The following is a transcription of a letter sent to the “Bexhill Observer” during the war and preceded the anonymous poem, “The Non-Combatants’ Corps” below. The letter shows how Conscientious Objectors were regarded by most people in Britain at that time.
The Conscientious Objectors
What Soldiers at the Front Think of Them
To the Editor of the “Bexhill Observer”
Sir – I should just like to say a few things about the conscientious objectors. There is nothing that makes the Tommies mad more than when they read about the conscientious objectors. God help the women and poor little children if their lives depended on being saved by objectors. We wonder what the women think who have husbands and sons at the Front when they read about the objectors and their soft tales in trying to get out of doing their bit. If anyone has had to grumble it is the lads out here, waiting all night in the trenches, up to their knees in mud and water and not allowed to light a fire chance Old Fritz happens to see the smoke, and for sturdy guardsmen joining in a loaf. And still we are all happy and content. That is more than what the chicken-hearted objector can say.
We read in one of your papers about a piano tuner saying that the firing of the guns might injure his hearing. Well, I am one who has been home on leave from the Front and has been in some tight corners in my eighteen months’ experience out here, and faced death many a time. It was only last Thursday we were under one of the biggest bombardments that has been witnessed for some time on this front: it lasted nearly for 7 hours. God only knows how we escaped death, as there were shells and shrapnel bursting all around us. But, thank God, it has not affected our hearing. We have very often wished that we had some of the objectors out here with us bringing up rations. It is a common thing for us to have to lie down in the road while Old Fritz has played a few tunes on his machine guns, and the places where we have to go on fatigue are called Hill Fire Corner and Death Trap Corner. There are a few more nice corners, so you can judge for yourselves what sort of place this is. So I hope that some of those who object to war and killing will think again, and not imagine that we are at war because we like it, but because we are drawn into it against a common foe and it is up to every able-bodied man to do his share when needed. There is no excuse now; the women are doing their bit, and your sweethearts – and nobly, too – so hurry up you men and do your duty for the brave women and home – surely something worth fighting for. One last wish; I hope you will print this message.
Yours truly, (Corporal) A. WESTGATE, D.C.M.,
1st Battalion Coldstream Guards, B.E.F.
The Non-Combatants’ Corps
We are the Rag-tag Army,
We are the N. C. C.,
We must not fight, we cannot kill
What earthly good are we?
But when we get to Berlin,
The Kaiser he will roar,
Hoch, hoch, Mein Gott!
What a Funny-looking lot
Are the Non-Combatant Corps
The next poem also appeared in the “Bexhill Observer” and the newspaper said it was written by a Sapper B. Winch (one of the Royal Engineers working on their part of the front lines). It was sent in by someone identified, only, as a “Southdowns’ Sergeant”, who added that it was written while a heavy bombardment, by the Germans, was taking place.
Only a Conscientious Objector
I’m one of a peace-loving nation,
Who loves not slaughter and strife,
And I’m a strong conscientious objector
To the taking of anyone’s life.
So put me down as one of the C.O.s,
For it’s my duty, I think, to object
To the slaughter of women and children,
And my own life, you bet, I respect.
I’ve at present a good situation,
And am living a strenuous life,
With a pretty fair remuneration,
I’ve loving children and wife.
So I’ve made up my mind to object, sir,
And take a most determined stand,
And I hope of conscientious objectors
There’ll soon be millions at hand.
You may call me a liar if you like, sir,
But I mean every word that I say,
For I’m one of the conscientious objectors
To the scoundrel who boasted “The Day.”
Now you see the kind of objection,
And in what direction it lay,
The best plan for our children’s protection,
Is barring the Allemande’s way.
And for every shell that he sends us
We must send them a dozen or more,
And we’ll send hand grenades, and trench mortars,
Including whizz-bangs galore.
And that’s the kind of objection
Each individual should lay,
So spring up smart to attention,
And -make him remember ” The Day’
I’ve still got a good situation,
Am drawing a regular pay,
But victory is our chief remuneration,
Not forgetting our shilling a day.
And I’ve still a strong conscientious objection,
I don’t believe in slaughter and strife,
But I think it’s the wrong way to stop it
By staying at home with the wife.
By Sapper B. Winch