Arthur Watts, 1888-1958, was from a Quaker family in Manchester that strongly opposed militarism and conscription. Arthur volunteered at national level on behalf of the Friends Service Committee and abroad as part of the Friends War Victim Relief Service before 1916 and again after the war. On being called up in 1916, however, Arthur took an absolutist stance, refusing to follow orders in the Non-Combatant Corps to which he was initally assigned or accept placement in the Home Office Scheme where he was later sent. He was court martialled twice and served time in prison.
Posted by Sue Day
Arthur’s Early Life
Arthur Watts came from a Quaker family and was educated at the Quaker Ackworth School, near Pontefract. His occupation listed in the census was joiner and carpenter.  The 1911 census also provides details of his family: they lived at 107, Upper Brook St., Chorlton on Medlock, Manchester. His father was Challacombe Watts, 1858, born in Canada, a joiner and builder. His mother was Agatha Jackson Watts, 1862, born in Barton, Lancashire. Challacombe and Agatha had been married for 25 years by 1911. Their 7 children were all alive. Only 4 were listed on census, including Arthur who was then aged 23. By 1916, Arthur’s family moved to 4, Queen’s Terrace, Plymouth Grove, Rusholme in Manchester.
Arthur’s brother, Renshaw Watts, who worked with the FWVRC in France during World War 1. Photograph by Fred Crossley.
Motivation to be a Conscientious Objector
There seem to be many factors shaping Arthur’s conscientous objection, including his faith, Quaker family and schooling. He was a member of both the Fellowship of Reconciliation and the Manchester branch of the No Conscription Fellowship (NCF).  His mother, Agatha, was on the local NCF Maintenance Committee which looked after COs, providing finances and accommodation for respite or refuge. Meetings were held at the Watts House. For example, in 1915 the family hosted German classes and from late 1916 a local meeting for NCF women was held weekly.  Arthur and his brothers Frank, Renshaw and Ashton were all COs. The other three worked for the Friends War Victims Relief Service (FWVRS).  His brother William was too young for conscription.
His mother, Agatha, was on the local NCF Maintenance Committee which looked after COs, providing finances and accommodation for respite or refuge.
Arthur’s wartime experience
It is possible to follow Arthur’s war service and conscientious objection through the records, newspapers and correspondences of the time:
May 1915: Appointed to the Friends Service Committee.
Oct 1915-Jan 1916: Served in France with the FWVRS, working for French civilians. Arthur wrote: ‘I was in charge of a small camp of men engaged in the erection of dwellings for refugees in the Marne whose houses had been destroyed during early stages of War.’ 
Jan 1916: Arthur wrote: ‘I returned to England to watch the passing of the Military Service Act through the House of Commons and to attend the Annual Meeting of the Society of Friends immediately after which I was appointed Assistant Secretary to the Friends Service Committee… I had attended most of the sittings of the House when the Bill was going through and I took considerable interest in the amendments pressed for.’
1 April 1916: Arthur typed a letter to Quaker MP, T.E. Harvey, indicating his work for the Friends Service Committee, working on behalf of COs, liaising between Clerks of Tribunals and COs with correspondence: letters, forms and reports.
27 April 1916: At his Military Service Tribunal in Manchester, Arthur claimed Absolute Exemption but was only granted ‘Exemption from Combatant Service’ (ECS).
16 May 1916: Arthur’s case went to appeal in Manchester but this confirmed ECS and he was refused leave to appeal again. Arthur refused to sign his army papers, and failed to answer his call up papers.
5 Sep 1916: Arrested as an army absentee, he appeared at Manchester Police (civil) Court. Fined and handed over to the army. Put into the Non-Combatant Corps (4 Western) based at Kinmel Park and given the army Number 2712. Disobeyed orders in NCC.
15 Sep 1916: First Court Martial – 2 years’ hard labour commuted to 112 days’ hard labour at Wormwood Scrubs, London.
4 Oct 1916: Central Tribunal – Moved from Army to Home Office Scheme (HOS) by being transferred to army reserve class W. Number W1701. Refused to accept the HOS which ran work centres.
18 Dec 1916: Released from Wormwood Scrubs at the expiry of sentence of 112 days’ hard labour. Returned to army unit at Kinmel Park. Reported in several national newspapers, as he was Assistant Secretary for Friends Service Committee.
29 Dec 1916: Second Court Martial – Arthur revived claim made at Police Court Trial that he came within exceptions to the Military Services Act, claiming to be ordinarily resident in Australia and only temporarily so in this country.
6 Jan 1917: In a handwritten letter from Hut 22, Camp 19, Kinmel Park, Abergele, Arthur wrote: ‘The Court Martial (29.12.16) found me guilty but the Confirming Authority (Brig. Gen. Cuthbertson) did not confirm their decision so I have been released from the guardroom and shall be given another formal order and have a fresh Court Martial. My partial success has encouraged me to make a great effort for my next trial. I am therefore collecting all evidence I can. I think I can establish my claim to Australian citizenship and I want to satisfy the Court as to the temporary nature of my present residence in England…. If I am successful in regaining my liberty (though I am not over hopeful) I shall probably rejoin the FWVR work unless there seems to be a possibility of my being of some use in educating public opinion a little towards Peace.’
6 Mar 1917: Discharged from the army, ‘his service being no longer required.’ 
23 May 1918:Yorkshire Evening Post reports:
‘At the London Guildhall Police Court today, Harrison Barrow (acting chairman of FSC), Arthur Watts and Miss Edith M Ellis were summoned under the Defence of the Realm Regulations for having a leaflet printed and distributed. The leaflet “The Challenge to Militarism” was not submitted to the Press Bureau. There were a large number of sympathisers in court, and the defendants pleaded not guilty. Mr Barrow said the full address of the Committee was on the pamphlet and there was no attempt to conceal the authorship. There were 36 members of the FSC, and 25 attended the committee meeting and accepted responsibility. The hearing was adjourned.’
24 May 1918:Birmingham Gazette reports:
‘Mr Harrison Barrow and Mr Arthur Watts were today sentenced to 6 months’ imprisonment at the Guildhall Police Court. Miss Ellis was fined £100 and £50 costs with the alternative of 3 months’ imprisonment. Mr Arthur Watts said that they had informed the Prime Minister and Home Secretary that they did not intend to submit leaflets. “Where we feel we have been given a message to utter to the world, we have got to issue that message whether the Censor desires us to do so or not.” Sir John Baddeley said, “These leaflets are a glorification of those who refuse to fight, and tend to induce others not to fight. I convict them on the second summons, and as they declare that they will not obey the law in future, I must impose a heavy penalty.” Notice of appeal was given.’
‘If I am successful in regaining my liberty (though I am not over hopeful) I shall probably rejoin the FWVR work unless there seems to be a possibility of my being of some use in educating public opinion a little towards Peace.’
After the war
Arthur returned to the Friends Emergency and War Victims Relief Committee after the war, working from January 1920 to March 1923 in famine-hit Russia post-war. On 4 December 1920, the Derby Daily Telegraph reported on the relief work being undertaken in Russia by the FWVRC and the ‘acute suffering in large cities.’ The Nottinghamshire Evening Post also covered the plight of the ‘starving peasants’ in Russia on 2 September 1921 and the work of Arthur Watts and others in providing relief ‘to millions of needy in that country.’
Arthur died, aged 70, in 1958.
‘Where we feel we have been given a message to utter to the world, we have got to issue that message whether the Censor desires us to do so or not.’
 Ronan, Alison, 2014. The Manchester No-Conscription Fellowship Maintenance Committee 1916-1918: Quaker and socialists creating a geographical and symbolic site of resistance. North West Labour History: issue 39.
 Pearce Database of World War 1 COs.
 All references to Arthur Watts’ letters are from correspondence held in the T.E. Harvey collection in the Library of the Religious Society of Friends, London.
 Reported in The Friend, The Quaker Magazine, 16 March 1917. London: The Friend Publications Ltd.
Cartmell, Harry, 1919. For Remembrance: an account of some fateful years. Preston: G. Toulmin & Sons, Ltd. Cartmell was Mayor of Preston from 1913-19 and this book recounts his experiences in the city during the First World War.
Ellsworth-Jones, Will, 2013. We Will Not Fight…: The Untold Story of World War One’s Conscientious Objectors. London: Aurum Press Ltd.
Friends Service Committee, June 1917. The Absolutists’ Objection to Conscription: A Statement & an Appeal to the Conscience of the Nation. Issued by Direction of The Friends Service Committee, 18 Devonshire Street, Bishopsgate, London, E.C.2. Includes a letter from Leo Tolstoy to Russian COs before WW1 and statistics of British objectors in prison in May 1917.
Many thanks go to Dr Alison Ronan for her help with the research for this article.