Conscientious objection

The belief that every human being is a child of God has led Friends to oppose all wars and preparation for wars. How can one kill another person, a potential channel of Truth, no matter how misguided he or she may seem at the moment?

George Harding, a Tottenham Friend, was fined in 1810 £12 12s for refusing to serve in the militia. On 4/9/1810, 141 pounds of leather was seized from his shoemaking business.

During both the First and Second World Wars, conscription was introduced in Britain, requiring all able-bodied men to sign up for military service. In the Second World War conscription was extended to include some women. Friends’ peace testimony meant that they refused to participate in military actions. Many people joined Friends after the Wars as a result of their stand on conscientious objection.

During the First World War, Friends and others had to fight for their right not to take part. Three members of Tottenham Friends Meeting, Stuart Beavis, Fred Murfin, Alfred Taylor and were sentenced to death for their refusal.

Death sentence for refusing to fight

Fred Murfin was born in Lincolnshire in 1888. He worked as a printer there until, at the start of the First World War, transport difficulties caused a lack of work. On moving to London, he came to Tottenham Meeting.

He did not become a member of the Society of Friends as there was talk of Quakers being given exemption from military service. He did not want special treatment. At the time, Young Friends got together and decided that if exemption were given, they would resign from membership of the Society.

Conscription became law on 2 March 1916. Conscientious objectors had to appear before a tribunal. Fred’s case was heard at Tottenham Town Hall.

Alfred Taylor was born in Edmonton in 1895. He too refused, together with Stuart Beavis, to register for military service.

These three were in a group of thirty-four conscientious objectors who were sent to France (then regarded as the Field of Battle). They refused to obey orders and were court-martialled. The sentence was death by firing squad.

By sheer chance the then Minister of War in France, visiting the troops. On hearing of the sentence. He is reported to have said, “This must not happen”. The sentences were commuted to ten years imprisonment.

Fred Murfin

Fred was released from prison in 1919 and came to live in Tottenham. He became involved in the Friends Adult School and joined the Society of Friends.

He contributed to the “Appeal for Famine Victims in Europe” by giving an overcoat. In one of the coat pockets he put a note of his address. After some months a brief note arrived signed by “Willi Plaffe”, expressing thanks for the warm coat and a desire to correspond in English as he wished to learn the language. This correspondence continued for many years with breaks due to Nazi influence and World War II, but in 1960 Willi came to England and travelled to meet his friend Fred Murfin, by then retired and living in Cornwall. Fred died in 1972.

Prison Conversation

Joe    How long have you got?

Fred    Ten years

Fred    How long have you got?

Joe    Ten years

Joe    What are you in for?

Fred    I’m a CO

Joe    What – – – – – ‘s that?

Fred explains

Joe    I’d have – – – – – shot you

Fred    What are you in for?

Joe    Murder

Fred    That’s funny

Joe    What’s funny?

Fred    You have ten years for killing someone…,

I’ve ten years because I won’t kill or help to kill.

Alfred Taylor

Alfred Taylor spent three and a half years in prison in England. Alfred’s first contact with Quakers was through those who were court-martialled with him in France. He was released from Maidstone prison in 1920.

After leaving prison Alfred returned to the printing trade and became a regular attender at Tottenham Meeting, along with Ivy Naish who later became his wife. They were married in August 1922 at Tottenham Meeting House and subsequently joined the Society of Friends. Alfred served the Quaker meeting in many capacities. He and Ivy remained in Tottenham until their deaths. Alfred died in 1964 and Ivy in 1977.

Famine in Europe

19/9/1920 Minute of Tottenham Meeting

“In view of famine conditions in Europe it has been urged that members seriously consider their luxury expenditure.

“If we really understand the needs of these people, we shall give. It is not merely the amount we can give but the spirit in which the gift is made.

“We must consider whether there is any item of expense in our lives that we can reduce.

“Henry S Green has undertaken to receive any gifts towards the work of the Emergency and War Victims Relief Committee. Members of the Christian Endeavour are encouraged to proceed with their plans for Harvest Thanksgiving services on next First Day, where collections will be made morning and evening for this work.”

Stuart Beavis, back in Tottenham after his release from prison, provided a home for two children from the famine area.

World War II

During the 1940s, conscientious objectors connected with Tottenham Meeting included: Louis Dore, Philip Frost, John Holman, Arthur Riches and Leonard Sanders. The earlier experience of others still in the meeting, like Fred Murfin and Alfred Taylor provided a source of support for them.

Leonard Sanders registered as CO 1940 and did land work.