Military Wiki
Non-Combatant Corps
Active 1916-1920
Allegiance  United Kingdom
Branch  British Army
Role Non-combatant support in the army (logistics, supply, engineering, medical)
Size 14 companies (Second World War)
Engagements First World War
Second World War

The Non-Combatant Corps (NCC) was a corps of the British Army primarily composed of conscientious objectors. Its members fulfilled various non-combatant roles within the army during both the First World War and Second World War.[1]

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 in order to provide a military unit for conscientious objectors who had been conscripted.[2] It was commanded by regular army officers, and its members wore army uniforms and were subject to army discipline, but did not carry weapons or take part in battle.[3] Their duties were mainly to provide physical labour (building, cleaning, loading and unloading anything except munitions[4]) in support of the rest of the army, both in the British Isles and overseas. Conscientious objectors who refused to serve in the NCC were court martialled. Approximately 3,400 registered conscientious objectors accepted call-up into the NCC.

In a House of Commons debate on 13 August 1919, Winston Churchill stated that from the point of view of 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".[3] Enlisted members of the NCC received lower pay than most other soldiers and were generally held in low esteem by British society.[5][6] The Corps was disparagingly referred to as the 'No-Courage Corps' by some sections of the British press,[5] and as the 'Pick and Shovel Brigade' by The Times newspaper.[7] The NCC's establishment was opposed by the pacifist No-Conscription Fellowship.[7] The Corps was discriminated against when its members were refused the January 1919 army pay increase, and they were denied any final gratuity. The NCC was demobilized more slowly than combatants and it was not finally disbanded until January 1920.[8]

Second World War[]

The NCC was re-formed in August 1940, just over a year after conscription was reintroduced.[9] The corps was composed of both volunteers and conscripted individuals who had been put on the military service register as non-combatants by tribunals.[10] Unlike in the Great War, there were also enlisted members of the NCC who had been deemed not physically fit for combatant service.[11] This gave the Corps less of a stigma than it had twenty five years earlier. It was divided into 14 companies, mostly commanded by veteran officers of the First World War and reservists. Over the course of the war 6,766 men were part of the NCC, of whom 465 volunteered to specialise in bomb disposal. Others worked in army-run medical units, in agriculture, forestry, or on other projects 'not involving the handling of military material of an aggressive nature'. As in 1916 the NCC was regarded as part of the army, not a civilian unit. During the war many members of the NCC changed their conscientious objector status in order to serve in combat roles.[12] This was especially the case as examples of German war crimes came to public attention. The Corps was disbanded for a second time at the end of the Second World War.


  1. Felicity Goodall, A Question of Conscience: Conscientious Objection in the Two World Wars (Stroud UK, 1997).
  2. BBC News, Conscientious objectors in prison dated 4 November 2009
  3. 3.0 3.1 Hansard, House of Commons debate 13 August 1919, (Volume 119, cc1292-3)
  4. Hansard, House of Commons debate 6 March 1918, (Volume 103, cc1958-9)
  5. 5.0 5.1 Michael Snape, God and the British Soldier: Religion and the British Army in the First and Second World Wars (Routledge, 7 May 2007), 193.
  6. Jeremy Paxman, Great Britain's Great War (Penguin UK, 3 Oct 2013).
  7. 7.0 7.1 Ann Kramer, Conscientious Objectors of the First World War: A Determined Resistance (Pen and Sword, 30 Nov 2014), 74-77.
  8. Alan Wilkinson, The Church of England and the First World War (Lutterworth Press, 30 Jan 2014), 49.
  9. Rachel Barker, Conscience, Government and War: Conscientious Objection in Great Britain 1939-1945 (London, 1982), 24-6.
  10. Rachel Barker, Conscience, Government and War: Conscientious Objection in Great Britain 1939-1945 (London, 1982), 78-85.
  11. Imperial War Museum - BRITAIN'S HOME FRONT 1939 - 1945: NON-COMBATANT CORPS
  12. Ernest Spring, Conchie: The Wartime Experiences of a Conscientious Objector (London, 1975), 12-42.

See also[]

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