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ISSUE 67 SPRING 2014 Full pdf OBJECTING TO WAR IN LONDON

Peace Matters Index
ONLINE contents
Selection from paper publication

- No more wars
- Objecting to war in London
- Remembrance equals commitment

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As we begin the centenary year of the outbreak of the First World War, it’s to be expected that the conflict will be increasingly in the public consciousness. By only the second of January, the First World War was back as a point of debate in the media, with politicians, historians and even actors weighing in on the legitimacy of the war. On the Objecting to War project, it can often feel like we have the definitive, debate-ending evidence: the testimonies of men who stood up to be counted as against the war. Unfortunately, it’s not enough to simply state an opposing view - we must be active in telling the story of conscientious objection in the first world war.

The Objecting to War project is busy telling that story in as many ways as we can. One of the fortunate side effects of the increased attention on the First World War has been the number of volunteers that have made contact with us, as people from all over London are turned away from the “Official” pro-militarist interpretations of the conflict. Individuals and historical societies have now started work on uncovering some of the forgotten experiences of conscientious objectors - adding many more names, and much more detail to our database. I’ve also been spending much of my time in archives and libraries searching through Tribunal records, census information and newspapers and have already begun to unearth some fascinating stories of defiance and resistance to the Military Service Act. One such story has been that of Charles (Carl) Titford; a Tottenham CO who flatly defied the decision of his tribunal, flatly stating: “I have no other choice but to refuse obedience to the law of the land and to take the consequences”. Carl’s story has been incredibly interesting to explore - an ordinary man who faced repeated punishment for standing up for his own moral principles, enduring cycles of military punishment, prison and court martial for three years, only being released in 1919. Biographies like these are the main focus of the Objecting to War project in this early period of 2014. By collecting the stories of men as they lived them, rather than as statistics, we can remind people that the decisions to become a CO, and the almost equally difficult decision to support COs through the war years, were made by people just like them - ordinary men and women from London who, in whatever capacity, resisted war.

While our volunteers have been busy gathering stories, I’ve been busy finding ways to communicate them to the general public. Many organisations around London have asked to be involved and we have provided information and supporting documents to sculptors, artists, theatres, film producers, historians, museums, archives and libraries from Enfield to Croydon. We will be exhibiting our material alongside both local and central London museums and virtually every borough of the Greater London area will be hosting a supplementary exhibition on Conscientious Objection in the First World War. At this point, most of our collaborations are in their early stages - helping groups find inspiration in the stories we have collected and designing ways we can work together in the coming year. Others have progressed very quickly and the results will be made available very soon. Video discussions and interviews and volunteer-written articles are already available to view and more will be added in the coming months.

The main result of all the meetings we’ve had as part of the project, every collaboration, discussion and idea has been to show me something about Conscientious Objectors that has provided a constant source of inspiration for the project. The more information we gather and the more stories we collect, the more it is clear that COs weren’t just resisting war, or dissenting to it’s operation, aims and results, they were providing an example of the alternative. I think this provides an opportunity for Objecting to War in the centenary years - 100 years after the outbreak of war our challenge is to show that Conscientious Objection provides both a challenge to the militarism of the centenary “celebrations” and an alternative way to remember the First World War.

Ben Copsey

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