Conscientious Objector Who Paid the Ultimate Price for His Beliefs; SMALL Minority of Men Resisted Today Is Conscientious Objectors'Day and Dr Aled Eirug Takes a Closer Look at the Life of One Welshman Who Died Because of the Mistreatment He Received

Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales), May 15, 2018 | Go to article overview

Conscientious Objector Who Paid the Ultimate Price for His Beliefs; SMALL Minority of Men Resisted Today Is Conscientious Objectors'Day and Dr Aled Eirug Takes a Closer Look at the Life of One Welshman Who Died Because of the Mistreatment He Received


Byline: Dr Aled Eirug

ASMALL minority of men resisted all attempts to be coerced into supporting the First World War effort and became conscientious objectors.

One of their number, Walter Leslie Roberts - a young architect brought up at Hawarden in Flintshire and living near Stockport, Lancashire - became the first conscientious objector to die as a result of his treatment in captivity by the prison authorities.

Roberts' family came from Flintshire, but he appeared before his local tribunal in Stockport and became the first CO to die during the war as a result of his treatment.

In September 1916, he was one of a party of 250 COs released from prison to work under the Home Office at a camp near Aberdeen.

The conditions of the camp, situated on a windswept hillside, were grim and the men lived in tents that had been condemned as unfit for soldiers and which leaked in the rain.

They worked for 10 hours a day smashing granite for road building in the nearby quarry, and on September 6, 1916, he wrote to his mother stating: "As I anticipated, it has only been a matter of time for the damp conditions to get the better of me.

"Bartie Wild is now writing to my dictation because I am now too weak to handle a pen myself.

"I don't want you to worry yourself because the doctor says I have only got a severe chill so there is no reason why I should not be strong in a day or two."

During the night, he fell out of his bed and lay on the wet ground for two hours, and on the following day he died, aged just 20.

Following his death the other inmates at the camp complained about the conditions, and following a visit by a delegation of MPs the camp was closed and conditions in other camps were improved.

Roberts was buried in Hawarden churchyard, and the inscription on his grave reads: "The young hands have carried His standard/ Right on to the end of the day/ And we know that the nations will follow/ Where thou hast trod the way.

At the end of the war, the Christian pacifist E.K. Jones idealised the experiences of the conscientious objectors as a "golden chapter" in his recollection of three years of persecution: "The prayer meeting in that locked cell: the spiritual talk (or chat), the verses of scripture written upon that wall of iron: the sorrow over that fine soldier that had been sacrificed in vain, the gentle conduct of our men at the court martial, the courage shown in the face of collapsed health and when reason was failing, and the cheerful readiness to die for the faith. …

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