2nd mutiny at Blargies?

Apologies for the play on words.

The first mutiny at Blargies Prison Camp is well documented. Several Anzacs were court-martialled. Two soldiers from the NZEF were subsequently  executed by firing squad. The Australians were spared because the government of the day would not approve executions. 

There are two watercolours of the British labour / prison camp in the Imperial War Museum. The one below is a watercolour on tin plate by H M Chapman, titled BLARGIES, ARMS, FRANCE, 1917.

Art.IWM ART 16557 a

Art.IWM ART 16557 a

I believe there was a second mutiny at this labour / prison camp, this time by conscientious objectors serving with the 2nd Northern Coy NCC (Non Combatant Corps).

. . . . .

I recently came by a collection of sketchbooks belonging to George Victor Stanley - schoolmaster, Plymouth Brother, conscientious objector - who enlisted in 1916 as a non-combatant prepared to serve overseas.

His sketchbooks contain signed entries from 49 men of the 2nd Northern Coy NCC who served in France from 1916 onwards.

Most were conscientious objectors - Plymouth Brethren, Wesleyans, Congregationalists. Many were well-educated, in professions that qualified for exemption but who chose to serve in the field - often expressing a preference for the RAMC. As stretcher-bearers they could come under fire but would not be required to bear arms.  

Others were non combatant because of their injuries - like Arthur Britton who was wounded at Gallipoli in 1915. He was assigned to the NCC after convalescence. 

One of the sketchbooks is particularly poignant. It was given to 19 year old conscientious objector Ernest Freer, who painted and signed 'Solitude' on 23 Nov 1917.  Was he in solitary confinement? Ten days later, there was a mutiny by the NCC at Blargies. 

 

The 'burnt records' show that 15 men of the 2nd Northern NCC refused to handle barbed wire at Blargies Labour Camp on 3 December 1917. This was a show of solidarity, perhaps in support of Freer. They believed barbed wire was a weapon of war. This was mutiny.

They were arrested. 

Their charge sheets were identical in essence - that 'he of Blargie on the 3 Dec 1917, when ordered by . . . to load two trucks with Barbed Wire, did not comply with the order.' 

They were held in the Guard Room at Abancourt while they awaited court martial. Abancourt was nearby, at a railway junction on the line between Amiens and Rouen.

At Abancourt, George Stanley took the sketchbook with Freer's 'Solitude' and circulated it among the men in the Guard Room. They'd taken a stand for what they believed in, risking court martial and death by firing squad. Now he wanted a lasting record of their beliefs. On the first page of the sketchbook, he begged them all to write something.

George Stanley

Please all of you put something in this book.

(I want it to be lasting.) 

Please!

And they did. They quoted Ruskin and Rossetti, Browning and Longfellow. There were extracts from the Bible and Paradise Lost.

Entries were marked Guard Room Abancourt, 7 December 1917,  Awaiting Court Martial, and signed with names and home addresses. 

Perhaps the most poignant was the last entry - a simple poem by Thomas Hood, where Nobby Clarke underlined the last two lines: 

I remember, I remember, / The house where I was born, / The little window where the sun / Came peeping in at morn; / He never came a wink too soon / nor brought too long a day; / But now I often wish the night / Had borne my breath away.

. . . . .

I will add the sketchbooks over time. The research is moving. They held together as a group from the time they entered France in 1916 until their mutiny in December 1917. The earlier sketchbooks reflect deep conviction and strong bonds of friendship, at a time when they were rejected by many as cowards.