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THE MEN WHO SAID NO | ROAD TO CONSCRIPTION | CONSCIENTIOUS OBJECTION | PRISONS | SENTENCED TO DEATH | TRIBUNALS | WIDER CONTEXT | INDEX
GEORGE HAMILTON STUART BEAVIS 1880 -  

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Stuart Beavis, as he was generally known, was born in 1880, lived in Edmonton, Middlesex, and, having gained a scholarship, attended Latymer Road School, Edmonton. He became assistant manager of a factory making briar pipes for smoking. His intense belief in the brotherhood of men of all nations led him to study languages and literature of other lands, and for some time he taught French and German at the Working Men’s College, Crowndale Road, north London.

With such humanitarian zeal, and a tendency towards Quakerism, he opposed the First World War and joined the No-Conscription Fellowship, becoming local branch secretary. On 10 March 1916 he applied to Edmonton Military Service Tribunal for exemption from conscription as a conscientious objector, but was allowed only exemption from combatant service; this meant that he would be called up into the Non-Combatant Corps (NCC), guaranteed not to use or even handle weapons, but still part of the Army. Appeal on 4 April to the Middlesex County Tribunal was dismissed, so when the call-up notice came, he ignored it. In consequence, he was arrested on 25 May 1916 by the civil police, brought before Edmonton Magistrates’ Court, fined, and handed over to the military. Taken to the Mill Hill depot of the NCC, 3 Eastern Company, he refused to put on uniform, and, contrary to Army regulations, was forcibly dressed in it, before being taken to Seaford, Sussex, in a NCC attachment to 10 Battalion, the Border Regiment.

From Seaford he was taken over the night of 30 May to France, and held in a camp guardroom, from where he wrote to his mother: “We have been warned that we are now in the war zone, that the military authorities have absolute power, and disobeying may be followed by very severe penalties and very possibly the death penalty. So I just dropped you a line, in case they do not allow me to write after tomorrow. Do not be downhearted if worse comes to the worst. Many have died cheerfully before, for a worse cause.”

On 10 June, he faced court-martial, the result being formally read out on 24 June, before his assembled fellow conscripts - sentence to death by firing squad, confirmed by General Sir Douglas Haig, but, after a pause, commuted to ten years penal servitude. After a tortuous journey, he was brought back to Britain and admitted to Winchester Prison on 5 July. The next day he wrote:

When I get back to ordinary life I shall have some adventures to relate, for my experiences have been moving in more senses than one … We have not always had the pleasantest of times, though we were usually happy enough. One of the worst things to put up with all through has been the suspense and uncertainty of what would turn up next, and I think most of us felt a certain sense of relief, even when the prison doors closed behind us last night, as, although we are still looking forward to a further ordeal … the stage of actual resistance to the military threatening and bullying was at an end … I am making up my mind to go through some dark times. However, I am going to try to keep smiling, remembering that others have gone through worse for their fellows … ‘Prepare for the worst and hope for the best’ has been my motto all along, and I still have it nailed across my mental threshold.”

Stuart was transferred briefly to Wormwood Scrubs Prison, London, for appearance before the Central Tribunal on 14 August, where, because of his intransigence on “bargaining [my] right to dispose of [my] conscience” he was deemed not to be a ‘genuine’ CO and was refused the Home Office Scheme, which he had made clear he did not want, anyway. He was transferred to Maidstone Prison on 27 September 1916, and was the subject of Parliamentary Questions on 15 and 20 March 1917 as to whether there was any useful purpose in holding him in prison. The War Office responded to the effect that the law must take its course; nevertheless, despite his ten-year sentence, Stuart was released on 12 April 1919, under a provision at that time for releasing all COs who had spent at least two years in prison.

His younger brother, Walter, was also a conscientious objector, imprisoned but not sent to France or sentenced to death.

 

 

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CO DATA

Born: 1880
Died:
Address: 171 Church Street, Lower Edmonton. Middx
Tribunal: Edmonton, Exempted only from combatant service
Prison: Winchester, Wormwood Scrubs, Maidstone
HO Scheme:
CO Work:
Occupation: Assistant manager, briar pipe factory
NCF : Edmonton
Absolutist

 


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