The Imperial War Museum recorded George Dutch's early life and experiences as a conscientious objector, and we have a transcript of this, on which this text is based.
George Dutch was born in 1894, and in the later part of his life was a member of Billericay Quaker Meeting. George was a grocer's apprentice, who set up a Tunbridge Wells branch of the No Conscription fellowship in 1915, feeling that, as a Christian and an international socialist, he could have no part in the war and should, as far as possible, work against it and for an early peace.
He came to this position - which earned him prison sentences and a great deal of rough treatment - as a result of buying, for 3d, a paperback book by H.G.Wells, called 'New Worlds for Old'- an account of socialism. When George had read it, he knew that, for good or ill, he was a socialist. With a friend he joined the British Socialist party, eagerly welcomed as the first youngsters to join the branch for many years. George's Sunday School training had left him a Christian pacifist, which linked well with the international outlook of the British Socialist party.
In later life he regretted some 'inconsiderate' behaviour at the time. His father was employed as a domestic gardener, living in his employer's lodge. The anti-war, anti-conscription activities of the gardener's son resulted in the father losing his job and the rent-free cottage for his family; he had to go back to the near-poverty of being a jobbing gardener.
In 1916 a Tribunal was set up in Tonbridge, in front of which George and his compatriots from the No Conscription fellowship appeared. The tribunal rejected George's claim to conscientious objection, as did a subsequent Appeal Tribunal, and his formal call-up papers were served. Transported to Oil Mill Barracks in Dover, George was forcibly dressed in uniform and appeared in front of a District Court Martial, which sentenced him to six months hard labour at Canterbury prison. The mattress to his cell was removed, since regulations required that hard labour prisoners spent the first fourteen days without one. George found the prison food to be immeasurably poorer than the army's - and especially so for a committed vegetarian like himself. It was in Canterbury prison that George learned the art of sewing mailbags, which was to earn him additional perks in later prison sojourns.
After serving his sentence, George returned to his family for a short time before being instructed to return to camp - an order that he ignored, resulting in his being arrested and transported to the camp where he refused to dress in uniform. The camp Major retaliated by instructing that he be taken back to his tent and all but his undergarments removed, leaving him with his army uniform in a heap on the ground. It was a bitterly cold and damp November, but George refused to put on the uniform. After two days, his tent was moved to the edge of a cliff overlooking the sea, and the sides of the tent were rolled up and tied, so that he was left sitting on the wet turf in the cold sea wind, where he remained for about ten days, before finally being taken to the medical tent in a state of collapse - but still undressed.
After recovering, George faced a Regimental Court Martial and was sentenced to a month in the military prison at Wandsworth, where he was put in solitary confinement on bread and water, with no mattress on the bed-board, where he remained for three weeks before early release. Following his release, he found himself once more back at the camp in Dover where he faced another District Court Martial, which sentenced him to one year's hard labour, later reduced to six months , almost all of which was served at Maidstone prison.
Following his release from Maidstone, George once more returned to Dover to face his fourth trial - the highest form of military court, a General Court Martial. His sentence was read out in front of the whole battalion: three years penal servitude, reduced to two years hard labour. George was escorted to Wandsworth civil prison from which he was eventually discharged on the grounds of ill health.
George felt that the worst thing about being a conscientious objector was that it seemed so negative - anti-war, no conscription, non-combatant. Fulfillment of his desire to do something constructive came after final release from prison, when he spent two years in France and Poland clearing up the mess that the military had made, working for the Friends' War Victims Relief Committee, and his peaceful, civilian skills were now in demand.
George did feel that the stand made by himself and his friends did bear fruit in promoting more tolerance for conscientious objectors, and that persecution and repression of conscientious objectors in the second world war was much reduced.