Descendants to honour First World War conscientious objectors


Many COs worked in the medical corps

Many COs worked in the medical corps

Descendants of 50 First World War conscientious objectors will take part in this year's International Conscientious Objectors' Day commemoration in Tavistock Square, London WC1, on Thursday, 15 May. Some of these are daughters and sons of men who endured repeated imprisonment and force-feeding for their anti-war convictions, or worked with Friends' Ambulance and War Victim Relief services.

The ceremony at 12 noon will include the naming of each CO by family members who will bring their photographs and lay flowers at the granite memorial to conscientious objectors.

Among the Conscientious Objectors whose families will be taking part on 15 May are: 

Welsh brothers, Alfred Llewelyn Roberts and Walter Roberts, who was the first CO to die a prisoner - in the terrible conditions at Dyce Quarry near Aberdeen.

Hugo Harrison Jackson, a Kendal science teacher, who joined Friends' Ambulance Unit and was killed in Picardy when a shell hit the ambulance. He was awarded the French Croix de Guerre, also the Victory and British War medals and the 1914-15 Star.

Emmanuel Ribeiro, a gold and silver engraver from Manchester, and father of eight. An absolutist who refused all co-operation with conscription, repeatedly went on hunger strike and was force fed 155 times in Warrington and Wormwood Scrubs prisons.

John Rodker, a poet from a Jewish immigrant family, and one of the group of 'Whitechapel Boys', who included Mark Gertler, painter, and Isaac Rosenberg. Arrested as a CO he went AWOL a number of times, was finally caught and sent to Dartmoor.

Eleazor 'Dil' Thomas, Welsh pacifist, socialist, and member of the Independent Labour Party (ILP). He believed war was waged on behalf of the upper classes to preserve their privileges or defend their empires. Imprisoned in Wormwood Scrubs and Dartmoor, later becoming a prominent civic leader and Lord Mayor of Neath.

James Ashworth, was a mill worker who supervised other slipper makers. A socialist and committee member of the Boot, Shoe & Slipper Union. His tribunal gave him exemption on condition he undertook agricultural work near Clitheroe in the Ribble valley.

Tom Attlee, architect, active member of the ILP, and Christian pacifist imprisoned for over two years, first in Wormwood Scrubs and later in Wandsworth Gaol. His brother Clement enlisted during the First World War and became Prime Minister in 1945.

Jack Foister, Cornelius Barritt, Bert Brocklesby, Norman Gaudie, Geoffrey Hicks, who were among 35 COs infamously shipped to France in May 1916, court martialled for refusing orders at the Front, and given a death sentence - which was commuted to ten years' penal servitude.

Women war resisters will not be forgotten. Emma Anthony, a member of staff at the Fellowship of Reconciliation, will represent her great grandmother, Lucy Biddle Lewis, who went to The Hague International Women's Congress in 1915, and Catherine Marshall, campaigning genius behind the No-Conscription Fellowship, will also be remembered. Taking part too will be the great granddaughters of Alice Wheeldon, a Derby pacifist, who was, absurdly, convicted in 1917 of conspiracy to kill the British Prime Minister David Lloyd George.

One of the speakers on May 15, Mary Dobbing, took part last year in the women's peace delegation which visited the Afghan Peace Volunteers in Kabul. She also campaigns for justice for Palestinians in the footsteps of her CO grandfather, a Quaker teacher in the Middle East.

Other speakers are: Christine Schweitzer, from a German branch of War Resisters' International, who will speak about the situation that faced First World War resisters in Germany.

Sam Walton of Quaker Peace and Social Witness who will talk about how conscientious objectors are still being imprisoned in some countries today.

Lord John Maxton who will describe what happened to his father as a First World War conscientious objector.

The prizewinning gospel choir from Maria Fidelis School, Camden, will sing two peace songs during the ceremony.

In all there were an estimated 20,000 COs to the First World War, many motivated by religious faith, many by political and socialist convictions, and often by a combination of these beliefs.

The CO ceremony is being organised by the First World War Peace Forum - a coalition made up of Conscience, Fellowship of Reconciliation, Network for Peace, Pax Christi, Peace News, Peace Pledge Union, Quaker Peace and Social Witness, the Right to Refuse to Kill group and the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom.


Tags: concientious objectors, Fellowship of Reconciliation, First World War, First World War Peace Forum. Conscience, Network for Peace, Pax Christi, Peace News, Peace Pledge Union, Quaker Peace, Right to Refuse to Kill group, Social Witness, Women's International League for Peace and Freedom

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