Hundreds of thousands of Britons answered the call to arms in 1914. Yet not everyone was willing to fight and, when the government introduced conscription in 1916, these men – conscientious objectors – not only had to face the derision of many of their countrymen but also the full force of the law.
Some 16,000 men were recorded as conscientious objectors during the war – many of them refusing to fight because of their religious beliefs (Quakers and Jehovah’s Witnesses) or moral ones (pacifists).
After facing a tribunal, many ended up filling non-combatant roles, such as stretcher-bearers and medical orderlies. Yet for the significant minority who refused to co-operate altogether, life could become very uncomfortable indeed.
Sixteen objectors, for example, were imprisoned in Richmond Castle and then taken to France, against their will, to fight. When they refused, they were sentenced to death. Though this was commuted, they were sentenced to 10 years’ hard labour, and many of them would suffer long-term psychological damage.