Spencer Alfred Lockett (1890-1967)

An objection to taking Human Life

By Jill Barber

Spencer Alfred Lockett, aged 26, of Aspley Farm, near Eccleshall was working as a stockman and shepherd on his father’s farm when conscription was introduced in 1916.

Conscientious Objector

He was also a Primitive Methodist, and believed it was wrong to kill another human being.  His first application for military exemption as a conscientious objector, on 19 February 1916, was rejected. His argument that he was needed on the farm, which was essential war work, was dismissed by the Military Service Tribunal. His services were not indispensable as there were three sons on the farm, and two of the three should do military service.

On 11 March 1916 he appealed against the decision. In his statement he said, ‘I have a conscientious objection to combatant service. I am willing to join the AVC or the RAMC.’

Spencer was an active member of his local Primitive Methodist Church, and he asked Thomas Clamp, the Primitive Methodist Minister, to write a letter in his support.  It sounds as if Thomas Clamp may not have shared his views, as he was rather lukewarm in his support. He was at pains to remain impartial, writing to the Tribunal, ‘I do not wish to dictate or even suggest your course’.  However, he confirms that he has had several conversations with Spencer, and is convinced that he is ‘honest and candid’ in his reasons for seeking non-combatant service. 

G H Upton, a member of the Eccleshall Branch of the North West Staffs Recruiting Committee, may have known Spencer as a fellow Primitive Methodist.  He did not agree with Spencer’s views, but he certainly supported his right to hold them.  From his home at Halfway House, Slindon, near Eccleshall, he wrote  to the Staffordshire Appeal Tribunal:

‘I have known Spencer Lockett … for many years. I can personally testify that he genuinely holds a conscientious objection to the taking of Human Life. His objection I understand is based on his interpretation of the teaching of the Bible, he has expressed such views to me several times, especially during the present War, and I am strongly of the opinion that he would not express such views unless they were really and truly his own genuine Convictions.’

Non-Combatant service (NCC)

On 6 April 1916, the appeal board decided Spencer should join the Non-Combatant Corps. His enrolment papers were drawn up on 28 April, clearly marked, ‘Primitive Methodist’.

Spencer was now destined for the front line. He embarked at Southampton on 30 May 1916, and landed at Le Havre the next day.  His service record gives his occupation as ‘Cook’, so it seems his skills may not have been used in the Army Veterinary Corps as he had hoped. But he remained in a non-combatant role until the end of the war. He was fortunate, as others accepted for the NCC were later ordered to be transferred to fight in the trenches, when the death toll left a shortage of men in arms.

Ploughman

Although the Armistice was signed on 11 November 1918, this did not mean immediate release for the soldiers.  On 2 January 1919, Spencer was home at Aspley Farm on a short leave, but due to go back to France. His father, Alfred Lockett, wrote a letter to the Regimental Paymaster at Warwick:

‘Can you grant Pte S A Lockett, 682 2nd Northern, NCC, an extension of leave for a month to do my ploughing as I have 40 acres to plough and am not able to get anyone to do it. He was employed by me before August 1914. I have applied for him to be released, but have not heard yet. He is stationed at Bordeaux and his leave is up Tuesday January 7th.’

Spencer was granted seven days extra leave, and eventually, on a formal offer of employment as Ploughman at Aspley Farm, he was given his discharge.

Source

Military Service Tribunal papers, Staffordshire Archives C/C/M/2/5-187

This page was added by Jill Barber on 04/03/2014.
Comments about this page

Bill Hetherington, Honorary Archivist at the Peace Pledge Union, has provided the following helpful clarification. The Army had no power to override such an exemption, as you imply in "others accepted for the NCC were later forcibly drafted into the infantry". This could not, and did not, happen. In 1914-15, before conscription, a number of men volunteered for the RAMC on the principle that they were willing to undertake humanitarian work, but would under no circumstances assist in battle. Come 1917-18, some of these men found themselves compulsorily transferred to infantry regiments, the Army taking a legalistic view that their original enlistment was essentially to the Army, and allocation to the RAMC was a secondary detail which could be changed at any time at the Army's discretion. Some of these men immediately began to disobey orders and were court-martialled and imprisoned. 

By Jill Barber
On 26/03/2016

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