CONSCIENTIOUS OBJECTION


Walter Roberts, 21, from Stockport was one of first conscientious objectors to face a Tribunal. He was also one of the first of many to die as a result of his imprisonment. Like many others who had languished in appalling conditions in prison or been sent to France to face execution and subsequently reprieved he was sent to Dyce Camp to break rocks.

'As I anticipated, it has only been a question of time for the camp conditions here to get the better of me. Bartle Wild is now writing to my dictation, as I am too weak to handle a pen myself. I don’t want you to worry yourself because the doctor says I have only got a severe chill, but it has reduced me very much. All these fellows here are exceedingly kind and are looking after me like bricks, so there is no reason why I should not be strong in a day of two, when I will write more personally and more fully.'
Letter from Walter to his mother 6 September 1916

Walter died two days after dictating this letter


Fenner Brockway writing in The Tribunal said Walter was 'the first of our members to meet his death in our fight against militarism.' Dyce camp was closed shortly after Walter's death.

Britain went to war in 1914 with a professional army designed mainly for policing the British Empire. Compared with the armies of Germany and France, the British army was tiny. By the end of 1914 most of its men had been killed, and so had most of the Territorial Army soldiers sent to support and replace them.

Before the First World War, most European countries sizable armies and weapons factories. These armies needed only to step up their intake to increase in size. In Britain, though, gearing up for war was far more dramatic. Here the 'State' had existed mostly to maintain law and order. There was no compulsory military service. Many career soldiers had little experience of foreign wars - the Napoleonic wars and even the Boer War were now history. In 1914 the plan was simple. The navy would guard the seas, as it had always done. The existing professional army would do the fighting, as it had always done. An expeditionary force would slip over to France, fight, and then come home again, in the centuries-old way. As Winston Churchill said at the outbreak of war which, despite being foretold for years, took most people by surprise, it was 'Business as Usual’ but it was not. As the scale of killing mounted and voluntary enrolement did not match the losses through death and injury. Compulsory conscription was enacted and a hard fought for 'conscience' clause was included in the Bill.

| conscription |
conscientious objection
history | in europe | world war one | world war two | today |

Plaque commemorating German conscientious objectors who died in Maunthausen concentration camp. | more

Peace Pledge Union, 1 Peace Passage, London N7 0BT. Tel +44 (0)20 7424 9444  contact   |  where to find us