According to a pamphlet out of 1,497 imprisoned conscientious objectors in January 1919, 57 originated in Manchester and its districts. One objector stated ‘ I believe most profoundly that despite natural frailty, there is a spark of essential goodness in human beings everywhere which can be made to grow with care and tenderness into a bright flame’.
Compulsory military service for all men aged 18 – 50 was introduced by the Military Service Act 1916, it allowed applications to be made for exemption on religious and later secular grounds. Below is a copy of an application made in 1940, in which the applicant states ‘I could never lend myself to the prosecution of what I believe to the most evil and futile of all man’s actions- neither by killing my fellow-man nor by joining the services which are there to promote the efficient working of war effort.’
Military Service Tribunals were set up by Local Registration Authorities to review each application. This propaganda poem is taken from a leaflet found within a political and Trade Union collection 1917 – 1919.
No business rival but was sent, whatever the appeal,
To that vile hell of shot and shell where Britain fights the hun,
(A duty they owed themselves, a duty nobly done).
The forty-one to fifty men at duty take the bun,
Just watch them following where they sent the widow’s only son’.
We also hold a letter from one of the most well-known conscientious objectors philosopher, Nobel Prize winner and anti-war activist Bertrand Russell. The National Archives has a fantastic source guide to researching conscientious objection during the First World War and the Peace Pledge Union has accounts given first hand during both the First and Second World War. Manchester Libraries also hold some great books which include information on conscientious objection, including Forgotten Victory: the First World War Myths and Realities. The Working Class Movement Library holds material relating to the Manchester branch of the No Conscription Fellowship (they also have a great blog).