The Combined Service Group has confirmed plans for a Horrabridge At War exhibition, weekend of November 4-5 in the village hall, and Ian Mulholland is on a final push for memorabilia – through Facebook or email to firstname.lastname@example.org/
Meanwhile, there is a repeat this Friday (Oct 5) of a talk which took place in Tavistock last Sunday, about the other side of local involvement in World War One – the enslavement of a thousand conscientious objectors to alter the landscape around Princetown and discourage any other men from questioning the call to arms.
Local historian Simon Dell produced a book called The Dartmoor Conchies last year and he sold copies to some of the 20 guests at the Quaker meeting house on Canal Road, at the entrance to the Wharf car park, in aid of the Quaker movement. He will back there this Friday – refreshments from 10.30 am, talk from 11 am – and hopes to bring with him the daughter of a “conchie” who married a prison officer’s daughter and got banned from Devon.
He said “conchie” was a nastily loaded word, implying cowardice, which ruined the lives of many men and their families, but he had to recognise it as common parlance.
The Road To Nowhere
Two years into the war, the supply of volunteers was drying up, as the horrible reality of the fighting trickled home. And conscription came into force in 1916. Conscientious objectors, including pacifist Quakers , international socialists, anarchists and the just plain stubborn, were a political problem and the state tried all sorts of dirty tricks to make it hard to be one.
At one point, 16 of them were shipped from a Yorkshire prison to France, put in front of a firing squad, one by one, and told they would be shot for mutiny if they refused to pick up their rifles. Some were tied to crosses and staked out in the open in an exercise known as Field Punishment Number One. Eventually, in 1917, a thousand of the most stubborn were moved to Dartmoor Prison, which had been emptied in case needed for German PoWs. It was renamed the Princetown Work Centre.
In theory, the rebel Brits were not imprisoned but drafted into “work of national importance” – which included the infamous Road To Nowhere, or Conchies Road, from Princetown in the vague direction of Hexworthy; deeper drainage ditches and higher walls than had ever been seen before, on some Duchy land; and troughs and lintels and boundary stones for use all round the area.
For most, it was back-breaking work, 8-5, six days a week. But it was too soft for some tastes and people would travel to Princetown on Sundays to abuse and attack them on their day off.
Meanwhile, the notorious White Feather League would deliver their symbol of cowardice to anyone they thought was dodging the fight but had not yet been arrested.
In the old days of cock fighting, Mr Dell explained, a white feather was a bad sign, which would be plucked out or disguised.
November 11 1918 was not the end of the war for the conchies. To give returning soldiers first go at vacant jobs, they were held for several months more – and there will be a commemoration walk for the centenary of their liberation along Conchies Road from Princetown on May 15 next year.
Another alternative view of the Great War will be aired in a talk by Kevin Eady of Tavistock Peace Action Group on Tuesday October 30, 7.30 pm, at the United Reformed Church on Russell Street, Tavistock – 100 Years On – The First World War – Myth & Reality.
* Simon Dell, of Tavistock, is a former policeman and an MBE for public service, including his work with Dartmoor Rescue. His guidebooks and walking and talking services can be found at www.simondell.co.uk/