Conscientious Objectors in Walton Gaol

During WWI a number of Conscientious Objectors were imprisoned in Walton

From 1916, when conscription was introduced until 1919, which was after the Armistice, Walton Gaol housed a number of conscientious objectors. These men had refused to be conscripted into in the Army; their objections were often on religious, political or humanitarian grounds. Archibald Fenner Brockway was imprisoned here.

During the Second World War almost 60,000 men registered as Conscientious Objectors, following the National Service (Armed Forces) Act 1939. Again Tribunals were held and chaired by a judge, who would grant full exemption, exemption conditional on alternative service, exemption only from combatant duties, or dismiss the application. Some men worked in the Royal Army Medical Corps, while others were employed in occupations such as farming and mining. Approximately 5000 men were imprisoned, on charges relating to their objection.[1]

The Reverend Sidney Spencer was sentenced to one month in Walton Prison. He wrote about the conditions he experienced there and gave an address in 1944.[2] Prisoners were not allowed visits for their first month there, allowed only one letter per month and they no access to newspapers.  Sidney Spencer was able to work in the Mail Bag Shop mending mail bags, to avoid being locked up for 18 hours a day. Conversation between prisoners was forbidden, even during exercise periods. This last rule was recently changed and men were allowed to walk next to one another and talk.

“Actually I was able to enjoy some extremely interesting conversations while on exercise, both with fellow Pacifists and with ordinary offenders… I heard no word of criticism of my own highly unpopular attitude towards Civil Defence, save only from some of the officers.”

[1] Conscientious Objection in Britain during the Second World War [accessed 25/06/2014]

[2] 365.7 DIS Penal Reform and Prevention of Crime. Address delivered in Liverpool in the autumn of 1944 by Citizens of Liverpool and District served by the Liverpool and Area Discharged Prisoners Aid Society. Liverpool Record Office

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