Non-Combatant Corps

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Non-Combatant Corps
AllegianceFlag of the United Kingdom.svg  United Kingdom
BranchFlag of the British Army.svg  British Army
RoleNon-combatant support in the army (logistics, supply, engineering)
Size14 companies (Second World War)
Engagements First World War
Second World War
Post-Second World War

The Non-Combatant Corps (NCC) was a corps of the British Army composed of conscientious objectors as privates, with NCOs and officers seconded from other corps or regiments. Its members fulfilled various non-combatant roles in the army during the First World War, the Second World War and the period of conscription after the Second World War. [1] [2]

Corps military unit size designation

Corps is a term used for several different kinds of organisation. A military innovation by Napoleon, the formation was first named as such in 1805.

British Army land warfare branch of the British Armed Forces of the United Kingdom

The British Army is the principal land warfare force of the United Kingdom, a part of British Armed Forces. As of 2018, the British Army comprises just over 81,500 trained regular (full-time) personnel and just over 27,000 trained reserve (part-time) personnel.

A conscientious objector is an "individual who has claimed the right to refuse to perform military service" on the grounds of freedom of thought, conscience, or religion.


First World War

The Non-Combatant Corps was first established by Royal Warrant in March 1916 as a result of the Military Service Act 1916, which introduced conscription in Britain for the first time. The British Army, which had no precedents or guidelines for conscription, formed the corps to provide a military unit for a category of conscientious objectors who had been conscripted but were prepared to accept only non-combatant duties, which was guaranteed in the case of the NCC. [3] It was commanded by regular army officers and NCOs, and its members wore army uniform and were subject to army discipline, but did not carry weapons or participate in battle. [4] Their duties were mainly to provide physical labour (building, cleaning, loading and unloading anything except munitions) [5] for the rest of the army, both in the British Isles and overseas. Conscientious objectors directed to the NCC but who refused to serve were court martialled and imprisoned. Approximately 3,400 registered conscientious objectors accepted call-up into the NCC.

Military Service Act 1916 United Kingdom legislation

The Military Service Act 1916 was an Act passed by the Parliament of the United Kingdom during the First World War.

Conscription in the United Kingdom has existed for two periods in modern times. The first was from 1916 to 1920, the second from 1939 to 1960, with the last conscripted soldiers leaving the service in 1963. Known as Military Service from 1916 to 1920, the system of conscription from 1939 to 1960 was called National Service, but between 1939 and 1948, it was often referred to as "war service" in documents relating to National Insurance and pension provision.

British Isles Group of islands in northwest Europe

The British Isles are a group of islands in the North Atlantic off the north-western coast of continental Europe that consist of the islands of Great Britain, Ireland, the Isle of Man, the Hebrides and over six thousand smaller isles. They have a total area of about 315,159 km2 and a combined population of almost 72 million, and include two sovereign states, the Republic of Ireland, and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland. The islands of Alderney, Jersey, Guernsey, and Sark, and their neighbouring smaller islands, are sometimes also taken to be part of the British Isles, even though, as islands off the coast of France, they do not form part of the archipelago.

In a House of Commons debate on 13 August 1919, Winston Churchill, Secretary of State for War, stated that with respect to the Army, the members of the NCC "must be regarded as soldiers, and not as conscientious objectors", as it was "entirely composed of men whose conscience permits them to serve as British soldiers, though it does not permit them to take human life". [4] The NCC received lesser pay than most other soldiers and were generally held in lower esteem by British society. [6] [7] The Corps was disparagingly referred to as the 'No-Courage Corps' by some sections of the British press, [6] and as the 'Pick and Shovel Brigade' by The Times newspaper. [8] The NCC's establishment was opposed by the pacifist No-Conscription Fellowship. [8] The Corps were refused the January 1919 army pay increase, and they were denied any final gratuity. The NCC was demobilised more slowly than combatants and it was not finally disbanded until January 1920. [9]

House of Commons of the United Kingdom Lower house in the Parliament of the United Kingdom

The House of Commons, officially the Honourable the Commons of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland in Parliament assembled, is the lower house of the Parliament of the United Kingdom. Like the upper house, the House of Lords, it meets in the Palace of Westminster. Owing to shortage of space, its office accommodation extends into Portcullis House.

Winston Churchill Prime Minister of the United Kingdom during most of World War II

Sir Winston Leonard Spencer-Churchill was a British politician, army officer, and writer. He was Prime Minister of the United Kingdom from 1940 to 1945, when he led Britain to victory in the Second World War, and again from 1951 to 1955. Churchill represented five constituencies during his career as a Member of Parliament (MP). Ideologically an economic liberal and imperialist, for most of his career he was a member of the Conservative Party, which he led from 1940 to 1955, but from 1904 to 1924 was a member of the Liberal Party.

Secretary of State for War British cabinet-level position

The position of Secretary of State for War, commonly called War Secretary, was a British cabinet-level position which existed from 1794 to 1801 and from 1854 to 1964. The Secretary of State for War headed the War Office and was assisted by a Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for War, a Parliamentary Private Secretary who was also a Member of Parliament, and a Military Secretary, who was a general.

Second World War

The NCC was re-formed during August 1940, just over a year after conscription was reintroduced. [10] The corps was composed of conscripted men who had been registered as non-combatants by tribunals. [11] Unlike in the Great War, there were also enlisted members of the NCC who had been deemed not physically competent for combatant service. [12] This gave the Corps less of a stigma than it had twenty five years earlier. It was divided into 14 companies, commanded mostly by veteran officers of the First World War and reservists. During the course of the war 6,766 men served in the NCC, of whom 465 volunteered to specialise in bomb disposal, on attachment to the Royal Engineers but remaining in the NCC. In 1944-45 some volunteered for transfer to the Royal Army Medical Corps, while retaining their non-combatant status, in order to join Parachute Field Ambulance units dropped over France on and after D-Day. Others worked in army stores, transport, agriculture, forestry, or on other projects 'not involving the handling of military material of an aggressive nature'. As in WW1, the NCC was part of the army, not a civilian unit. During the war some members of the NCC renounced their conscientious objector status in order to serve in combat roles, sometimes as examples of German war crimes came to public attention, [13] just as some men who had originally accepted call-up into the ordinary armed forces changed their minds, and claimed conscientious objection.

Bomb disposal Activity to dispose of and render safe explosive munitions and other materials

Bomb disposal is an explosives engineering profession using the process by which hazardous explosive devices are rendered safe. Bomb disposal is an all-encompassing term to describe the separate, but interrelated functions in the military fields of explosive ordnance disposal (EOD) and improvised explosive device disposal (IEDD), and the public safety roles of public safety bomb disposal (PSBD) and the bomb squad.

Royal Engineers corps of the British Army

The Corps of Royal Engineers, usually just called the Royal Engineers (RE), and commonly known as the Sappers, is one of the corps of the British Army.

Royal Army Medical Corps military unit

The Royal Army Medical Corps (RAMC) is a specialist corps in the British Army which provides medical services to all Army personnel and their families, in war and in peace. The RAMC, the Royal Army Veterinary Corps, the Royal Army Dental Corps and Queen Alexandra's Royal Army Nursing Corps form the Army Medical Services.

The Corps was disbanded for a second time when conscription finally came to an end in 1963.

In the fictional television series Danger UXB , Private John Brinckley, a Quaker, is a member of the WW2 NCC. Assigned to Lieutenant Brian Ash's 347 Section of 97 Tunnelling Company, Brinckley reconsiders his objections to war and requests reassignment to the Royal Engineers. He later is sent to Officers Candidate School, is commissioned, and is trained as a bomb disposal officer. The storyline derives from an actual WW2 NCC member who took that path.

<i>Danger UXB</i> television series

Danger UXB is a 1979 British ITV television series set during the Second World War developed by John Hawkesworth and starring Anthony Andrews as Lieutenant Brian Ash, an officer in the Royal Engineers.

Related Research Articles

Non-combatant is a term of art in the law of war and international humanitarian law to refer to civilians who are not taking a direct part in hostilities. They are persons, such as combat medics and military chaplains, who are members of the belligerent armed forces but are protected because of their specific duties ; combatants who are placed hors de combat; and neutral persons not involved in fighting for one of the belligerents involved in a war. This particular status was first recognized under the Geneva Conventions with the First Geneva Convention of 1864.

Corporal is a military rank in use in some form by many militaries and by some police forces or other uniformed organizations. Within NATO, each member nation's corresponding military rank of corporal is combined under the NATO-standard rank scale code OR-3 or OR-4. However, there are often differences in how each nation employs corporals. Some militaries don't have corporals, but may instead have a Junior Sergeant.

Conscription Crisis of 1917

The Conscription Crisis of 1917 was a political and military crisis in Canada during World War I. It was mainly caused by disagreement on whether men should be conscripted to fight in the war, but also brought out many issues regarding relations between French Canadians and English Canadians. Almost all French Canadians opposed conscription; they felt that they had no particular loyalty to either Britain or France. Led by Henri Bourassa, they felt their only loyalty was to Canada. English Canadians supported the war effort as they felt stronger ties to the British Empire. On January 1, 1918, the Unionist government began to enforce the Military Service Act. The act caused 404,385 men to be liable for military service, from which 385,510 sought exemption.

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Military service Performing the service in the armed forces of a state

Military service is service by an individual or group in an army or other militia, whether as a chosen job (volunteer) or as a result of an involuntary draft (conscription).

Compulsory military training (CMT), a form of conscription, was practised for males in New Zealand between 1909 and 1972. Prior to and after this period military training in New Zealand has been voluntary.

Reservist military personnel in a reserve capacity (not employed on full-time active duty)

A reservist is a person who is a member of a military reserve force. They are otherwise civilians, and in peacetime have careers outside the military. Reservists usually go for training on an annual basis to refresh their skills. This person is usually a former active-duty member of the armed forces, and they remain a reservist either voluntarily, or by obligation. In some countries such as Israel, Norway, Singapore, and Switzerland, reservists are conscripted soldiers who are called up for training and service when necessary.

Center on Conscience & War

The Center on Conscience & War (CCW) is a United States non-profit anti-war organization located in Washington, D.C. dedicated to defending and extending the rights of conscientious objectors. The group participates in the G.I. Rights Hotline, and works against all forms of conscription. There are no charges for any of CCW's services.

The End Conscription Campaign was an anti-apartheid organisation allied to the United Democratic Front (UDF) and composed of conscientious objectors and their supporters in South Africa. It was formed in 1983 to oppose the conscription of all white South African men into military service in the South African Defence Force.

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The Royal Pioneer Corps was a British Army combatant corps used for light engineering tasks. It was formed in 1939 and amalgamated into the Royal Logistic Corps in 1993. Pioneer units performed a wide variety of tasks in all theatres of war, including stretcher-bearing, handling all types of stores, laying prefabricated track on beaches, and effecting various logistical operations. Under Royal Engineers supervision, they constructed airfields and roads and erected bridges; they constructed the Mulberry Harbour and laid the Pipe Line Under the Ocean (PLUTO).

No-Conscription Fellowship

The No-Conscription Fellowship was a British pacifist organization which was founded in London by Fenner Brockway and Clifford Allen on 27 November 1914, after the First World War had failed to reach an early conclusion. Other prominent supporters included John Clifford, Bruce Glasier, Bertrand Russell, Robert Smillie and Philip Snowden.

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Richmond Sixteen group of "absolutist" English conscientious objectors during the First World War

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Conscience: Taxes for Peace Not War is an advocacy group based in the United Kingdom. Conscience's primary aim is to change British tax law to allow conscientious objectors to military taxation to redirect the military portion of their taxes to a fund designed for international peacebuilding, conflict management, conflict prevention and other non-violent interventions. Quakers, Mennonites, Ba'hais, Buddhists, Jehovah's Witnesses, Seventh Day Adventists and Haredim Jews all practice conscientious objection for reasons of faith. Many other individuals do so for reasons of conscience, some believing there is little moral difference between actually firing lethal weapons and paying someone else to do so. Conscience believes that to deny these individuals the right to redirect the military portion of their taxes is to deny them freedom of thought, conscience, and religion as enshrined in various national and international human rights laws.

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While the Republic of Korea's Constitution states that all citizens, regardless of gender, sex, political or religious affiliation, should be afforded equal treatment under the law, some scholars, such as Intaek Hwang, claim that the culture of militarism is so pervasive that Conscientious Objectors are stripped of the rights discussed in the Constitution when universal male conscription became the law in 1948. A Conscientious Objector is defined as "an individual who has claimed the right to refuse to perform military service on the grounds of freedom of thought, conscience and or religion" by the United Nation's Human Rights Commission. Since the signing of the Conscription Law in 1949, stating that every male 18 years of age must serve in the military, Conscientious Objectors, when found, are arrested and subject to violent punishments.


  1. Felicity Goodall, A Question of Conscience: Conscientious Objection in the Two World Wars (Stroud UK, 1997)
  2. Denis Hayes, Challenge of Conscience, Allen & Unwin (London UK, 1949)
  3. BBC News, Conscientious objectors in prison dated 4 November 2009
  4. 1 2 Hansard, House of Commons debate 13 August 1919, (Volume 119, cc1292-3)
  5. Hansard, House of Commons debate 6 March 1918, (Volume 103, cc1958-9)
  6. 1 2 Michael Snape, God and the British Soldier: Religion and the British Army in the First and Second World Wars (Routledge, 7 May 2007), 193.
  7. Jeremy Paxman, Great Britain's Great War (Penguin UK, 3 Oct 2013).
  8. 1 2 Ann Kramer, Conscientious Objectors of the First World War: A Determined Resistance (Pen and Sword, 30 Nov 2014), 74-77.
  9. Alan Wilkinson, The Church of England and the First World War (Lutterworth Press, 30 Jan 2014), 49.
  10. Rachel Barker, Conscience, Government and War: Conscientious Objection in Great Britain 1939-1945 (London, 1982), 24-6.
  11. Rachel Barker, Conscience, Government and War: Conscientious Objection in Great Britain 1939-1945 (London, 1982), 78-85.
  12. Imperial War Museum - BRITAIN'S HOME FRONT 1939 - 1945: NON-COMBATANT CORPS
  13. Ernest Spring, Conchie: The Wartime Experiences of a Conscientious Objector (London, 1975), 12-42.

See also