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OBJECTING TO WAR
FIRST CO TO DIE
2 EUROPE GOES TO WAR
3 COUNTDOWN TO CONSCRIPTION
4 FUNDAMENTAL CHANGE IN SOCIETY
5 NO CONSCRIPTION FELLOWSHIP
6 THE SECRET PRESS
7 MANY TRADITIONS
8 THE TRIBUNALS
9 TRANSCRIPTS
10 THE 'won't-fight-funks'
11 THE COST OF CONSCIENCE
12 UNWILLING SOLDIERS
13 ALTERNATIVES AND DILEMMAS
14 PRISON
15 THE MEN SENTENCED TO DEATH
16 COERCION FAILS
17 DYCE
18 DARTMOOR
19 THEY WORK IN OVERCOATS
20 THE MEN WHO DIED
21 WINDING DOWN
21 SELECTION OF BOOKS
22 FROM CALL UP TO DISCHARGE


WHY WAR? supplement

12 UNWILLING SOLDIERS

3,400 conscientious objectors accepted call-up into the Non-Combatant Corps (NCC) or the Royal Army Medical Corps (RAMC) as non-combatants. The NCC (the 'No-Courage Corps' as the press rudely called it) was set up in March 1916, part of the army and run by its regular officers. The COs assigned to it were army privates, wore army uniforms and were subject to army discipline, but didn't carry weapons or take part in battle. Their duties were mainly to provide physical labour (building, cleaning, loading and unloading anything except munitions) in support of the military.

The NCC may have been a shock to the COs who agreed to join it. But for the absolutists and alternativists who were forcibly enlisted into the NCC it was much worse. They immediately faced the question of whether to agree to wearing uniform. The men who decided to refuse were formally charged and court-martialled. Often they were treated harshly, bullied, deprived of basic needs and rights, and imprisoned in inhumane conditions. So were the men who refused to perform duties like handling munitions or building rifle ranges. Some broke down, physically or mentally, as a result of their ill-treatment.

In fact, the military were handicapped: they had no precedents or guidelines for dealing with conscripts at all, never mind conscripts who refused to fight. It had been difficult enough in 1914, arranging adequate training for a million volunteer soldiers. For centuries the army had been governed by what has been called 'the discipline of fear'.

Conscientious objectors in Non-Combatant Corps doing the washing up!

Career soldiers might be expected to accept its principles, even if they didn't always abide by them; men snatched unwillingly from quite different occupations couldn't be (and shouldn't have to). But by July 1916, the time of the Somme offensive (420,000 British dead: more than twice the number of the entire army in 1914), most of the old British army had been killed. The scale and manner of warfare was new and shocking, and this war seemed unstoppable. Whose side, wondered the frustrated and angry military, were these 'conchies' on?

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