the men who said no
Back | Home



Emmanuel Ribeiro was of Portuguese Jewish ancestry, but, like his parents, born in Britain (c 1882). By the time he came due for conscription in late 1916 he was living in Hightown, Manchester, a gold and silver engraver, married, had five children (the eldest in a convalescent home suffering tuberculosis), and another child on the way.  For 15 years he had held strong socialist convictions which he found consistent with his Primitive Methodist faith, and in applying to the Manchester Military Service Tribunal for CO recognition, he asked for absolute exemption. The tribunal offered him exemption from military service conditional upon performing civilian Work of National Importance, but Emmanuel explained that, although he was willing to do important work, he would not do it under compulsion; anything worthwhile must be freely given. He appealed against the tribunal’s offer, but the appeal tribunal rejected his appeal, and instead accepted a cross-appeal by the Military Representative that he should not be allowed any exemption.

The result was that Emmanuel received a notice to report to the Lancashire Fusiliers, at Bury, Lancashire. He ignored the notice, and on 17 January 1917 was arrested by a civilian police constable and taken before Manchester Magistrates’ Court on 19 January, where he was fined £2 and handed over to a military escort. He was taken to Bury Barracks, where he not only refused to put on a uniform – the usual course for COs in that situation - but not to co-operate with the military authorities in any way.  By 21 January, this non-co-operation extended to refusal of food – going on hunger-strike. At this time a few COs had gone on hunger-strike in prison, but Emmanuel was the first, and became one of only two, to go on hunger-strike while in the custody of the Army.

The Army had no experience of dealing with such a difficult soldier, nor anywhere in a barracks to hold him while weak from hunger, and was concerned to keep him alive, so on 25 January he was transferred to an Army hospital, Lord Derby’s War Hospital, Winwick, near Warrington, Cheshire. There he was kept in bed and force-fed, twice daily, by a tube down the mouth, with which he co-operated to a degree, so avoiding some injuries suffered by other force-fed hunger-strikers. He remained there, maintaining his hunger-strike, and the military medical staff continuously feeding, for fourteen months. In June 1917 a petition for his immediate release and grant of absolute exemption from military service was submitted to the Prime Minister, David Lloyd George, signed, among others, by George Lansbury, later Leader of the Labour Party, Bertrand Russell, Lady Emily Lutyens (wife of Edwin Lutyens, who was in 1920 to design the Whitehall Cenotaph) and Catherine Marshall (record keeper and campaigner for the N-CF). On 15 October 1917 Lady Emily Lutyens visited Emmanuel in hospital and concluded that his condition was “very serious”.

Meanwhile, from 27 February 1917 MPs began asking questions about him in the House of Commons; reminders on 14 March, 20 March, 24 May, 14 June and 20 June finally brought a response on the latter date from the Under-Secretary of State for War, who previously had always only said that he had asked for a report from the hospital and it was still awaited. He now said that Ribeiro was confined to a two-bedded ward, fed by tube, “to which he makes no resistance, so that this feeding cannot be described as forcible … his weight is maintained, and I am told that his present condition is good”. He was allowed visits from his wife and pastor, and there was no restriction on his correspondence, except that it was necessarily censored. As to the possibility of complete exemption from military service, the Under-Secretary pointed out that ”the tribunal apparently did not share my hon Friend’s views as to this man’s title to exemption”. Further questions, on the next day by Philip Snowden (later Chancellor of the Exchequer), by Arthur Ponsonby (later a Foreign Office minister and later still a founder member of the PPU) on 30 July, and by other MPs on 8 August, 25 October 1917 and 20 February 1918 eventually  brought a report by a Special Medical Board that Emmanuel’s “physical health is good, he has gained 20 lb in weight in the last six months, he himself says that he is far from being depressed or downcast,  and he amuses himself with reading … he smiles and has a cheery face, and is in no way  melancholy. The Board is of opinion that he is absolutely free from any form of mental disorder and in the full enjoyment of his faculties”.

In this context, the Army on 18 March 1918 took the unusual step of convening a court-martial around his hospital bed, where he was formally found guilty of disobedience on his original enlistment at Bury Barracks in January 1917, and sentenced to two years imprisonment with hard labour. He was transferred to Wormwood Scrubs Prison on 23 March 1918, the hunger strike continuing. Further Parliamentary Questions on 11 April and 1 May 1918 produced a another medical report cited by the Home Secretary, Sir George Cave, that Emmanuel’s “health continues good, he is losing fat and gaining muscle and is taking his exercise regularly. It appears to me, therefore, that there are no grounds for ordering his release.” Notwithstanding this assurance, the Home Secretary just over a month later exercised his power to order Emmanuel’s release, on grounds of serious ill-health, on 8 June 1918. It was officially recorded that he had been force-fed 155 times in prison. There is no official record of the number of times he was force-fed in the military hospital, but it would obviously have been a great many more times.

Emmanuel was sent home, never again recalled to the Army or prison, and in due course resumed his engraving work. His wife bore two more children, making eight in all.




Do you have more information or a photo of EMMANUEL RIBEIRO? Let us know

About the men who said NO


Born: 1880
Address: 90, Charlotte Street, Hightown, Manchester.
Prison: Wormwood Scrubs
HO Scheme:NO [1]
CO Work:
Occupation: Gold and silver engraver




| more
| more
PRISONS | more

READ | more

Conscientious objection in WW1
Conscientious objection today
White Poppies



red line