Being a CO in Burton-on-Trent (Karen Hunt)

Karen Hunt speaks about the Mid Staffordshire Appeals Tribunal and what the records reveal about life on the Staffordshire home front. Amongst the Appeals papers were a group of men from Burton-on-Trent who refused to take part in the Great War either as combatants or non-combatants. Their unequivocal stand as COs led to court martials and imprisonment. Karen explores the particular local home front from which this small group of brave men emerged and the political, cultural and social networks that shaped them. She considers the forces ranged against the self-styled ‘outlaws’ and how these changed over the war in order to understand how the Burton CO’s supporters and families sustained themselves after the men’s disappearance into prisons and work camps. Key spaces for these anti-militarists were the Independent Labour Party, the No-Conscription Fellowship, the Workers’ Union and the Co-op.

The Loneliness of Conscience – Herefordshire Conscientious Objectors in WW1 (Elinor Kelly)

Elinor Kelly traces 58 Conscientious Objectors in Herefordshire, for many of whom there is only sketchy detail. The issue that stands out is how lonely they frequently were. Partly this is because of the rural nature of Herefordshire with no industrial centres, so the population was scattered across the county on farms and smallholdings. But it is also the result of lack of local support – there are traces of Quaker networks in operation but the No Conscription Fellowship had no branch within the county. Much important data has been lost, even the account of the brutal regime in Hereford Gaol was uncovered by chance, by the grandson of the commandant who so detested the COs. Nonetheless it has been possible to piece together fragments and draw out a profile of Herefordshire COs that is distinctive of the county. Elinor Kelly is an independent researcher who is drafting a history of a century of conscientious objection from 1916 to 2016.

The conscientious objectors in Oxford in 1916 (Sue Smith)

Sue Smith presents her research which examined the conscientious objectors of Oxford during 1916, the year that universal military conscription was introduced and the Military Service Tribunals were set up. Who were the objectors and what happened to them? Who supported them? Did they know each other across the ‘town and gown’ divide and what is the evidence of general support for their resistance to the war? A university town in rural South of England, Oxford was not known for its support of dissent. However, Oxford University was the place of choice for the education of budding politicians. The fate of the Oxford objectors was closely observed by those in power. This meant that the influence of the objectors was wider than their numbers would indicate. Sue Smith asks – was their experience broadly the same, or significantly different from others in England, because of its location?