Posted on 8th October 2019
Lemington-on-Tyne, Northumberland, has the only freestanding war memorial identified in England to carry the name of a conscientious objector.
The name is Walter Messer (1894 – 1915), a Quaker, and it appears among the memorial’s inscriptions of the First World War dead who came from the Lemington-on-Tyne area.
Walter was born in 1894 into a Quaker family living in Lemington-on-Tyne, Northumberland. He was educated at the Quaker Ackworth School, and then was an agricultural student until he volunteered for the Friends’ War Relief Victims Service in May 1915.
Friends War Victims Relief Service and Friends Ambulance Unit
The principles of the Quakers’ Peace Testimony, which supports peace and opposes participation in war, meant that the majority of Friends felt unable to serve in the Armed Forces during wartime.
Instead, during the First World War, Quakers focused on humanitarian work and set up organisations such as the Friends War Victims Relief Service (FWVRS) and the Friends Ambulance Unit (FAU). Almost 1,500 conscientious objectors were recruited, not just Quakers, and Messer would have been one of them.
The FWVRS was established in 1870, following the outbreak of the Franco-Prussian War and created the red & black Quaker Star as its symbol. From the beginning of the First World War until after the armistice, the FWVRS set up camps for refugees in Belgian and the Netherlands. The organisation also opened a hospital, a school for blind children, an orphanage and several rebuilding projects across Europe.
The FAU was set up specifically for the First World War and would first go to Dunkirk in 1914 under the auspices of the British Red Cross Society. The FAU carried out relief work in allied occupied Belgium and supported wounded men from the active French divisions in Champagne and Argonne regions.
Messer first served with the FWVRS in France until August 1915. Then in October 1915 he transferred to the FAU, also in France. A month later, on 28th November, he was killed by a German bomb in Flanders. He is buried in Malo-les-Bains Commmunal Cemetery, Nord, 1 A, Grave 4A.
His inscription on the Lemington -on-Tyne War Memorial has FAU before his name.