William Midgley was a railway clerk living at 76 Sutherland Street in South Bank in York. He was a Wesleyan Methodist and a committed Pacifist. He may have worshipped at Southlands Methodist Chapel.
In 1916 at the age of 18 he appealed to the North Riding Military Service Tribunal for exemption from military service in the First World War. The appeal was heard in November 1916.
Although still a very young man (he was only 18 at the time) his notice of appeal is very eloquent. He expresses his views clearly and he could be speaking for many conscientious objectors:
“I believe that all war is contrary to the teachings of Jesus Christ and therefore detrimental to the progress of humanity. As a Christian I believe that the use of armed forces is wrong under all circumstances. War is the result of fear which can only be taken away by adopting Christ’s way of ‘overcoming evil with good’. I cannot accept Non-combatant work or even Ambulance work as both are essential in the carrying on of the war. As a condition of being exempted from all Military Service I would be willing to accept Work of National Importance which would be the means of helping the civil population in any way.”
There was a letter of support from T. Kilby Champness, Wesleyan Minister, who stated that he had visited William Midgeley in his own home. He said “After a long conversation with him I am convinced that his objection to military service is conscientious. It is evident that he has lived all his life in a ‘pacifist’ atmosphere and that his attitude on the matter reflects that of those who have brought him up.”
The Appeal Tribunal found in his favour and William was referred to the Pelham Committee for Work of National Importance. From 13th December 1916 he was working at British Oil and Cake Mills in Hull making animal feed.
However records show that William was later tried at a court martial in Hull and was dismissed with all the other conscientious objectors from BOCM in June 1917. He moved to market gardening at Wetherby and then on to Clifton, York until 5th December 1918.
Interestingly William’s pacifist views were not shared by his younger brother, Harry, who joined the Royal Air Force in June 1918, at the age of 18. He served as an engineer’s fitter, building on his experience as an instrument maker with T. Cooke & Sons, Buckingham Works, Bishophill. Cooke’s were a respected company producing telescopes and high precision instruments.