WWI Conscientious Objectors

The 'Richmond Sixteen' - Imprisoned in the Castle Keep

During the First World War, Richmond Castle was used as a base for the Non-Combatant Corps, an army unit set up to enable men to support the war effort without fighting. Conscientious objectors were often sent to join this unit. 

The castle also had a more sinister wartime use, as a military prison for 16 Conscientious Objectors, among them some of the first to refuse to fight. The 'Richmond Sixteen' included men from all walks of life, from Norman Gaudie, a former professional footballer, to Alfred Martlew, a clerk at the Rowntree’s chocolate factory in York. 

When conscription was introduced in 1916, Norman Gaudie was a 28-year-old clerk and professional football player for Sunderland. As a Quaker, Norman was a committed pacifist and so he refused to fight. After a tribunal failed to grant him an exemption (allowing him not to fight), he continued to refuse to join the army and was taken to Richmond Castle. 

Bert Brocklesby, a teacher in his mid-twenties, from a South Yorkshire mining village, had decided not to fight due to his Methodist beliefs, while his brother Philip joined up. However, both brothers understood the other's decision. 'I'm right proud of him', Philip wrote to his parents of Bert. At his tribunal, when asked what he would do if his life was in danger, Bert said:

The Sixth Commandment says 'Thou shalt not kill'. I take it it is better to be killed than kill anyone else.

Graffiti by the 'Richmond Sixteen'

The prisoners recorded their personal feelings in the form of graffiti (pictured above) including sketches, names and dates. Bert Brocklesby drew a portrait of his fiancee, Annie.

The writing in the top image says:

JESUS HOMINUM SALVATOR (Jesus Saviour of Men) and
Every cross grows light beneath the shadow, Lord of Thine.

It was created by  J.H. Brocklesby fecit on 22 May 1916 (' fecit' is the Latin word for 'made by').

The second image reads:

I, Percy F Goldsbrough of Mirfield, was brought up from Pontefract on Friday August 11th 1916 and put in to this cell for refusing to be made a soldier.


Absolutist - someone who thinks actions are either right or wrong
Conscientious - according to somebody's sense of right and wrong
Debate - discuss, question or argue
Graffiti - drawings or words painted or sprayed on walls usually in public places
Moral - an accepted standard of behaviour
Non-Combatant Corps - a unit of people not involved in fighting 
Objector - protester, disagreeing with or opposing something
Pacifism - the belief that war and killing are wrong

View other relevant My Learning WW1 resources. 

Scroll down for a list of links and resources on this topic or see the teachers' notes page for discussion and activity ideas.

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