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ARTHUR BUTLER 1889 - 1916  

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Arthur Butler was one of many Conscientious Objectors who died as a result of illness left untreated in prison. The CO newspaper, the Tribunal, published his obituary on the 20th of December 1917.

Will there be men, think you
for the bitter need
Men to die or do
Men indeed?

Arthur Butler was educated at Stockport Grammar School, where he won a scholarship and gained the reputation of being a brilliant scholar. He was arrested in July 1916 as a conscientious objector. After his third sentence in May 1917, of two year’s hard labour for still refusing to obey military orders, he was committed to Preston Jail and here he developed consumption. In a letter from prison, dated November 10th 1917, he stated that he had a cough and spat blood and complained of pains in the chest and shoulders. The prison Medical Officer added a footnote to the letter stating that the spitting of blood was due to an acute attack of influenza, for which “he had every medical attention.”

Representations were made to the Home Office that Butler’s condition was exceedingly serious, especially in view of the fact that a number of his family had died of consumption. But the Home Office persisted in stating that Butler was only suffering from a slight indisposition, and even as recently as 11th inst. assured a prominent member of Parliament that there was no cause of anxiety.

On the same day news reached Butler’s friends that he was dying. The Home Office was again approached, with the result that Butler’s mother was given permission to see him. But officialism had not yet finished its work.

While Butler, gasping for breath and fully conscious that his end was approaching, begged that his mother might remain with him, he was informed by the Governor that it was “against the rules.” Quite so, for what place have humanity, pity and sympathy within prison walls? Well might Oscar Wilde write:

“This too, I know and wise it were
If each could know the same,
that every prison that men build
is built with bricks of shame
And bound with brass lest Christ shall see,
How men their brothers maim”

The next day, Wednesday 12th, Arthur Butler passed away.

As we go to press we are astonished to learn that the postmortem is to be made by the prison doctor. We hope a strong protest will be made when the inquest is resumed at such an obviously interested person being permitted to act in this capacity.
We are indeed proud of Arthur Butler. We are thankful for his example. But what are we to say of the callousness of those responsible for his death? Butler was in good health when arrested, and was classified A1 by the military but the prolonged hardships in prison, the cold and underfeeding and all the abominable conditions that we referred to in our last issue proved too much for him. For 17 months he gave proof to all concerned of the sincerity of his position and now he has shown that he held loyalty to his convictions dearer than life and that he was ready for “the bitter need.” A cause for which a man like Arthur Butler is willing to lay down his life must needs grow - for it is the outward expression of that indomitable love that will not flinch, however fiery the ordeal, but will press forward until peace on earth, goodwill to men is no longer a distant vision but a living reality.

A week later, one of his friends in the No-Conscription Fellowship wrote a tribute to Arthur on the occasion of a Memorial Meeting held for him by the Free Church League for Woman Suffrage. It reads:

In the passing of Arthur Butler, the Fellowship and the World have lost one of the most splendid types of manhood. He was the son of working class parents, and, in spite of great obstacles, won for himself, by means of scholarships, a grammar school education.

Independent in spirit, fearless and determined, he fought against all forms of tyranny. Between him and injustice there could be no compromise. This led him in early life to embrace socialism and later on to become a conscientious objector, taking up the absolutist’s position.
For all fighters, in the cause of freedom in whatever sphere he had the profoundest respect....
Ill-will he bore to no one; even as he lay dying he would speak no harm of his persecutors, but only recognised the kindness they began to show him at the last.

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CO DATA

Born: 1889
Died: 1916
Address: 9 Menai Road, Stockport, Cheshire
Tribunal:
Prison: Preston, Liverpool
HO Scheme: [1]
CO Work:
Occupation: Clerk

Absolutist

 


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