the men who said no
‘The net result is that she goes to prison…for a crime she has never committed.’  



Joan Beauchamp was one of the female staff of the No Conscription Fellowship in World War One, who kept the office functioning effectively when most of the male supporters and staff were in prison for conscientious objection.

She was born in 1890 into a farming family in Midsomer Norton, in Somerset. She was one of the first women graduates of the University of London. Joan and her younger sister Kay were both founding members of the Communist Party of Great Britain. She became a leading suffragette and associate of Sylvia Pankhurst. She was working with Sylvia in the East End when she got to know Lydia Smith at her lodgings, and was persuaded by Lydia to join the NCF staff. She and Lydia shared a rented cottage, Chalk Pit Cottage, near Dorking outside London.

She started working as an assistant to C.G. Ammon in the Political Department of the NCF, and then became Parliamentary Secretary. Later in the war she was officially named as publisher of The Tribunal magazine, with Chalk Pit Cottage as the printing address. This was agreed by the NCF Committee, with Lydia Smith being the editor. In the event of difficulty it would be Joan who went to prison if necessary, leaving Lydia to continue as editor. In 1918 after various police raids on the printers and destruction of the machinery, forcing The Tribunal to be printed secretly, the police turned their attention to the publisher. In the issue of January 3, 1918, Bertrand Russell had written about the recently rejected German peace offer, and referred to the American army: ‘The American garrison which will by that time be occupying England and France, whether or not they will prove efficient against the Germans, will no doubt be capable of intimidating strikers, an occupation to which the American army is accustomed when at home.’ This was too much for the authorities who declared that these words would have ‘a diabolical effect’ upon the British and Allied soldiers. Bertrand Russell and Joan Beauchamp as the publisher were prosecuted at Bow Street on February 9th. He was sentenced to six months and Joan to a £60 fine and fifteen guineas costs. At the appeal in the Sessions court in Clerkenwell on 1st May, the case was lost but Joan refused to pay, so was sentenced to one month in prison (though Mr Lawrie, on the bench, was reportedly reluctant to do so).

Joan was also summonsed at the same time for publishing false statements in the same issue of the Tribunal. There was an article called ‘A Guardroom Message’ - a letter from a man in the interval between two imprisonments. ‘It told how the soldiers had a fellow-feeling for, and were indeed included to honour, the COs.’ The defence offered to prove this by bringing soldiers to testify. The authorities couldn’t risk this happening and adjourned the case, apparently to consult the War Office. The charge was dropped.

Joan’s second spell in prison was much shorter, but came about long after the war was over, after the court proceedings and appeals dragged on. On August 29, 1918 the main page of The Tribunal was headed Joan Beauchamp - Printer. It pointed out that the paper has appeared 122 more times than is pleasing to Scotland Yard. ‘Since its first appearance on March 8, 1916, every possible method, legal and illegal, has been employed by the authorities to prevent its coming out.’ It lists the raids and prosecutions, the destruction of the presses, and reiterates that ‘the Tribunal still came out’. “Then Miss Beauchamp became the Tribunal’s printer, but in doing so omitted to move her press to the premises which were already the publishing offices of the ‘Tribunal’, and well-known as such to the police. Scotland Yard is feeling very sore about this, and is still more hurt because Miss Beauchamp resolutely refused to disclose the location of her printing works. Her attitude, of which she makes no secret to the authorities, is this: ‘I have a valuable printing press, and in view of the destructive propensities of this freedom-loving Government, I think it advisable not to say where that press is situated. I am the printer of the ‘Tribunal’; if I break the law as a printer, prosecute me; you have my imprint and know where I am to be found.”

So she was summonsed at Bow Street, ‘on the count that the imprint on the ‘Tribunal’ was illegal, the prosecution contending that Miss Beauchamp was not in fact the printer and that the name and address of the printer was not therefore on the paper. The magistrate found that there had been a deliberate attempt to suppress the name of the printer, and fined her £200 and 25 guineas costs.” Joan argued that she was the ‘master’ printer, as she owned the hand press then being used, and employed and paid the actual printers. The case then went to the Kings’ Bench and back to Quarter Sessions, before being settled at the beginning of 1920, when ‘Miss Beauchamp, whom everyone knew to be innocent, was sentenced by a baffled prosecutor to three weeks’ imprisonment - but was released after eight day.’ The Tribunal reported that she appeared in person and conducted her own case with great skill. ‘The net result is that she goes to prison…for a crime she has never committed.’

In September 1918 the Tribunal published an appeal for funds from Joan:

‘Here’s freedom to him that would read.
Here’s freedom to him that would write.
For there’s none ever feared that the truth
should be heard,
But those whom the truth would indict.’

‘Those of our readers who have followed closely the history of the “Tribunal” during the past year will have realised that it has passed through many vicissitudes and that an astonishing number of obstacles have been put in its way by people who for some reason best known to themselves appear to cherish a secret but implacable grudge against this little paper.

‘Our greatest crime in the eyes of our enemies appears to be our plainspokenness and sincerity. We publish the truth as we see it, as much of the truth as we can get into our limited space, and nothing but the truth. We take our stand beside those who are suffering in what most people regard as a lost cause; we speak for an unpopular minority, the majority of whose members, being immured behind prison bars, may not speak for themselves; we expose injustices, which, but for us, would remain hidden from the public, and this in itself is sufficient to make the powers that be fear and hate us.

‘In spite of the comparative smallness of our circulation, we are, apparently, a force to be reckoned with; in the War Office our pages are read carefully week by week; the Home Office periodically sends out its myrmidons, to threaten us with dire penalties if we continue; Sir A. Bodkin spends part of his valuable time endeavouring to entangle this ‘stickleback’ in the meshes of the law.’ Nevertheless all attempts to suppress the ‘Tribunal’ have failed.’

(The defence solicitor for Joan Beauchamp and Bertrand Russell had referred to The Tribunal as a ‘stickleback’, contrasting the Crown’s prosecution of this small paper with its refusal to take on the ‘whale’ of the Times for publishing something similar.)

The April 24, 1919 issue of the Tribunal paid thanks to her and to Lydia Smith:
‘Last week’s issue of the Tribunal contained in part the story of its publication during the past twelve months. Few people have realised the tremendous fight that it has put up for the freedom of the press during that period. Fewer know to whom is due the thanks for the wonderful little adventure in which the Home Office and all its forces have been outwitted, and the right to publish without let or hindrance successfully asserted. In the days when the history of D.O.R.A. (the Defence of the Realm Act) is written it will be recognised that those who kept the Tribunal alive did a really big thing. The future will thank them adequately for their service to freedom. The present can hardly be expected to do that, but on behalf of all of those who love liberty we sincerely thank Lydia Smith and Joan Beauchamp and her two employees for their courage and skill and for the brilliant success which has attended their resolve to tell the truth regardless of the consequences.’

They paid a further tribute in July:
‘Another member of staff who has left us during the last few weeks is Joan Beauchamp, whose work as Parliamentary Secretary was so successfully and brilliantly done. Like Miss Tillard she added a rare personal courage to her devoted service, and even in leaving us there is hanging over her head a Crown prosecution arising out of the publication of the Tribunal. With the release of the majority of prisoners the work of the Parliamentary department of necessity greatly decreased, and it is only on this ground that the Fellowship consents to lose such a splendid worker.’

While working at the NCF she met Harry Thompson, an NCF public speaker, lawyer and CO, and they were married at Hampstead Quaker Meeting House and had two sons, Robin and Brian. Harry had been imprisoned as an absolutist CO in Wakefield jail in 1917 and Joan corresponded with him throughout his two year sentence until he was released in April l919. She became a journalist after the war. During the Second World War she was severely injured by a flying bomb. Her husband was a renowned labour movement lawyer and his law firm, WH Thompson, which still exists, provided support for trade unions and their members. Their sons also became notable trade union lawyers. He died in 1947, and she died in 1964.



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