Rex Guest Brindle
Extract from his unpublished autobiography
The clouds of war were gathering. Talks of the Danzig Corridor and the freedom of Poland, and the Russian invasion of Finland turned the minds of people towards war.
The Royal Family began extended tours of Britain. They even came to Blackburn and folks were stirred with the sale of flags and patriotic fever was encouraged throughout the land. Air raid precautions became a topic, sirens were installed and sandbags delivered to public buildings.
In the earlier part of this record, I gave an account of my views and feelings about mass murder of modern warfare. No warfare now conforms to the limitations of international conventions (i.e. conflict only between armed adversaries). No killing of civilians, no poison gases etc. I listened to all sides of argument from Canon Dick Shepherd, Donald Soper and McGregor’s book, “The Christian Basis for Pacifism”. The Church became more divided on the issue as the war came nearer. A great percentage of clergy were not prepared to compromise in the early stages, but changed their views later.
THE LONELY YEARS
War was declared in September, 1939. I was at Blackamoor School finishing off the electrical installations. A member of the Corporation staff, Mr Ronald Jones, came to see me; not to inspect my work but to chat with me regarding what I was going to do now that war was declared. He was very friendly towards me and reminded me of what I might have to endure for my views, as the talk of conscription was seen as inevitable. My chief, invited me to go with him to a new post in Sunderland where he would see I did not have to go into H..M.Forces. He would classify me as in a ‘reserved occupation’ vital to the war effort. I told him that whilst I thanked him for the offer, it was not my way to avoid military service. He called me a ‘bloody fool’.
The next offers, three in all, came from the Electrical Trade Union Secretary. The first offer was to go to a post at Cammal Lairds Shipyard, Belfast, working on war ships and submarines. The second offer was to wire war planes, bomb release units etc. at Clayton – le – Moors. The third offer was also at Sunderland at a steel works engaged in armaments. All these jobs were ‘reserved occupations’. The other three young men in my department took these jobs and all came back to their jobs after the war.
On Monday 30th October, 1939, I was asked to train a young man in the work at the hospital where I did all the maintenance. He was military age and had friends in ‘high places’. If he had my job he would be in a ‘reserved occupation’ and not be called for military service. This man was not an electrician but a cable jointer on the mains at the electricity works.
The other young men in my department had fled to safe ‘reserved occupations’. My date for registration for military service came. There was a long queue of young men at King Street Labour Exchange, Blackburn, when I joined in on a lovely spring morning. The queue moved steadily along until it came to me. I presented my ‘call up’ papers to the clerk who said ‘sign here’. I said I had read the conditions of signing there and I could not sign as I had a conscientious objection to taking part in warfare. I wanted the appropriate form for C.O’s. He said he had not got one but I said that there were forms and he should get one. I then offered to write a statement saying I had presented myself as requested but he had not the form for me to sign, as I had refused to sign the only form he had. I stood there holding up the rest of the queue.
Then these men started shouting, ranging from ‘What the hell’s up?’ to an assortment of requests with various adjectives. All this prompted the correct form to be found. I had to fill in the form stating why I could not be a member of the armed forces and this is what I wrote : –
” I am a follower of Jesus Christ. I cannot take part in warfare in any way. I am a Sunday School teacher and a Methodist Local Preacher. I have always expounded the love of my Lord and Saviour and the way of the cross. When challenged on this teaching by many young men in my classes and services, I have always said I would follow Him even if it meant persecution or death itself “.
Having taught my job at the hospital to another, I was now doing all manner of electrical installations, mainly domestic work. On Wednesday April 10th 1940, I was installing an electric cooker at the home of Mr.Sharples, 17 Cromer Place, Blackburn, when I had a visit from my underforeman (who dodged military service himself). He looked at me and said, “You are lower than the lowest animal, even a rat would fight for itself” I looked straight at him and said, “The easiest thing for me to do would be to get hold of you by the scruff of the neck and trouser behind and throw you through the window, but I chose the hard way, and I say sincerely to you, I do not wish you any harm for saying what you have said, and I bear you no ill will for saying it.”. (This man was a ’60 fag a day’ man and knew I was aware of his many shortcomings).
The general attitude of most of the staff was that ‘the State’ will sort matters out at a tribunal. There was a man, a Roman Catholic, Teddy McKew, aged about 60 years, who would come and stand beside me in the workshops when some of the others walked away and say,” I respect you Rex. You have more guts than the others who have run away to get out of it. “
I shall never forget Friday the 26th April 1940. I had to attend my tribunal in Manchester Town Hall. The Rev.G.Arnold West and Mr. Hubert East went with me on the train from Blackbum. I had ‘East’ and ‘West’ with me and what great friends they were to me and Hannah! I said to Mr West, “I’m not afraid for myself of the outcome of today. I have arranged for our home and all the furniture to be sold and Hannah, who was expecting our first child, (Heather, now married to a Methodist Minister), to go back and live with her mother and family”. His answer to me was, “Rex, if you have to go to prison or whatever, I am your minister and you are only following Him of whom I preach. Your home will not be sold and Hannah and the baby will be taken care of until you return”. Some folks leave the church for different reasons, but this is just one of the reasons I would never leave my church!
We arrived at Manchester Town Hall in good time for my appointment. I could not understand the case before mine – something to do with the secret service on our side – spies on the other side !
I stood in the box and faced Sir Miles Mitchell, Judge Essinghigh, and another important looking gentleman. It came to me ‘ When you are brought before men for my sake and the Gospel, fear not that which you shall say it shall be given you’. If you were to plot a graph of the heights and depths of my Christian experience, this was the peak. Here was the culmination of all I had preached in Churches and Sunday Schools and in the open air. I had come to the moment when I had to decide where rendering to Caesar started and finished, with the ultimate conviction that Caesar could take what remained of my earthly life, but could not touch eternity.
Sir Miles Mitchell looked at me and said, “Would you help a wounded soldier?” I replied “Yes, I am here because I don’t want to make any wounded soldiers; I would help anyone in distress on either side”. “Good”, said he, “you can join the R.A.M.C.”
“Sorry sir, I cannot join an organisation which is involved in war” I replied, “I do not wish to waste the time of the tribunal, but I have wrestled with this problem and made all arrangements to cover any judgements you make. I am prepared to be shot, rather than compromise on this issue. I have taught limbless ex-service men from the last war to swim, and as I have watched stumps of legs and arms try to harmonise in the swim, I have said, I will never do this to another human being or make anything that does this to another.”
The Judge looked at me and said, “What are you doing for your country? “.
I looked straight into his eyes and told him that I was a blood donor, a first class instructor to the Royal Life Saving Society, Sunday School teacher and Lay Preacher. My full time job is or was maintenance electrician at Queen’s Park Hospital, Blackburn. I then said that I thought they ought to know of my teaching a young man my job to keep him out of military service. I told them of my Church work at the Blackburn Methodist Mission, including meeting train loads of evacuees from London and billeting them out to homes, including my own home when mothers and babies were not easy to fix up with billets. I told them of how I was prepared to go out with a Society of Friends ambulance unit. I was also prepared to go into coal mines, work on the land, bring food to this country in ships, or anything other than military service or armaments work. I was then asked if there was anyone with me to answer questions.
They chose Mr East. He told them of his service in World War One and his readiness to serve again if required to do-so. Whilst he did not share my views, he respected me for mine, and all I had said was true, and that I could have said much more about my service to God and man.
The Judge said to Mr East. “What would you do with him ?”
Mr East replied, “I would let him carry on doing the things he does”. The Judge said, “Yes, I think we will”. Turning to the other members of the tribunal, he spoke to them in low tones for a few seconds, then turning back to me he said “We believe you to be a sincere and honest young man. We feel that if you see anything more worthy of your service you will do it without our making any conditions. We grant you unconditional exemption from military service”.
I looked at the tribunal and said “Thank you sir, I will honour your trust in me to the best of my ability”.
I came out of Manchester Town Hall in deep gratitude to God, and friends, the tribunal members, and most of all perhaps to Hannah who never showed me anything but support, loyalty and trust. I could not believe I was free to go home with no need to ‘sell up’. Whatever was to happen, and it did, the appointed state tribunal had granted me exemption, and for this I shall always be proud to be British and give to Caesar in full all things that belong to him.
Some years later I attended the funeral of Hannah’s brother Benjamin Alfred Fletcher, aged thirty five years. He was conscripted to the forces and given a motor wagon to drive which had faulty brakes. He was killed when it ran downhill near Devizes and crashed whilst he was still training in England. The minister who conducted the funeral service, the Rev Harold Strawbridge, looked hard at me after the service and said “I have been trying to think where I have seen you before. Now I remember! Manchester Town Hall, April 1940, I was at the tribunal that day, and I shall never forget the atmosphere in that court. It seemed that you were trying the tribunal- it was a wonderful witness”.
Back home and to work. The day after the tribunal, the foreman said, “These bloody Freemasons”. I have never been a Freemason. Many years later, I became a Rotarian in the Blackburn Senior Club, which I enjoyed. The report in the Press was very brief “viz. R. G. Brindle was granted exemption”. The report never mentioned the questions and answers and the comments of judge and tribunal. I can only think that to do so would not have enhanced the war effort. Some cases where appellants made ridiculous remarks were reported in full, branding all C.O.’s, cowards or fools, or both.
However, I was soon to learn that the fire of affliction had to burn more fiercely in the following weeks, months and years. Fear warps relationships and as the war tensions increased so the attitudes of my contemporaries who feared being ‘called up’ in some cases, became hostile. I had a white feather or two through the letter box, calls across the works yard, and the two foremen devised a way to get rid of me from the electricity works. There was a demand from Bristol Aircraft, Clayton-le-Moors for skilled electricians to wire bombers at their factory. The foreman forwarded the names of all our ‘temporary’ electricians, and me off to the factory. We were to report at the Labour Exchange in King Street, Blackburn, on the morning of Thursday 20th June, 1940. I presented myself as instructed. I refused to work on war planes and was told that I would lose my job and superannuation etc. I looked at the clerk and said. “So what, I was prepared to be shot rather than do what you want me to do, the threat of a job and superannuation loss are of no significance compared to selling my soul. Good day”.
Back to the works, after connecting up the lights at No.18 Queen Victoria Street, Blackburn, for an old lady who would have been left in the dark, I cleaned up the tools belonging to the works: packed my tool box, then went into the foremen’s office, where they were sitting. Looking straight at them, I said, “You two have done your worst to me and my family. I know, I could have run away like the other three young men, but I have been honest in my views. You know how I have worked here. Indeed when you were both on the tools, you always wanted me – I was the apprentice in great demand. Although you are doing your worst to me, taking my job when you know my wife is expecting our first child, and I have a mortgage, I do not wish you any ill will. If I can ever do anything to help either of you at any time I would be pleased to oblige, you see, I am trying to follow someone who said ‘Do not like only the people who like you, like your enemies’. It is hard liking two like you, but I am trying”.
Collecting my toolbox, I left the workshop, walking up the works yard towards the works entrance in Jubilee Street. An elderly man ran across the yard. I had never before spoken to this man, Mr Tom Gillibrand. He came up to me and said, “Can I shake your hand?” I said, “Certainly. Not many want to do that these days”. He shook my hand, and with tears in his eyes said, “I have watched you since you came here as a lad. You have stuck to your principles, regardless of the cost. God bless you; you have restored my faith”.
Home to Hannah. What a remarkable woman she is! When I told her about the loss of job etc. she said, “Come on, get your dinner”. After dinner, we went into the front room, knelt down and prayed, “Lord I am in this mess through trying to follow you, please help us now”.
I knew there was an electrical contractor in Northgate, Blackburn, a Fred Graham. I had never met him or his firm. Hannah and I were ‘led’ to go there. I met him and said “Are you wanting an electrician?”. He said, “Yes, you are a Godsend” (his words) “I have just lost my men who have gone on war work to keep out of the Forces, Scotland Bank Mill have had a fire and I have got the contract to restore all the electrical installations, will you do the job? I can let you have an apprentice”. I said “Yes”. I was out of work for two hours, and I’d had my dinner in those two hours.
I started these installations on Monday morning 24th June, 1940. I had the plan and specification and materials ‘on site’, a grateful heart and the ability to do the job. It would be remiss of me if I did not record that George Eddie (later Sir George), the Leader of Blackburn Town Council (Labour), sent a man to my home to tell me I could go back to the electricity works and my staff position. The works had no right to over-rule the tribunal decision. I went to see Mr Eddie to thank him for his concern. He told me that he was a conscientious objector in World War One and was in prison for this. Mr Eddie proved to be a good friend and was agent to our local Member of Parliament, Mrs Barbara Castle. What a woman champion she was! National Health Service, saviour of many lives introducing the breathalyser Road Traffic Act, equal pay for women doing the same work as men (all Tory opposed).
My job was quite a relief, Fred Graham leaving me to make my own decisions. I sent the apprentice into the office weekly with a time sheet and requests for materials. He would return with my wages and any requests granted. Mr Graham came to see me many weeks after I had started work at Scotland Bank Weaving Mill. I said to him, “I can’t say you have stood over me or checked my work”. He said “I have heard about you, Rex. Two firms have been in contact with me and assured me that you shall have all their electrical work in future. (viz. L Evans and Sons Yarn Doublers Ltd, and Emsa Rubber Works and Manufacturers, both of Blackburn). You see I do not need to watch over you – your experience and character speak for themselves! “.
I had a unique experience at Scotland Bank Mill viz – Burns ‘Had but God the gift to give us, to see ourselves as others see us’. It was a winter month nearing the end of the new installations. I along with several mill workers, used to go to the boiler house at lunch time as it was warm and seating was provided by wooden planks mounted on old oil drums. Some of the men read their newspapers whilst eating their lunches.
On this occasion one man looked up from his newspaper and said “Have you read this about a conchie?”. No-one said anything because one or two knew about me.
This man obviously did not know me and went on to say “I was surprised that a swimmer and water polo player was one”.
I said, “Do you know him?”.
“I know him well, I have watched him swim and play polo for Blackburn and Lancashire and saw him beat the previous champion”, said he.
“Why were you surprised at him being one?”.
“Well, he was very strong in his tackles and a good sport”, he said.
I went on to say, “Strong tackles in a game is different from war. When you and I have a spare half hour I will tell you why I am one if you are surprised”.
The mill owners were two brothers, Gary and Billy Eastwood. A further brother was killed early on in the war. The Eastwoods were very good to serve and always treated me with great respect. I was allowed to use the executive WC. Further installations followed at Greenlow Mill, Harwood Street, and farms in the Balderstone area where electricity became available. In fact, I was very busy in the capacity of being my own boss.
In late, 1942, Mr Graham asked me to meet him one evening. He was forty years old and there was a possibility of him being ‘called up’ for military service. He had the chance of going to Mullard’s Factory to do war work. He asked if would I run the business for him? I could have the car and was flattered when he said I was more capable than he was in the matter of business skills.
I was so glad to be engaged in this way and said I would run the firm for him until he was released from his war work and could resume his job as proprietor. This proved to be a rash promise, I found, due to the shortage of skilled men being available for civilian duty. By hard work, I built up the firm to double it was under Mr Graham.
I went to connect a new cold room refrigerator plant at Burnley for a Blackburn firm – F.A.Briggs. They had supplied this plant to Mr Bob Lord, the butcher, Chairman of Burnley Football Club. Mr Lord took a liking to me and my work and gave me tens of thousands of pounds worth of installation works (viz. 13 shops, a big meat factory at Lowerhouse, 3 big residences, etc.) Bob was a big cash-payment man. I used to collect Mr Graham from Mullard’s, take him to our office and give him a stack of money in five pound notes. Mr Graham would pick up one five pound note and give it to me for a week’s wage. This was the rate for an electrician fixed by the union at that time for an ordinary employee. Mr Graham was a really mean man. However, I kept my promise and ran his firm until he was released in 1946.
As soon as Mr Graham was free to take over the car and run the business I went to see him. He was now a rich man. “Mr Graham, I am giving you two weeks to get used to the job and then I am leaving you to start my own business”.
He replied, “I do not think that is fair after I gave you a job”.
I said, “Fred, I kept my promise; I have doubled your business. If you had been a bit more generous I would not be leaving you. Other men in your circumstances have lost their businesses – you have gained. I have made you a rich man”.
Then would you believe it! He said “You know greater love hath no man than this”.
“Are you quoting scripture to me?” I said, “Do you know who said that and in what context and situation? Go on Fred, finish it “.
He could not do so. I did.
“You must not equate that with warfare, where the object is to lay anothers life down by training to kill and maime”. It was rather quiet the two weeks I stayed with Grahams following this conversation!
I was disappointed when I went to start my own business. A thing called ‘The Essential Works Order’ was still in force. I was not allowed to proceed. This prompted a further great tussle with the Labour exchange. The engineers who did the work at Emsa Rubber Works, Patterson Street, Blackburn were St. Peter Street Engineering Co. Limited. I had worked with this firm connecting electric drives and motors to plant they had installed. The principal of the firm was a Mr Alec Rogers, who, when he knew of my difficulty, offered me a directorship in the firm if I started and electrical department in the company; the terms being a weekly wage and half
profits at the year end. This seemed the best option, second to having my own business, which was what I really wanted.
A car was bought – a 1927 Jowett two seater and Dicky seat. I had no problem in getting an increasing number of contracts and day work. (i.e. time and material). The Government excess Profits Tax was in force and industry was refurbishing their factories. ‘Tax free’ fluorescent lighting was the vogue for economy in use, and the post war production of goods was of primary importance. We were on to a good thing.
Going to the G.E.C. one day for goods, I was refused due to our account being overdue for payment. Going back to the office, I found the electrical side of the company was subsidising the engineering side. New lathes and drilling machines had been installed. I insisted on a cheque being made out to the G.E.C. which I took to them with my apologies. This was the last straw! Alec Rogers was not a man I could get on with. One of my electricians had letters sent to the works clo our office, and I learnt that Rogers steamed them open! When I was made aware of this, as well as the non payment to the G.E.C., I went to see Alec Rogers and said, “I am going”. He reminded me of all I should loose. Hannah had advised me many times to break away from this unholy union, but the longer I stayed the more I was going to loose. I said, “You can have the lot, Alec, I came with my tools, I will go with my tools and the old car”, this I did.
The Essential Works Order was not now in force. John Sharples, a solicitor and a fellow Local Preacher and friend, duplicated a standard letter informing people of my availability for all kinds of electrical installations. This letter I sent out to all my friends and folks I had met in swimming, choirs, Methodists and other churches I had served over the years, indeed all circles of society I had dealings with. I have mentioned Mr Dick Hodgson, Chairman of the Blackburn Swimming Club previously, but when I told him I needed a workshop and store, he offered me a place he owned in Weir Street, next to his, free of charge until I got on my feet. I insisted paying him £ 1. per week. I started my own business on September 1, 1949.
Whilst I had been at St. Peter Street Engineering Company, the war had ended. My popularity in business, music, preaching, and swimming circles began to return. I shall never forget the first year after the war, as I was not invited to resume my place in the water polo and swimming teams. The following spring, a deputation came to my home and said that a unanimous decision of club members invited me to resume my membership, and would I be captain and treasurer of the club? I readily accepted. How fickle people are when they are afraid. Also, they had not been doing very well in the competitions !
During the war years, Heather and Jean were born into our home at 277 Whalley New Road. What joy they brought into our lives and some anxiety. One of my greatest ‘lows’ was going for babies’ gas masks; I had to collect these terrible looking pieces of apparatus at a centre in Blackburn, and as I came through a ‘blacked out’ town one dark November night and came round the corner into Church Street by the Black Bull Hotel, the sirens sounded the alert. In the darkened streets I staggered towards the tramcar for home. I wept as I thought of the degradation to which mankind had sunk; that babies had to be placed in things I had collected because of mans rejection to the way of Christ.
Through all this, and difficulties with some members of the family, Hannah provided me with love and trust and stood by me. My home was, indeed, a refuge from what was often a very cruel and unfair world. During the war, I worked my free time with Rev.G.A.West at the Blackburn Methodist Mission. Besides what I told the tribunal, we installed bathrooms and beds and kitchen facilities to cook meals.
We provided bed and breakfast to service personnel stranded in Blackburn due to transport being unreliable at this time. I took my turn at night duty for this service and met many interesting service personnel.
Two Indian soldiers stayed one night. I asked them about the very rich men in India, and they replied that the richest man in India was ‘Ghandi’. I was surprised and asked how was this? They replied, “He has given most away – that makes him the richest”.
My home was ‘open house’ to evacuees and service men. There are contacts still maintained today of those far off days.
The Royal Norfolk Regiment was stationed in Hornby’s Mill, Blackburn. I went to see the commanding officer and offered the friendship and amenities of the Blackburn Methodist Mission. Quite a number of these men came to the services and socials. Some came back from these activities to my home. One young man, Horace Harley, had just got married in Norfolk. The little chapel at Southery was the venue. We sent for his young wife, Annie, and we got a ‘sleeping out’ pass and they had their honeymoon at 277 Whalley New Road, prior to him being sent overseas. We still keep in touch with this family. Most of the others have thrown off this mortal coil.
I have never preached on just one aspect of the Christian Gospel, but the whole message to the whole man. The social aspect and implications are very strong, in say, the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew chapter 5, then the not so often read James chapter 2 which is very definite in this matter. How anyone can look up with raised hands and closed eyes and heavenly expression and sing’ Take my hands, and let them move at the impulse of Thy love’, and then go back to a factory floor and make nuclear bombs is beyond me. I have said this on many occasions.
THE POST WAR YEARS
I had my workshop, stores, tools and Jowett 2 seater with Dicky, my great source of encouragement, Hannah, my two young lovely daughters, Heather and Jean, my home, friends and a young strong constitution. After the letters mentioned previously were sent out, work began to come in. My first really big installation was to completely ‘rewire’ Queen’s Hall. I offered to complete this work for labour charge only, with materials at cost. This job would be a buffer if gaps appeared in orders for further work. There were no gaps, but I was short on capital, my only collateral being my home on mortgage. The Rev. C. J. Tribe offered me his life savings to start me off, saying he knew I would succeed and, if not, I had not to worry, all would be well! I did not avail myself of this kind offer, but this is one of the many reasons I would never leave my Church.
I went to the G.E.C., BICC, MK – none of them would let me have goods on a monthly account. I went to see Mr Jack Pickup of Palmer Riley and Co. Ltd. Electrical Factors, Abbey Street, Accrington. I was shown into his office on the first floor. He said, after I told him my circumstances, “Rex, I have watched you ever since you came here to collect goods when you were an apprentice and later to date. If you were like me I would not let you have credit, but you can have all you want. Pay when you can, and have an extra two and a half percent discount on all the normal wholesale prices”. I thanked him and said I would never forget his kindness. All the twenty five years I purchased electrical goods, I only bought from others what Palmer Riley could not supply, even when folks like those who would not give me a chance offered reduced prices on cables and switchgear. I always asked about Mr Pickup, when I went to Palmer Riley’s, as, being on the first floor in the office, he was not on view. He owned Palmer Riley’s, a cinema, and had other irons in the fire. One day I was told that he was very poorly. I went to his home to see my benefactor. He wept when I went upstairs with his wife to his bedside. I had a word with him and he told me that I was the only person who had been to see him. He had been going to a pub in Burnley for years every day. When he went in, it was drinks all round and a packet of twenty on the bar top for any of them … and they had never been in touch. Mr Pickup, when restored to health, became a teetotaller and gave up the fags. The Inland Revenue sent for Mr. Pickup at the end of the tax year, wanting to know where the extra £1,000 income had come from. They accepted his explanation of his new abstentions, £20 a week in those days, was a considerable sum. An electrician’s wage was only £5 per week.
On reflection, I feel greatly indebted to many people over the years in the broader sense – Canon Dick Shepherd, Canon Collins, Rev. Donald Soper; Rev. Henry Carter; Rev. Arnold West; Rev Charles Tribe and Bill Stanyon, who later told me of how he made his communion out of the bread and water in his prison cell in world war one, as a C.O., Alderman George Eddie, the mill owners – Evans and Sons and many others.
Also, my wife, Hannah, who was always there.
Rex Brindle’s story is referred to in Dr Jill Barber’s talk at the service to commemoration the 100 years anniversary of the legalising of conscientious objection which can be seen here :-