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Jack Sadler was born in 1887, the eldest of three brothers, the family living in Byker, Newcastle-on-Tyne. The family belonged to the Presbyterian Church, and as they grew up the boys became involved in the Byker Brotherhood, a youth section of the Church. They accepted a strong sense of responsibility for community involvement and co-operating with others for a better society, which the family saw as necessarily rejecting militarism. Jack, who had relatively little formal education, read widely, being particularly interested in history, and taught the scriptures to children in the Sunday School. The family were engaged in jobbing building and carpentry, owning their own yard for the purpose.

With the outbreak of war in 1914, Jack and his brothers James and Mark became increasingly disillusioned with the pro-war stance of their Church, which conflicted with the humanitarian principles on which they had been brought up. They were attracted instead to the ideals of secular socialism, and through such contacts found the No-Conscription Fellowship, one of the main anti-war bodies of the period.

Sadler transcript

When conscription came in 1916, Jack applied to the Newcastle Tribunal for exemption as a conscientious objector, but was brusquely refused after being shouted down by members of the tribunal. He appealed to the Northumberland Appeal Tribunal, which recognised him as a conscientious objector, but granted him exemption only on condition of undertaking, within one month, civilian work deemed to be of national importance. Jack took the view that to comply with the condition would turn him into a cog in the machinery of the warfare state geared for total war. He was willing to play his part in the community, and saw his ordinary job as a contribution towards that, but he was not willing to accept the authority of the state to order him what to do.

Having no further right of appeal, Jack carried on with his job, whilst the conditional exemption lapsed after a month. This meant that Jack became liable to full military service and a notice came ordering him to report to barracks. Jack ignored this, and eventually he was arrested by the civilian police, taken before the Magistrates’ Court, fined, and handed over to the military authorities. At a local school, which was being used as a temporary barracks, Jack was ordered to put on a soldier’s uniform but refused, pointing out that he was a conscientious objector and would never be a soldier. He was charged with the military offence of disobedience, and held in the Guard Room until a Court-Martial sentenced him to two years imprisonment with Hard Labour (meaning that he would have no mattress for the first 28 days). His sentence was commuted to six months, which he served partly in Newcastle Prison, and partly in Wandsworth and Wormwood Scrubs prisons in London.

Whilst in Wormwood Scrubs Prison, Jack was interviewed by the Central Tribunal, who agreed that he was a genuine conscientious objector, and offered him the opportunity of his sentence being suspended, and a transfer to the Army Reserve, on condition of his accepting work under a scheme specially organised by the Home Office for objectors in his position. Jack refused for the same reason that he had refused the Appeal Tribunal’s offer of conditional exemption – he was not willing to be a cog in the machinery of the warfare state. Jack therefore served out his sentence, was returned to the Army, again refused to put on uniform, again sentenced to two years Hard Labour, which was once more commuted to six months. The cycle began a third time, in which Jack tried without success to get a fresh hearing of his case for absolute exemption, and the military authorities did not commute his sentence, requiring him to serve the full two years.

Jack and some of his fellow objectors began a hunger strike in Newcastle Prison, announcing that they would refuse food until they were given the absolute exemption they claimed. This meant that Jack was forcibly fed through a tube reaching to his stomach before being granted temporary release from prison under the same provision as that made for suffragette hunger strikers, whereby such prisoners could be released until their health recovered. By this time, however, it was March 1919, the war was over, and arrangements were being made for release of conscientious objectors alongside the demobilisation of soldiers. Jack’s temporary release became permanent, and in June 1919 he was finally discharged from the Army on grounds of ‘misconduct’: one way of describing a waste of two and a half years of both his time and the Army’s.

Jack celebrated his release by marrying his fiancée Margaret, to whom he had been engaged since 1914. She supported him throughout and continued to do so through the years ahead, when Jack suffered from recurring bouts of stomach pains, never having fully recovered from his forcible feeding. Their daughter, Dorothy, born in 1920, followed in their political path, as did his brothers James and Mark, who had both been imprisoned as COs.

Jack, like some of his contemporaries, had initially seen the Russian Revolution as a new dawn for workers and oppressed people, but he soon realised that the new regime was as committed to militarism as the old one, and that a socialism based on military strength was no true socialism. He never stopped working for a real peace and a better society, echoing the cries of “Never Again” and “No More War” that were to be heard at peace demonstrations and Remembrance ceremonies in many places.

When civil war broke out in Spain in 1936, following the uprising of General Franco against the Republican government, Jack distanced himself from the majority of the Left, who supported the Republican army, sometimes by volunteering for the International Brigade. Jack argued that in war everybody loses – lives, homes, the means of subsistence, whilst the earth and its crops are ravaged; and the forces of victory by no means necessarily have right on their side.

Jack had been attracted to the League of Nations Union, and worked on its ‘Peace Ballot’ in 1935, but when he realised that their basic policy was ‘collective security’, meaning a commitment by each country to go to war in support of others, he turned elsewhere, and found the Peace Pledge Union, founded in 1934 on the basis of a complete renunciation of war. He remained loyal to the PPU for the rest of his life, and when war came again in 1939, he and others named the local PPU group the Newcastle War Resisters, doing whatever they could to resist the tide of total war.

When Jack and his brother Mark were ordered to organise firewatching at their business, they refused to do it as part of the machinery of the warfare state, in the same way that they had refused civilian work in the First World War. They were each fined £5, which they refused to pay, so were sentenced to a month in Durham prison instead. Dorothy’s husband, Bob, was also imprisoned as an ‘absolutist’ CO, as was his brother Alan. Their father, John also went to prison for refusing to organise firewatching at their family’s coachbuilding business. Dorothy herself refused to register under the scheme for organising women for the war effort, but as she was already a schoolteacher, she was left alone by the authorities.

After 1945 Jack continued to speak out against war, in Korea, Suez, or wherever. He acknowledged the emerging nuclear disarmament movement, but was quick to argue that it did not go far enough - it was war itself that must be abolished, not just one means of war, however terrible. He died in 1961.





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Born: 19.11.1887
Died: 20.6.1961
Address: 99 Kirk Street, Byker, Newcastle-on-Tyne, Northumberland
Tribunal: Newcastle; Wormwood Scrubs
Prison: Wormwood Scrubs; Wandsworth CP; Newcastle CP
HO Scheme: refused to participate[1]
CO Work:
Occupation: Joiner
NCF: Newcastle
Motivation: Humanitarian


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