FOR HIS NAMES SAKE - CHAPTER 13
For His Name's Sake.
Being a Record of the Witness given by Members of Churches of Christ in Great Britain against Militarism during the European War
W. Barker, Printer, Mansfield Road, Heanor
Home Office Camps.
BY J. HOLMES.
ON the morning of 8th November, 1917, the door of cell A4/72, at Wormwood
Scrubbs prison was thrown open and its occupant ordered by the warder in charge to accompany him down to the basement. Having delivered up books, brush and comb, etc., he was marched with other eighteen prisoners, garbed in grey with the white broad arrow, to the reception cells, there to change into the fit-out provided for men accepting the Home Office scheme. Coarse tweed coat and vest, corduroy trousers, hob-nailed boots - which dragged very heavily after the light (odd) shoes worn in prison - cloth cap, and muffler.
Thus arrayed in our new glory, we were paraded before the deputy governor, and after receiving various instructions, written and verbal, the great gate of the prison was opened to us, and we were driven in war-time conveyances to Euston Station. Having said goodbye to the warder, who had accompanied us from "Scrubbs," we entrained for Knutsford, Cheshire, the county gaol there having been converted into a work-centre for C.O.'s.
The special carriage reserved for us attracted much attention, both before we left
London station, and on the journey North, for on the windows, printed in the blackest of ink, was the very interesting information:- 'Nineteen Prisoners'!
The journey was much enjoyed by the men, who for varying periods had been used to the drab of prison, and our partial freedom from the restraint of the past months was deeply appreciated. The sun shone brilliantly as we sped along, and nature in her autumnal dress compensated somewhat for the dreariness of gaol and its surroundings.
Reaching Knutsford, about 8 p.m., we were welcomed to our new home by the "advance guard" - men who had preceded us to prepare the place. We were soon safely within the gloomy walls of the prison; our names called, like so many schoolboys; and each billeted to his own room, an ordinary cell, but with wood floor instead of the waxed composition floor of "Scrubbs."
For six months this was to be our residence, partial freedom being allowed, with unbarred doors at night, and the privilege of leaving the prison betwixt the hour of 5.30 and 9.30 p.m., Saturdays at 12 noon, and Sundays during the day. Every man, however, had to be in by 9.30 p.m. prompt or, in default, receive punishment by way of fine, out of his 8d. per day allowance.
Bro. Herbert Harrington, of Ilford, London (whom we had learned to love in the Lord while at "Scrubbs"), had arrived in an earlier batch. We were very soon enjoying each other's company and fellowship, in a larger degree than had been possible at the latter place, where we had met weekly for a brief
half-hour at the little meeting of members of Churches of Christ, conducted by Bro. W. Mander, Evangelist, of Twynholm.
For quite a while the chief work at Knutsford centre was that of general cleaning. The place was in a dirty condition, and day after day we were to be seen scrubbing, scrubbing, scrubbing. Apart from the office, kitchen and postal staffs, all men had their allotted tasks, some washing the cell walls and floors, others the floors of halls and offices, while a few did good service with the whitewash brush. The writer, having served a good apprenticeship "on his knees" while at "Scrubbs" was able to get through a decent share of work at Knutsford with the floor cloth and scrubbing brush.
This went on until the prison assumed a fairly respectable appearance, and then new work was given out to us, the chief occupation being mail-bag making. Imagine a group of men in one of the disused hospital wards, busy with needle and canvas, turning out a specified number of bags per day. Not all adept, by any means, at sewing, and any who could not turn out the number had rather an uncomfortable time. Uniformed warders, mostly ex-soldiers, superintended the work, calling us to task if our stitches were too big, and keeping a general guard over us.
The group with which the writer found himself was made up as follows:- The majority Socialists, some of the revolutionary type - a young Baptist Minister, a Theosophist, a Swedenborgian, a Plymouth Brother, and two of us members of Churches of Christ. Each day was occupied with work, of course, but also with debate and argument, and if an accurate account could be written of the proceedings,
during the months spent in that dilapidated hospital ward, it would make both amusing, educative, and sometimes tragic reading. Lack of space forbids the introduction of such matter.
Meals were served in the hall of the prison by the kitchen staff, the communal system being in operation. Life within the Centre was varied. For those who preferred staying in after work, there was a reading and writing room provided, and, in one of the outer buildings, meetings and socials were occasionally held. As the weeks passed, the little group of Disciples grew, eventually about ten of us being in residence. We kept in close touch with each other, and enjoyed that communion which only those in the Lord can understand and appreciate. We held a very helpful meeting for the reading and study of the Scriptures during the week, and for eleven consecutive Friday evenings we met with a group of Anglican friends in Bro. Harrington's cell to discuss matters of faith and practice. Generally, the discussion was carried on in a very good spirit, although at times some of our friends, finding themselves in tight corners when considering the subject of Baptism, momentarily lost control. Howbeit, we always parted as comrades. We hope that the seed sown took root in some hearts at least.
We had not been at Knutsford many days before we introduced ourselves to the little church there, and from that time, on Lord's Days and Wednesday evenings, we enjoyed Christian fellowship and social intercourse with those of "like precious faith." We would make special mention of Brother and Sister Turner, also Brother and Sister Fryer, who
showed us great kindness, at a time when friendliness to men who had taken our attitude towards war was liable to bring criticism, and even persecution, upon them. However, we look back with gratitude to those days, and thank God for the joy and blessing that came to us in these Christian homes, and for the spiritual help and stimulus received from the gatherings of the Church. If, in a small measure, we were enabled to give help in the meetings, we render praise to Him in whose strength we served. It might be of interest to state that more than once we wended our way to Bro. Turner's home, where some of the meetings were held, followed by youths - and stones or sods. However, we came through unharmed. Shortly after the riot at Knutsford, for which hooliganism was responsible, the writer was transferred, with a batch of 50 men, to Wakefield, where under similar circumstances about three months were spent. With the exception of the first few days of the period spent here, we were interned, owing to the riot which took place on Whit Monday, 1918. At Wakefield, we found a few Brethren with whom much helpful fellowship was enjoyed. Not being allowed out, we met each Lord's Day for a time to "break bread" and to strengthen outselves in the Faith. Here, the work of the Centre was more varied. Besides mail-bag making, there were weaving, and cocoa mat making. After the first week, the writer was transferred to the kitchen staff, and was thus engaged in attending the needs of the outer man. Much more satisfaction was felt in this capacity than was experienced when using the needle; at any rate the service seemed more real and useful. During the period spent here, one could only leave the centre with special permission
from the manager. Attempts were made by the interned men through their committee to have this restriction removed, but the gates remained closed and locked. In the evenings, Saturday afternoons and Sundays, however, between the outer and inner gates of the gaol, friends were allowed to visit the men for a certain period, but the inconvenience can be imagined, especially when a good number of visitors were present together. However, this was better than nothing, and many a pleasant half-hour was spent with dear ones, and Brethren in the Lord.
Eventually the Government - probably under pressure from the local authorities, who felt it an indignity to have men of such character in their midst! - decided to remove us in batches to Princetown, where Dartmoor convict prison is situate. The writer went with the second batch. We left Wakefield on 13th August, at 9.30 p.m., and arrived at our destination, after an interesting though somewhat tiring journey of 15 hours. One had read and heard much of this "dreadful place," with its moors and mists. In boyhood's days, one was filled with awe at the mere mention of Dartmoor. However, though the prison and its surroundings when actually seen did not lessen the feeling of repugnance, one has many pleasant memories of the four months spent there. What has been written of Knutsford and Wakefield, regarding the life within, could also serve when writing of Dartmoor, only the facilities for meetings and recreation were better than at the former places. One soon came across Brethren here also, and as the weeks passed our fellowship was increasingly precious. We came into closer contact also with other believers, and endeavoured to use our influence in leading them into "the more excellent way." In one case, our efforts were rewarded. A young Scotchman who had long loved his Lord decided to obey Him, and was immersed in one of the prison baths, "the same hour of the night." At 11 o'clock, a little group was present to hear the good confession, and to witness the act of obedience. The latest news of this Brother informs us that he is still rejoicing in his Lord.
It will be of interest to state that, previous to this event, Leslie Copleston, the son of Bro. Copleston, of Sheffield, "put on the Lord" in one of the Dartmoor streams.
Brief reference to the places where the Work Centres were situated must close this account. Knutsford is 15 miles from Manchester, and is the residence of many Manchester business men. They are wise, for Knutsford itself is a lovely place. Why a gloomy gaol has been dumped down here, however, one has often wondered. It seems to be the one blot on the place. With its old-world thatched houses, of which there any many, its heath, its beautiful houses, gardens, woods, roads and meres, it presents a picture of loveliness to those who are fortunate enough to visit it in spring, summer or autumn, while winter's mantle of snow adds to its beauty.
Wakefield is a Cathedral city, about eight miles from Leeds. There is no beauty about it. Its interest lies in its being an old historical city. Its chancel on the bridge, under which flows the river Calder, is quaint and ancient. Near this place during the Wars of the Roses, a royal prince was murdered. Here, a Church of New Testament Order has been in existence about sixty years.
Princetown, 15 miles from Plymouth, is supposed to be the highest town in England, it being about 1,400 feet above sea level. It is situated right on the moor. It has won repute for the rare and healthful qualities of its air. C.O.'s while in residence here, could only go within a three-mile limit, but even with this restriction, they were able to see much beauty. The views gained from the tors are magnificent. Hill and dale, and moorland heath, and in the far distance - but on a clear day seen quite distinctly - the waters of the English Channel.
The original prison was built for the Army of Frenchmen captured in 1806, while later it was used for the incarceration of American prisoners taken during the war of 1812-14. The French and American burial grounds, with their monuments to the dead soldiers of these countries who passed away during their imprisonment, are adjacent to the prison. At the suggestion of the Prince Consort, the old prison was afterwards used for convicts. These men worked on the farm and in the quarry on the extensive grounds, while the sanitary work of Princetown itself is also done by them. With the exception of business people, the warders are about the only residents. The prison has been rebuilt, but "ugliness" is the only appropriate term to apply to it even now.
In winter time especially, to be imprisoned within its walls, either with cell door barred or unbarred, is far from pleasant. One is often filled with pity for life-sentence men who have to languish there. While the C.O.'s were at Princetown, they did the ordinary work of the convicts on the farms and in the fields. Some of the men were engaged in reclamation work.
In writing of the Work Centres one has tried to dwell upon the best side of our life. Much could be written on the other side, but we forbear. It is so much better to remember and to tell the happier things.
The writer left Princetown in the afternoon of 24th December, 1918, and arrived home the following morning just in time to spend Christmas amongst dear ones. The rest of the men, with the exception of those who, like myself, had been granted the new scheme, remained until about the following Easter when they were disbanded.
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