Norman Witham’s story stands in contrast to some others in that his objection to war service was based on his membership of the Wesleyan Church. He agreed to serve in the Non-Combatant Corps and did so from May 1916 until December 1919. There is little information about other aspects of his life.
Norman Hoyle Witham
Posted by Roger Dillon
World War 1 Non-Combatant Corps badge
Norman Hoyle Witham was born in Rawtenstall, Lancashire in 1892, the son of Alfred Witham and Betsy Alice Witham (nee Hoyle). By the time of the 1911 census, Norman (aged 19) was living in Slyne Road, Skerton, Lancaster with his mother, sister Gertrude (aged 17) and brother Frank (aged 11). Their mother was widowed, living on ‘private means’ and Norman was a bank clerk.  By 1916 he was living in Regent Street, Lancaster. 
At a tribunal in Lancaster in April 1916 Norman was granted exemption from combatant service on religious grounds.  He agreed, and was accepted, to serve in the Non-Combatant Corps (NCC) and enlisted with the 1-4 Western Corps. After training at Kinmel Park in North Wales, he embarked from Folkestone to Boulogne on 29th May 1916 to serve with the British Expeditionary Force in Northern France, where he remained until discharge from service in December 1919.
After training at Kinmel Park in North Wales, he embarked from Folkestone to Boulogne on 29th May 1916 to serve with the British Expeditionary Force in Northern France, where he remained until discharge from service in December 1919.
I have found no record of other family members or friends who were COs or who might have influenced him. It seems interesting that a young man in an ordinary occupation, with little apparent indication from his background, showed the resolve to stand against the pressure to join up and remain true to his beliefs. COs were comparatively small in number and those from the Lancaster district were mostly Quakers. There is no evidence that Norman was pressured into service, but he appears to have accepted the NCC role without question.
Norman’s service record shows that he suffered no significant injuries. It is not clear what duties he carried out, though an entry in 1917 refers to work on the quay and he spent at least some of the time at Le Havre. He was in hospital for a few weeks in June-July 1918, but was declared fit at the time of discharge from service. His rank remained Private. An interesting letter from March 1919 requests a few days’ extension to his leave ‘to complete negotiations with a prospective employer and also to give me the opportunity of meeting my brother whom I have not seen for nearly three years and who is expected home on vacation from Cambridge towards the weekend. His request was refused.
I was interested to know more of his life after the War, but have not discovered anything. He died in Walton Hospital in Liverpool on 24th October 1961, leaving his widow Elizabeth Meiklejohn Witham. His effects were valued at £9116. 
It seems interesting that a young man in an ordinary occupation, with little apparent indication from his background, showed the resolve to stand against the pressure to join up and remain true to his beliefs.
REFERENCES & FURTHER READING
 1911 Census England. Registration District 479. Enumeration Number 30. Schedule Number 100. Available at: www.ancestry.co.uk.
 This information and all details of Norman’s war service are in his Non-Combatant Corps Record of Service: No. 810, Norman Hoyle Witham, commencing 28 April 1916. Available at: www.ancestry.co.uk
 Entry in the Pearce national database of World War 1 COs.
 National Probate Calendar entry for Norman Hoyle Witham. Probate 12 December 1961, Liverpool. Available at: www.ancestry.co.uk.