Conscientious Objectors Memorial Project

A consortium of organisations from Edinburgh, Scotland and the UK, led by the Peace & Justice Centre, is working to establish a memorial to Conscientious Objectors and all those who oppose wars in Edinburgh’s Princes St Gardens by April 2019, the centenary of the end of the First World War for the last COs released from prison.

CO Memorial Design Launch. Edinburgh.
Tues 15 May 6:30 – 7:30pm. (Doors open 6:10pm). Venue to be confirmed.
Check back here for venue or ring to confirm venue if coming. All welcome. No registration required. This will be the launch of a fundraiser for the Memorial and Donations will be requested.

The launch event follows on from the Conscientious Objectors Day Vigil.Tues 15 May. 5 – 6pm. Foot of Mound, by National Gallery. There will be:
Speakers, singing, silence. Our fourth annual vigil remembering those who refused to kill.

Artists’ Design Competition – Completed

On 3 November 2017 the Conscientious Objectors Memorial Committee announced the Design Competition, inviting artists to submit applications to create designs for the Memorial. A shortlist of four artists were asked to create designs for the Memorial. We will announce and unveil the winning design at the launch on 15 May.

The No Conscription Fellowship supported conscientious objectors of the First World War. Credit:


Following approval of our petition for a memorial to conscientious objectors Parks and Green Space officials of the City of Edinburgh have been directed by Council to work with us to find a suitable location for the memorial.

Our proposal for a site in Edinburgh’s Princes St Gardens will be considered for approval when we submit a design.  Princes St Gardens, a World Heritage site which is visited by millions of people annually, is home to numerous war memorials and adjacent to Edinburgh Castle and the National War Memorial.

The presence of a memorial to conscientious objectors in this location will be a respectful counterpoint to the assumption of the necessity of war inherent in these many memorials to those who have lost their lives. It will raise awareness of the fact that Britain was the first country in the world to establish in law a right to conscientious objection, a right which has come to be recognised by all European countries but one. And the Memorial will be a highly visible space for reflection, not only on peacebuiding and conflict resolution as alternatives to war, but on the values of dissent and diversity of opinion inherent in conscientious objection and fundamental to democracy.

Conscientious Objection in the UK

Scotland and Edinburgh have many war memorials but we also have a rich history of conscientious objection and resistance to war and militarism which deserves to be recognised publicly.

COs at Wakefield Prison WW2. Photo credit: Imperial War Museum

COs at Wakefield Prison WW2. Photo credit: Imperial War Museum

Nearly 20,000 men refused conscription in the First World War and 60,000 did so in the Second World War. Most paid a price for following the dictates of their consciences. First World War COs were vilified in their communities. 6000 went to prison and were subjected to harsh treatment, poor diet, often stripped naked, put in solitary for months on a diet of bread and water. Many went on hunger strike in protest at conditions and were force fed. 73 died.

Many Conscientious Objectors were subjected to Field Punishment No. 1

Many Conscientious Objectors were subjected to Field Punishment No. 1

235 men from the Edinburgh refused conscription including Arthur Woodburn, who served a long term in Calton Jail and like many other COs later became an MP. He was Secretary of State for Scotland from 1947 until 1950.

Women supported COs and actively opposed the war too. Edinburgh’s Crystal Macmillan took part in a women’s peace conference at the Hague during the war. Our vision is for a memorial that will recognise all who have opposed wars in the past and those who continue to do so.

The Legacy of Conscientious Objection

Photo: Conscientious Objectors at Dyce Quarry near Aberdeen.

Photo: Conscientious Objectors at Dyce Quarry near Aberdeen.

The sacrifices of COs laid the foundation for later peace and human rights work and for recognition of conscientious objection elsewhere. The UN and the European Court of Human Rights and most countries have now recognised conscientious objection as a human right. But over 750 COs are still imprisoned around the world today. A CO memorial will not only pay tribute to those who refused conscription in Scotland and the UK during the First World War, it will honour those who are refusing to participate in wars in our own time.

DONATE to the CO Memorial

The CO Memorial Committee has secured sufficient funds to run a design competition for a sculpture to be completed and installed in Princes Street Gardens by April 2019.  Now we are seeking further funding for the completion of the Memorial itself from a mix of donors and foundations.

We will be launching a fundraising campaign in the near future. Donations to the fund can be made in cash, by Bank Transfers or by cheques made out to Edinburgh Peace and Justice Centre and designated CO Memorial Fund. Cheques can be posted to Edinburgh Peace and Justice Centre, CO Memorial Fund, 5 Upper Bow, Edinburgh EH1 2JN. Account details for Bank Transfer are as follows:

Bank of Scotland Account Name: Edinburgh Peace & Justice Centre

Reference: CO Memorial
Account: 00207018 / Sort Code: 80-11-30

Donations can also be made in person at the Centre, 5 Upper Bow, EH1 2JN. We are open Wednesday and Friday 1 – 4pm.

CO and First World War Remembrance Events so Far

Trevor Allen: Author of Flowers of the Forest

Trevor Royle: Author of Flowers of the Forest

As part of the ongoing activities surrounding the centenary of the First World War the Peace and Justice Centre and the Quaker Meeting House organised an event at the Scottish Parliament in January to make the Centenary of the Military Service Act.  Speakers included the renowned historian of the First World War and Scotland Trevor Royle, who expressed is support for a CO Memorial and and Dr. Lesley Orr (Edinburgh University).  The event, hosted by Patrick Harvie MSP, was attended by about 50 invited guests including Brigadier David Allfrey, Director of the Royal Edinbubrgh Military Tatoo. An account of that event can be found here.

The Peace and Justice Centre organised an exhibition entitled The World Is My Country to coincide with the centenary of conscription, that celebrates the people and movements that opposed the First World War.

We also created and produced Divergent Voices, a performance of readings that, taken as a whole tells the story of the First World War, with an emphasis on the voices of those who opposed or came to question the war as a result of their experience. Divergent Voices was performed at the Scottish Storytelling Centre and at the Scottish International Storytelling Festival in November 2014. A review of Divergent Voices can be found here. 

The Conscientious Objectors Memorial Committee consists of the following organisations and individuals:

Edinburgh Peace and Justice Centre

Edinburgh Sculpture Workshop

Iona Community

Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) Scotland

Scottish Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament

Womens International League for Peace and Freedom Scottish Branch

Pax Christi UK

Edinburgh Quakers

Edinburgh Stop the War

Edinburgh Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament

Muslim Women’s Association of Edinburgh

Edinburgh and Forth Methodist Circuit

St Thomas Aquins Secondary School

Individual Members of the Committee

Professor Toby Kelly, Department of Anthropology, University of Edinburgh.

Dr. Billy Kenefick, Honorary Senior Research Fellow, University of Dundee and co-founder of the Great War Dundee project.

Dr. Lesley Orr, Lecturer in History, New College, University of Edinburgh

Nick Gardner, (former Councillor for Leith Walk) personal capacity

Project Partners

Workers Education Association Scotland

School of Social and Political Science, University of Edinburgh

School of Art, University of Edinburgh


Share Button
© Peace and Justice