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Last updated:03 December 2018

Thomas Ellison's scrapbook

November 2018 - Thomas Henry Ellison’s scrapbook

Page from Ellison scrapbookWe marked the centenary of the end of the First World War with a focus on a topic in which we have seen a lot of interest over the last few years of commemoration - the conflict’s conscientious objectors, who often went to prison to defend their pacifist ideals. Thomas Henry Ellison, a railway car dining attendant who was 21 when he was called up in 1916, was one of these men.

More information about Ellison and his scrapbook is to be found in an article written by Library volunteer Chris Clayton in the February 2019 issue of Who Do You Think You Are? Magazine.

The scrapbook contains all of Ellison’s official documentation from the passing of the Military Services Act in January 1916 to his final release from prison in 1919.  It contains a copy of the Act itself, his call-up papers, his appeals against the local military tribunal who would decide if his objection to serving was acceptable to them, his courts martial charge sheets, witness statements, his travel documents and his certificate of discharge for misconduct after 2 years 306 days of service – most of it spent in prison.

Page from Ellison scrapbookThese official documents are interspersed with handwritten copies of his statements to his Courts Martial, poetry, press cuttings, and leaflets and letters from the No-Conscription Fellowship, the organisation set up to support those refusing to fight.

When Ellison received his call-up papers they were dated 27 April 1916, informing him that he had to report to the army on 5 May.  This would only give him eight days to prepare himself for probably the most important decision of his life: whether to accept his place in the army, or apply for exemption on moral grounds and risk imprisonment for his beliefs.  Some tribunals accepted religious beliefs as valid, but few accepted a moral or political defence.  This change from being an ordinary working man to being a convict was rapid and must have been terrifying to these young men. 

We chose this scrapbook as we believe it is a unique record of a man’s fight to act according to his conscience, despite widespread condemnation from the majority of the public.