Conscience and War

Sunday, May 15, 2016 to Sunday, June 12, 2016

until 12 June – The untold stories of Manchester Quakers who resisted WW1. An Exhibition marking the centenary of the introduction of conscription in 1916. http://www.meetinghousemanchester.co.uk/conscience-war-untold-stories-ma...
Friends Meeting House, 6 Mount Street, Manchester M2 5NS

Remembering the men who said 'No!'

Sunday, June 5, 2016

Commemoration of Conscientious Objection in York during World War 1.
Particularly remembering Alexander Gardner and Alfred Martlew, who is buried in Bishopthorpe Churchyard
St Andrews Parish Church, Bishopthorpe, United Kingdom (Church Hall), York 2.30 – 4.30

From The Tribunal of March 23 1916

This is the third in a series of extracts from the No Conscription Fellowship’s journal, published in the UK between March 1916 and November 1918
For other extracts go to: http://nfpb.org.uk/tribunal


Probably the most glaring instance of crass ignorance on the part of the individuals who are “judging” conscience is the fact that the great majority of them appear to have not the remotest idea of the meaning of the word. From all over the country we hear of cases where conscientious objectors, in replay to the usual question, “What is your religion?” declare that they have no particular religion; their claims are based on moral grounds. In ninety per cent of the cases the retort comes triumphantly from the tribunal, “Then you can’t have a conscience!”

For instance, on March 16th, before the Birmingham Tribunal, a conscientious objector described himself as an Agnostic. The military representative at once asked the applicant whether, considering his Agnostic views, he could have a conscience? When the applicant replied that he considered such a questions impertinent, the military representative defined conscience as “something connected with religion.”

We could fill columns with similar instances. If you do not belong to any particular denomination you cannot have a conscience; if you do happen to claim allegiance to any system of faith, you are immediately informed that thousands of individuals professing the same faith are already fighting: therefore your claim cannot be allowed!

We suggest to the L.G.B. that a cheap dictionary be sent to every tribunal, with the following definitions clearly marked:


March 23 1916

Northern Friends Peace Board - 1913-2013 - The first 100 years

This is the text of a booklet published to mark our centenary. A PDF of the booklet can be downloaded and some printed copies are still available from our office -see our main page for contact details . (Further resources relating to our centenary )

In January 1913, the Quaker Quarterly Meetings of Yorkshire, Lancashire and Cheshire, Durham, Cumberland and Westmorland held a peace conference in York that was to lead to the setting up of the Northern Friends Peace Board.

The beginning

The Quakers minuted that the Board’s ‘special duty would be to advise and encourage Friends in the North, and through them their fellow Christians and citizens generally in the active promotion of peace in all its height and breadth.’ Since then it has had a full time paid worker – originally called Organising Secretary and now Co-ordinator – with funding and appointed representatives coming from Friends Meetings throughout the North of Britain.

Motivating factors

The accelerating arms race, deteriorating international situation and a growing sense of society becoming increasingly militarised were strong motivating factors for the Friends who set up the Board. At the end of their first year, they wrote “We are determined to maintain, as an integral part of our religious faith, our abhorrence of war, and not to whittle down in any way our testimony that it is a violation of the divine laws of human fellowship.” In that same annual report, the areas of work set out for Robert Long, the first Secretary, included promoting knowledge and enthusiasm for Quaker principles, influencing public opinion, providing speakers, organising lectures and conferences, promoting study activities, distributing literature and even ‘Provision and equipment of Peace vans to go on tour’.

The First World War

Within a few months, the first world war had broken out and the following years were a real test of the very new organisation. They rose to the occasion, but as well as the practical difficulties of meeting and of producing literature (due to wartime conditions) members of the Board were conscripted, some undertaking alternative service and at least one spending time in prison. Support for conscientious objectors and for so-called ‘enemy aliens’ detained in the UK, were other important tasks that the Friends undertook.

In speaking their truth, they decided to ignore the war-time regulations obliging any published material to be submitted to the Censor. The Board seems to have proved its worth by the end of the war, with Friends nationally recognising the important role it had in communicating a Quaker peace message.

Between the wars

The period after the war was not easy for NFPB , with finances being continually under pressure. But the Board took an active and leading role amongst and beyond Quakers, making determined efforts to share its vision with other churches, at demonstrations and large gatherings.

Muriel Shearer, a former Liverpool Friend recollected in the 1990s her experience as a young NFPB member in the 1920s when she organised shuttle-transport for speakers between two city-centre venues, as one was not big enough to hold the audience that wanted to hear them. As part of their continuing witness against militarism, they spoke at open-air meetings and armistice-day events, for example.

A tangible and lasting record of this scale of activity is the collection of posters that are housed in the NFPB archives, coupled with the facts and figures set out in the Board’s annual reports in the 1920s and 1930s. Tens, and sometimes hundreds of thousands of posters and leaflets were distributed in Britain and abroad. The focus of many of these were on issues of disarmament and pacifism and its basis in faith and love.

Educational Activities

As well as campaigning in the public sphere, the Board committed itself to more educational materials and activities. The Board was already viewing peace in a broader sense, giving time to consider, alongside its core concerns, issues such as racial tensions in America and the legacy of slavery and the ethics of investments that were linked with the arms industry. Board members joined others in promoting a critical awareness of and investing hope in the League of Nations.

As the international situation deteriorated in the 1930s, some NFPB members developed work to maintain and strengthen relations between young people from Britain, France and Germany.

Their work within Britain continued at an impressive level, with one Friend undertaking ‘Motor Tours’ of the North, speaking to Quakers and wider audiences – particularly those in nonconformist churches – at stops along the way. Others were keen to develop links with schools and on adult education bodies.

The 2nd World War

With the outbreak of war again in 1939, Friends faced similar challenges to those encountered earlier in the century. This time, they had a track-record and experience of working in war-time conditions to draw on. As before, travel and resource restrictions affected the work. Alongside these, Friends faced social and political pressure and so the posters produced during this time had a change of tone, stating principles from a moral basis.

Throughout the war, Friends again faced the dilemmas raised by conscription. The Board played a key role in providing information and advice to Friends – and in particular to young men and their families – and undertaking advocacy regarding alternative, non-military service.

‘Peace by Negotiation’ was a strong strand of the work towards the end of the war, an issue on which the Board campaigned with a wider network of peace organisations. From early in the war, the Board and its members turned their minds to thinking about what next, after the war. Leaflets, lectures and study notes on this and similar themes were tools used for engaging with Friends and others.

The horror of the use of atomic weapons against Japan was very obviously a vast and new moral challenge facing humanity that we have since come to live with as a familiar but terrifying backdrop. Critical minds in the Board were also able to see that the signing of the United Nations charter was in some ways just entrenching the vested interests and armaments of the Great Powers; again, we have seen this legacy continuing right up to our current times.

Robert Long, the Board’s first Secretary, retired in 1942. Stanley Farrar took on the paid role having already served as an active and influential Board member. The world was changed by the war and the Board’s new Secretary brought fresh energy and commitment in helping them face the new challenges with a ‘message of hope, without which the ravages of war cannot be healed’.

Continuation of conscription

An area of ongoing concern after the war for NFPB was the continuation of conscription for a further 15 years. Throughout that period, this was a major focus for the work and activity of NFPB. Along with other peace organisations, they produced literature, posters, made public statements and wrote to the government on the issue. More particularly, they made an effort to contact and support young male Friends and those attending Quaker schools, making them aware of the options for exemption from military service. This involved writing personal letters to all Friends of the age leading up to recruitment and running a series of conferences over a number of years.

Once conscription had ended, Friends began to address the fact that some of their taxes were still being used for military purposes and at one time in the early 60s promoted the idea that Friends might covenant a proportion of their income towards peaceful purposes.

East-West tensions

Friends were deeply concerned about the continuing and growing mutual suspicion in international affairs that developed after the war. A number of strands of activity arose from this. Whilst working to support Friends and others in Britain in reflecting and acting for peace in this country, NFPB became increasingly involved in international peace networks. Some of its key committee members and its Secretary, Arthur Booth, took an active role in the work of, for example, the International Peace Bureau. They saw this as an important vehicle for developing an international peace voice.

With growing tensions between the East and West of Europe, this period also saw the first contacts with the official Peace Committee of the Soviet Union. One Board member visited the country in the early 50s and talked with Friends about his experiences afterwards, but it was not until the 1980s that this area of bridge-building work developed as a key part of NFPB’s peace witness.

Britain’s role in the nuclear arms race

From the end of the war onwards, the development and testing of nuclear weapons became a major concern. During the early 1950s, NFPB produced leaflets and other materials on the issue, drawing attention to the questions regarding the peaceful development of atomic energy. Posters on this were in great demand. As the decade progressed, NFPB sought ways of supporting Friends’ involvement in the many burgeoning local disarmament campaigning groups across the region. Some of these Friends were involved in nonviolent direct action and were imprisoned for that, their accounts of their experiences at NFPB meetings making a powerful impact.

The Board and its members supported a range of other demonstrations and acts of witness, from the Aldermaston marches to a large meeting for worship and public meeting at a base at Breighton in East Yorkshire, where missiles were to be sited. These actions were supplemented by conferences and letters to the press. In the early 1960s the first silent vigils, now such a staple for Quaker peace witness, were being held in town centres.

Talking & listening

In the 1960s NFPB began to explore different ways of working. Whilst pamphlets, posters and speakers continued to be important tools for communication and awareness-raising, Friends were trying out the use of film and audio materials, more informal discussion meetings to ‘take the pulse’ of Friends in their different areas and thinking about the psychology of how people can be inspired and encouraged to take action for change, how to make peace witness effective and the introduction of the first NFPB logo (or ‘sales symbol’, as it was known at the time).

Monthly Meetings became the bodies which appointed Representatives to the Board rather than Quarterly Meetings and consideration was therefore given to strengthening links with Friends in their areas and to whether some work could be devolved to regional NFPB groups.

Making wider connections

During the post WW2 period, whilst much of the focus of the Peace Movement was inevitably on the cold war and nuclear weapons, there were also other significant changes in geopolitics. NFPB took a particular interest in post-colonial developments in West Africa for a while, with young diplomats from Nigeria visiting Northern Britain, for example. There were also links of solidarity with Vietnamese peace activists during the Vietnam war, with moral and financial support being given.

Arthur Booth, NFPB’s Secretary from 1956-76 left one particular lasting legacy; the book ‘Orange and Green’ which he co-wrote with Northern Irish Quaker Denis Barritt. This book built on links between NFPB and those working for peace in Northern Ireland as ‘the troubles’ built up during the late 1960s and early 1970s. It became an important resource for those seeking to understand the background to the conflict, even being issued to British soldiers ahead of their deployment in the province.

From fear to bridge-building

East-West tensions developed yet further, and a reading of the Annual Reports of the late 70s and early 80s reminds us of how fearful people were of what seemed like the very real prospect of nuclear war.

The Board once again took an active role in supporting the re-emergence of peace groups in response to these growing tensions. It also continued to seek and to promote alternatives to armed conflict and the arms industry. For example, they were keen to spread awareness of the Lucas Aerospace shop stewards’ proposals for nonmilitary industrial production. One Friend took a particular interest in Costa Rica, a country without an army, and the Board published a booklet about this.

The area of activity that marked this period most notably (during which Roland Dale served as Secretary) was inter-visitation between Friends and British peace activists and representatives of peace committees from the Soviet Union and other Warsaw Pact countries. This was extremely demanding and not without difficulties, with differences in opinion about the right approach both between Friends and amongst the wider peace movement.

The publication ‘Towards a Quaker View of Russia’, brought the experiences and reflections of those Friends involved in this important bridge-building work to a wider audience.“This booklet is presented to you the reader as one small step along the increasingly populated path of reconciliation – a prerequisite for survival in our nuclear age.” From the introduction of Towards a Quaker View of Russia.

Change and refocus

By the mid 1980s, with other peace organisations having become larger and more numerous, the Board felt the need to step back and to reflect on its role. It became clear that it was important again to develop a distinctive Quaker role and to return to the Board’s founding minute. Alongside a commitment to strengthen and nurture the Quaker basis to the work and links with Quaker Meetings in the North, it took a broader approach to peace that encompassed social and environmental concerns.

Workshops were seen as an important vehicle for Friends to work together in learning and reflecting and in developing skills for peace work. NFPB members, supported by Co-ordinator Marion McNaughton and later by her successors, facilitated a range of workshops for Friends and others.

A youth-work project, support for the growth of Alternatives to Violence Project and travelling in listening ministry were other significant new strands. The Board as a community of Friends that supported peacenetworking and action was nurtured by residential retreats, walks of witness and more reflective sessions at Board meetings.

Peace dividend?

The post cold-war period briefly held the promise of a ‘peace dividend’; but global affairs are never that simple. NFPB continued to seek and create opportunities for speaking out and for witness, from the ‘Not in my name’ message on the badges produced by the Board in the build-up to the 1991 Gulf War to numerous acts of witness and involvement in peace demonstrations since. Electronic communications and the world wide web have played a key role in gathering and disseminating information and ideas and in linking people together. Longer-term witness, political engagement and protest has focused on a number of key issues, from Trident nuclear weapons in Scotland to the use of bases in Yorkshire for the US Missile Defence system and most recently the use of armed drones. The regular Meetings for Worship at bases connected with these have provided an important focus for Quaker witness. NFPB members have also supported more challenging direct action, such as blockading at Faslane, alongside letterwriting, organising meetings etc, that have always been key components of work for change.

Roots of conflict

NFPB continued to look at the roots of conflict and at supporting non-violent means of addressing it. Internationally, this has included the conflicts in the Balkans and the Middle East. Closer to home, workshops on ‘Building a Culture of Peace’ and a number of large events focusing on building peace in our own diverse communities have been key parts of our programme. We have begun work on the concern of ‘Sustainable Security’, working with others in promoting understanding and action on the economic and environmental conditions that need to be addressed as the conditions of peace, alongside disarmament and nonviolence.

Looking forward

As we enter our centenary year, we see many strands of concern and action that have been part of NFPB’s work and life over the years. In recent decades, this spectrum and variety has been affirmed in resources such as the 1994 video ‘Visions of Peace’ and in ‘The Peace Papers’ published in 2000. NFPB members meet throughout each year in worship and with an eagerness to support the continued expression of ‘peace in all its height and breadth’.

In preparing for the centenary we have been inspired to read and to learn about our predecessors, and we hope that this short account of just some of their activities will similarly inspire you. This year is a chance to express our profound gratitude for the Friends who first established the Board and for all those whose faithfulness and dedication have contributed to its life, witness and work in so many ways.

New challenges arise, our membership changes and new leadings emerge. The world and the Society of Friends both differ dramatically from how they were in 1913, but the same spirit and vision have driven the work over the 100 years since. We look forward to continuing the journey, wherever it might take us, facing these new challenges and finding new ways of giving life to the belief that another way is both possible and vital, and that we all have a role to play in putting this faith into action.

From The Tribunal of March 15 1916

This is the second in a series of extracts from the No Conscription Fellowship’s journal, published in the UK between March 1916 and November 1918
For other extracts go to: http://nfpb.org.uk/tribunal


“The local authority, in making their appointments to the tribunals, should bear in mind that the tribunal will have to hear, among the applications, those made on the grounds of conscientious objection. MEN WHO APPLY SHOULD FEEL THAT THEY ARE BEING JUDGED BY A TRIBUNAL THAT WILL DEAL FAIRLY WITH THEIR CASES.” Mr Walter Long in L.G.B Circular.


A member of the Oldham Tribunal, referring to conscientious objectors, said he was not often ashamed of his fellow-men, but he so with men such as those before him.

At Huddersfield two Socialists claimed on conscience grounds and were granted exemption fro combatant service only, the military representative (Captain Bradbury) remarking: These men are a great evil and will hinder recruiting if they are left.

At the Salford Tribunal the Chairman refused to allow Principal Graham to explain certain points in connection with the belief of the Society of Friends, remarking that “they could not listen to arguments.”

Sir Joseph Sykes Tymer, at York Tribunal: “I think God has made a great mistake in sending you to earth before the Millenium.” Of course, he was speaking to a conscientious objector.

The Chairman of Wirral Tribunal: I wish the Government had not put this clause about conscientious objectors in the Act. I don’t agree with it myself.

March 15 1916

NFPB Update November 2015

NFPB meetings

Northern Friends Peace Board has met three times during 2015. Its fourth and final meeting of the year will be in Lancaster on 28th November. Previous meetings have been in Perth, Leeds and Glasgow. After our meetings in Scotland NFPB members joined with Scottish Friends for Meetings for Worship at the Faslane naval base (and home of Trident nuclear submarine). In Leeds we joined Leeds Friends in a public witness for the non-renewal of the UK nuclear weapons’ system, Trident. This concern will also be on our agenda at our Lancaster meeting.
Interested Friends and Attenders are welcome to join us at our meetings to consider these and other areas of concern. Contact the NFPB office (see overleaf) for further information.

h3. Challenging Militarism, then and now.

As well as the Meetings for Worship at Faslane mentioned above, there are regular Meetings at Menwith Hill and at Fylingdales. Our website calendar has information about these.
NFPB has been part of a working group of peace bodies that have worked together to promote and produce resources for the Global Day of Action on Military Spending. This will be taking place again in mid-April 2016 and it could be timely if readers want to begin planning for that.
NFPB Members and other Friends have been busy developing resources that mark the centenary of the first world war, with a
particular focus on the introduction of conscription in 1916. Events and resources are publicised via our website calendar and social media sites.

h3. Building Peace in Diverse Britain

We ran a second young people’s event earlier this year, bringing teenagers together for a day of workshops and discussion on the theme of ‘Young people, peace and community’. This brought our most recent phase of work on this concern to a close and a report of the last five years’ work was published at the end of September (see http://bit.ly/20tuHwQ) .
NFPB members have expressed a strong hope that we can continue to develop this strand of our work and we are currently looking for new members to join the project group. We were pleased to be able to share this work at the recent conference in London on Interfaith Peacebuilding, organised by the Quaker Committee on Christian and Interfaith Relationships.

h3. Alternative approaches to building security

Before the UK General Election we produced and distributed a short leaflet encouraging candidates to engage in thinking around building security through non-military means. Using the title ‘Security for the Common Good’, we have subsequently adapted the leaflet for Friends and others to use with sitting MPs, and with members of the Government. Copies are available to download from http://nfpb.org.uk/genel2015 and in printed form from the NFPB office. At our NFPB meeting in Perth we considered the ‘Ammerdown Invitation’ document and encourage others to explore and respond to these issues. The text can be found at: : “Security for the future: in search of a new vision” – http://bit.ly/ZdILQ2
Our project group on Sustainable security is planning a spring conference to give support to Friends and others in engaging with media around these concerns. We shall publish details of that event in due course.

h3. Gathering, networking and sharing information

We are keen to support small and informal regional NFPB gatherings, for Friends and Attenders to spend time sharing concerns and information, engaging in some joint activity, in worship and over a shared lunch … or whatever else Friends would find helpful. If you would like to discuss hosting one of these, please contact Philip Austin at the NFPB office.
Our website and social media pages are regularly updated and we are always happy to hear from Friends with news and information that we can share with a wider audience using these tools.
We have for sale posters and postcards, as well as tea-towels, that were initially produced for our NFPB Centenary in 2013. Follow this link – for an order form (http://bit.ly/1Mco6Ny) – or phone the NFPB office for information. If you would like some of these for an event on a sale or return basis, we would be happy to supply these.

h3. NFPB Trustees review

Our Executive Committee, which acts as the trustee body or NFPB, had a short residential meeting at the end of October. They considered current and anticipated priorities and challenges. They also, since they were meeting at Swarthmoor Hall, took the opportunity to meet with local Friends. This was a chance to hear and explore a range of peace concerns, with the issue of Trident submarine production at neighbouring Barrow in Furness being particularly high on the agenda.

We sometimes appoint as trustees Friends who have not been NFPB representatives. If you are interested in possible service in this or other capacities (including Clerking) with NFPB, please do get in touch.

Thank you Friends for your continuing support.

File attachments: 
PDF icon nfpb_update_november_2015.pdf289.07 KB

NFPB Update, March 2016

h3. European Connections

In November we were represented at the Peace and Service Consultation near Brussels for Friends in Europe and the Middle East. Taking place against a backdrop of the security clampdown in the city after the Paris attacks , the gathering agreed a short statement, which can be read in full at: http://www.fwccemes.org/news/european-quakers-call-for-an-end-to-the-cyc...
The statement concludes: “The faith that led us over the past centuries to deny war, oppose slavery, support conscientious objection, help rescue Jewish children in the 1930s, care for refugees and rebuild war-torn Europe, impels us today to pledge ourselves to serve our neighbours, whoever and wherever they may be, and to take a principled stand against the belief that violence is the solution to conflict.
“We call on those in power to reject military responses, and adopt non-violent strategies to bring about stability and safety for all people.”

h3. Militarism and military spending – asking questions and promoting alternatives

NFPB is again supporting the Global Day of Action on Military Spending, which this year will be on 18th April and is now part of an ongoing Global Campaign On Military Spending. We are linking with a range of other peace
organisations to encourage awareness and action on the issue. There are a number of resources for people to learn more and suggestions for taking action at: https://demilitarize.org.uk
The wider context of militarism more generally was the subject of a recent seminar in Leeds, at which we were well represented. This was the first of a series of preparatory meetings around the world that will feed into an international conference in Berlin in the early autumn on the theme of “Disarm! For a Climate of Peace – Creating an Action Agenda”.

h3. Veterans for Peace

We have met recently with members of Veterans for Peace, an organisation of former servicemen and women dedicated to the abolition of war. Their members’ wartime experiences range from World War 2 through to Afghanistan. They are are available and keen to run school workshops that focus on three questions;
1. Why join the army?
2. What is army training like?
3. What is war like?
They help the students to find answers to these questions through their own experiences and the use of video.
If you are interested and require more information please email [email protected]

h3. Tea towels – organic and green

We have reprinted our tea-towels – with the quotation from William Penn – on organic and fair-trade cotton. The new printing has the checked border in green rather than red and are still available for £5 each plus P&P.
Go to: http://nfpb.org.uk/news/2015-12-1/peace-tea-towels

h3. Engaging with media on peace concerns

We are planning a day conference on how we can engage with news and other media in asking questions and putting forward alternative approaches to security in our interlinked and inter-dependent world. The conference is due to take place in Darlington on Saturday 11th June – see our website at http://nfpb.org.uk/mediaconf for more details as they become available.

h3. WW1 Centenary – focus on conscience and choices

Northern Friends continue to play a part in planning and putting on a range of materials and activities that explore the challenges to conscience during the 1914-18 war. In Hexham, the theme Voices and Choices provided a framework for the town’s twin communities in France and Germany, Noyen and Metzingen, to join as three communities remembering the individual choices made during World War 1 and reflect on the decisions we face 100 years later. A fortnight of activities during November saw an exhibition, music, and talks and discussions on both past and current issues of militarism.
In February, Friends in East Cheshire focussed specifically on the relevance of the introduction of conscription in 1916. An exhibition shown in Macclesfield throughout the ten days was supplemented by workshops for families and a storytelling performance.

h3. NFPB Meetings

At the end of November NFPB members gathered in Lancaster for their final meeting of the year, with Robin Bowles completing his second term as Clerk. We were pleased to be joined by Friends from Lancaster and the region, hearing from them about their concerns and action on social justice. Brian Larkin, from the Edinburgh Peace and Justice Centre, talked about the range of their work on current peace education and Trident-related concerns, as well as the progress of their plans to have a memorial to conscientious objectors placed in a prominent location in the city.
The NFPB Executive, who serve as Trustees, spent two days at Swarthmoor Hall in October, taking stock of our current work and looking ahead. They also took the opportunity to meet with local Friends, with the links between neighbouring Barrow-in-Furness and the possible renewal of Trident forming a key focus for discussion. From that exploration and sharing of perspectives, a small group is looking at ways of developing further work on the interlinked issues of job-security, austerity, climate change and nuclear disarmament. Some proposals for how this might be taken forward in the Barrow area will be considered when the Board meets again, in Nottingham on 5th March.

h3. Sowing the Seeds of Peace

NFPB joined with South Manchester Friends to facilitate a weekend workshop at Glenthorne in November. The weekend was a mix of reflection, discussion, listening and worship. With the violent attacks in Paris fresh in people’s minds, the group explored the challenges and opportunities for building and taking action for peace, drawing inspiration from our Quaker heritage and from new insights and cultures in Britain today.
If other meetings would like help in planning an event on a peace theme, from a half-day to a whole weekend, please do get in touch.

File attachments: 
PDF icon nfpb_update_march_2016.pdf249.07 KB

From The Tribunal, 8th March 1916

This is the first in a series of extracts from the No Conscription Fellowship’s journal, published in the UK between March 1916 and November 1918

Extract from The Tribunal 1st Issue – March 8th 1916 Edited by W J Chamberlain


The object of the “Tribunal” will be to acquaint our members and the general public with those facts concerning the Military Service Act which receive scant attention from the daily press just because they provide the gravest indictment of that Act.

The mass of evidence of scandalous maladministration of the Act, which we shall publish will, we hope, be of some assistance to all who are fighting with us for its repeal. Our greatest difficulty will be lack of space. We must ask the indulgence of our readers in this matter, and urge them to consider that paper is very dear, and that heavy demands are already being made upon our funds. Perhaps this hint will be taken so seriously by many of our supporters that our next issue will have grown!

We know we can rely upon our Branch Secretaries and members generally to do their utmost to secure us the widest possible circulation, and to place the paper in the hands of those who should be in possession of the facts recorded.



The administration of the Military Service Act must be at once challenged. The Act recognises conscience, and calls upon the conscientious objector to lay his case before Tribunals. Accordingly, some 10,000 members of the No-Conscription Fellowship and other bodies have sent in claims for exemption. The Tribunals, however, notwithstanding that Parliament has recognised conscience, seems to take the view that a conscientious objector, whatever his statement of belief, is a person to be rebuked, bullied, and condemned.

Presumably the Government intended a conscientious objection to be submitted either by word of mouth, or in writing: so far as we are aware, there is no other method of putting into effect the Government’s proposal. Tribunals, however, arrive at their decisions without regard to, or in direct conflict with everything the conscientious objector says or writes. If he argues Christianity he is told that he is a hypocrite; if his he argues Socialism he is told that he is a politician; if his replies are consistent, the indignation of the Tribunals is intensified. It is imperative that the Government should realise the serious position that will be created by this conflict between the method of the Tribunals and the intention of Parliament, as expressed in the Act.

The vast majority of conscientious objectors can make no distinction between combatant and non-combatant military service. If the firing of a rifle is wrong, the carrying of the ammunition is equally wrong. We have emphasised the contention in our recent letter to the President of the Local Government Board, while this belief of the conscientious objector was made abundantly clear to the Prime Minister during the passage of the Bill through Parliament. The Act was so drawn as to provide for the granting of absolute exemption to such applicants. Notwithstanding this, however, and regardless of the point of view of the claimant, non-combatant military service is invariably imposed by the Tribunals. The only possible result is that all conscientious objectors are appealing to the Appeals Tribunals.

It is probable that the Government may give more explicit for uniform and understanding treatment by the Appeals Tribunals. If, however, these higher Tribunals decline to grant absolute exemption and impose non-combatant service, the Government and the public must not for a moment suppose that the objector who claims exemption on grounds of conscience will then waive his conscience and accept a service which he believes to be wrong.

If the local Tribunals refuse even to recognise conscience, and the Appeal Tribunals maintain their decisions, the Government will ultimately have to face the problem of imposing penalties upon the conscientious objector. His belief, absurd and inconsiderate as it may be deemed, is so sincerely held, that he must and will suffer rather than be false to his faith.

It is well that this serious position arising from administration of the Act should at once be clearly understood.


NFPB has access to a nearly complete set of issues of The Tribunal, the journal published by the No Conscription Fellowship between March 1916 and November 1918. We will be publishing occasional extracts from these between March 2016 and November 2018. Our predecessors had close links with the No Conscription Fellowship and committed significant time and energy during the first world war to supporting those who faced tribunals and difficult choices on the basis of their conscientious objection to fighting. Readers might also find much of interest on the White Feather Diaries website , which “follows the lives of five young people who lived a century ago and opposed World War I”

Steven Waling has written about his choice of extracts here

For information about conscientious objection in the world today, the following links might be helpful:

Tribunal Extracts

Resistance to War 1914-1924

Friday, March 18, 2016 to Sunday, March 20, 2016

University of Leeds
This international conference brings together scholars from more than eleven nations and community groups from across the UK to explore aspects of opposition to the First World War during and in the aftermath of conflict.


Subscribe to RSS - WW1