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John George Winter (1891-1918)

Conscientious objector from Esh Winning who died in prison

JG Winter was a member of the Primitive Methodist group known as the Quebec Radicals convinced pacifists who preached pacifism from the pulpit. He was also member of the Independent Labour Party (ILP)- many of the ILP were also opposed to the war, believing it to be an imperialist war, workers in Germany and Britain sharing common grievances comrades not enemies. John George was therefore by both political and religious conviction a Conscientious Objector.

There were 3 categories of Conscientious Objector;
1. Absolutist- committed pacifists such as ILP- refused any kind of service in support of the war
2. Alternativists – would not serve in army but engaged in war work such as munitions
3. Non combatants might be serving at the front as medics, stretcher bearers etc

In the spring of 1918 the German army had made massive gains (Spring /Kaiser’s Offensive). There was a desperate effort to recruit everyone eligible to counter this German advance. John George was called up from his reserve status to report to Newcastle 28 June 1918. His military records show he refused to answer any questions relating to his details such as address or date of birth. John George would fall into the first category of CO and so refused to co-operate, give personal details and obey the order to report to South Shields.

He was ordered to attend DLI 3rd Battalion at South Shields. When he failed to do so he was then charged with disobeying a lawful command by an officer and sentenced to 112 days of imprisonment without hard labour on 6 July 1918 and sent to Wormwood Scrubs. He died on July 13 1918- official cause of death Asphyxia Pneumonia following influenza at HM Prison WS.

A cellmate who witnessed his death told how he had been beaten by the prison warders and this was the cause of death.

His body was returned to Quebec and his body was buried in the local churchyard. At that time the whole village would have attended the funeral out of solidarity and respect for the family. On the occasion of his funeral the cortege was catcalled and booed from the cemetery gates and the coffin stoned. The comrades at the grave repeatedly sang the Red Flag to drown them out – appropriate words for a ‘martyred dead’.

A blog post about this story can be found at the following address:

Civil Parish: Cornsay

Birth date: 1891

Death date: 1918-Jul-13

Armed force/civilian: Civilian

Residence: Office Street, Cornsay Colliery (1911 census)
Born Esh Winning

Religion: Primitive Methodist

Organisation membership: Independent Labour Party

Employment: hewer at colliery

Family: Father: James Winter, born 1856 St Giles, Durham a banksman at the colliery
Mother: Elisabeth Peacock, born 1866 Brancepeth, married Lanchester 1889

Gender: Male

Contributed by Kath Connolly