George Dutch

George Dutch (with thanks to the Co-operative Movement Collection, Bishopsgate Institute).

George Dutch (with thanks to the Co-operative Movement Collection, Bishopsgate Institute).

On the 2 March 1916 the Military Service Act came into force and this meant that apart from a few exceptions, all men aged between 18 and 41 could be called up to fight. For George Dutch who was a socialist, a pacifist and a Christian, war was something that he felt to be against his moral code. The Act therefore posed something of a problem for him and others like him.

Dutch became interested in co-operation after reading about it in the Co-operative News. He said that he saw it as the nearest thing to socialism that was possible in a capitalist society.  For this reason, he wrote to his nearest co-operative manager for a job and in return received a telegram instructing him to ‘start Monday.’

In 1916 Dutch appealed his local Military Service Tribunal in Tonbridge, Kent, who could grant exemptions from fighting. He was turned down which officially made him an “absentee.” This meant that he could not be employed without breaking the law and his co-operative employers were forced to let him go.  He was later imprisoned at Canterbury jail, along with other conscientious objectors.

WWI co-operative voices

This post is part of ‘WWI co-operative voices’ which shares the stories of co-operative workers and members during the conflict. In order to mark the centenary of the WWI, the Rochdale Pioneers Museum is staging an exhibition entitled ‘From shop floor to front line’ and the accounts of these soldiers, shop workers and conscientious objectors will run alongside it. They are tales of death, duty and of those who chose not to fight.

Through ‘WWI co-operative voices’ we will be releasing new posts about these individuals throughout the duration of the exhibition (due to open mid-May 2015 and run until May 2016). Read about the co-operative movement’s involvement in a war that shook the world by selecting a name from the column on the left. You can also follow us on social media for regular updates.

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We wish to thank the Heritage Lottery Fund for supporting the ‘From shop floor to front line’ exhibition and project.