Ernest Shillito Spencer: One of the Richmond 16

Another story from the Find out More sheets of the Courage, Conscience and Creativity exhibition held in Leeds City Museum.

Ernest Spencer was 19 in 1916 living at Well Close Mount, Carlton Hill and working as a clerk in a clothing factory. He was a Quaker at Great Wilson St Meeting in Leeds, took part in the Adult School and belonged to the No Conscription Fellowship. Under a heading of ‘Childish Behaviour at the Tribunal’ the Yorkshire Post tells us that on 28.4.1916 he was one of four men called to a Military Service Tribunal in Leeds. Each man in turn was invited to sit down to present his case, but each said this was a military order which he refused to obey. With cases unheard the men were taken to the Recruiting Office where they refused medical examination. They were taken to Chapeltown Barracks, then to York and then to Richmond Castle, the base of the 2nd Northern NonCombatant Corps. (More information about the Richmond 16 can be found in the exhibition case from the Bradford Peace Museum.)

On 27.5.1916 Spencer was tried for using insubordinate language to a superior officer and sentenced to a further six months detention.Two days later Spencer and 15 other men were taken to France to the battlefield. His military record tells the stark story which followed. “Tried by ‘F.G.C.M.’ at Boulogne for disobeying in such a manner as to show wilful defiance of authority and lawful command given personally by his superior officer whilst in the execution of his office. Sentenced to death by being shot.  12.6.16 Commuted to 10 years penal servitude. 12.6.16 Transferred to England to undergo his sentence 5.7.16”

From France he was sent back to Winchester Prison, then appeared at a Tribunal in Wormwood Scrubs on 14.8.16. After that he accepted the Home Office Scheme and went in October to the notorious Dyce Camp near Aberdeen, where his picture appears in one of the group photos.


Little was known about him after this and some wondered if he had survived. However, records show he married in 1925 and died in1957. He continued to live in Leeds where his wife Enid’s baking was much appreciated in Quaker circles (for Monthly Meeting teas). Both he and Horace England were stalwart volunteers helping Robert Long of the Northern Friends Peace Board promote the cause of peace. Their task was distributing posters.

Sources: Pearce CO Register, Ros Batchelor and Mary Rowntree (née England)


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