DEMAINE, George Frederick


Conscientious Objection. Remembering the student-artists, including George Demaine, of the Royal College of Art who refused to serve in WW1. Image courtesy of the RCA.


George Demaine (1892 – 1966) architectural sculptor and landscape painter, was born and lived until his teens at 209 Mallis Crescent, Keighley. Demaine studied at Keighley School of Art, then gained a West Riding County School Scholarship to the Royal College of Art, where he studied sculpture. George, a committed Christian and a Wesleyan Methodist, joined the Royal College Christian Union, and to indicate his opposition to the 1914-18 war, he joined the N0-Conscription Fellowship (NCF).

But, inevitably, in 1916 he was called-up to serve in the armed forces. George duly appeared before Chelsea Military Service Tribunal  and claimed exemption on the grounds of his religious beliefs and objection to war. He was one of 16,000 men in Britain who claimed exemption from military service during the 1914-18 war on the grounds of conscientious objection.  However, very few were granted full exemption and many accepted non-combatant roles.  The Chelsea Tribunal only allowed George exemption from combatant military service and was deemed liable for call-up to the Non-Combatant Corps.

However, George was an ‘Absolutist’ – renouncing any work that assisted the war effort.   He subsequently refused to comply with a notice to report for training, and on 16 May 1916 was arrested by the civil police, taken before the Magistrates’ Court. He had pleaded not guilty and had argued in writing that as a Christian he could take no part in warfare. It was reported at the time that he had argued:

[that]the spirit and teachings of Jesus Christ, which he was trying to follow, had nothing in them to show that we might use carnal weapons to protect ourselves. The only force which the Bible recognised was the force of love, which sought save men and not destroy them. Therefore, he humbly but firmly stated that could not, under any circumstances, become part of a military machine the object of which was to destroy life’. 

He was convicted and taken to an army depot in east London, where he disobeyed an order, and on 30 May 1916 was court-martialed and sentenced to 2 years imprisonment with hard labour, commuted to 112 days imprisonment with hard labour, which he initially served in Lewes Prison, but was later transferred to Wormwood Scrubs, London, prior to his appearance at a Central Tribunal in London.

Karyn Burnham, in her book, The Courage of Cowards: the untold stories of First world War Conscientious Objectors (2014), describes a typical cell for conscientious objectors at Wormwood scrubs prison.

For the first month in prison … [the prisoner would be] kept in solitary confinement, as  was common practice for COs; cells were typically 10ft long by 4ft wide and furnished only with a narrow  bed and a night stand. The only time he was allowed out of his cell was for daily exercise, which involved parading around the prison yard in a circle, one man behind another exactly 8 yards apart, swinging their arms and forbidden from speaking to one another. Failure to comply with the rules resulted in bread and water rations. (pp.70/71).

George appeared before the Central Tribunal on 16 August 1916, in London, where he was redefined as a ‘genuine’ CO, and offered work of national importance under the Home Office Scheme, introduced earlier that year.

He still refused to comply, so on release from prison was sent back to the Army and court-martialled at Coventry for disobedience a second time on 8 December 1916. He was sentenced again to 112 days imprisonment with hard labour, which he served in Mountjoy Prison, Dublin.

Hard labour meant long hours of manual work, often breaking stones into gravel, or stiching mailbags. Nearly 6,000 Conscientious Objectors (COs) served prison and work camp sentences in Britain during WW1, and over 70 died because of the harsh treatment received there.

Dartmoor Prisoners

Conscientious objector prisoners at Dartmoor engaged on quarrying work.

On release on 16 March 1917, Demaine was transferred to Arbour Hill Barracks, Dublin, where he again disobeyed, and had a third court-martial there on 23 April 1917. He was sentenced to a further 1 year imprisonment with hard labour, served again in Mountjoy Prison.

Gay, Arthur Wilson; The Conchie; Peace Museum;

‘The Conchie’. Oil Painting by Arthur Gay (1931). Image: copyright: Peace Museum. Depicts a conscientious objector being transported to prison under military escort.

The cycle continued with release, then a fourth court-martial at Dublin on 7 March 1918, resulting in 2 years imprisonment with hard labour, served in Walton Prison, Liverpool, and, briefly, at Wakefield Prison in a short-lived and unsuccessful experiment to bring all CO prisoners together.  He was finally released on 16 April 1919 having served in total more than 2 years in prison. However, he was denied the right to vote until 1929.

On his release he returned to the Royal Academy and finally completed his studies in 1921.

He was an Associate Member of the Royal College of Art and exhibited work at shows of the Royal Academy, Royal West of England Academy, Alpine Club Gallery and at Cartwright Hall. Demaine joined as a Brother Member of the Art Workers’ Guild from 1950 until his death in 1966.

He lived in London, and at Bushey Heath in Hertfordshire, but his death was recorded in Dover, Kent in 1966.

Source:  Cyril Pearce Records, via Imperial War Museum : www.livesof

(I am searching for images of George Demaine’s artwork to feature on this site. If you can help, please get in touch, via the ‘Contacts’ page).

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