Conscientious objectors in the First World War remembered

A new digital archive is published online on the Imperial War Museum’s website to show how British pacifists who refused to serve in the First World War suffered for their principles

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

Updated Jul 28, 2015

The records of more than 16,500 men who refused to fight in the First World War on grounds of conscience have been published on the Imperial War Museum's Centenary memorial website.

Their letters, photographs, tribunal records and diaries, now can be seen at the world’s most comprehensive archive on the first world war objectors on IWM’s website.

IWM said “Before the First World War there had never been compulsory military service in Britain. The first Military Service Bill was passed into law in January 1916 following the failure of recruitment schemes to gain sufficient volunteers in 1914 and 1915. From March 1916, military service was compulsory for all single men in England, Scotland and Wales aged 18 to 41, except those who were in jobs essential to the war effort, the sole support of dependents, medically unfit, or ‘those who could show a conscientious objection’.

They added “This later clause was a significant British response that defused opposition to conscription. Further military service laws included married men, tightened occupational exemptions and raised the age limit to 50.”

Dan Snow, the historian and Lives of the First World War Ambassador, said "They made very brave decisions to stand up to the politicians and generals, and reject their call to arms.”

Imperial War Museum in London says the Pearce Register is the most comprehensive publicly available record of the stories of British men who refused to go to war on religious, ethical, political or social grounds.

He added “Now the IWM is quite rightly putting conscientious objectors on its fantastic and ambitious Lives of the First World War. Their inclusion is vital if we're to get a real snapshot of society as a whole."


TRTWorld and agencies