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Archives reveal the men from Burton who were opposed to war

By Burton Mail  |  Posted: August 18, 2014

By Matthew Cobb

Men from the Staffordshire Regiment during the First World War.

Men from the Staffordshire Regiment during the First World War.

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ONE hundred years ago, thousands of men from throughout Staffordshire were leaving their loved ones to go and serve their King and country in unknown lands.

However there were many men who were opposed to the conflict and refused to go. They were shunned, ridiculed and labelled cowards by those around them. Now, a new project has been launched to tell the stories of Staffordshire's conscientious objectors.

Staffordshire and Stoke-on-Trent Archive Service is opening up its records to shed the light on military tribunals to uncover the stories of those who fought against conscription. Having received £37,600 from the Heritage Lottery Fund to start the project, entitled 'Staffordshire Appeals: Opening Access to Staffordshire's Great War Local Military and Appeal Tribunals', the project is looking to recruit volunteers to go through a collection of more than 20,000 records, with around 15,000 to be made freely accessible online.

Hidden deep within the records is the story of John Thomas Beer, a labourer who lived in Fleet Street, Burton. When asked if he had agreed to be called up in 1915, he responded: "No, certainly, no."

Records show that at his tribunal, Mr Beer said: "I have a conscientious objection to taking life, I am a vegetarian," requesting authorities to "put me in a non-combatant class, else we starve to death. I cannot kill, whatever the consequences, even death. I hope that God will be with me before I am forced to kill."

The archives reveal that the tribunal decided he must complete some form of military service, though it is not known whether this was in a military or non-combative capacity. The outcome recorded said: "The tribunal were satisfied that this was expedient in the national interest and that the applicant should be employed in military service rather than that he should be engaged in other work in which he is habitually engaged."

Staffordshire County Council's communities leader, Mike Lawrence, said: "This is a unique project as we have a rare collection of First World War records here in Staffordshire which provide an invaluable insight into communities at that time and the working and private lives of those called up to service.

"In almost every other area of the country military appeal tribunal records were destroyed after the war and so this collection will be of great interest both here and nationally.

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