John Noble Mercer

John Noble Mercer, 8 Scarcroft Road, York.

John Mercer was a member of the Independent Labour Party, a York Councillor and an outspoken pacifist. The ILP was committed to the anti-war cause and John Mercer was a controversial Secretary of the York Labour Party because he was a pacifist. He was also secretary of York Trades Council.

John married his wife Jeannie in 1907 and was a resident at 8 Scarcroft Road (1911 Census). He was 36 years old when he appeared at the Military Service Tribunal. He appealed as a conscientious objector and on the grounds of essential work as a plumber for the North Eastern Railway Company.

He was granted exemption from combatant service, conditional on finding Work of National Importance within a month. The York Evening Press of 5 June 1917 describes the tribunal hearing. John Mercer was a skilled plumber engaged on work in connection with ambulance trains, who had been placed upon the ‘spare list’ by the railway company, but the Tribunal did not believe that his employment counted as Work of National Importance.

The Railwaymen’s Union representative claimed that John Mercer was being ‘hounded out of public life’ by those who opposed him politically. If John ceased to work as a railwayman he would be unable to continue as an active Trade Union official and would lose his position on the Trades Council. John would be unable to continue as a Councillor if he took work outside York. A request was made for time to go to the General Manager of the NER and, if necessary, to the Railway Tribunal.

The NUR representative stated that the union members were indignant that work on ambulance trains was not to be considered Work of National Importance. Sir Joseph Sykes Rymer asked if there was anything else on the list that John Mercer could take up. John replied that, with a skilled trade in his hands, it was not right that he should turn out and go on to a market garden.

It was decided that the case should be adjourned until the decision of the Railway Tribunal was received. John must have been successful in his appeal because a Work of National Importance report for the week ending 11 February 1918 refers to him as being a conscientious objector in a reserved occupation.

During the War only conscientious objectors serving in the Non-Combatant Corps were entitled to vote in general and local elections. Cllr. Mercer still had to struggle to maintain his rights. He appealed to the York Local Tribunal on 3 June 1919, stating that he had been removed from the ‘spare list’ and given other work on the railways and had no need to apply for exemption. He requested a certificate which entitled him to vote in Parliamentary and Local
Elections. According to the Yorkshire Post of 4 June 1919, Alderman Rhodes Brown objected to a certificate being given on the grounds that Mercer had never complied with the conditions laid down by the tribunal. After considerable argument however, the Tribunal agreed to give the requisite certificate – Alderman Rhodes Brown voting against and several members abstaining.

The members of the Tribunal were afterwards entertained to luncheon by the Lord Mayor (Alderman Sir W.A.F. Todd) to mark the close of their duties.

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