The Military Service Tribunal members had heard numerous reasons why the men who stood before them did not wish to go to war, but on this particular day they were totally unprepared for what they were about to hear.
Bolton smallholder, field naturalist and amateur astronomer George Grundy had never stood on ceremony and he wasn’t about to start now. Looking at the men seated behind the desk, he began to address them in his broad Lancashire accent as if they were acquaintances he had chanced upon in the street.
“Sithee, gentlemen, I dur’nt believe in shootin’ and killing folks, wars are nowt but a monument to human stupidity…”
George continued in the same vein for several minutes, expounding on the good sense of Mother Earth who managed her diurnal round without fuss or disorder.
At this point, the chairman decided enough was enough and unable to comprehend 35-year-old George’s reasoning for being a Conscientious Objector, swiftly sent him to join the Lancashire Fusiliers.
George refused, and after a Court Martial, found himself in Wormwood Scrubs for 18 months, with hard labour.
On his release, he agreed to join the Brace Committee’s Home Office Scheme for COs and went to an agricultural camp in Pembrokeshire, where he spent his days happily digging.
An early riser, George would go down to the nearby beach before work, searching for fossils and unusual shells. He was often joined by another man and the two became friends. George only discovered that his companion was the mayor of a local town, when he came in that capacity to inspect the work camp.
After the war, George returned to Bolton and his role as secretary of the astronomy section of the Bolton Field Naturalists Society.
In 1894, a telescope had been donated to Bolton Corporation by Councillor T W Holden, who was influenced by stories of 19th century Bolton self-taught astronomer Moses Holden, possibly a relative.
Bolton’s Chadwick Museum set up the telescope in a wooden structure with a revolving dome on top of the pavilion building in Victoria Park. However, by 1907 public interest in the telescope had waned and it was dismantled.
In 1911, however, the newly formed astronomy section of BFNS applied to use it. This arrangement continued for a couple of years until it was agreed to loan the telescope to the astronomy group and the BFNS agreed to pay for it to be moved to Markland Hill plant nursery, which George Grundy ran.
For the next few years, George happily demonstrated the telescope to members of the public, including Bolton Suffragist and anti-war campaigner Alice Foley, who fondly recalled George in her autobiography, ‘A Bolton Childhood’.
However, with the onset of war and George’s subsequent imprisonment, the telescope was little used and fell into disrepair. In 1930, the Bolton Field Naturalist Society proposed it be returned to the museum and this is what happened.
Today the various parts of the telescope are still held by Bolton Museum and may be seen on request.
Bolton Field Naturalist Society minutes, Bolton History Centre, Le Mans Crescent, Bolton (ref. FZ/4/1, 2, 6)
Holden Telescope folder, Bolton History Centre, (ref. BOLMG: 1892.3)
Bolton Journal, 17.10.13; 24.10.13, Bolton History Centre
‘A Bolton Childhood’, by Alice Foley (Bolton History Centre) B920 FOL
List of Conscientious Objectors (livesofthedfirstworldwar.org)
Ancestry website (www.ancestry.co.uk)