Conscientious Objectors’ Memorial Project

The Peace and Justice Centre is working with a number of other organisations and individuals in Edinburgh and across Scotland to establish a memorial to Conscientious Objectors and all those who oppose wars in Edinburgh by November of 2018, the centenary of the First World War.

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

Our petition for a conscientious objectors’ memorial and opponents of war was unanimoursly and enthusiastically recommended for approval by he Petitions Committee of the City of Edinburgh Council. We have been offered a number of possible sites in Edinburgh’s Princes St Gardens, which is home to numerous war memorials and adjacent to the Castle and the National War Memorial. Read a detailed account of our submission to the Petitions Committee here.

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. Most paid a price for following the dictates of their consciences. They 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.

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.

The CO Memorial Committee is now seeking funding to run a design competition for a sculpture to be completed and installed in Princes Street Gardens by November 2018.  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, or by PayPal here. Just click the Donate button on the top right of the page and be sure to put CO Memorial in the Purpose field. Cheques can be posted to Edinburgh Peace and Justice Centre, CO Memorial Fund, 5 Upper Bow, Edinburgh EH1 2JN.

Trevor Allen: Author of Flowers of the Forest

Trevor Allen: 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

Iona Community

Edinburgh Quakers

Quakers Scotland

Scottish Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament

Edinburgh Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament

Womens International League for Peace and Freedom Scottish Branch

Justice & Peace Group St Mary’s Cathedral

Edinburgh Stop the War

Muslim Women’s Association of Edinburgh

Edinburgh and Forth Methodist Circuit

Nick Gardner, Councillor for Leith Walk, personal capacity

Simon Barrow, Ekklessia

Professor Toby Kelly, Head of Department of Anthropology, University of Edinburgh. Personal capacity.

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