THERE have been many memorial services to the young men who gave their lives for their country in the 'Great War' of 100 years ago.

But what about those who, on ethical grounds, refused to take up arms?

The conscientious objectors were often subjected to appalling treatment: court-martialled, tortured, sent to work camps, imprisoned - and even sentenced to death.

So harsh was their treatment that some even committed suicide.

On Sunday, a commemoration event organised by York Quakers will be held at Bishopthorpe Church Hall to remember the 200 or so conscientious objectors from York - and in particular two young men, Alfred Martlew and Alexander Gardner Henderson, both of whom are thought to have killed themselves. Alfred is buried in the churchyard.

York Press:

Alfred Martlew's grave at Bishopthorpe

Alfred was a ledger clerk at Rowntrees when conscription was introduced in 1916, says local historian Ros Batchelor, who has been researching his life.

He applied to the Local York Tribunal for exemption from military service, arguing that he had a 'conscientious objection' to the taking of human life and adding: "I absolutely and emphatically deny the right of our government to call upon me, as a citizen of the world, to assist in the slaughter of my fellow men."

Early conscientious objectors tended to be given only partial exemption and were usually drafted into army non-combatant corps, says Ros.

His application for exemption from military service rejected, Alfred was one of 16 conscientious objectors, mainly from Yorkshire, assigned to the army's Northern Company Non Combatant Corps. The group, who came to be known as the Richmond 16, were then imprisoned at Richmond Castle for refusing to wear uniforms or obey military orders.

York Press:

The family of Alexander Henderson in the early 1900s

In May 1916 they were posted to France where, for again refusing to obey orders, they were tried by court martial and sentenced to death. The sentence was later commuted to 10 years hard labour.

Many of the men, Ros says, were subjected to brutal treatment, "including Field Punishment Number 1, known as 'crucifixion' where men were tied to posts or fences and left for several hours at a time in all weathers."

Together with nineteen other conscientious objectors, the Richmond 16 were returned to England and sent to various prisons including Winchester and Wormwood Scrubs. In September, many of them - including Alfred - were sent to break stone for roads at a granite quarry at Dyce, near Aberdeen.

The camp was eventually closed, but many of the Dyce men were forced to serve short sentences in other prisons, only to be released and then re-arrested and charged again for disobeying conscription: a practice known as the “cat and mouse” treatment.

In 1917, Alfred returned to York to see his fiancée, Annie Leeman, intending give himself up for re-arrest and imprisonment. But in July that year, his body was found by the Archbishop's gardener in the River use near Bishopthorpe. The verdict at his inquest was 'found drowned'. "But it seems likely that he committed suicide," Ros says.

The other conscientious objector who died in York was Alexander Gardner Henderson, aged 26. Originally from Scotland, he had come to York to work as a postman.

"Alexander was due to attend an appeal against the refusal of his conscientious objector status. Instead he cycled out to Nether Poppleton and hung himself from a tree near the river," Ros says.

Sunday's commemoration at Bishopthorpe Church Hall, from 2.30pm to 4.30pm, will include a gathering at Alfred's graveside, plus a talk about York's conscientious objectors, together with displays and other information in the church hall.

It will be the perfect way to remember the York men who said 'no' to war 100 years ago.