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WALTER HENRY AYLES 1897 - 1953  


Walter Ayles was an engineer, living in Bristol. He was active in the Congregational church as a lay preacher, and also in local politics as a member of the Independent Labour Party, serving on Bristol City Council. In WW1 he joined the Fellowship of Reconciliation and Union of Democratic Control. He was also one of the founding group of the No-Conscription Fellowship in 1914, and service on the N-CF National Committee led to his being a signatory of the leaflet Repeal the Act, calling for withdrawal of conscription imposed by the Military Service Act 1916. Under the notorious Defence of the Realm Act , for publishing material prejudicial to military recruitment, the signatories were prosecuted at Mansion House Court on 17 May 1916, and, after refusing to pay a fine, Walter and others went to Pentonville Prison, London, on 17 July, for two months.

In the meantime, Walter claimed conscientious objector status at the Bristol Military Service Tribunal on 26 June 1916, but was granted recognition only to the extent of being conscripted into the Army as a non-combatant, not required to handle or use weapons; appeal to the County Appeal Tribunal made no difference, but Walter was, unusually, given leave to appeal to the Central Tribunal, which on 25 August allowed him the chance to do civilian Work of National Importance instead of military service. Walter refused this, as still rendering him a cog in the war machine, and the offer was withdrawn. He refused to report for Army service, and was arrested by the civil police in Glasgow on 4 November 1916, when he attended a Scottish conference of the N-CF (such gatherings were regularly “combed” by the police looking for COs who had not reported for military service). Brought before a Magistrates’ Court, he was handed over to the military, who took him to 5 Southern Company, Non-Combatant Corps, Bristol, on 13 November, and then to Westham Camp, Weymouth, where he refused orders such as to put on a uniform, leading to court-martial on 21 November, and two years imprisonment with hard labour, commuted to 112 days, arriving in Wormwood Scrubs Prison, London, on 27 November.

Walter was interviewed by the Central Tribunal again on 27 December, this time sitting in the prison, and was offered the Home Office Scheme, but refused it on the same grounds as he had refused Work of National Importance. He was transferred to Wandsworth Prison on 23 January 1917, discharged on 23 February, to continue a cycle of disobedience and imprisonment: 2nd court-martial, Weymouth, 3 March, two years hard labour, commuted to one year, Dorchester Prison; 3rd Court-martial, Weymouth, 9 July 1917, two years hard labour, Dorchester Prison, Wakefield Prison (Walter was Chair of the Advisory Committee of the ‘Wakefield Absolutists’), Armley Prison (Leeds), and final release on 8 April 1919.

Walter resumed his political career, becoming MP for Bristol North, 1923-24, and again 1929-31. The loss of his seat gave him time to serve as Organising Secretary of the No More War Movement, 1931-32. He returned to Parliament as MP for Southall, 1945-50, and Hayes and Harlington, 1950-53, when, shortly after retiring through ill-health, he died.



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Born: 24 March 1879
Died: 6 July 1953
Address: Kingley Hall, Old Market Street, Bristol
Tribunal: Bristol, Exempted only from combatant service
Prison: Wormwood Scrubs, Wandsworth, Dorchester, Wakefield, Leeds
HO Scheme: [1]
CO Work:
Occupation: Engineer
NCF:Bristol 1915



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