The Non-Combatant Corps in the First World War

Pauline Alden has been investigating one option for local WW1 conscientious objectors:

The passing of the Military Services Act in 1916 gave Local Tribunals the powers to grant absolute exemption or partial exemption from combatant service. This led to the setting up of the Non-Combatant Corps of conscientious objectors in March 1916 and by June of that year eight Non-Combatant Corps (NCC) companies existed. NCC units were usually comprised of 100 men. They were part of the army and run by its regular officers and non-commissioned officers.

Some Local Tribunals ignored other alternatives such as Work of National Importance and forced conscientious objectors into the Non-Combatant Corps.

Over the course of the war 34 NCC companies were formed. They wore army uniforms and a cap badge. They did not carry weapons or take part in battle. The NCC companies received the same wage as private soldiers, but they could not be promoted and were refused the pay rise given at the end of the war. Their duties were to take part in transport, construction work and to facilitate supply in support of the military.

There was a geographical division and the Northern District comprised several NCC companies. There were eight NCC companies serving in France where they were handling and transporting non-lethal stores (food, clothing etc), road and railway making and repairing and other service work not involving handling or using weapons and ammunition.

William Walker, who lived in Price St and Victoria St in York, served with the Prince of Wales Own (West Yorkshire) Regiment in a General Service Non-Combatant role from April to June 1916. He was sent home because he was sick due to debility and impetigo.

The NCC companies were not involved in battlefield clearance but could have been involved in the secondary stage of making good damage to the infrastructure of the locality. Conscientious objectors could be moved between different NCC companies, were enlisted as army privates and subject to army discipline.

The military service records of NCC men give details of acts of resistance where they considered that they were being forced to compromise their principles. The Absolutists and Alternativists who refused to wear uniforms were formally charged and court-martialled. This also applied to conscientious objectors who refused to perform duties that they considered to be helping to aid killing, such as moving components that could be made into weapons or building rifle ranges. They were treated harshly, bullied, deprived of basic needs and imprisoned in inhumane conditions. In France the NCC men who disobeyed orders were imprisoned in military prisons.

After the Armistice the Non-Combatant Corps were not considered a priority for demobilisation. The last NCC companies were returned from France in March 1920. Around 35 men are known to have died and were buried in Commonwealth War Graves.

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