Conscientious Objectors

By Jo Angell

As part of the Bowes Museum’s series of lectures related to World War One, many of us enjoyed an excellent lecture by Dr Megan Leyland about conscientious objectors’ experiences.

This country had never had conscription before the First World War and, at first, once war was declared in 1914, many young men had eagerly joined up. From 1914, however, there had been an anti-war movement usually among those who had left-wing political beliefs. The slaughter which quickly ensued necessitated conscription but then, on the grounds, usually of their religious convictions, pacifists, Quakers, members of non-conformist faiths and some Anglicans, refused to join the forces. This was viewed as a crime.

In England, conscientious objectors could not be executed though some who were sent to France and refused to obey orders were condemned to death but their sentences were commuted to ten years’ hard labour. After the war ended, however, they were freed.

Richmond in Yorkshire was a garrison town; the barracks were within the castle where there was also a prison block with eight cells on two floors which were used to hold the conscientious objectors. This block contains a remarkable collection of 2500 graffiti inscriptions. There are verses from hymns, Biblical quotations, diagrams, a picture of a battle ship, and pictures of loved ones. One inscription reads “The only war ought to be a class war.” There is even a makeshift calendar. Unfortunately, this cell block, where conservation work proceeds, is not open to the public. Paint layers are being removed to reveal more graffiti, some from the nineteenth century as well as the huge number from the war. The graffiti reveals the wide range of skills and education of the inmates.

By 1916, there was a crisis in manpower and men could not apply not to fight, but some did farming or building work instead of serving in the forces. Those who refused to obey orders, viewing any such work contributing to the war effort, were horribly treated and were confined to damp, cold prison cells. This was when the graffiti were made.

Three Barnard castle men who were conscientious objectors would have been called to a tribunal to ascertain whether their objections were genuine, or whether they were cowards.

Some few whose work was deemed of national importance were given an exemption, for example; medical and ambulance services were exempt. Some thirty-five men received the death penalty. Why was this commuted? Asquith wanted them to be shot. And, in cartoons, they were depicted as effeminate, sloppy and cowardly. After the war many suffered from prejudice throughout their lives and some committed suicide.

This is another chapter in the dreadful saga of the First World War.

Do you own a Tower Poppy or know someone who does?

In 2014 one of the iconic images relating to the commemoration of the outbreak of the First World War was the installation Blood Swept Land and Seas of Red by artist Paul Cummins and designer Tom Piper at the Tower of London.  The ceramic poppies were sold at the end of the display.

14-18 NOW, which commissioned the installation, has recently announced a new initiative relating to the installation.  For more information, read on.


14-18NOW launched Where Are The Poppies Now earlier this month to reunite digitally the iconic ceramic poppies from the installation Blood Swept Land and Seas of Red by Paul Cummins and Tom Piper, originally seen at the Tower of London in 2014.

They’re inviting all poppy owners around the world on plant their poppy to the digital map and share the story of why or for whom they bought their poppy.

Over the coming months you can discover the stories of poppy owners around the world on the map. See how far the poppies have travelled as well as those planted in your local area.

Plant your poppy and share your story #WhereAreThePoppiesNow

For more information, go to  There’s a YouTube video and a link to planning your poppy and telling its story.

It would be lovely if you would also share your poppy story with our First World War project.  Email us on

Food, glorious food? And flowers

By Judith Phillips and Alison Mounter

Do you fancy potato and date scones?  A ‘cheap hot pot’ or vegetarian dishes like curried lentils and baked tomato pudding?  Did you know that food was rationed during the First World War, so being on the ‘Home Front’ often meant finding how to make new dishes from the limited foodstuffs available.  Newspapers often ran a column of ‘Useful Recipes’.  The Teesdale Mercury was no exception, and a quick look through the newspaper for 1916 brought up recipes for most of the dishes mentioned earlier, as well as a butter substitute using suet and olive oil, the ferocious-sounding Cossack’s plum pudding and an interesting spaghetti and kidney pie.

A Tommy’s trench rations would have included bully beef, Maconochie stew, hard biscuit, plum and apple jam.  The stew and jam, in particular, were regularly the subjects of complaints and satirised in cartoons.  Not very appetising, perhaps, but for some soldiers from poor homes it might have been better than what they were used to.  That’s assuming the rations arrived in the trenches.  It must have been a logistical nightmare, and there are many stories of rations going astray or ending up with the ‘wrong’ units.

Local food historians Jan and Richard Crouch will be in The Bowes Museum on Saturday 7th October from 11.00 until 3.30.  They invite you to join them to find out more about how families at home managed with food shortages and how the War Office tried to feed the thousands of men on active service in the army and navy across the world.  Jan and Richard will give short talks on food during the First World War at 11.00 and 2.30 but you can drop in at any time to talk to them, to sample some of the dishes people cooked a hundred years ago and to find out more about food on the Home Front and in the trenches.

We don’t often think about flowers on the Western Front – it’s usually shell-blasted trees and fields of mud we imagine.  But soldiers often appreciated the way flowers came into their lives – perhaps a cottage garden or farmhouse kitchen garden long-abandoned by the owners but still growing flowers, fruit and vegetables.  Even in devastated areas of shell damage, wild flowers continued to grow.  The poet and novelist Robert Graves described in his memoirs his joy at coming across a field of poppies, marguerites and cornflowers while on active service.  The colours of the flowers – red, white and blue – could also be seen as the colours of the British and French flags.

Come and join us on Saturday 7th October between 11.00 and 3.30 in making red, white and blue felt flowers to put onto a large canvas field, drawn by Anne Lee, one of the Education Team’s volunteers.  Staff and volunteers will be on hand to help you make the flowers so you can contribute to a communal piece of creative art as part of the museum’s First World War Commemoration Project.

Both these drop-in events are aimed at all ages and you don’t need any previous experience!  So children, parents, grandparents are all welcome.

Children must be accompanied by an adult for whom normal admission applies.

Dates for your diaries for October and November

There are already several events with a First World War connection that are going on this autumn.  If you know of something locally or elsewhere in the country that you think might be of interest, please let us know and we’ll try to publicise it.  Here are some we know of already:

  • Saturday 7th October at the museum 11.00-4.00. This is a drop-in event for everyone in the family.  Food historians Jan and Richard Crouch will introduce you to the delights of First World War cooking with samples for those brave (or adventurous) enough to try them. They will be on hand to answer your questions and at 11.00 and 2.30, they’ll give short talks on food issues during the war.  You can also try your hand at felting to create flowers – poppies, marguerites, and cornflowers – to put onto a scene depicting a field before and after a First World War battle.  All the materials are provided and staff from the Education team will be on hand to guide you.   Everyone is welcome.
  • On Saturday 14th October the Western Front Association Durham Branch is holding the next in its series of First World War Conference and Exhibition meetings at Cornerstones, Chester-le-Street. I’ve found previous meetings very informative and interesting – a great opportunity to hear good speakers and see what groups in the county are doing to commemorate the First World War.  For more information about the programme and booking, go to  

  • November 4th at the museum 11.00-12.30. In this half-day workshop, photographic artist Lee Karen Stow will share thoughts and tips on how you can create and sustain a personal photography project or a long-term body of work. Learn how to turn your chosen theme or passion into an individual visual narrative that expresses what you truly love about life or what you want to say about it. She’ll also look at ways to share your work, exhibit it and how to get your work seen.

    For photographers with moderate to advanced level of experience.

    Places are limited so booking required, ring Reception on 01833 690606 or email  The cost of £15 includes the afternoon talk (see below).

  • November 4th at the museum 2.30-4.00. Lee Karen Stow will reflect on the poppy as a symbol of suffering during war since it was first used to commemorate the First World War.  Two women on separate continents came up with idea of the poppy, and it is instantly recognisable today. This is the last talk in the 2017 programme.  The usual charge of £3 applies (free for Friends, holders of an annual museum pass and people attending the morning’s photography workshop).

  • November 12th Remembrance Sunday service and wreath-laying in Barnard Castle. Afterwards we invite you to the museum to see the collaborative piece of collage artwork created in October.

  • November 15th at the Prior’s Hall, Durham Cathedral, Durham University is hosting ‘Centenary Reflections on the Church in the Furnace: Can the Church of England learn from the British Army?’ by The Venerable Stephen Robbins CB, Honorary Canon of Salisbury Cathedral and a former Chaplain-General of the British Army. The talk marks the centenary of the end of the Battle of Passchendaele and discusses whether the Church can learn from the recent pastoral experience of army chaplains. More information about the lecture and booking is available at

Women and War

By Judith Phillips

Alison Mounter, who has done a lot of work for our project in organising talks and events, recently visited the National Memorial Arboretum. Her account of her visit will be included in a future newsletter. In the meantime you might like to look into this event at the Arboretum. If anyone goes, I’d be delighted to have a report on the talks.

On 26th and 27th September the National Memorial Arboretum will hold a two-day symposium to coincide with its on-going World War I centenary events and activities.

The symposium’s diverse programme of seminars, interactive workshops and site tours, aimed at academics, students and historians, will examine the social changes wrought by the conflict helping to create a greater understanding of how these changes came about.

As well as examining the changing role of women during the conflict – focussing on the care of the wounded on both the Western and Home fronts, other themes will consider the Home Front at a more local level. Topics to be explored by a wealth of speakers include the female vote, food crises, attitudes towards conscientious objectors, the changing role of the country estate house as convalesce homes, and the development of female labour in traditionally male roles.

The programme will also offer opportunities to explore their galleries and to participate in workshops and guided tours of the 150-acre site.
For more information visit

The First World War and artists

By Judith Phillips

Partly because The Bowes Museum is renowned for its fine art collections, I have been thinking about how artists were involved in and responded to the First World War.  I recently saw an exhibition of work by some British artists working in the inter-war period.  And, of course, that means that many of them were of military age during the war.  Not all the short biographies in the catalogue gave information about the war years but I was struck by how many men saw active service, and several of them suffered significant physical damage.

One female artist served in the Land Army but there was no information about the other women.  Of the men, 21 enlisted and saw active service, mainly on the Western Front.  Two served as ambulance drivers, two registered as conscientious objectors, two were exempted on grounds of ill-health and two were official war artists.

Two paintings in particular struck me.  One was by David Jagger and was entitled ‘The Conscientious Objector, 1917’.  The catalogue entry notes that the picture is probably a self-portrait.  Jagger was exempted from military service because of ill-health and, although a strong pacifist, he was not a conscientious objector.  As you will know from Megan Leyland’s talk earlier this month, conscientious objectors were frequently viewed with suspicion and contempt.  The catalogue prints the Daily Telegraph comment when the painting was shown at the Royal Academy in 1917: ‘Jagger’s “Conscientious Objector” need not have been named.  There he is to the life, with his haggard cheeks, dogged, argumentative face, and pink comforter.’

As this portrait is in a private collection, it does not appear on the Art UK website ( but, looking at David Jagger’s works on this site, I immediately noticed a portrait of Charles Jagger in what looked like First World War army uniform.  A closer inspection of the picture showed it was painted in 1917, and I think it must be the artist’s brother (and he survived the war).  The painting is held by Museums Sheffield, so I’ll view it with keener interest on my next visit to Sheffield.

The other painting that really took my attention for its First World War connections was completely different. ‘Why War?’ was painted by Charles Spencelayh in 1939 and is in the Harris Museum and Gallery, Preston.  An image is available to view on Art UK, as are two First World War portraits of Vernon Spencelayh – another example of an artist’s brother?  An old man sits in his old-fashioned parlour gazing into space.  His medals from an earlier conflict are pinned to his jacket and the death of Nelson is shown in an engraving on the wall, but the gas mask on the table and the newspaper referring to Neville Chamberlain’s meeting with Hitler in 1938 bring us immediately to the Second World War that had its beginnings in the aftermath of the First World War.

The exhibition ‘True to Life: British Realist Painting in the 1920s & 1930s’ is at the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art (Two)in Edinburgh until 29th October.

Professor Dibble’s talk on British composers and their response to war was very popular.  Perhaps we should arrange a talk on artists’ responses to the war?  Please let us know what you think.