These are three short bits about Conscientious Objectors. One is still sung about in Scotland his name is John Maclean (24 August 1879 – 30 November 1923). Born in Pollockshaws on the outskirts of Glasgow. John was Britain’s only revolutionary communist. The others of his era, Manny Shinwell, Willie Gallacher and the other leading lights of Red Clydeside were Parliamentarian Communists. Educated at Glasgow University where he obtained an MA. John spent most of his adult life teaching other adults in Glasgow and founded the Scottish Labour College. He was Britains first Bolshevik Consul, although not recognised by the Westminster Government. Imprisoned for his anti-war stance under the provisions of the Defence of the Realm Act (DORA) he went on hunger strike and was released after protests. In April 1918 he was again arrested. At the beginning of December 1918 he was released. An event commemorated in a song by Hamish Henderson.
“Hey Mac did ye see him as ye cam’ doon by Gorgie,
Awa ower the Lammerlaw or North o’ the Tay?
Yon man is comin’ and the haill toon is turnin’ oot:
We’re a’ sure he’ll win back to Glesga the day.
The jiners and hauders-oan are marchin’ frae Clydebank;
Come on noo an hear him – he’ll be ower thrang tae bide.
Turn oot, Jock and Jimmie: leave your cranes and your muckle gantries.
Great John MacLean’s comin’ back tae the Clyde.
Aye, Great John MacLean’s comin’ back tae the Clyde”
John’s health was broken by the harsh treatment he received in prison and he died a few short years later.
The second is buried in a grave now looked after by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission. His name is Alexander Robert Cook, and he is buried in Stow, Selkirkshire.
(Photo by Finches on Find a Grave)
Alexander was a school teacher in the Shetlands. He appeared before a Military Service Tribunal in March 1916 for an exception to military service. The tribunal only granted him an exemption from combat and he was called up for the Non-Combatant Corps. Alexander refused and at the beginning of March 1917 he was arrested and handed over to the Military. The Army took him to Fort Goerge were because he refused to put on a uniform he was court-martialed and sentenced to 112 days imprisonment in Wormwood Scrubs. Offered the chance to work in the Home Office Scheme, which was basically forced manual labour on war-related projects in the UK, Construction, road building he refused and after his sentence was up he was sent back to his unit. He again disobeyed any and all orders. This time was to be imprisoned in the notorious Bar-L, Barlinnie Prison, Glasgow. Released back to his unit as unwell. Still refusing to wear a uniform or obey orders he spent the remainder of his life in and out of hospital suffering from both physical and poor mental health he died in Dykebar War Hospital, Paisley, on 13 June 1919.
The third and last but by no means, the least of the three is a soldier known only as “Jamie” Not much is known about Jamie. I learnt of him in a letter an officer of the Royal Scots, Lt Murphy sent to his family in WW1. Jamie was a conscientious objector who did not want to be thought of as a coward. So he enlisted. Every time the battalion went into action Jamie went with them. They went over the top, Jamie went over the top. All Jamie did was unclip his magazine, made sure his rifle was unloaded and put his bayonet back into its sheath. Jamie as a matter of conscience and a devout Christian was not going to kill anyone and made sure he never did. As far as it is known Jamie survived the war.
More on the Great John Maclean and Alexander Cook can be found using Google. Alexander is buried not too far, under a mile, from where an elephant is buried. Sadly apart from one letter in private hands I have been unable to find anything else about Jamie.