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THE MEN WHO SAID NO | ROAD TO CONSCRIPTION | CONSCIENTIOUS OBJECTION | PRISONS | SENTENCED TO DEATH | TRIBUNALS | WIDER CONTEXT | INDEX
FREDERICK JAMES MURFIN 1888 - 1971  

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Fred was the youngest of three children. His father was James Murfin, a railway signalman. Fred was born in Belby near Doncaster and the family moved to Louth in Lincolnshire when he was young. He worked as a printer in Louth until the start of the First World War but transport difficulties caused a lack of work and he moved, first to Manchester and then to Tottenham.

He became associated with Tottenham Friends Meeting and with the No Conscription Fellowship in central London. In 1916 he was 28, single and not employed in a protected trade, and was therefore in one of the first groups of men to be conscripted.

Fred applied for exemption on religious grounds and his case was heard at the Tottenham Tribunal, which met in the Town Hall. At his hearing, he argued that he “believed firmly in the sacredness of all human life” and that he would not accept a non-combatant place in the army as he would not “take life nor assist in any operation the object of which is the taking of life”.

He was given a non-combatant certificate which would have meant joining the army as part of the Non-Combatant Corps rather than a fighting unit. To an absolutist like Fred, this was unnaceptable and both he and the Tottenham Tribunal’s Military Representative appealed against the decision, Fred to gain absolute exemption and the Military Representative to have even the Non-Combatant status taken away.
Fred did not succeed in his appeal and soon after was arrested as an absentee from the army and taken to Tottenham police station. There he was held in a cell then taken with other COs, including Stuart Beavis and Alfred Taylor, to the Magistrates court. They were all charged as deserters from the army and fined 40/- or 14 days.

Fred, along with the other COs was taken to Mill Hill Recruiting Station and refused to obey orders, leading them to be forcibly dressed in uniform. They were in a group of 34 COs who were handcuffed and taken to France. On the way to France they were told that refusing to obey Military orders while overseas was a crime punishable by death.
Once in France the COs were kept in prison at Boulogne. Despite the threat of death that hung over them, Fred’s memoirs of the time record a strong feeling of friendship between the men and their determination to carry on resisting the military machine. On the 13th of June 1916 Fred faced a field general court martial which sentenced him to death.

The sentence was, at the last minute, commuted to ten years penal servitude - political pressure from the supporters of COs forcing the military to admit it could not and should not shoot men many considered to be civilians. Soon after, the military released Fred, not out of the army, but into civilian prison and he was moved to Winchester.

Whenhe was finally released in 1919 he went to live in London. 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 a break during World War Two. In 1960 Willi came to England and finally met Fred, by then retired and living in Cornwall.

In 1959 Fred unveiled a plaque remembering WW1 COs who died.

Fred died in 1972.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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CO DATA

Born: 1888
Died: 1971
Address: 47 Summerhill Road, Totenham
Tribunal:
Prison: Winchester, Maudstone
HO Scheme: [1]
CO Work:
Occupation: Printer and carpenter
NCF:xxx

Absolutist
Sentenced to Death

 


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