Meet the conscientious objectors

This is David Turner telling his story at our “Conscientious Objectors” event at Central Library on Wednesday.


David Turner, conscientious objector

David’s father had volunteered to fight in the First World War, but came home from the trenches a disillusioned man, and what he told David about his experiences was to have a profound influence on the young boy’s worldview.

David’s mother’s advice to ‘follow your conscience’ was very much in David’s mind when he appeared before a tribunal as a conscientious objector after World War Two broke out.

When the tribunal ruled against David he went on the run to the Highlands, although he said that the situation conscientious objectors in the Second World War found themselves in was not as bad as that of their WW1 predecessors.

One of these was John Searson, whose granddaughter Elizabeth Allen was also at our event.

Elizabeth told us that her grandfather was a Glasgow librarian who objected to war on political grounds, as a member of the Independent Labour Party.

The war ended, but his story went on. It was ten years before he was given his old job back with Glasgow Libraries, where he was sent to catalogue books in a rat-infested basement of the Stirling Library.

Conscientious objection was a lifetime commitment, which didn’t come easy. Families like John’s –  and more famous ones like the Cadbury’s and the Pankhursts – were torn apart by conscientious objection and the scars ran deep in communities up and down the land.

Phil Lucas, a Quaker and human rights activist, gave us a fascinating presentation on the history of conscientious objectors, focusing heavily on their experiences in the First World War.


Phil Lucas

We heard about the detention camps conscientious objectors were sent to, the Friends Ambulance Unit some of them served in, and how some conscientious objectors were denied the right to vote until well into the 1920s.


Nan Stewart

This is Nan Stewart, who lived in a Dundee commune during World War Two with other COs. Nan, 97, told us about life in the commune and how her view of war had been shaped and changed by reading Vera Brittain’s Testament of Youth.

We are sure we speak for everyone present at this event when we pass on our sincere thanks to all our speakers, whose stories will stay with us all for a very long time.


Nan, David, Phil and Elizabeth

For more information take a look at The #whitefeather diaries website or borrow To end all wars: how the First World War Divided Britain by Adam Hochschild.


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