The above hangs in my study. It is a copy of an application to a local tribunal to be a person provisionally registered in the Register of Conscientious Objectors. Betty was one of those elderly ladies who gets alongside you when you go to a new church. We moved to Southampton in 1992 and although we left in 1999, we stayed in touch with Betty. Sadly, it wasn’t until her funeral in 2017 that I discovered that she had been a conscientious objector in the second world war. As a pacifist myself, Betty’s application means a lot to me. In case you’re wondering why I’ve chosen to write about this, it’s because today is Conscientious Objectors’ Day. But firstly, let me say that this is not an apologetic for conscientious objection but rather a reflection upon it.
I don’t know if you’ve see the film ‘Field Punishment Number 1’? It’s the story of how, in 1916, the New Zealand Government secretly shipped to the Western Front 14 of the country’s most outspoken conscientious objectors in an attempt to convert, silence or quite possibly kill them. What intrigued me about the film was that some of the men were COs for moral reasons rather than faith ones. I’m not saying that you have to be a person of faith to have a moral conscience. The thing that got me, rather, was what was it that kept them going? Yes, it’s my faith that motivates my conscientious objection but it’s my faith that I would need to sustain me in those dark times of persecution.
Today’s International Conscientious Objectors’ Day is being marked with various online events:
National online ceremony at 12 noon – A minute’s silence, performances and speeches. Later in the day there will be events organised by groups in several cities around the UK. Edinburgh Peace and Justice Centre will hold an Online Vigil at 5.30pm including poems, reflections and stories. At 6pm, ‘All Voices for Peace’, an online ceremony organised by Leicester CND, Soka Gakkai, Community of Christ and others will feature stories about conscientious objectors of many religious and political traditions. More information can be found here: https://www.ppu.org.uk/international-conscientious-objectors-day
Finally, if you were a wartime CO, know one or have information about one, The Peace Research and Education Trust is recording experiences and can be contacted on 020 7424 9444 or firstname.lastname@example.org.