Oswald Clark was born around 1889 in Doncaster. His father, Joseph Frith Clark was a well-known local tanner and lace maker. Joseph was also well known as a local councillor and had been Mayor of Doncaster when Oswald was an infant. The family lived at Briarcliffe, a large property on Thorne Road that overlooks Town Fields and is currently a nursing home. By 1911, Oswald is listed on the census as working as a warehouseman and clerk to his father at the family tannery business.
During the First World War, Oswald was staunchly pacifist and anti-war. His views were treated with contempt in the local press, but not everyone agreed with the newspapers. In the Doncaster Gazette in January 1916, a local Primitive Methodist Minister writes in support of Oswald and describes the treatment of him in the newspapers as ‘rough-handling.’ The Reverend argued that the necessity for compulsory military service is ‘difficult to discover.’
The tone in which you speak of “the people called Quakers” is hardly pleasant. You apparently forget that, in time of war even as in peace, other services than that of arms may be, and is by those of Mr. Clark’s views, rendered to the Nation. At this time, the Friends are rebuilding at their own cost whole districts of Northern France left, by the receded tide of Germans wasted and wrecked.
In January 1916, the Doncaster Gazette again criticised Oswald for his association with trade union societies in their shared aim of protesting compulsory military service. They describe Oswald as an ‘unattested young man’ who had ‘previously denounced the Bill in his capacity as a Liberal, and in his capacity of a Quaker.’ The Gazette then goes further to discredit Oswald stating ‘the fact that his influence counts for very little anyway does not excuse his conduct.’ The Doncaster Gazette was not the only newspaper that attempted to disgrace Oswald. The Doncaster Chronicle printed an article in March 1916 titled ‘MORE QUAKER OBJECTIONS. ARE THESE MEN COWARDS?’ The article went on to detail the cases heard by the local tribunal and the decisions made on whether the men seeking exemption would be forced to service in the military. In it, they state that Ten members of the Society of Friends (the Quakers), including Mr. Oswald Clark, were present to hear the appeals. The first was that of a young man of 25, a student training for a secondary school. He appeared in the khaki uniform of the Friends’ Ambulance Unit. He objected to the military oath element of service as an ambulance man, arguing that they served under the guidance of the Friends Committee, but still the clerk said the applicant was deemed to have attested for military service. The applicant then requested absolute exemption which was refused in favour of recommendation for non-combatant service. At this hearing, a member of the Tribunal stated ‘if these people said they were cowards’ he could believe them. Another member of the tribunal however stood their ground in favour of the applicants, arguing it took courage to make a stand in that way.
Another local conscientious objector, Bert Brocklesby from Conisbrough, mentions Oswald Clark in his diaries. He describes how he made his first contact with the local Quakers in 1915 and Oswald had founded a local branch of the No-Conscription Fellowship, an organisation that aimed to prevent conscription becoming the law of the land. Bert goes on to describe how the meetings of this branch were held at Oswald’s father’s home. He also remembers an anecdote about Joseph,
While Mayor of Doncaster he had been invited by King Edward VII to meet him at the Royal Box at the Doncaster Race Course. He politely declined, saying that he had never been to the races in his life and felt he was too old now to begin. Of course, JFC lost his knighthood, which I fancy troubled him not at all. It was many years before any royalty came again to Doncaster, but how much JFC’s action had to do with that is only surmise.
Bert speaks favourably of Oswald, calling him a ‘moving spirit in the Fellowship’ and stating that he ‘proved himself a stalwart pacifist and took the absolutist position from the start’ and describes how at these meetings they would stage mock tribunals to help those who would be going up for exemption.
Oswald even appeared in the written answers of the House of Commons. Labour politician Fred Jowett, a staunch advocate for conscientious objectors, raised Oswald’s case with the Under-Secretary of State for War. He lists all of Oswald’s achievements first;
formerly clerk to the Doncaster preparative meeting of the Society of Friends, assistant secretary to the West Laithe Gate adult school and of the Don-caster International Polity Club, plan secretary of the Doncaster Gospel Temperance Union and of the Yorkshire adult school Co-operative Holiday Committee, member of the committee of the Doncaster Amateur Swimming Club, director of the York Retreat, assistant at Warmsworth Sunday School, Doncaster Friends Band of Hope, Factory Lane Band of Hope (president), Sunday evening children’s meeting, and Factory Lane Mission
Before going on to highlight his plight. He describes how Oswald ‘was arrested on 23rd May, 1916, taken to Pontefract Barracks, court-martialled, and sentenced to 112 days, sent to Armley Gaol, Leeds, appeared before the Central Tribunal, adjudged genuine and offered work under the Home Office scheme, which he refused, court-martialled again at Rugeley on 6th October, 1916, sentenced to two years’ hard labour, and is now in Wormwood Scrubs’. He goes on to ask whether or not ‘he will consider the desirability of employing Mr. Clark at his occupation as a tanner and currier and giving him his liberty in accordance with the provisions of the Military Service Acts?
Ian Macpherson, Under-Secretary of State for War simply replied with ‘Perhaps my hon. Friend will inform me which provision of the Military Service Acts he has in mind.’
Hannah and Oswald’s father Joseph died in 1918, and two years later Hannah became the first female councillor for Doncaster Corporation. By 1939, Oswald was residing with his sister Hannah at 5 Lawn Avenue, Doncaster. A neighbour of theirs fondly remembers Oswald and his sister befriending the children that lived on the street. She remembers Oswald having a piano and him teaching her how to play twinkle twinkle little star. She described him as a very kind but private man who had an interest in wild flowers and had a budgie named Charlie that used to fly around the house and talk! He spoke to them often about his childhood growing up in Briarcliffe, at the corner of St Mary’s Road and had a ‘curios’ cabinet in his house full of interesting things.
He remained at this address until his death in 1951. Upon his death his effects went to his sister Hannah and his brother Charles.