First World War Conscientious Objector Workshop

In May 2016 the Everyday Lives in War Centre held a workshop to explore the experience of conscientious objectors before the Military Tribunals during the First World War. This event followed on from an event held in September 2015 which explored the value of the Military Tribunal records for local social and economic historians. You can see clips from that event here and below are links to excerpts from the talks at our May event. 

Introduction      Dr. Sarah Lloyd (University of Hertfordshire)

A welcome to the day and introducing the theme of the day, conscientious objection within that wider context of war resistance and the story of the Military Tribunals.

‘Communities of Resistance: new thoughts on British war resisters 1914 – 1918’

Cyril Pearce (University of Leeds)

Cyril Pearce explores the story of Conscientious Objection and the wider question of war resistance. He shows how a common purpose brought together men and women from different political, religious and social backgrounds to work together. Having been told that his home town of Huddersfield was ‘special’ because of the way war resistance continued throughout the war and was tolerated by the community, he then set out to discover whether the Huddersfield experience was unique or part of a bigger pattern of war resistance. In this talk he draws on individual stories to illustrate the different experiences of conscientious objection, and maps the patterns of resistance across the country. Cyril’s database of conscientious objectors is available to search for free at 

Clip 1.   How Cyril first became aware of the story of conscientious objection in Huddersfield

Clip 2.   How the issue of war resistance brought together men and women from a range of political, religious, social and economic backgrounds.

Clip 3.   Introduces his database of 18,003 men (as at May 2016) from across England, Wales and Scotland and how he mapped Conscientious Objection

Clip 4.   How mapping Conscientious Objection helps to raise new questions and reveal unknown stories.

Clip 5.   Conscientious Objection in Hertfordshire

Clip 6.   Refuge for Conscientious Objectors evading military service and the stone they left behind


‘Conscientious Objection in Hornsey, Tottenham and Wood Green

Valerie Flessati, John Hinshelwood, Jennifer Bell, Joanna Bornat  (Haringey First World War Peace Forum)                           

The Haringey First World War Peace Forum is a small working group in north London, researching the conscientious objectors who were associated with the districts of Hornsey, Tottenham and Wood Green (now comprising the London Borough of Haringey). In this talk members of the team give an update on what they have discovered about their own locality and the individuals who applied for exemption on grounds of conscience


Clip 1.   Valerie  gives an idea of sites of particular relevance to conscientious objection

Clip 2.  John puts Haringey in a wider Middlesex and London context

Clip 3.   John discusses the different ‘character’ of the three authorities which make up the London Borough of Haringey and how they compare to the wider county of Middlesex

Clip 4.   Jennifer tells the story of one individual who came before the tribunal


‘Watford’s Quiet Heroes’

Simon Colbeck (Watford Quakers)

Simon reflects on the experience of making a film which explored the story of some of those from Watford, in Hertfordshire, who applied for exemption on grounds of conscience. You can access the film at Simon has also written a blog on the events surrounding a meeting of the No Conscription Fellowship held in April 1916


Clip 1.   Simon introduces the background to the making of the film

Clip 2.   Simon discusses the legacy of First World War conscientious objection


‘The Richmond 16’

Eve Haskins (University of Leeds)

Eve is a member of the team led by Dr. Ingrid Sharp (University of Leeds) which is exploring social attitudes to conscientious objectors in the First World War. One strand of that project, funded by the Everyday Lives in War Centre, is a collaboration with English Heritage, supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund, to conserve and research the graffiti left by conscientious objectors imprisoned in Richmond Castle, Yorkshire. Updates on the project can be found at

Clip 1.   Eve introduces the project’s aims, including exploring changing public attitudes to Conscientious Objectors

Clip 2.   Eve talks about the poems and graffiti left on the walls of Richmond Castle by Conscientious Objectors

Clip 3.  Eve talks about the experiences of the Richmond 16, shipped to France and sentenced to be shot, and the changing public opinion which saw them reprieved.



‘Conscientious Objection in Staffordshire’

Rachel Cooksey (Staffordshire Archives)

Rachel is a member of the team working on the Mid-Staffordshire County Appeal Tribunal records. Supported by a grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund and a group of 75 volunteers they have been able to index the County Appeal records, Local Tribunal records and correspondence relating to applications for exemption from military service. and

Clip 1.   Rachel looks at the different arguments employed by conscientious objectors when applying for exemption and the material held in the archive

Clip 2.   Rachel talks about the high proportion of Christadelphians who were applying for exemption

Clip 3. Rachel talks about other groups who applied, the absence of Quakers and a letter showing how one man changed his mind.


‘Conscientious Objection in Hertfordshire’

Marion Hill (Hertfordshire Archives and Local Studies)

Marion is Learning and Access Officer at Hertfordshire Archives. Here she pulls out some of the threads which make up the story of conscientious objection in Hertfordshire, including the strong Quaker presence and the role played by the early supporters of the Garden City movement, including Ebenezer Howard and Sir Frederick Osborn. Hertfordshire archives holds some rich material on Quakers and those involved in the Garden City Movement, and you can search their catalogue at

Clip 1.   Marion looks at how Quaker history gave a strength to those applying for exemption

Clip 2.   Marion introduces the Garden City Movement and Ebenezer Howard’s view of the First World War during the First World War.

Clip 3.  Marion talks about Sir Frederick Osborn’s concern at the attitude of the Hertfordshire Tribunals.


Warwick District Appeal Tribunal

Philip Spinks (Independent Researcher working on behalf of the Dugdale Society)

Philip is working on the records of the Warwick District Appeal Tribunal which survived the 1921 Destruction order. The records are held at Warwickshire County Record Office . The Dugdale Society website can be found at  A blog by Philip on his project can be found at


Clip 1.   Philip introduces the Warwick District Appeal Tribunal and the small number of cases of applications on grounds of conscience.

Clip 2.   Philip talks about the case of one man, 51year old William Enright Liesching of the village of Snitterton


‘Consciences in Transition’

Dr. Sally Sokoloff

Sally Sokoloff is a former Head of History at the University of Northampton. She has worked extensively with the excellent records which survive from the Northamptonshire Appeals Tribunal. In this talk she considers what might be thought of as a ‘cold’ spot, Northampton County, where fewer applications from exemption were seen. You can see a blog from Sally on the value of the records as a source for local historians here and discover just what survives from the period in the Northamptonshire archives at


Clip 1.    Sally talks about how local tribunals were reluctant to give absolute exemptions to conscientious objectors, preferring to pass cases on to the County Appeal where the applicant was unhappy with a judgement which saw him refused in his appeal or sent to join the Non-Combatant Corps.

Clip 2.   Sally considers the case of one 19year old butcher’s assistant from a village in rural Northamptonshire.  

Clip 3.   The case of a young shoemaker from Long Buckby who served with the FAU in France and whose post-war history is unknown

Clip 4.   The experience of Seventh Day Adventists before the Tribunal and beyond.

Clip 5.   Sally concludes with some thoughts on how applications on grounds of conscience was a term which covered a range of behaviours and understanding

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