WWI: Harold Croft and the Northampton Anti-War Campaign

JOHN BUCKELL describes the life and times of Northampton ILPer Harold Croft, who faced prison, hardship and abuse for being a conscientious objector and anti-war activist.

On 9 November 1920, at statutory meetings all over England, borough councils elected mayors and aldermen. Almost always these were a formality, the results agreed in advance between the parties. In Northampton that year, however, one Labour nominee for alderman proved to be highly controversial.Harold Croft cartoon

It had been agreed to appoint aldermen in accordance with each party’s representation on the council. This meant the Conservatives were entitled to three, the Liberals to two, and Labour to one, making six in all. None of the nominees was a sitting councillor. However, Labour’s nominee was a man who had served two years imprisonment during the recent war, as a conscientious objector. His name was Harold Croft.[1]

Croft (left, from a Northampton Independent election cartoon, 1913) had been a second choice when a defeated Labour candidate declined the nomination, but had then been “an easy first out of half a dozen nominees”.[2] However, when his nomination became known, outraged letters appeared in the local press. An ‘ex-serviceman’ wrote that Croft’s nomination was an insult to ex-servicemen, while a former councillor, Alfred W Smith, declared that Croft represented “only a small gang of men who refused to do their duty, and (are) consequently … regarded with contempt.”[3]

Mr W Harvey Reeves was elected unanimously as the mayor, but when it came to electing the aldermen, each Conservative and Liberal nominee received the full 34 votes, but Croft received only the six Labour votes. Twenty-seven councillors voted instead for a Labour councillor, AG Slinn, while one abstained. Slinn, who had voted for Croft, accepted the result under protest.

Public controversy followed the decision. One correspondent praised Croft as a man faithful to his conscience, while others regretted the precedent set of denying a party its chosen nominee.[4] However, the incident revealed the huge animosity still felt, two years after the armistice, towards those who had been conscientious objectors.

Socialist pioneer

Harold Croft was born in Leeds around 1882. By 1901 he had followed his father into the shoe trade, but subsequently he gained a science qualification, and by 1911 was living in Northampton, employed as a science demonstrator in a secondary school.[5] Later that year he married a Wolverhampton woman, Agnes Corson, and their daughter, Bernardine, was born in 1913.[6]

That year, Harold stood unsuccessfully as an Independent Labour Party (ILP) candidate for the borough council.[7] Northampton ILP had been founded in 1908 and by 1910 Croft was a leading member. In June that year he spoke to a meeting in Raunds town square, with another stalwart, Will Rogers, a future parliamentary candidate.[8]

On 8 February 1914, he and Rogers were two of the four ILP delegates to the Labour Party Formation Committee, a significant step in the birth of Northampton Labour Representation Committee, which later became Northampton Labour Party.[9] By 1914, Croft was secretary of Northampton ILP and two years later he was a vice-president of Northampton LRC, a member of the executive committee of Northampton Trades Council[10] and a full-time employee of the ILP, as its midlands divisional secretary.

The Great War

When war broke out in August 1914, the Labour movement was divided. The Labour Party gave critical support to the war, and some of its leading MPs later joined the government. Labour supported recruiting campaigns and an industrial truce, banning strikes during the war. Other leading members, such as James Ramsay MacDonald, Keir Hardie and Philip Snowden, opposed the war, as did most of the ILP. The British Socialist Party, then affiliated to Labour, supported the war, as did the Northampton branch.

In Northampton, the trades council contained both pro- and anti-war elements. James Gribble, trades council vice-president, believed the war was being fought to defend the rights of small nations. He argued that trades council should support the recruitment campaign, and was supported by the secretary, FO Roberts, and others. However, the council voted by a large majority to take no action.[11] Meanwhile, on behalf of the ILP, Croft declined an invitation to attend the recruitment committee.[12] James Gribble

Nevertheless, the movement remained united in its determination to protect food supplies, resist price rises and protect jobs. A meeting on food prices in March 1915, included both Croft and Gribble (left). The proposed guest speaker, Margaret Bondfield, an opponent of the war, was unable to attend, and her place was taken by HM Hyndman, a strong supporter of the war. In his speech, Hyndman said that although he supported the Allies, there was “an enemy to fight at home”, meaning profiteers. The meeting concluded with a unanimous resolution calling on the government to control food and coal prices.[13]

As late as February 1916 the ILP could hold a meeting on the war, comprising a range of opinions. The guest speaker was John Bruce Glasier, a prominent national figure, and his subject was ‘Labour After the War’. Roberts chaired the meeting and Croft was also present. Croft later wrote of “proceedings conducted in a spirit of enquiry into problems that Mr Bruce Glasier brought before the notice of delegates”. Nineteen trade unions and other societies had attended, he wrote, and all shades of political opinion took part, with full liberty of discussion.[14] The Socialist Pioneeer, organ of the local BSP, commended its rival organisation for “considerable service to the working class of Northampton” by convening a conference to discuss such problems as adapting industry to the needs of peace, the employment of demobbed soldiers and the role of displaced women workers.[15]

During the first two years of the war, despite differences over the conflict, the trades council, BSP and ILP worked together to found Northampton Labour Party. Roberts and Gribble were the driving forces in this historic project, but they had the support of pacifists sich as Croft.

Opposing the war

One group with a long tradition of opposition to war and witness for peace, is the Religious Society of Friends, or Quakers. The Quakers are well established in Northampton, with a Meeting House dating from 1820.

In August 1914, the Society in London published a national leaflet, To Men and Women of Good Will in the British Empire. It argued that the conditions which gave rise to the war were “essentially unchristian”, and urged its readers to “show the spirit of love”, and “pray for and love your enemies”. The human race, it said, was “guilty of gigantic folly”. The war should be brought to an end at the earliest possible moment, without crushing or humiliating any nation.[16] J Flinton Harris

Northampton Quakers distributed this leaflet in the town.[17] Two of them, Albert Burrows and John Flinton Harris (left), were also founder members of Northampton ILP, and would play an important role in the local peace movement. Although Harris was above military age, Burrows was a conscientious objector who accepted alternative service with the YMCA.

The Liberals, too, had their dissentients. In March 1915, Thomas Stops JP, a farmer and prominent Towcester councillor, resigned from the South Northamptonshire Liberal Association over the Asquith government’s war policy. In his resignation letter he expressed Christian pacifist views.

In 1915, Croft led a deputation to the town council to ask permission for Ramsay MacDonald to have use of the town hall for a speech. After a debate in the council chamber, however, the council rejected this request, an incident Croft would recall years later when MacDonald was prime minister.[18]

In January 1916, the anti-war movement was galvanised by the introduction of conscription. Even the Labour Party, which had supported the war, opposed the move. Its conference on 6 January instructed Labour MPs to vote against the relevant legislation, (although the leader, Arthur Henderson, immediately announced he would disregard this).[19] Northampton Trades Council also opposed conscription by large majorities on several occasions from as early as June 1915. They confirmed their opposition in June 1916, after a second Military Service Act was passed. [20]

In Northampton, the local press welcomed the Military Service Act, and noted that HB Lees-Smith, one of the town’s MPs, had voted against, the only Northamptonshire member to do so. It was recognised that a minority (mainly Quakers, according to the Mercury, wrongly as it turned out) would object to military service on conscience grounds, but the government would excuse them from combatant duty.

There was little sympathy, however, for “those who refuse not only to bear arms but also to help organisations for saving life and relieving suffering”.[21] Letters appeared in the Echo to answer this point. The writers were J Flinton Harris and Croft.

The Echo had stated that conscientious objectors should be willing to do ambulance work or sweep the sea of mines. “Many Friends are doing ambulance work,” Flinton Harris pointed out, “but doing ambulance work in the Royal Army Medical Corps means taking the Military Oath. Sweeping for mines allows the passage of our warships.”

“Taking the Military Oath,” wrote Croft, “means joining the army, and COs cannot do this because the army has one purpose – waging war. The suggestion that they join the army for certain services is an attempt to impose a responsibility that really belongs to supporters of the war.”

To Flinton Harris, COs were “willing to suffer loss of employment, the loss of even life itself, rather than to violate that conscience which they believe is the voice of God.” Croft put much the same sentiments in a more secular form. COs he said, were “trying to hold true to their deepest convictions” and “to meet any penalties that may be their lot … they believe their witness for the spirit of man as against the sword, will not be entirely in vain.” The Echo published other letters both for and against.[22]

The government set up tribunals to decide in cases where individuals of military age felt they had reasons, on grounds of employment, hardship or health, as well as conscience, to be exempted from military service. A number of trade unionists were invited to join the Northampton Borough Tribunal. Among those who accepted were Gribble and Roberts, and this would lead to arguments on the trades council.

Dissension on the trades council

By March 1916, a branch of the No Conscription Fellowship had been established in the town, and was giving advice and support to COs appearing before the tribunals. Croft actively supported a number of them, including a 21-year-old builder’s clerk called Harry Turland. At a trades council meeting on 24 May, Croft complained that the Borough Tribunal had offered Turland the insult of going into the army under non-combatant service. Turland had refused and was brought before a police court, fined £3, and handed over to the army. Croft had seen him in the guardroom, very white, with black eyes, trembling all over. He had been threatened that if he didn’t put on khaki, he would be publicly stripped and dressed by physical force.

Gribble defended the tribunal, of which he was part. He regretted that Turland had refused to join the Friends’ Ambulance Unit to help the wounded. Many COs made it very difficult for the Labour men on the tribunal to help them, he claimed, and implied that Turland’s refusal was because of “the tuition of Mr Croft”.[23]

The exchange took place during a debate on compulsory service. Croft had seconded a resolution pledging members to oppose by “any method in their power” the Bill then before parliament. Roberts moved an amendment to substitute those words for “any legitimate means”. In other words, the council was united against compulsion, but differed on how best to oppose it. Flinton Harris opposed the amendment, which fell, and the resolution was carried by a large majority. A press cutting pasted into the minute book pointed out that Croft also objected to voluntary recruitment, while leading members of the trades council had assisted it.

The following month, Croft moved a resolution at the trades council, criticising the tribunals for failing to deal with conscience claims. He called for special tribunals to be set up to deal with such cases. The resolution also viewed with disfavour that hundreds of COs were in military custody, rather than under civil jurisdiction, and demanded the repatriation of those COs under escort to France. It was carried by 15 votes to 11, and showed up the divisions on the council.

During the debate, Flinton Harris argued that “the attitude of the tribunals to COs seems to be to make individuals suffer rather than increase the productivity of the nation”. Roberts retorted that “the Northampton local tribunal had given earnest consideration to COs. They were bound by permissive regulations and acted according to them.”

The Annual Report, drawn up by Roberts, and published that month, listed five Labour members of the tribunal, and stated that their work was “difficult and arduous”, with criticism for the treatment of COs, but “the presence of Labour men was undoubtedly helpful”.[24]

Croft and the Borough Tribunal

Meanwhile, Croft had received his call-up papers. During the first week of July 1916, he appeared before the Borough Tribunal to claim exemption as a conscientious objector. He told them he was a strong pacifist of many years, opposed to the European war, and could not conscientiously take part in it.

Unlike many COs he did not base his objections on religious beliefs, although he did say he believed life to be sacred. His beliefs forbade him from taking up the profession of arms, he said, and war corrupted a nation. Nor would he accept any form of alternative service, either directly or non-directly. He considered he was doing his duty to the traditions of liberty.

The chairman asked the standard question – had Croft made any sacrifice because of his conscientious objection? It elicited from Croft a detailed statement of his commitment to his political work in the ILP. His answer was no, but it had not taken a great war to show him his duty to his country. He had definitely recognised this nine years ago, and the realisation was vivid and compelling. He had put to one side all his ambitions in science, closed down every opportunity he had come to Northampton to seek, turned from the path that would have led him to university, and closed down everything in the face of a call to be of service to his countrymen. He had prepared himself during the past nine years, and had sacrificed to a great extent. Indeed, his wife and himself had stinted themselves of the necessaries of life in order that he could follow this course. His wife was willing to suffer any hardship which might result from the course he was taking.

Croft was asked about his attitude to alternative service, and specifically about assisting the wounded. He was not prepared to accept alternative service as a condition of exemption, he said.  As a human being, sickness and suffering appalled him, and in ordinary circumstances if he could be of use he would be, but in this particular case the sick and wounded were a direct result of armed conflict. He did not agree with armed conflict, and would not join any organisation, voluntary or military, for the hospital care of those stricken down by war. It was an uncompromising statement of the absolutist case.

A further statement indicated that, as ILP Midlands’ divisional secretary, Croft had spoken at meetings farther afield than Northampton. At a meeting in Long Eaton, Derbyshire, Croft had been asked, “What is the duty of an Englishman?” He had replied that he was a conscientious objector, and that prevented him from going to the trenches, but if a man’s conscience told him he ought to go, and he did not go, he was a shirker.[25]

The tribunal adjourned the case for one month to give Croft an opportunity to obtain “work of national importance”. In Croft’s view, however, his present employment already fitted that description. When he returned a month later, his appeal was dismissed, and he appealed to the County Appeals Tribunal.[26]

The ILP campaign

During the week ending 19 August 1916, Northampton ILP held a series of public anti-war meetings on the Market Square. At the first of them, on the Monday evening, Croft began by praising the ILP’s opposition to conscription. It had “fought almost singlehanded the battle of liberty for the workers”, he claimed, and given more time could have prevented conscription being introduced. To this there were cries of “Don’t believe it,” “Tommy rot,” “If you had your way, the Germans would be here by now,” and “Don’t sell your country.”

When he said that the ILP had acted to preserve the rights and liberties won by trade unionists, someone called out, “Your own man, Mr Roberts, went out recruiting,” a reference to the trades council secretary and ILP member, FO Roberts.

The speech continued amid frequent interruptions. Croft addressed the need for “present consideration of the questions that would arise after the war”. One heckler, who had kept up a running commentary on Croft’s remarks, now mounted the fountain steps, and said that Snowden, MacDonald and the ILP were “trying to humbug and fool the people”. But Croft continued, urging that “thought be given now to the conditions to be laid down after the war in order to prevent terms arrived at being such as would lead to future wars”.

He alluded to the spirit of the call to defend a small, oppressed nation at the beginning of the war, and “pleaded for a continuance of that spirit so that the end should find us full not of that vindictive passion against anyone else in Europe, but of determination that for the sake of coming generations there should be a democratic and reasonable settlement.”

He declared himself a conscientious objector, whose appeal was due to be heard by the Appeals Tribunal on Friday. Hecklers had called COs “humbugs” and “cowards”, but, said Croft, if a CO was a shirker, he could escape the fighting line by taking non-combatant service, while the CO determined to maintain his position to the end went to prison. He gave the figure of 2,000 COs in custody, including seven Northampton men currently in Maidstone Gaol.

He claimed that absolute exemption could be given to sincere conscience cases and complained that the tribunals in Northampton had not “administered that section of the Act”. He told the audience, some objectors had been taken to France, court-martialled and sentenced to be shot, before their sentences were commuted to ten years in prison. Some of the Northampton COs had told him they were prepared to be shot if necessary. “They stood for an ideal just as the man in the trenches stood for an ideal.”

“It was a despicable persecution,” he maintained, “to send a man who could be a useful member of a community into prison.” He was not prepared to accept alternative service, himself, and would if necessary “go through the utmost penalty that may be inflicted”.

There had been more interruptions but, nevertheless, Croft had been able to make his case. He now answered questions from the audience. Did he blame England for going to the aid of Belgium? “The government were bound to honour their commitments,” he said, “but the people ought to have been told these commitments before they were made.”

“Would your elastic conscience allow you to raise your arm in defence of a lady like Nurse Cavell, and strike down her murderers?”

Croft said he would not kill anyone, whatever the provocation. This was met with cries of “Shame!” He had yet to learn, he responded, that a murder could be vindicated by the perpetration of another murder.[27] Many in the audience may have remained unconvinced, but they had heard an articulate defence of the pacifist case from its leading advocate in the town.

The following evening a big crowd had assembled in the square, and “a youthful section of the audience”, in the words of the Echo’s reporter, were “bent on making things lively”. The main speaker, Flinton Harris, was subjected to a “running fire of interruptions”, as for around 45 minutes he struggled to be heard on the problems that would arise from the war. Elements in the crowd chanted, “Be a soldier and a man!” One ascended the fountain steps and declared the meeting an insult to men who were fighting. “These men are the friends of Germany, and we have no time for them now.” Appeals for order from the chairman were ignored.[28]

The Thursday meeting dealt with the less controversial subject of war profits and dear food. A large audience gave Birmingham councillor JW Kneeshaw “an excellent hearing”.[29] But on Friday, when Kneeshaw turned his attention to conscription, the meeting ended prematurely due to constant interruptions, singing and shouting. Some speakers had their hats knocked off and Kneeshaw was roughly handled on the way to his car at the close of the meeting.[30]

Arrest and imprisonment

Earlier that day (18 August), the County Tribunal had heard Croft’s appeal. He told the tribunal that alternative service would be a corruption of the principle for which he stood. He did not care, he said, what penalties were in front of him. He was opposed to the whole spirit of war, and claimed his was one of the cases in which absolute exemption could be given. Referring to his political work for the ILP, he stated, “I must go through with the work I set out to do before the war came.”

Two tribunal members clearly felt political grounds were not sufficient.

“We all understand the fascination of politics, Mr. Croft,” said Sir Ryland Atkins MP, “some of us feel it ourselves.”

“Yours is only a political association,” added Councillor F. Ellen.

After consideration in committee, the tribunal were not convinced Croft’s objection was a genuinely conscientious one, and they dismissed his appeal. Croft protested that the Borough Tribunal had been “absolutely satisfied of the bona fides” of his case, and that a certain section wanted to grant him absolute exemption. At his request, he was granted permission to appeal to the Central Tribunal.[31]

In the meantime, Croft continued to campaign. Conscientious objectors and others could be granted exemption on condition that they did work deemed by the tribunal to be “of national importance”, but could lose that exemption if they subsequently changed employers.Albert Burrows

On Sunday 24 September, Albert Burrows (left) chaired a public ILP meeting with 400-500 people present. A resolution moved by Croft, denouncing exemption certificates that bound men to one employer, was carried without dissent. The resolution was also passed by the trades council. Later that week it was discussed at the Borough Tribunal, where members, including Gribble and Roberts, rejected its criticism.[32]

By then, Croft was in military custody, having been arrested at his home in Thursby Road, Northampton, and brought before the magistrates on the day after the Market Square meeting. He had received notice to report to the Barracks on 23 September, but had returned the notice with a letter stating he was a conscientious objector and unable to comply.

His appeals to the Borough, County and Central Tribunals had all been dismissed, but Croft argued that the Central Tribunal’s decision was capable of variation. The magistrates could create new circumstances under which he could take his case back to the tribunals if necessary. He claimed that the law stated that if a man could not be given conditional exemption, he could be given absolute exemption – the assertion that lay at the heart of his appeals, and of his differences with the trade union members of the tribunal. But the magistrates said they could not touch matters that were the province of the tribunals. They fined him £2, and handed him over to a military escort.[33]

On 11 October, Croft was court-martialled for disobeying orders to sign his record of service papers. He pleaded not guilty, and Harry Lewis Burrows, brother of Albert, appeared as a witness to the genuineness of Croft’s conscientious objection. Croft said he was not guilty of disobedience because he could not admit he was a soldier. He had sought honourably to avail himself of the provisions of the law, had taken no military oath, and signed no military documents.

“I am not a soldier,” he protested. “My conscience forbids me embracing the profession of arms.” He was sentenced to six months hard labour.[34] A few days later he wrote to the trades council.[35]

The following March the Independent reported that Croft, now a prisoner in Northampton Gaol, was employed making mail bags, and in his spare time reading scientific literature from the prison library.[36] A second court martial sentenced him to 112 days hard labour for a second offence of disobedience, and when released on 13 June 1917, he was immediately rearrested and escorted to the Depot in Barrack Road. Some of his friends had gathered to give him a greeting.[37]

Croft’s third and last court martial took place at Northampton Barracks on 18 June 1917. He had already served two terms of imprisonment, (although to fit the timescale one or both must have been partly commuted). He was charged with refusing to obey a lawful command to put on an army greatcoat. Again, Croft pleaded not guilty.

“I do not consider or admit myself a soldier,” he said, “I am entitled to absolute exemption under the Military Service Act. So far I have been deprived of the benefit of the law by the operation of administrative prejudices.”

He quoted two government ministers to support his case:

“Lord Lansdowne (a former Foreign Secretary) has said, ‘The intention of the Act is … that absolute exemption can be given in cases where genuine convictions and circumstances of the man are such that neither exemption from combatant service nor a conditional exemption would adequately meet the case.”

“The Right Hon. W Long (president of the Board of Trade) said, ‘Nobody in the government wants the horror of a man, who for conscience sake, is unwilling to serve, being thrown into gaol … absolute exemption can be granted.’”

Supporters in the court, including his wife, Agnes, and Harry Burrows, listened as Croft made his case with no little eloquence.

“Everything possible to prove and establish my convictions, I have done. I have met the tribunals to declare my faith and conscience, challenged the legality of committal by the police court, resisted the claim of the army, and endured two imprisonments as a common criminal, and at the risk of grave punishment declined to touch war work in prison. The solitude and trial of the prison cell have confirmed me in my belief in the sanctity of human personality and strengthened my conscientious resolve to incarnate this belief in action.”

He added, “I absolutely refuse to engage in warfare”, before turning once more to the legal argument.

“The high tone of the spirit of British liberty manifested itself in the insertion of a toleration clause in the Military Service Act. In a spirit of responsibility and appreciation I have claimed, and continue to claim, the benefits of individual conscience.”

Two days later, sentence was pronounced: two years imprisonment with hard labour.[38]

After the war

Harold Croft was still in gaol during the post-war general election of December 1918, when the Lloyd George Coalition candidate, Charles McCurdy, attacked the ILP for its pacifism during the war.[39] George Bernard Shaw, guest speaker at a meeting for the Labour candidate that same week, gave this rebuttal: “Is (McCurdy) a militarist?” he asked. “If so, it is extremely lucky for him that the four million pacifists on the other side of the North Sea haven’t come back. When they do, if anyone is bold enough to appeal to them with the cry, ‘Get on with the war,’ I pity them.”[40] Nevertheless, anti-coalition candidates fared badly.

Harold Croft had been elected to the executive committee of Northampton Trades Council in July 1916, and despite his imprisonment, was still vice-president of Northampton LRC in 1917.[41] The Register of Electors for 1918 and 1921 lists only his wife, Agnes, at 27 Thursby Road, while the 1918 Kelly’s Directory lists Harold as a private resident. It seems he had been disenfranchised, but that didn’t prevent him from continuing to campaign.

All sections of the British Labour movement were opposed to the Allied intervention in the Russian Civil War. In 1920, Poland invaded the Ukraine, but Soviet forces halted the advancing Poles, drove them back and, in August, crossed the Polish border. It looked as if Britain might intervene on the side of the Poles. Demonstrations were held throughout Britain, and locally in Northampton and Wellingborough. Northampton Number Two branch of the Shoe Operatives union (NUBSO) resolved to recommend to their union’s national council to advise members to “refuse to touch any boots destined to be used by Poland”, and to strike in the event of a British declaration of war on Russia.[42]

In Northampton a Council of Action was formed, and it sent two delegates to the National Council of Action Conference in London. One of these was Croft. The Conference voted unanimously for direct action to prevent war with Russia, including strikes against the manufacture and transport of munitions.

On Sunday 15 August, Croft reported to the Northampton Council of Action that the policy would be “to paralyse the production of war materials of all sorts”.[43] The government was dissuaded from intervening, and the war ended shortly afterwards. Three months later, Croft’s nomination as an alderman was rejected by Conservative and Liberal councillors.

By 1922 there were new residents in the Crofts’ former home, and it looks as if Harold and Agnes left Northampton in 1922 or late 1921. Certainly by 1923, Croft was no longer secretary of Northampton ILP, nor organiser of the ILP Midlands Division.[44] By July 1924, he was a Labour Party election agent in Sussex,[45] the beginning of a long career as a full-time campaign organiser for the party. When the ILP disaffiliated from Labour in 1932, Croft declined to follow. He went on to become a key Labour Party organiser and author of a pamphlet on winning elections – Mass Power and Socialism.[46]

Croft revisited Northampton occasionally, as a guest speaker. To socialists in the town he was “our old friend Harold Croft”.[47] On 17 October 1924, he addressed a 300 strong No More War meeting on Northampton Market Square, where he had spoken in 1916. The meeting was jointly organised by Northampton Labour Party, the ILP and the trades council, and was supported by the Adult School Movement. Albert Burrows was again in the chair.

Unlike the meetings in 1916, however, there were no dissentients. A unanimous resolution expressed abhorrence of war and militarism, and called for international co-operation to strengthen the League of Nations, conciliation in disputes and a reduction in armaments leading to universal disarmament. The motion was seconded by Humphrey Attewell, a Great War veteran, holder of the 1915 Star and Meritorious Service Medal, and a future MP for Market Harborough.

Earlier, Croft took satisfaction in the fact that Ramsay MacDonald, reviled during the war as a “pacifist”, was now Prime Minister. (He might have added that another opponent of the war, Margaret Bondfield, was now MP for Northampton.)

He put his faith in public opinion to prevent future wars. Just as slavery had passed out of existence because public opinion would not stand for it, so war would be eliminated from the experience of mankind.

“To the upright man cometh light and leading,” he said, quoting John Bright. “If the British nation will lead the way in this new public opinion and place its faith in pacifism as a greater force than war, light and leading will be given to civilisation the whole world over.”[48]

How poignant are those words in the hindsight of posterity.

[1] Northampton Mercury, 12th November 1920

[2] Northampton Daily Echo, 5th November 1920

[3] NDE, 8th November 1920

[4] NM, 12th November 1920

[5] 1901, 1911 Census

[6] FreeBMD

[7] Socialist Pioneer, October 1913

[8] NM, 1st July 1910

[9] The History of Northampton Labour Party, unpublished history by George Attewell

[10] Northampton Trades Council 26th Annual Report, June 1914, NTC 3, Northants Record Office

[11] NTC3, 18th November 1914

[12] NM, 13th November 1914

[13] NDE, 29th March 1915

[14] Northampton Independent, 12th February 1916

[15] Socialist Pioneer, March 1916

[16] NOR TK04, NRO

[17] Quaker Men’s Minute Book 1919-1926, NRO

[18] NDE, 22nd September 1922

[19] NM, 7th January 1916

[20] Northampton Daily Chronicle, 11th June 1916

[21] NM, 14th January 1916

[22] NDE, 13th January 1916

[23] NTC3, 24th May 1916, NRO

[24] NTC3, 28th June 1916, NRO

[25] NM, 7th July 1916

[26] NM, 4th August 1916

[27] NM, 15th August 1916

[28] NDE, 16th August 1916

[29] NDE, 18th August 1916

[30] NDE, 19th August 1916

[31] NDE, 18th August 1916

[32] NM, 29th September 1916

[33] NM, 29th September 1916

[34] NM, 6th October 1916

[35] NTC3, 18th October 1916, NRO

[36] NI, 10th March 1917

[37] NM, 15th June 1917

[38] NM, 22nd June 1917

[39] NM, 6th December 1918

[40] Ibid.

[41] Northampton LRC 3rd Annual Report 1917, NTC 4, NRO

[42] NM, 13th August 1920

[43] NM, 20th August 1920

[44] NTC Annual Report 1923, NTC 4 , NRO

[45] Sussex Agricultural Press, 4th July 1924

[46] Hastingsa and St. Leonard’s Adviser, 23rd September 1933

[47] Northampton Labour Party Men’s Section Minutes, 17th December 1928

[48] Northampton Daily Echo, 22nd September 1924


John Buckell is a Friend of the ILP, a retired teacher who is still active in the NUT and Northampton Trade Union Council.

Pictures reproduced courtesy of Northamptonshire Newspapers.

See also: ‘Making Socialists and Opposing War in Great Yarmouth’, by Michael Wadsworth, and ‘Resisting the War in Hebden Royd & Calder Valley’, by Jonathan Timbers.

More articles on the ILP’s role in resisting the war can be found here.