THE WALKER BROTHERS
This remarkable family, living at 17 Connaught Road, Stroud Green, produced no less than 5 sons who were COs. George and Annie Walker had humble beginnings in the East End of London, he a furniture dealer and banjo maker; they had a large family of six boys and three girls: George b.1880, Annie b.1881, Charles b.1883, Herbert b. 1885, Florence b,1887, Frederick b. 1891, Frank b. 1893, Henry b.1895, Esther b.1898. All the boys bar the eldest fought for their right to have CO status (only given at Central Tribunal stage); they were Absolutists and all 5 suffered imprisonment, brutality and other hardships for their beliefs. Frank was a member of the Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR) and the No-Conscription Fellowship (NCF) – the other four just of the latter. These organisations must have been a source of support for them, as well as the fact they had each other.
Many papers of these deeply pacifist men survive in the Archives of the Peace Pledge Union in London, and I was privileged to be allowed access to them by Bill Hetherington their Hon. Archivist. There are touching letters from Charles to his elder sister, letters to Lester Smith (qv), who is believed to have been a leading figure in the Tottenham NCF and mentor to many local COs, and details of their Courts Martial including verbatim records of two of their statements.
All five young men refused to answer any call-up papers, respond to any military orders or undress for medicals when they had been taken to Mill Hill Barracks for enrolment into the Non-Combatant Corps. All five at one time or another were given prison sentences with hard labour, and court-martialled numerous times. As they completed a sentence the authorities knew the refusals would start again and the men effectively became subject to the provisions of the so-called ‘Cat and Mouse Act’ which had been passed in 1913 to deal with hunger-striking Suffragettes.
Several of the brothers were subject to brutality at the hands of the Army – information on this is to be found in Charles’ letters to his sister Annie, as well as questions being asked in the House.
[i]From a letter from Charles to his sister Annie, dated 21st May 1916:
“We have not been down here (6th Middx. Guard Barracks, Chatham) very long but the moments have been crowded with incidents. The military authorities have given us little rest; for refusing to come to the parade ground we were put in the guard room…..The details of abuse, entreaty and physical violence are too numerous to mention. We were then made to stand to attention by ourselves for one and a half or two hours under broiling sun. Harry tottered and fainted. Yesterday morning we were again brought to the parade ground but declining to drill we were marched to the back of the barracks and were driven and kicked up and down a narrow path…..The heel of the puncher was stamped and screwed on Fred’s foot as though to crush the toes. Threats were given all the time that if we did not give in we should be more severely treated until we did.”
On 4th July 1916 questions were asked in the House of Commons about ill-treatment of COs by the military. Hansard states:
“§25. Sir STEPHEN COLLINS asked the Under-Secretary for War whether he will inquire into the allegations that have been made with regard to the treatment which certain conscientious objectors, including Fred, Charles, and Harry Walker, are believed to have undergone at the lower barracks, Chatham, on or about 18th May, and in particular if he will ascertain whether these men were knocked-about in such a manner that one of them fainted twice; and whether he proposes to take any steps in the matter?
- Mr. TENNANT If the Hon. Member will forward me definite statements upon which inquiry can be based, I shall be happy to have the same instituted.”
FOR INFORMATION ON EACH WALKER BROTHER SEE HIS INDIVIDUAL BIOGRAPHY.