remembering conscientious objectors

by Outreach ~ April 29th, 2014. Filed under: News.

Last week the Guardian published an article interviewing three descendants of conscientious objectors. These descendants along with many others will be attending the International Conscientious Objectors’ day ceremony in Tavistock Square, London WC1, at noon on 15 May.

8 Million British men served as soldiers in World War One, a small proportion of around 16,000 refused to fight and registered as conscientious objectors. The three stories detailed in the article serve as a small window into the immediate and lifelong impact of becoming a conscientious objector.

Tom Attlee refused on the basis of his Christian beliefs and was sent to Wormwood scrubs for three months hard labour, followed by a year in Wandsworth prison. Apart from experiencing the hardship of prison life his wife and young family suffered as a single parent family, with a lack of income and support. However almost as difficult was the social stigma he endured once he had left prison. Tom was unable to continue his career as an architect and moved to away to Cornwall.

John Rickman upright

John Rickman

John Rickman a committed Quaker and pacifist served alternative service in a remote Russian field hospital treating injured soldiers where there were poor medical facilities and then as a psychiatrist treating traumatised men.

Sydney Silverman’s refusal was based on his socialist values and he endured two years of hard labour. After witnessing the execution of another man whilst in prison, Sydney spent his life campaigning against capital punishment. Upon leaving prison in 1919 he retrained as a lawyer to support and defend “ordinary workers, often working pro bono”.

All descendants of the objectors were proud of their ancestor’s bravery and commitment to their convictions in the face of social stigma and hardship. Equally they were proud of the ways in which they continued their lives after the war and helped others. The war had defined their lives through upholding their beliefs and their choice influenced them for the duration of their lives.

conscience will continue to follow the stories of conscientious objectors from World War One and view them as an opportunity to further educate and inform current generations about war and promote peace.

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