German’s Son Deserted, 1919

In 1910’s Blantyre, there was perhaps never a more awkward or problematic situation than being born in Blantyre to German’s immigrants and being forced to sign up for the army, knowing your parents had been imprisoned.

Thats exactly what happened to William Siegel of Blantyre, a well known conscientious objector (unwilling to conscript or fight).

In May 1919, despite the war being over a good 6 month, William ended up in Hamilton Court. William was the son of August Siegel, a German who had recently been held from temporary imprisonment and repatriated back to Germany.

Clearly with his father’s treatment in previous years and his current predicament in mind, William was charged with deserting from the 31st Battalion of the Middlesex Regiment, stationed at Croydon, as from 10th December 2018. The court transcript is interesting.

The Assessor — You still refuse to plead ?
Siegel—Yes, I refuse to plead. I do not recognise the authority of this Court.

Evidence of arrest was given by Detective Inspector Syme, of the Lanarkshire Constabulary. Siegel, he said, acknowledged that the military authorities had taken him to the army against his will, and consequently he could not admit being a deserter. A sergeant of the Middlesex Regiment stated that accused, whom he recognised, broke away from the guard-room in the month of November, 1918.

Siegel—Was I in uniform when I deserted?
Witness —No.
Siegel – Is the position this, that I refused to don the King’s uniform because I was a conscientious objector?
Witness —I believe that to be the position.

Siegel at this point entered the witness box and read the following statement, which he had written in prison :—“ I contend that the charge which is preferred to me is irrelevant because do not consider myself a soldier. I have objected, and refused to be made a conscript soldier from the beginning. I have not attested, have taken no oath, and refused to wear the uniform which is the symbol of military service. I have made my attitude clear at the Tribunals, and the Appeal Sheriff for the Sheriffdom of Lanarkshire admitted the genuineness of my political objections to militarism and warfare.”

The Tribunal, in giving their decision, said they had no authority to come to a definite finding, because of the complications of the case. They gave a recommendation for non-combatant service on the ground of German parentage, and allowed the case to proceed to the Central Tribunal to be fully investigated. The Central Tribunal declined to take anything to do with the matter, and left the military authorities with the verdict.

Siegel continued, “I contend that this decision or action was very unjust. I was arrested on September 10, 1918, and forcibly handed over to the military on October 16. I left Croydon on November 28 because, as I say, I did not recognise the authority of the military over me, and also for private reasons. My father was repatriated from Blantyre to Germany on November 25 as an undesirable alien. I ask you is it reasonable to expect a man to serve a country which refuses the right of asylum to his father and to three other members of the family? Do you think that by compulsion you can make me an enemy of my father, brother, or sister? In conclusion, I wish to say that, no matter what may be the decision to-day, I shall continue my objections irrespective of the consequences.”

William Siegel was convicted and handed over to the military authorities. After taking a cheery farewell with some female friends, he left the Court quite jauntily along with an escort.

Following WW1, the UK deported (through repatriation) many German people back to their “Fatherland”. People who had prior to the war been living in Scotland. Throughout the war these people had been taken from their families and put into holding camps. (as pictured)

Featuring Blantyre Project Social Media with permission. Strictly not for use by others on or offline, our visitors said:

John Cornfield What an intelligent and brave man to take this stance.
Thomas Fallon What about second generation Italians in Blantyre during WW2 asked to fight when their mothers and fathers Interned in concentration camps.
John Cornfield Thomas Fallon it was all so wrong
Maria Pedersen Do we know what happened to him after?
John Cornfield Great question
Betty McLean War always brings heartache in one way or another.
Jimbo McSkimming Good man, good human being, war is not the answer it tends just to make the rick richer, ask Michael Francis Moore

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  1. Hi Paul,
    A very interesting post, if I could add a little more information William’s father and my Grandfather had to flee from Germany around 1890 as they tried to organize a miners union, I received this information from one of William’s daughter who was a professor at a university in Australia, she had written a book about them. As I have moved twice since then (around 1999) I can’t find the email, But I can tell you Willie married my aunt in 1920 and immigrated to Australia in 1925, I am in contact with the family and I will suggest that they check out your post

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