Pauline Alden has been exploring the experiences of local man William Varley:
William Varley was a Socialist, a member of the No Conscription Fellowship and a pacifist. He was an absolutist and would not engage in any form of military service.
He was a Wesleyan Methodist whose family lived in Dove Street in 1911. He had married Edith White at Southlands Methodist Chapel on 26 December 1910 and they would both have worshipped there. In 1911 he was living at Cygnet Street with his in-laws. but William and Edith later moved to 24 Chestnut Grove, New Earswick.
William worked as a compositor at the world famous De Little & Fenwicks Printers in Vine Street, but was sacked when he failed to present himself to the military authorities. They subsequently found it necessary to defend themselves against public feeling that they had been ‘harbouring an absentee from the Army’, see this press report.
As a conscientious objector William refused to join the Army Reserve when conscripted under the Military Service Act of 1916. He refused a medical and was an absentee when prosecuted at the Magistrate’s Court.
William’s Tribunal hearing was on 4 September 1916, when he was 29 years old. William was frustrated because he felt that he was not given a fair hearing, just consideration was not given to his case and the written statements that he provided were not read by the Tribunal Members. He was not given the absolute exemption that he requested and was granted exemption from combatant service only. He appealed to the North Yorkshire County Tribunal about this. He stated that as a Socialist he objected to playing any part in a war that profited the wealthy and powerful and he would not support in any way the killing of the working man.
William provided five letters of support which confirmed his long-held convictions. They refer to him as ‘a man of deep conviction and intense moral purpose’. William had attended Adult School (there was an Adult School at Balmoral Terrace held at the Co-op Grocer’s premises) and had consistently argued his views on total opposition to militarism. He was engaged in social work.
He was arrested in October and sent to the 5th Northern Non-Combatant Corps at Richmond and at Rugeley Camp – his service number was 3106. He was then court-martialled for disobeying the command of his superior officer when ordered to put on a uniform. and was sentenced to two years hard labour in Wormwood Scrubs. In prison he continued to campaign for the rights of conscientious objectors.
In November 1917 William Varley agreed to accept work of national importance. His request went to the Brace Committee and he left prison in January 1918.
On 2 January 1918 William was transferred to Army Reserve Class W; he was employed in the Home Office work scheme at Wakefield. In Class W, William would have been regarded as still being in the Army. If employment in the Work Centres was not satisfactory William could have been arrested as an absentee soldier.
It is possible that William Varley became a Quaker, he would have met Quakers at Adult School and in prison. But we have been unable to find traces of him in Quaker records.
William and his wife Edith continued to live in New Earswick, but by 1939 were in Earswick. William died in 1964 and Edith in 1962. They had one child Florence Muriel Varley, 1919-1972, who does not appear to have married.
Pearce Conscientious Objectors Register, Imperial War Museum
York Explore Archives, reference VAR
North Riding Appeal Tribunal Papers, reference NRCC/CL/9/2/27. Papers held at the North
Yorkshire County Record Office.