Quakers mark century of the right to refuse to kill

Saturday, 16 January 2016


In the midst of World War I, Quakers worked to ensure the recognition of the right to refuse to kill.

Faced with the colossal death toll, the British Government brought in conscription with The Military Service Act. Quakers worked with others for the clause giving men the right to conscientiously object to being forced into combat.

The centenary of this key moment in establishing freedom of conscience and individual rights will be marked with events in Westminster and Holyrood. Readings from the diaries of conscientious objectors will bring alive the plight of Quakers imprisoned for their conscience. Speakers will bring up to date Quakers’ historic commitment to nonviolence.

Paul Parker, Recording Clerk for Quakers in Britain said: “The courage of those men who were so often called cowards can still inspire us to work for a more peaceful world.”

In Edinburgh, Patrick Harvie MSP with Quakers in Scotland and the Edinburgh Peace and Justice Centre are inviting MSPs,  conscientious objectors and families of WWI conscientious objectors and representatives of faith groups  to an event on Thursday 28 January from 5.30 pm to 7.30 pm in the Burns Room at the Scottish Parliament.

The evening will hear from Trevor Royle, author of The Flowers of the Forest, and Edinburgh University historian Lesley Orr, along with presentations from conscientious objectors and the families of WW1 conscientious objectors. An exhibition includes work on conscientious objection by students from St Thomas Aquin’s High School, Edinburgh. Chairperson is Phil Lucas, Scottish Quaker Parliamentary Group.

In London, Quakers in Britain are inviting MPs, peers and ambassadors, descendants of conscientious objectors, representatives of faith groups and the charity sector to “Conscientious Objection: 100 years on”, at 6.00pm to  8.00pm, on Wednesday 27 January, in The Attlee Suite, Portcullis House, Houses of Parliament.

The evening will include

  • Introductions and thanks from MPs, Helen Goodman and Liz Saville Roberts
  • David Boulton, historian and journalist, author of Objection Overruled, on the significance of the conscientious objection clause
  • Rachel Brett, formerly Quaker representative to the United Nations, on global attitudes today to conscientious objection
  • Conscientious objectors (COs) on trial: re-enacting their tribunals and reading their diaries. Readings from writer and broadcaster, Geoffrey Durham
  • World War I in photographs
  • MPs, peers and others are invited to bring photos of COs in their families
  • Chairperson is Paul Parker, Recording Clerk for Quakers in Britain.

Attendance at both events is by invitation.

Media welcome to attend in Westminster or Holyrood. Requests for accreditation to annev [at] quaker.org.uk

Picture of conscientious objectors in Dyce workcamp from archiveshub.ac.uk. This Press & Journal article has a short history of this camp In Dyce, where 250 men broke chunks of granite in poor conditions, and where one inmate died.

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