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Tom Tremewan

(1888-1974) – Prisoner of conscience

Tom Tremewan was a painter-decorator and staunch Methodist. Influenced by his mother Martha, who had Quaker friends. Both he and his brother refused to fight in 1916. Tom (on right) was imprisoned for his beliefs at Dartmoor among other prisons and spent time in solitary confinement. On returning to Perranporth he experienced much local hostility.

Credit: Perranzabuloe Museum, Perranporth and family

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When conscription was introduced in 1916 there was intense debate on the subject of conscientious objection. The Act provided that exemption could be obtained for ‘men who conscientiously object to combatant service’ provided they applied to and appeared before a tribunal who would assess their case.

Tom and John Tremewan, from Perranporth, were two such men and both were imprisoned for their pacifist beliefs.  Two other Perranporth men, who they appear to have known, were also conscientious objectors.

The Tremewan boys were brought up in a staunch Methodist family, Tom and his father William Henry Tremewan both being local preachers.   Their mother, Martha Jane, was a Pacifist and very much influenced by her Quaker friends.

John, being unmarried, was the first of the brothers to appear before the Tribunal in Truro and the first in the area, his hearing took place on 1st March 1916. He was recommended for non-combatant service. On leaving the court room he said ‘I still adhere to my principles which no man can alter’. He failed to appeal the decision but did not obey the summons to join the Army so, on April 5th, he was arrested and taken to a civil court and then to Bodmin. From there he went to Wyke Regis where, after refusing to fall in on parade, wear uniform or comply with anything to do with the war he was court martialled and sentenced to two years’ imprisonment. For the rest of the war he was moved around the country to various detention centres on military bases and, when recognised as a genuine conscientious objector, he spent time in Wormwood Scrubs and Dartmoor prisons but, even with the threat of the firing squad, his beliefs never wavered.

Tom, who was married, followed later. He had carried on Johnʼs painting and decorating business with their father until he was called up. At his tribunal the Chairman stated ‘If you were in Germany, Tremewan, you would be shot!’ Tomʼs reply was ‘What would you do, sir? Fight for the Kaiser?’

After the tribunal Tom was taken away and spent time in Wormwood Scrubs, Wakefield Prison and Dartmoor. Both John and Tom spent a short time in solitary confinement. Tom often spoke of when he and his fellow conscientious objectors were alone in their cells at night. To keep their spirits up one would start singing a hymn and gradually, one by one, they would all join in until the singing echoed around the prison.

After the war both brothers returned to Perranporth, but some families refused to speak to them until the 1930s.  Tom wrote an account of his Perranporth childhood and life as a builder between the wars but could never write about his First World War experiences.

Key words: conscientious objector

Credit: Perranzabuloe Museum, Perranporth and family