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Time Witnesses: A Conscientious Objection To War

"I refuse on moral and rational grounds to take part in any military activity or to assist the military machine in any way. I believe that the method of War is wrong and futile. Might is not Right but it is illogical to attempt to prove it by means of force. I cannot and will not kill, or help in the killing of human beings I do not know and with whom I have no quarrel...''

Arthur Pay took the courageous and moral step of registering as a conscientious objector at the outset of World War Two.

For other stories of the effects of war on civilians please visit timewitnesses.org/

I thought it might be an idea to record what I actually did as a Conscientious Objector (usually shortened to just 'conchie') in the second of the series of wars to make the world safe for democracy.

I was born on 3rd October 1915 and up to the time I was about 14 years of age, I had very little idea of politics, nor much idea of other nations of the world.

In 1931 at the age of 16 I read that famous book "The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists". It made a deep impression on me and straightway I joined the Labour Party, and a few months after, the Labour Party League of Youth, and my course was set.

In 1932 after getting my General Schools Certificate and Matriculation Exemption, I started work at Waterlow and Sons as an estimating clerk. It was here that I first met Charlotte Burton, who sat opposite to me, on the other side of the desk, and with whom I fell in love and eventually married. Fortunately she shared my views and politics.

During this period I joined the Peace Pledge Union and various other anti-war movements, and I remember attending a meeting at Kingsway Hall run by an organisation called the United Front which incorporated all the Left Wing groups opposed to War, during which there was squabbling and fisticuffs on the platform and in the audience. This was only quelled by the Red Flag being played on the organ, whereupon everybody stopped scrapping - but only until the end of the music, when they were at it again immediately.

At the outbreak of war I registered as a conscientious objector. It was several months before I was summoned to appear before a Tribunal at the Law Courts to give reasons for my objections, and by this time many of my age-group had entered one of the three Services and been involved in the hostilities that occurred when the British Army was pushed out of Europe and France capitulated.

I attended the Tribunal in August 1940. My position so far as the war was concerned is possibly best illustrated by my submission on the form, as follows:-

"I refuse on moral and rational grounds to take part in any military activity or to assist the military machine in any way. I believe that the method of War is wrong and futile. Might is not Right but it is illogical to attempt to prove it by means of force. I cannot and will not kill, or help in the killing of human beings I do not know and with whom I have no quarrel

Since I realise that the War is actually in progress and that people are likely to be killed and injured, I am prepared to assist them to keep out of danger and help them if they are injured by serving in the ARP or the AFS as they are at present constituted; but I will not in any circumstances resign my right to judge and act according to that which I know is right.

I believe my objection to be a conscientious one, since ostracism, imprisonment or any penalty will not alter my determination to do that which is right. I have held and expressed these views for the past seven years."

The decision of the Tribunal was that I should remain in my occupation at Waterlows or take up work in connection with the land. I was promptly sacked by Waterlows.

After a visit to the Labour Exchange I was directed to the Huntingdon War Agricultural Committee and cycled down to Huntingdon to start work in September 1940.

I was first sent to a group of men who were occupying an isolated and derelict old farmhouse at Yaxley Fen, and who were collecting and burning twitch grass that had overgrown the whole of the farm area during the period between the wars. The grassand roots had to be raked out of the fine black earth andthere was so much dust and smoke involved that everybodyworked with cloths round their heads to filter off the muck.There were about twelve of us and we slept on straw palliasses on the upper floor of the empty farm house.

There was no running water or electricity, only earth closets - in short, it was very primitive. One very scruffy old man was delegated to cook for us, and I recall that he kept an old pickle jar for his convenience during the night when we all slept in the same room. He threw his nightly efforts out of the window in the morning. We washed in water from rain butts and had to wait to strain off the mosquito larvae after they had been killed off with soap, before we could make our ablutions.

After a few days of this very primitive living, I was taken from the gang and sent to Elton Hall Stables with five other conscientious objectors. This place was much more comfortable, with electricity and running water, and you could shop in the village. The company was also more congenial as we had all objected tomilitary service, although it seems on very different grounds. Therewere religious objectors, a vegetarian who wouldn't kill anything,including insects or bacteria and a communist who tookthe fact that Russia was not involved to prove that the war was therefore a capitalist war.

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