Friday, 16 June 2017

"my life will be spent in fighting the Christian fight against Militarism in England.”......... stories behind the book nu 19

An occasional series on the stories behind the new book on Manchester and the Great War*

Mr Harold Wild
Harold Wild was a conscientious objector  who could have exempted himself on medical grounds because he was badly disabled and so would have been judged unfit for military service, but because he was a pacifist chose instead to refuse to fight.

He had been born in 1896, was a member of the Rusholme Wesleyan Methodist Church, and at one point, considered ordination to the ministry of the church. His response, when his call-up papers came, was to ignore them which led to his arrest and a series of tribunal appearances.

In 1974 in a letter written to his daughter he reflected that “looking back over the years, I do not feel that I could have taken any other stand than I did, involving one night in the Town Hall’s Police cells, a ride in the ‘Black Maria’ to Minshull Street Police Station & a night in the ‘Guard-room’ of Ashton Barracks, followed by an interview before the Officer in charge (without any clothing on me). 

He was probably of the opinion that if I had tamely submitted myself to a normal military exam. I would have been rejected & he wanted to know WHY I refused military service.” **

Throughout the period he kept a diary which explains the reasons behind his opposition to the war and is also a very detailed picture of the peace campaign locally.***

Writing in his diary on the evening of December 31 1915 he concluded that “my life perhaps will be spent in fighting the Christian fight against Militarism in England.”

And it was a fight spent at the sharp end of campaigning including street meetings, the distribution of leaflets as well as attending lectures and rallies some of which were attended by people like Philip Snowden and Bertrand Russell.

They could range from a gathering at the gates of Alexandra Park handing out leaflets to big set meetings in Milton Hall on Deansgate or the often rowdy events in Stevenson Square.

Chief amongst these were meetings of the No Conscription Fellowship**** of which he was an active member, meetings of the Independent Labour Party and British Socialist Party along with those of various Christian groups.

Meetings in 1916
Some days he packed two or three meetings in travelling across the city and into the neighbouring townships.

From the March of 1915 through to the November of 1918 he recorded a total of 147 meetings and lectures.

They rose from 21 in 1915 to 84 during 1916, falling down to 18 in 1917 and 24 the following year.

Some at least of these were attendant with danger from hostile crowds or police raids.

On more than one occasion he wrote that a police raid was followed by arrests and the confiscation of peace literature.

In the June of 1916 and again the following year he was “detained and searched” following a police raid and casually reported that on another occasion that  “on my way home I found a military raid in progress on the premises of Lyons Cafe, Market Street."

Picture; Mr Harold Wild courtesy of Mrs Dorothy Spence

*A new book on Manchester and the Great War,

** Letter from Harold Wild to Dorothy Spence, nee Wild November 17, 1974

*** Wild, Harold, The Diary of a Conscientious Objector, 1915-1919, edited by Dorothy Spence, published online

****The No Conscription Fellowship was established in the early months of the war from men who were not prepared to fight. Its Statement of Faith adopted in 1915 recorded that it was an organisation of  "men likely to bear arms, who will refuse from conscientious motives to bear arms because they consider human life to be sacred.” 

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