In later life, George Victor Stanley became headmaster of Nottingham School, with a talent for woodcuts. C. Harold Fitch followed in his father's footsteps and became vicar of Melton Mowbray. He made a name for himself as a specialist in English dialects, and had a passion for music.
These two men were conscientious objectors.
On 7 December 1917 Stanley and Fitch were in the Guard Room at Abancourt, on the line between Rouen and Amiens. They were there to support 15 young men of the 2nd Northern Coy NCC (Non Combatant Corps) who faced court martial and the possibility of the firing squad.
This was a tight-knit group. They'd served together for 18 months, mainly in Calais and Boulogne. They refused to bear arms, but served in any way they could outside of fighting. Many had stated a preference for the RAMC on their enlistment forms, knowing they could come under fire as stretcher bearers. In reality, they worked in a bakery at Calais, providing food for troops entering France and the wounded returning home to England.
Morale was tremendously important.
Stanley and Fitch worked on maintaining morale. Stanley kept 3 sketchbooks from that time.
The first - the Red Book - would not be out of place at a management retreat in 2017. There are team building exercises where strengths and weaknesses are on humorous display. There are sheets of music from C. Harold Fitch. Towards the back there are 49 signatures - names and home addresses of the young men of the NCC.
The second book - the Grey Book - has entries from the NCC at Calais. There are poems, sketches, cartoons and quotes - all signed with name and address.
It's the third book below that is the most important.
This small grey sketchbook is a book of beliefs - written and signed by young men whose lives were on the line. They faced court martial for refusing to handle barbed wire, which they saw as a weapon of war.
One by one, on 7 December 1917, they wrote in the book and signed their names - saying in effect 'This is what I believe, this is what I am prepared to die for.'
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