So far in this blog we have mainly covered individuals who served, either at home or overseas, and we have not really touched on conscientious objectors. These were individuals who refused to do military service on moral or ethical grounds. Following the introduction of compulsory conscription in January 1916, men who had reasons for being excused from military service, were called before local tribunals. These Military Service Tribunals were held regularly and, in the case of Wolverhampton, were held at Wolverhampton Council Chamber. Due to the sensitive issues that surrounded compulsory military service during and after the First World War, only a small minority of the tribunal papers survive, as the Ministry of Health dictated in 1921 that these should be destroyed. Although the local newspapers, including the Express and Star and the Wolverhampton Chronicle did report on the tribunals, details of the individuals who came before them were anonymised. However, individuals who were then later taken to court, are identified, so we are able to track their stories.
We first see reference to these two individuals in the Express & Star‘s report on the Tettenhall tribunal on 24 March 1916. This refers to “two assistant masters at a well-known College” who declared their conscientious objection to war. Both men had joined the Non-Conscription League, and one had written that he believed “hate can be overcome by love.” The headmaster of the College had written in support of their plea for exemption, but not on moral grounds (“He did not agree with the attitude of the men as pacifists”), but on the grounds that “he was shorthanded, and the absence of the masters would be detrimental to the boys in their examination.” Their appeal was refused at the Tribunal.
Subsequently, on 17 April 1916, an article appears, stating that William Arthur Cooper (aged 33) and Ronald Edward Pond (aged 25), both assistant masters at Tettenhall College, have appeared before the Wolverhampton County Police Court, charged with “having failed to report themselves for service in the army under the Military Service Act.” The article states that they had been offered non-combatant service, but this was declined. Cooper declared that they could “not serve the army in any way, believing they were serving the best interest of the country in their present profession.” Each man was fined 40s., and was remanded to await an escort.
We do not hold the staff records of Tettenhall College, and there are a number of William Arthur Coopers born about the same time, so we can’t find much more about these men. Ronald Pond was born in Camberwell in 1890, and appears to have married a Muriel A. Loxton in Wolverhampton in 1932. I will keep trawling the newspapers to see if there are any subsequent reports of these two men.