LABOUR AND THE LAND - CONSCIENTIOUS OBJECTORS NOT WANTED
MR WILLIS BUND AND THE PROBLEM
A further meeting to consider Mr Willis Bund’s scheme for the employment of conscientious objectors on the land, and the replies sent by the various parishes to the circulars recently sent to them by the County Council on the subject, was held at the Police Court, Evesham, on Thursday afternoon. Mr J.W. Willis Bund presided, and most of the members of the County Appeal Tribunal were present. There was not nearly such a large attendance as at the first meeting.
Mr Willis Bund said some of the parishes had replied to the circular in a very remarkable manner. The Appeal Tribunal had been told that day that there was a shortage of labour in some parishes. If the parish councils were not aware of it he could not understand why they were not. They had heard that day about the scarcity of labour at Hampton, but the Parish Council replied that it had decided not to entertain the question of the employment of conscientious objectors, but that they would assist in a scheme for the employment of German prisoners. He (Mr Willis Bund) had tried to point out that the two schemes were different; Mr Cholmondeley’s scheme would probably do very well for large farms, but was not applicable to small holdings. Some interested people had been trying to set the two schemes against each other, and had consequently not done much good to either. The Hampton Parish Council replied to the circular that the shortage of labour at the present time did not appear to be acute. Applicants for exemption had told the Tribunal that it was acute. Either the applicants’ were not speaking the truth or the Parish Council must be the greatest set of story-tellers he had come across for some time. Norton and Lenchwick Parish Council thought that conscientious objectors would not be welcome. Offenham would be willing to employ conscientious objectors. Littleton had not yet sent a reply. Wickhamford opposed the introduction of conscientious objectors. Bretforton had adjourned the matter for a month; Badsey had the honour to a great extent in this part of the world of having invented the conscientious objector. There was a sort of a school for them at Badsey, where they were told what to say when they came before Tribunals. Badsey people told the Tribunals they were conscientious objectors, and if they had been all wed to stay at Badsey and cultivate small holdings the whole parish would have been conscientious objectors. Yet Badsey, while of the opinion that extra labour would be required, was not willing to enter into the scheme for employing conscientious objectors, as it thought they were totally inexperienced in horticultural work. Considering that they had had a number of hard working small holders who said they were conscientious objectors, he thought this was rather writing them down as – well. (Mr Willis Bund did not finish the sentence) Badsey said it would be better to employ German prisoners who had some knowledge of garden work. How could Badsey know whether they had any experience? Could the meeting imagine such – well, humbug? Cleeve Prior said they would be glad of labour in April. He did not think he need go further. He wanted the meeting to clearly understand the great change that had taken place since the previous meeting. The Government were determined to do certain things, and it was for the growers to say what was to be done. It was very clear that the land was going to be cultivated, as was evident from Mr Prothero’s speech in the House of Commons last night. Were, the growers willing to have some helpers, conscientious objectors or civilian German prisoners, or were they not? The men who were to have gone into the Army on January 1 would have some little time before they went; but he thought there would be such a clearing out as would astonish the cultivators of the land. From what he could make out, there would be very few men of military age left in the parishes, and there would be a very great want of labour. They had adjourned a large number of cases till January 15 and then they would have to consider whether these people were really going to assist in the cultivation of the land or whether they were not. If they went shilly-shallying on in the way some parish councils had done, the Tribunal would know what to do. The land could not be allowed to become derelict, and the Board of Agriculture and the County Council would take the matter up. He hoped the people in the district would not drive them to that. A good many of the growers had spent a great deal of money and labour on their holdings and had become fairly prosperous. If the holdings were taken over by the State or the County Council a great deal of the value of the holding would be lost. Were the growers going to suffer serious financial loss because they had conscientious objections to this man or that man? Were they going to be such fools? He hoped and prayed they would not. One parish suggested that there would be difficulties about lodgings for conscientious objectors. He believed the Board of Agriculture would billet the men in the houses as was done in the case of munitions workers. He hoped the parish councils would reconsider the matter, and that it would not be said that these councils were utterly unfit for doing anything at all in a great crisis like the present. They could at least come forward and say they would do their best, instead of passing foolish resolutions to say they would do something in April. That was the kind of shilly-shallying that the late Government indulged in, and it was not going to be stood for any longer. If they would not do it by the middle of next month it would have to be done for them, and the very worst would be before them. Mr Willis Bund went on to say that the Board of Agriculture had provided a certain amount of seed potatoes, and had fermented a scheme for the employment of civilian prisoners of war, and in conclusion he again urged the growers and the parish authorities to form committees, and to agree to take what labour could be found for them at once. It was not now a question of whether the land should be cultivated or not; it was a question of whether the growers would do it themselves or whether it would be done for them. He hoped they were Englishmen enough to do it for themselves. The new Prime Minister and Mr Prothero, and those who worked with him, were determined that it should be done, and done it would be, with or without the aid of the growers.
Mr Geoffrey New drew attention to the steps taken in Evesham borough to get this question considered by the growers.
Mr Willis Bund said he suggested the employment of conscientious objectors because it was difficult to find work for them. The idea that they could not work was absurd. If men were such fools as to say they did not like conscientious objectors they would deserve anything that happened to them. The worst of it would be that their folly would react on the country.
Mr W Stanford protested against what Mr Willis Bund had said about Badsey manufacturing conscientious objectors. He added that people would prefer German prisoners, because Germans had fought for their country, but the conscientious objectors had done nothing.
Mr Willis Bund: I want to make them do something. He maintained that Badsey did manufacture conscientious objectors. One after another came with their answers written out, and Badsey was the great place they came from.
Mr Stanford said they were manufactured in Evesham.
Mr S J Grove: You say conscientious objectors will have to work if they are made to. Cannot they be made to fight?
Mr Willis Bund: No. Probably they would fight you.
A man from Hampton said labour certainly was wanted in that parish.
Mr Aldington said Mr Willis Bund had done his best to get labour for the small holdings, and the conscientious objectors were the only men he was able to get.
Mr Geoffrey New said it was quite time that people realised that they consider the country first, and not their own interests. Food had to be grown, and the consideration of whether the market gardener was going to be better or worse off should not enter into the matter. He suggested that on the larger holdings corn and potatoes should be grown, instead of vegetables which were more in the nature of luxuries.
Mr Willis Bund warned growers that if land was taken over and cultivated by the authorities, all they would consider would be to get as much as possible out of it, and that would mean that the holdings would suffer.
John William Bund Willis-Bund (8 August 1843 – 7 June 1928) was an historian and local Worcestershire politician. He was born in Wick Episcopi, educated at Eton and Caius College, Cambridge, where he got a first class honours degree in law. He was called to the bar at Lincoln’s Inn.
For a period he was Chairman of Worcestershire County Council and Vice Lord Lieutenant for Worcestershire. He was awarded the CBE in 1918.
He also wrote a number of books on history including several on Worcestershire history and the Church in Wales.