RUGBY MARRIED MEN’S PROTEST.
DEMAND FOR THE FULFILMENT OF THE PLEDGE.
An overwhelming case for the attested married men was made out at a protest meeting held in the Empire Picture Palace on Sunday afternoon. Only attested married men were invited to attend, and between 700 and 800 did so, and the proceedings throughout were unanimous and enthusiastic. Mr J J McKinnell, Chairman of the Urban District Council, presided, and he and the subsequent speakers clearly explained the grievance under which the married men are suffering, and called for the redemption of Lord Derby’s pledge, with adequate financial relief, before the mobilisation of the attested married men is proceeded with. The Chairman was supported on the platform by Messrs E A Gatehouse, J R Barker. E H Bennett, T Johnson, H Priee-Hughes, N Crittenden, F Lucking, J W Terry, — Hawke, etc.
The Chairman, at the outset, said they were present that afternoon to decide whether they were going to add to the chorus of indignation which they heard all round the country at the calling up of so many groups of attested married men, Whereas there yet were so many single men of military age who had not been called to the Colours (applause). They were passing through very serious times, and were up against the most serious crisis that the British Empire had ever been up against, and it was for them, although they felt deeply that they had not been treated fairly, to maintain their self-control and not squeal too loudly. There was no doubt whatever but that the attested married men had
A VERY GOOD CASE
indeed, and when a man had a good case it was good policy on the part of that man not to attempt to overstate his case. That meeting was absolutely unpolitical, and he was quite sure that the attested married men who were present, and who, in all probability, were going to protest, did not propose anything in the nature of organised resistance. If the Government said it could not see its way to put them back longer, or if they said that they really must have men, because the exigencies of the occasion were so acute, he felt quite sure that the patriotic men he saw before him would go without a murmur (applause). But they did want fair play (renewed applause). They wanted to be more satisfied than they were that the Government had really made their utmost effort to get in all the single men who should go before calling on the married ones (applause). One word about the pledge. There was a more or less definite pledge made by the Prime Minister to the married men, and there was a very strong feeling that that pledge was not being carried out as it should be. They heard a great deal about a scrap of paper at the beginning of the war, and he would respectfully like to remind them that there could be a verbal contract as well as a written contract, and a men’s word should be as good as his bond. The Government was in a very great difficulty, and whether it was doing quite as well as it might do, was not for him to say, but there was no doubt they were grappling with very great difficulties, and the people must not be too critical.
SINGLE MEN FIRST.
He always reckoned that the unmarried man cost the country only half as much as a married recruit, and he was strongly of opinion that at the outset of the war millions of money would have been saved by calling up the single men before accepting so many married ones for the Colours (applause). Where were all these single men who had disappeared so mysteriously ? He believed they were in four categories. First of all, as Lord Derby himself said in the House of Lords not long ago, there must be a great many unmarried men in munition works, and he had made the suggestion to the Government that all these men should come out unless they were over thirty years of age, and he (the speaker) earnestly hoped something would be done in that direction. There was no doubt but that that was where the majority of the single men still left were. Then there was a great number in the various Government offices (applause). The Government offices had not discovered a very great urgency in letting men go. Then, many men had slipped through by moving away very quickly after the Registration. He believed they could reckon in hundreds of thousands the men who had moved from the address, and he hoped the Government would deal with the question, very quickly. However, he thought it was only fair to say that there must be a great number of men in munition factories who were young and keen, ardent spirits, who would be only too glad to go if they were allowed, for he understood that men in munition factories could not enlist without permission (a voice: “That is so”). In conclusion, the Chairman said he had received a telegram from Mr Gibbon Bowles (loud applause), who was contesting the neighbouring constituency, and whom they had asked to address the meeting, as follows :- “ Much regret too busy. Wish you luck. Glad of any assistance from you. Gibson Bowles.” (applause).
Mr J R Barker, as one of the conveners of the meeting, said they felt Rugby should voice its protest at the grave injustice which had been done to the married attested men. They felt that the promise given by Lord Derby and Mr Asquith that all the available single men should be called up to the Colours before the calling up of the married men had only been kept in the letter and not in the spirit. The object of that meeting therefore was to raise a protest, but not, of course, to hamper the Government in any way. He was sure every attested married man was willing to fulfil the obligation he took when he attested, but it was up to the Government to see that the promises which induced most of them to attest were kept in the spirit as well as in the letter.
MARRIED MEN NOT SHIRKERS.
Married men had been accused of squealing, but he pointed out that this was only made by a well groomed “ sit-on-the-fence ” minority, because two-thirds of the married men in the Rugby Division attested. When the married men insisted on the fulfilment of the pledge, “ single men first,” and the passing of the Military Service Bill, no voice was louder than this “ sit-on-the-fence ” minority in the cry “ Fetch up the shirker.” But were they fetched up ? They knew they were not. They crowded into the starred trades, and at the conclusion of the Derby Scheme only one-third in Rugby had attested ; the other two-thirds, protected by their stars and badges, funked the issue, as many of them had funked it when they entered munition shops. The Military Service Act, go far from meeting the situation, had been a mockery, so that before even all the conscripts were in training eight groups of married men were called up. The married men patriots properly protested at this, and then those who had hung back cried, “ What are you squealing about ?” They were not squealing yet, but they would be squealing for
next (loud applause). Married men, and to their credit, many single men, were actuated by the highest motives in attesting, but he asked, did they think that these men would have hung back until to-day had there not been some good reason for it. Many men had business or domestic reasons, and could not discharge their obligations if they were called to the colours, and when they joined their groups the married men were told they would not be called up until the single men had gone. There was a clear inference that the married men would not be called up until it had been found that the single men could not win the war, yet they had been forced to tread on the very heels of the single men and conscripts. Lord Derby had said the married men’s turn should not be unduly accelerated, yet the War Office had called up eight groups in one batch, and the report had been circulated that the married men up to the age of 35 would be called up by April 17th. Was it therefore to be wondered at that, in view of the pledge, protests were raised ? Was it fair for married men to be called to the colours while thousands of single men, without any previous experience, had gone into munition factories and starred trades to escape military service. He referred to the injustice whereby the patriotic attested man’s job or business would be seized by the men who stopped at home, and said the Government must not allow the financial ruin of those who thought first of their country (applause). After paying rent, insurance, taxes, and other fixed charges, the separation allowances would leave nothing for the married man’s children to buy food and clothing with, and the Government had to face this problem at once. A moratorium was useless. A man must come back in the position he left, and not to find a big pile of debts, and the only solution was that when the married men were called up for military service, the State and local authorities should discharge the rent, insurance, and the other fixed charges which the man himself was unable to discharge (applause). Then, too, the Government must bring in by compulsion all unattested men up to the age of 40 years (applause). He proposed the following resolution :—
“ That this mass meeting of the married attested men of Rugby and District, on the strength of Lord Derby’s statement that the Government have only kept their pledge in the letter and not in the spirit, considers that the married attested men have been grossly deceived and are suffering a grave injustice, and while not wishing to evade their pledges, they demand (1) That the Government carry out strictly their promise to call out the whole of the available single men first before calling up the married men. (2) That the only fair scheme is to amend the Military Service Act of 1916, to include all men of military age. (3) That the Government make adequate provision for the financial responsibilities of married attested men before requiring them to serve. (4) That the mobilisation of married attested men shall be suspended until these just demands are dealt with.”
Mr E A Gatehouse, who seconded, said there were two questions before them at the moment—(1) Was the Government justified in calling them up at the present time ; and (2) If so, had they made proper provision for their wives and children (no, no).—They had been called upon to face certain criticisms. They had been told by people above military age that they had broken their attestation pledges, and that they were entirety lacking in patriotic spirit (A voice : So has the Government). He would ask them to look back a little, because they had now got into a pretty considerable mess. In July last the Government brought in a National Registration Act, and from that they knew how many men they had who were available for military service. In October Lord Derby, brought forward his famous scheme with which they were all well acquainted. In November and December most of those present attested. Some of his friends, men who were cleverer and more far seeing than he was, told him he was a fool for attesting (hear, hear). They were perfectly right (applause), but at the same time he felt he was
IN PRETTY GOOD COMPANY
(applause), and he would rather that day be an attested fool than an unattested wise man (renewed applause}. Instead of closing down the groups at the time they said they would, the Government decided to open them up again to give the unattested men another chance. They jumped at it with both feet, and were now pretty safely and comfortably fixed up in munition factories. Now that they had nicely settled down and had got good jobs, the Government were going to pick them out again. They had told them so (Voices: Are they ?). That remained to be seen ; meanwhile the married men were to be called on to fill the gaps, and by the time the single men were called out again it was quite probable that they would have developed “ conscientious objections ” (laughter). They had seen that the possession of a conscience was quite a useful thing. These men in the factories had no objection to making guns and shells, but what they had a strong objection to was putting the shells in the guns and letting them off. The calling out of these men would probably mean a considerable waste of time—probably a few months while the appeals were being heard, and by that time the married men would be getting nearly first-class soldiers, and the Government would still be considering the possibility of a moratorium to take care of their financial troubles at home. Of all the damnable schemes that this Government had devised, he thought the moratorium was the most damnable of the whole lot (applause). They must look again into the future, and see themselves in twelve months’ time in the trenches, broken up with cold and rheumatism. Every day they were there would be adding to the load of debt accumulating until such time as they came home again. And what about those who would never come home ? Had they grasped the fact that many of them would be
BURIED IN FRANCE
before that time ? In twelve months’ time, probably, they would be soldiers, and in the hands of those men who had muddled away the lives of thousands of the finest troops who ever breathed—he was now speaking of the Dardanelles. Winston Churchill said that was a gamble; if England wanted their lives they would give them, and give them freely, but for God’s sake they must see that the politicians did not gamble away the lives of their wives and children (loud applause). In conclusion, he urged them to stand together, because to-day, as it always had been, union was strength (applause). Mr L J Smith, a member of the audience, drew attention to the fact that the Government were sending single labourers, who had had seventeen months’ training, back to munition works, and calling the married men to come forward for the army. If they were skilled men he could understand it, but these men were only rated at 27s per week before the war started. The Government were also sending other men, after only two months’ training, to fight. The resolution, on being put to the meeting, was carried unanimously and with enthusiasm, and it was decided to send the following message to Mr Gibson Bowles: “Rugby married attested men trust the Harborough Division of Leicester will return you by a thumping majority.” Mr T Arrowsmith drew attention to the fact that skilled men were being drafted into the army and unskilled men were taking their places. This he knew was taking place in one of the large works in Rugby. They had a local Advisory Committee to which any man who felt he was unjustly treated could apply to for assistance. A vote of thanks was accorded the Chairman on the proposition of Mr Lucking, seconded by Mr Hawke. The Chairman, in reply, referred to the subjects raised by Messrs Smith and Arrowsmith, and said, although they did not really come within the scope of the meeting, they were much indebted to these speakers for bringing such anomalies forward. During the last eighteen months they had repeatedly had these extraordinary conundrums offered to them, and he could not understand them, nor see why the Government did such things (applause). The meeting opened and concluded with the singing of a verse of the National Anthem.