working at the National Polytechnic acting “in the place of an enlisted man” and carrying on the work of two fellow contractors who were respectively serving in the Navy and in a Munitions Factory.

Oddly, his application does appear to have been initially successful at a local level (perhaps because of his father’s connections with the Board in Hampton Wick) with an exemption from combatant service being granted. This decision was swiftly overturned and Frederick duly appealed on 8th March 1916 against the withdrawal of the exemption. It is clear from the Chairman’s statement of the decision dated 10th March 1916 that the Local Tribunal was not convinced of the genuineness of his objection. In his Appeal Frederick claimed that he had based his claim originally purely on his conscientious objection but “was persuaded by friends to put in other claim as a 2nd string.” The Local Tribunal considered that the fact that he was prepared to accept work for firms who were supplying materials to kill the Germans without troubling his conscience tended to suggest that his conscientious objection “was not well founded and that it was more a question of money”. Accordingly, the Appeal decision made on 27th March 1916 gave a one month temporary exemption from that date but removed the exemption from combatant service originally granted.

At this point Frederick obviously deemed it expedient to drop his conscientious objection in favour of an application based on the other grounds which were more likely to succeed. Accordingly, on 22 June 1916 he lodged a fresh application for an exemption on the grounds that as the only “scientifically qualified Electrical Engineer in private practice in the area” he was doing work supplying materials to various firms /institutions doing war work; that if he were exempted he would probably work for NPL; and that if he were called up he would suffer serious hardship as his business would have to be closed down. This Application was also dismissed on 3 July 1916. Frederick tried to appeal to the Central Tribunal on 5 July 1916 on the grounds that the Tribunal had not fairly considered his arguments or sufficiently valued his undoubted talents. Frederick’s claims come across as rather desperate and one’s sympathies tend to lie with the Tribunal who had not been sympathetic to Frederick’s claims that he had been unable to sell the business after six weeks (perhaps because it was only now after five years starting to make a profit?). He seemed surprised that the Tribunal didn’t take seriously his ”virtual offer of employment from NPL” and were swayed (possibly correctly) by the fact that he was not supporting any member of his family and were unimpressed by his impressive list of numerous (short term ) academic posts. Not surprisingly, he was not granted further leave to appeal. However, his final statement reveals he had only been passed fit for garrison service and the fact that he appears to have been resident in Hampton Wick when the Banns were called for his marriage in July 1918 tend to suggest that Frederick managed to avoid service in France at the Front.

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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