Campaign hopes to erect bronze memorial in Edinburgh for the centenary of the end of imprisonment of First World War objectors next year
THE CAMPAIGN for an Edinburgh memorial to the thousands of Scottish conscientious objectors (COs) who refused on political, religious or moral grounds to fight in the First World War has announced that over £25,000 has already been raised towards its construction.
Earlier this month, the City of Edinburgh Council’s Transport and Environment Committee unanimously approved permission for a proposed bronze and granite ‘peace tree’ sculpture, designed by Edinburgh artist Kate Ive, to be erected in the capital’s Princes Street Gardens, which at present features eight war memorials.
The sculpture (pictured above) features a tree with bronze-cast handkerchiefs embroidered names of First Word War COs, as well as emblems of groups who promote peacebuilding and conflict resolution, such as the Friends Ambulance Unit and War Resisters International. The memorial will also represent contemporary COs and organisations that have promoted disarmament and the peace movement over the past century.
While seeking grants from various funding bodies, the campaign organisers aim to raise donations of £59,000 toward total costs of £167,000, with fundraising coordinated by the Conscientious Objectors Memorial Partners. It is hoped that the project will be fully funded and completed in time for the August 2019 centenary of the end of imprisonment of First World War COs.
The memorial’s campaign committee includes representatives from the Edinburgh Peace and Justice Centre, the University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh Stop the War, the Muslim Women’s Association of Edinburgh, Edinburgh CND, while the planned monument has won the support of SNP MP Tommy Sheppard and Green MSPs John Finnie and Alison Johnstone.
“I’ve witnessed and understood very clearly the impact of war on human lives – the practical, the social, the very human cost attached to war. I think it’s very important that the voices that represent opposition to that can be heard in Scotland’s capital city.” Edinburgh Cllr Lesley Macinnes
Transport and Environment Committee Convener Cllr Lesley Macinnes, who formerly worked for a landmine and cluster munition non-governmental organisation, commented: “I was tasked with dealing with the impact of those weapons both during conflict and post-conflict. I’ve witnessed and understood very clearly the impact of war on human lives – the practical, the social, the very human cost attached to war. I think it’s very important that the voices that represent opposition to that can be heard in Scotland’s capital city.”
Memorial committee member and North Berwick Quaker Elizabeth Allen, whose grandfather was a First World War CO, said: “There were nearly 20,000 COs during the First World War and 60,000 in the Second. Conscientious objection and opposition to war is a significant part of our history, especially in Scotland, yet it is scarcely recognised in public space. Those who have fought and died in past wars are widely remembered with 37 war memorials in Edinburgh alone. It’s time for a memorial to COs in Scotland’s capital.”
“By inviting reflection on the role of those who followed their own consciences, the Memorial will celebrate the values of liberty, humanism and tolerance at a time when these values are threatened.” Edinburgh Peace & Justice Centre coordinator Brian Larkin
Edinburgh Peace & Justice Centre coordinator Brian Larkin also said: “With fifty wars taking place around the world today and conscription returning to half a dozen countries the memorial will include those who are currently resisting conscription in places like Turkey and Israel.
“With students in Cambridge rejecting the promotion of red poppies and movements to challenge the naming of streets and buildings for men who profited from the slave trade, the time is right for war memorials to be balanced with spaces for reflection on the way of peace.
“By inviting reflection on the role of those who followed their own consciences, the Memorial will celebrate the values of liberty, humanism and tolerance at a time when these values are threatened.”
Edinburgh University Lecturer Historian Dr Lesley Orr added: “The Memorial will honour not just mostly male COs but also the equally important women who have marched and taken action against war and for peace, women like Chrystal Macmillan who travelled from Edinburgh to attend a women’s peace conference in the Hague during the First World War and Helen Crawfurd and Mary Barbour, organisers of the Women’s Peace Crusades across Scotland.”
During the First World War, some 16,000 COs refused to serve or fight following the enactment on conscription laws, which enlisted two and a half million additional British military personnel from 1916 onwards. Despite their numbers, their claims of religious, moral or political objections to the war met with little sympathy by the military tribunals which often decided their fate, with few exemptions being made and many COs being arrested and imprisoned.
Nevertheless, Britain was the first country to recognise a right to conscientious objection, which would later be enshrined by a resolution from the United Nations Commission on Human Rights in 1995.
Conscientious objectors and their sympathisers had a strong presence in Scotland, with roughly 80,000 people marching in opposition to the First World War in Glasgow Green in 1914, and a total of 1,434 men appearing before Scottish tribunals, including 237 in Edinburgh.
Amongst them was Peter Anderson, who stated before his tribunal in February, 1916: “All my life I have had the greatest possible antipathy to any form of armed force believing it to be immoral and quite unnecessary. For years I have believed in the abolition of armaments and the unity of Nations. The brotherhood of Man is my religion so that I cannot consent to participate in what my conscience and principles dictates is wrong.”
Granted an exemption from combat services only, Anderson’s appeal was dismissed. Refusing to serve at all, Anderson did not appear as scheduled at the Sheriff Court. He was found dead at home with his throat cut, having committed suicide.
“I believe that a man’s conscience is the only power in which a man can give absolute obedience, and cannot, therefore, consent by silence to any other human beings assuming that power.” Edinburgh conscientious objector Arthur Woodburn
Another Edinburgh CO was Arthur Woodburn, who explained his objections to his own local tribunal: “I do not believe in war. I believe it absolutely wrong to take human life. I believe that a man’s conscience is the only power in which a man can give absolute obedience, and cannot, therefore, consent by silence to any other human beings assuming that power.”
With his appeal dismissed, Woodburn was court-martialled six times between 1916 and 1918, and given several sentences of hard labour at Wormwood Scrubs and Edinburgh’s Calton Prison. Following a hunger strike, he was released in March, 1919.
Although the right to conscientious objection is broadly recognised internationally, COs continue to face harsh examination before being granted dispensation.
In July 2011, Royal Navy medic and CO Michael Lyons was sentenced to seven months detention for ‘wilful disobedience’ for refusing to take part in rifle training while his request for a discharge was ongoing, ahead of deployment in Afghanistan.
In the aftermath of his sentencing, Emma Sangster, co-ordinator of Forces Watch, speculated that the “deliberately harsh” sentence was intended not only to punish Lyons, but to “dissuade others from following his actions.”
Picture courtesy of Kate Ive
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