The lived experience of conscientious objectors in Scotland during and after the First World War has largely been ignored. This project in partnership with the Edinburgh Peace and Justice Centre sought to tell their stories as part of the centenary to bring to life the impact of the First World War on communities across Scotland. The project, which finished recently, was funded by Heritage Lottery Fund.
Opposition to the First World War in Scotland was significant, with more than 1,300 Scots claiming exemption from military service as conscientious objectors (COs). WEA Scotland adult learners in Glasgow, Dundee and Edinburgh explored the histories of some of these COs.
Some were granted conditional exemption and served in the Non Combatant Corps or with the Friends Ambulance Unit in France. Most were denied CO status, arrested and imprisoned. Many were sent to work camps on the Home Office Scheme. A few died, in or soon after imprisonment.
They held diverse views, from Quakers to internationalist and socialist to members of the United Free Church and Roman Catholics. Beyond tracing the wartime experience of COs, learners also investigated their role in their communities. Amongst the Cos presented here are a bootmaker, a coal miner, a University lecturer and the Chief Engineer on the Forth Road Bridge.
Some travelled far and met remarkable people while others stayed close to home.
Uncovered letters, drawings of their prison cells and pages from autograph books illustrate the stories of these men who were united in refusing to take part in a war that claimed the lives of some 135,000 of their Scottish contemporaries. Here are their tribunal statements, accounts of their loves, prison experiences, even death.
Key stages in the research project included a workshop at the National Archives of Scotland where 237 Edinburgh and Lothians CO tribunal records are housed and a Legacies of Resistance event in honour of International Conscientious Objectors’ Day held at the Scottish Parliament. Along the way learners gave input to the selection process for the design for the Opposing War Memorial to COs and all who oppose wars, planned for Princes St Gardens.
The project culminated in an enlightening celebration event at St Mungo Museum in Glasgow. The audience were treated to a range of presentations and talks from, amongst others, the Dundee, Edinburgh and Glasgow groups and learners who spoke with passion and authority about the COs they had studied and the fascinating stories they had unearthed. On the day we were also very fortunate to be joined by Alan and Ken McIntyre, son and grandson of Henry Clarke McIntyre, whose beautiful autograph book we have been able to delve into time and again. We hope the images we have included here from Henry’s book go some way to doing justice to Henry and his story, the fellow COs who contributed to his book and to all the other COs at that time and since.
As always with this type of Adult Education project, long-lasting friendships were forged - within and across the learner groups - and much fun was had! Many of the participants have continued to meet after the official project end as they enjoyed the experience and camaraderie and wish to build on what they have started.
Thanks to the Edinburgh Peace & Justice Centre for help with preparing the exhibition and booklet and to the Heritage Lottery Fund for funding the project.
Download a copy of the booklet HERE