August Schneider: Life as an Alien During the First World War

August Louis Schneider possibly in Army uniform.
Photo courtesy of the Schneider Family

August Schneider had spent the early part of his life in Kenilworth as an active member of the community.

As a British citizen and a single man August was conscripted and on the 25th February 1916 August’s father applied to the newly-formed Kenilworth Local Military Service Tribunal for August to be exempted from service on the grounds that his call-up would cause the family serious hardship and that August had a conscientious objection to undertaking combatant service. 

Ruination and starvation

Louis Schneider, August’s father, gave the following reasons for his support of the application: 

“I have no income except what we make on the land. My wife is an invalid, can do nothing and wants waiting on. I myself suffer from fever and gallstones, so my working power is very uncertain. The whole affair depends on my son (cows, pigs, poultry, gardens, greenhouses and the repairs of my houses). The income of my house property is not enough to meet payments on them. …We certainly have a very hard standing. Nobody will employ my son or me. I cannot pay anybody to do the work and I doubt if anybody would even work for me, if I could pay. If my son is taken away, it means ruination to starvation.” 

When August was questioned by Lord Ernest Seymour (representing the military authorities) he said he didn’t mind leaving England.  He had been treated exactly as a German. If he went for work he could not get it because of his name and also he did not believe in fighting. It was against his religion and had been so in his family for some time.  The reason his grandfather had come to live in England was because there was no conscription. 

Unsuccessful appeal

The local tribunal decided to disallow the application on the grounds of hardship and ordered that August should perform his service in a non-combatant role.  In a quirk of fate, the decision was signed for the Tribunal committee by Ernest F. Hadow, who had also been President of Kenilworth Swimming Club, after whom the swimming cup was named which August won in 1913. 

August’s father appealed this decision but was not successful.

Shortly afterwards August enlisted as a private into the Middlesex Regiment, army number G/31959, first into the 1st Infantry Labour Corps and then later to the 3rd Infantry Labour Corps.  This regiment was often referred to as The Kaiser’s Own as it was composed entirely of naturalised British citizens of ‘enemy alien’ parentage. 

 Arrested as a deserter

Life in the army did not go too smoothly for August.  On 28th July 1916 he left his regiment for an approved break and headed for home, but failed to return on time and was arrested for desertion by PC Eden in The Square, Kenilworth. Although he was charged as a deserter he rejoined his regiment, and the Labour Division of which August was a part was sent to France on 6th March 1917.  There are few records of the daily work that was carried out by this division, but they were involved in salvage work.  Towards the end of the war August was injured and returned to England on the 31st Ambulance Train on the 31st October 1918, having been wounded in the face by a bomb. His injury could not have been too serious as later photographs show no signs of it. 

August returned to Kenilworth after the war before settling in Germany for a time.

This story is part of the Warwickshire Bytes ‘After the Tribunals’ project, which ran from 2019 to 2020. 

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