Opposing War: Conscientious Objectors’ Memorial Design Launch

On 15 May the Opposing War Memorial design will be unveiled at a launch event following the fourth annual International Conscientious Objectors Day Vigil in Edinburgh.

Following the offer of a site in Princes St Gardens, a World Heritage site that is visited by millions of people, a consortium of civil society groups and peace campaigns held a competition and invited four artists to submit designs for a memorial to conscientious objectors and all who oppose war. The artists engaged with descendants of COs, academics and adult learners who have been investigating conscientious objectors of the First World War. Edinburgh based artist Kate Ive’s design has been selected and a maquette will be unveiled at the launch event.

Kate Ive’s winning design will pay tribute to First World War COs whose resistance laid the groundwork for a wider peace movement that continues to this day and will continue into the future. Organisers hope the finished sculpture will be installed by April next year, the centenary of the end of the First World War for COs who were imprisoned until April 1918.

Committee member Brian Larkin, Coordinator of the Edinburgh Peace & Justice Centre, said: “With the centenary of the First World War many of us involved in promoting peace in Scotland felt that those who refused to fight and who opposed that unfortunate war should be remembered. But we also wanted to address the glaring imbalance in public space where there is a preponderance of memorials to wars, wars which were not glorious, but actually horrific. Edinburgh has 37 war memorials. Eight of them are concentrated in Princes St Gardens. It’s a perfect setting for a memorial that questions the prevailing view that war is necessary and even good, a view that, arguably leads us to resort, at times unnecessarily, to war. We hope this memorial will start conversations about the possibility of peacebuilding and conflict transformation.”

Photo Credit : http://news.bbcimg.co.uk/

Kate Ive’s engaging, inclusive and interesting design will commemorate the resistance of conscientious objectors and all who oppose wars, past, present and future. This unique “Opposing War Memorial” will create a space for reflection on the role of individual conscience and be a counterpoint whose time has come to the many war memorials across Scotland and the UK.

At the event Historian Lesley Orr will talk about opposition to the First World War in Scotland, and Kate Ive will talk about her process in creating the design, and explain how people can be involved in creating a beautiful, intriguing and enduring monument to war resisters in Scotland’s capital city. The event will launch a campaign to raise funds for the next phase of the project – including completion of technical drawings. These will be submitted for approval by City committees, before the sculpture can be installed.

The launch event will take place at Edinburgh Quaker Meeting House, 7 Victoria Terrace,  EH1 2JL  Edinburgh 6:30 – 8pm. Doors open 6:10pm for a cup of tea.  

The launch will follow the Conscientious Objectors Day public vigil from 5- 6pm by the National Gallery where there will be speakers including descendants of WW1 conscientious objectors, singing by the local Protest in Harmony choir, silence, reading of names of COs and collecting of signatures on post cards calling for over 300 South Korean COs who are currently in prison to be allowed to do alternative service.

People planning to attend the Opposing War Memorial Design Launch are encouraged to register though this is not required. Donations to the Memorial will be requested. For details of how to donate to the project visit:  http://peaceandjustice.org.uk/peace-organisations/conscientious-memorial-project/

Register at: https://opposing-war-design-launch.eventbrite.com

These events are part of a week of events on conscientious objection organised by Edinburgh Peace & Justice Centre, Workers Education Association Scotland, Great War Dundee and Abertay Historical Society.

Opposing War Memorial Partners

DRB Womens History Group

Edinburgh Peace & Justice Centre

Edinburgh Sculpture Workshop

Edinburgh Stop the War

Iona Community

Muslim Women’s Association of Edinburgh

Pax Christi UK

Religious Society of Friends Scotland

Scottish Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament

Scottish WILPF

St Thomas Aquins Secondary School

Tynecastle Secondary School

University of Edinburgh: School of Art

University of Edinburgh: School of Social and Political Science

Workers Education Association Scotland

The Opposing War Memorial Project is supported by:

War Resisters International, Peace Pledge Union, Peace News, Edinburgh MP Tommy Sheppard and Alison Johnstone MSP, First World War historian Trevor Royle, and Cyril Pearce, creator of the Pearce Database of First World War conscientious objectors.

For more information email: coordinator@peaceandjustice.org.uk or tel. 0131-629-1058.


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Conscientious Objectors Memorial Competition Now Open

CO Memorial Competition Now Open
Deadline for Applications 15 December

The Peace & Justice Centre and the Conscientious Objectors Memorial Committee are pleased to announce the Design Competition for a permanent Memorial to Conscientious Objectors – and all those who oppose wars, in all times and places – to be created in Edinburgh’s Princes St Gardens.

Artists are invited to submit applications by 12 noon 15 December 2017. A shortlist of three or four artists will be engaged to create designs for the Memorial.

View and Download the Brief Here.
Queries should be directed to: COMemorial@peaceandjustice.org.uk


Following approval of our petition for a memorial to conscientious objectors the City of Edinburgh has committed to work with us to find a suitable location for the memorial.

Conscientious Objectors to Military Service: Dyce Quarry Work Camp 1916

Our proposal for a site in Edinburgh’s Princes St Gardens will be considered for approval when we submit a design. We aim to install the Memorial by April 2019, the centenary of the end of the First World War for COs who were released from prison in April 1919.

A World Heritage site visited by millions of people, Princes St Gardens is home to numerous war memorials and adjacent to Edinburgh Castle and the National War Memorial.

Located in the midst of eight memorials to those who fought and died in many wars, the CO Memorial will dramatically raise awareness of resistance to war and of the often overlooked fact that Britain was the first country to establish in law a right to conscientious objection to military service, a right that has since been recognised by all but one European country and the United Nations.

Opposition to the First World War and conscientious objection to conscription was a notable part of the social history across Britain, especially in Scotland, being rooted in social and political movements such as socialism, communism and nonconformist religious communities such as Quakers.

The Memorial will be as a space for public reflection on the moral implications of warfare and suggest that there is a better way, through peacebuilding and conflict resolution. It will be an enduring locus of reflection on the important role of those who resist dominant norms even in the face of ostracism, vilification and personal hardship. Such people have often led the way to changes in attitudes and social, political and cultural practices that are later recognised and accepted by the mainstream of society. The Memorial will assert the essential value of dissent, inviting reflection on the traditions of liberty, humanism, and internationalism that have shaped political and cultural norms central to democracy such as tolerance and diversity.

Across the UK there are thousands of war memorials, . Yet the fact that tens of thousands of British men and women have refused compulsory service is largely invisible. By virtue of its location in proximity to these prominent national war monuments, a memorial to COs will represent a respectful counterpoint, suggesting that there is another way to resolve conflicts than through war.

The CO Memorial Committee includes representatives from:

  • Edinburgh Peace and Justice Centre
  • Edinburgh Sculpture Workshop
  • Edinburgh Stop the War
  • The Iona Community
  • Muslim Women’s Association of Edinburgh
  • Pax Christi UK
  • Quakers in Scotland
  • Scottish Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament
  • St Thomas Aquins Secondary School
  • University of Edinburgh School of Social and Political Science
  • Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom Scottish Branch

Project Partners

Workers Education Association Scotland

School of Social and Political Science, University of Edinburgh

School of Art, University of Edinburgh

Further information on the CO Memorial project including names of individual members of the CO Memorial Steering Group can be found at: http://peaceandjustice.org.uk/peace-organisations/conscientious-memorial-project/

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Ask Your MSPs to Call on Scottish Government to Recognise International Conscientious Objectors Day

Alison Johnstone MSP (Scottish Greens) has lodged a motion calling on Scottish Parliament to recognise International Conscientious Objectors’ Day 15 May.
DSC_0233The Peace and Justice Centre is urging all who share our vision of a world where conflicts are resolved without recourse to violence to contact their constituency and regional MSPs and ask them to support Motion S4M-15865. We want to thank Alison Johnstone for putting forward this motion.
The full text of the motion is as follows:
Motion S4M-15865: Alison Johnstone, Lothian, Scottish Green Party, Date Lodged: 08/03/2016
Recognition of International Conscientious Objectors’ Day
support right to refuse to kill croppedThat the Parliament believes that the centenary of the First World War reminds people of the huge cost to human life on all sides of conflicts; notes the desirability of the resolution of international disputes through negotiation and peaceful means; recalls that more than 16,000 individuals refused military service in the First World War and that more than 60,000 refused in the Second World War, sometimes at great cost to themselves and their families, facing vilification in their communities, harsh conditions in prison and even death; recognises what it considers their courageous stance in refusing to take part in wars or preparations for war; recalls that conscientious objection to military service is recognised as a human right by the UN; considers that conscientious objectors and opponents of the First World War laid foundations for peace-building, the promotion of human rights and peaceful means of the resolution of conflicts; notes that the cities of Edinburgh and Glasgow have granted public space to memorials to conscientious objectors, and calls on the Scottish Government to recognise International Conscientious Objectors’ Day in Scotland on 15 May, in this year and in all years, so that Scotland can be a beacon for peace and justice. The motion has so far been supported by: John Finnie, Drew Smith, Patrick Harvie and Jean Urquhart.Please contact your constituency and list MSPs and ask them to support Motion S4M-15865.To Find Your MSP please click here to visit the Scottish Parliament website Find Your MSP page where you can search by post code. There is a link for each MSP to email them as well as full contact details.The motion supplements the ongoing campaign for a memorial to conscientious objectors and people who oppose wars in Edinburgh. More information on the Edinburgh CO Memorial project can be found here.

Please note that everyone in Scotland has a Constituency MSP and seven Regional MSPs. You can then send each of them an email or letter. 

The motion will be open for signatures until the end of this Parliamentary session Wednesday 23 March. 

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First World War Resisters Celebrated in P&J Exhibition at Scottish Storytelling Centre


An exhibition of graphic posters telling stories of people and movements that opposed the First World War opens Thursday 25 February with a participatory, storytelling launch event at the Scottish Storytelling Centre.

Alice Wheeldon is a Prophet by Emily Johns

Alice Wheeldon is a Prophet by Emily Johns

The original, colourful posters in The World is My Country exhibtion echo some of the graphic styles of the First World War era and feature disobedient soldiers, feminist peace activists, a Maori princess, a famous Cambridge philosopher, and the striking graphic art of Emily Johns.

A co-editor of the national Peace News the highly political Johns’ previous exhibitions include Conscious Oil: myth and mind in the age of petroleum, Remember Saro-Wiwa, and Drawing Paradise on the ‘Axis of Evil’, a show dealing with Britain’s relationship with Iran. She is teaming up with writer and researcher, Gabriel Carlyle for a participatory and celebratory launch event that includes a short performance of original songs about conscientious objectors by the local choir Protest in Harmony.

TheWorldOrganised by the Edinburgh Peace and Justice Centre, the exhibition coincides with the centenary of the Military Service Act which instituted conscription in the First World War. A dozen design sketches for a memorial to conscientious objectors by pupils from a St Thomas Aquins Secondary School History are included in the exhibition.  We hope the the Conscientious Objectors Memorial will be installed in Princes St Gardens, in Edinburgh by November 2018.  Find out more about the Memorial project here.

The World Is My Country Exhibition runs from Thurs 25 February through Saturday 12 March at the Scottish Storytelling Centre, 43-45 High St

The World Is My Country Exhibition Launch Event  Thursday 25 Feb 6 – 8pm. Includes wine and food. Free. All Welcome. 

The World is My Country exhibtion is travelling around the UK. This is the only opportunity to see the exhibition in Scotland. The posters that comprise the exhibition can be viewed on The World is My Country exhibtion website here.

The exhibition concludes with Songs of the Unsung Heroes, a singing workshop, celebrating the movements and people who opposed the First World War, led by Jane Lewis and Penny Stone from Protest in Harmony choir on Saturday 12 March from 2 – 4:30pm at the Storytelling Centre. Cost for the workshop is £12 / £10.


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100 years conscientious objection

On Thursday, 28 January 2016, Patrick Harvie, member of the Scottish Parliament, Quakers in Scotland and the Edinburgh Peace and Justice Centre, hosted a reception to mark the centenary of the Military Service Act at the Scottish Parliament.

St Thomas Aquins students spoke about Conscientious Objectors at Scottish Parliament event.

St Thomas Aquins students spoke about Conscientious Objectors at Scottish Parliament event.

The evening included speeches from Trevor Royle (author of ‘The Flowers of the Forest’ the definitive) and Edinburgh University historian Lesley Orr, along with presentations from conscientious objectors and descendants of First World War conscientious objectors, Elisabeth Allen . In addition, three students from St Thomas Aquin’s High School in Edinburgh, Kristy, Rose and India, presented their work on conscientious objectors.

Elizabeth Allen talked about her grandfather John Searson who was an active member of the Independent Labour Party, who eventually was dismissed from his librarian job and sent to Dalmarnock power station to shovel coal.

Another Conscientious Objector was David Turner, aged 15 when the Second World War started. He ran away to the Highlands from his home in Glasgow to escape being conscripted. Sheltered by a friend in a flat in Glen Nevis for two months, he eventually returned to Glasgow and worked for another objector doing decorating work until the war was finally over.

Elizabeth AllenJoyce Taylor-Richards remembers two generations of conscientious objectors within her family. Her grandfather John Taylor was an engineer, trade unionist and councillor for the Independent Labour Party in Glasgow.  He died of an infection at the age of 31 while his application for an exemption was still being processed, after the years of hardship he was facing for his stance against military service and his refusal to work in a munitions factoryat the outbreak of fighting.

Trevor Allen: Author of Flowers of the Forest

Trevor Allen: Author of Flowers of the Forest

Trevor Royle stressed how crucial it is to understand, that war is more than just about killing. It also involves how society and the average civilian views a particular war. Taking the Conscientious Objection Movement in Britain as an example, opposition to war has existed since the very beginning- even before 1915. In fact, one of the most remarkable opposition movements during WWI was the No Conscription Fellowship. It started promoting the value of humanitarianism already in Autumn of 1914 all across the UK, and began organizing itself in local branches. The No Conscription Fellowship worked against the enthusiasm which had been prevalent at the time of the war’s breakout in 1914- the “great year to volunteer”, in which state publicity and encouragement to join the armed forces, came to fruition.

Many Quakers served in the Friends Ambulance Units and refused to fight. Graphic: Rebecca Lanyon

Many Quakers served in the Friends Ambulance Units and refused to fight. Graphic: Rebecca Lanyon

Already one year later though, the big battles started to take place, killing thousands of men, which made many people finally realize that the army was not all fun, but in fact a killing machine which turned civilians into murders and required the individual to die for the bigger goal. As a result, the public mood started to change and by the end of 1915, the Derby Scheme revealed that more than 1,5 million men considered eligible to fight, in fact had not sign up for war. Based upon this evidence the government was able to bring in conscription through passage of the Military Service Act in January of 1916.



To Britain’s credit, the Act included a provision for exemption from service for those who could show that they had a genuine conscientious objection to participating in war.  However, not every individual who did not want to fight in war, was in fact given exemption: Many had to face hardship and social agitation for their decision. People denounced them as weaklings who were escaping their “duty”. The individuals of the Conscientious Objection Movement had been exactly the reverse though; determined and hard- minded individuals who took an active decision against war and who did not mind bearing the consequences- more than 6,000 objectors were imprisoned for several years.

Many Conscientious Objectors were subjected to Field Punishment No. 1

Many Conscientious Objectors were subjected to Field Punishment No. 1

In fact, Patrick Harvie stressed, Quakers worked indefatigably to ensure the recognition of the right to refuse to kill, which was finally instituted through the Conscientious Clause, providing a significant shift toward (individual) freedom. In the midst of World War I, this clause  enabled many people to choose whether or not they would participate in war. Accordingly, Britain was the first country to give legal recognition to individual conscience, which is now recognised as a Human Right, marking one of the most important freedoms we have today; the freedom of conscience. Sadly, even in our contemporary world, numerous countries still practice conscription, refusing the right to conscientiously object, forcing men and women into combat.

As a consequence, the heroes of the Conscientious Objection Movement  can still inspire us to work for a more peaceful world today. As David Turner, a Quaker emphasized; a fight for peace and a more just world is not one which ends with the settlement of a dispute or conflict, but it is a commitment to nonviolence which lasts for life. Indeed, the answer to what we can learn from the conscientious objectors, seems simple, but it carries a fundamental truth: The only way to avoid war is to refuse to participate. Political problems have political solutions and will hardly get solved by people killing one another.

For anyone interested in discovering more, starting on 29 February, the Quakers’ online project, The white feather diaries, serialises the real letters and diaries of five conscientious objectors, alive during World War I.

By Yalda Salfavian


Photo credits: Brian Larkin


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Sign the Petition Edinburgh for Conscientious Objectors Memorial

A petition calling on Edinburgh Council to establish a memorial in Edinburgh to Conscientious Objectors and Opponents of War is now open for signature on the City of Edinburgh Council website. Please show your support for all those, past and present, who have refused to participate in or opposed wars by signing the petition here.

The Petition states:

With respect to the life and death choices of all those who have taken part in or supported wars we the undersigned therefore call upon the City of Edinburgh Council to grant the use of a permanent public space within the precincts of Princes St Gardens and to provide material and financial support for a memorial to Conscientious Objectors and those who oppose wars.  We ask that this be facilitated by February 2016 to coincide with the centenary of the passage of the Military Service Act which led to conscription in 1916.

Photo Credit : http://news.bbcimg.co.uk/

Photo Credit : http://news.bbcimg.co.uk/

With the Centenary of the First World War there is a feeling that there should be a memorial in Scotland’s capital city to conscientious objectors and opponents of wars which would henceforth provide a public focus for those who wish to gather  to remember all those, past or present, refusing to participate in or opposing wars.   

Taking this stance meant considerable hardship for those who refused to participate in or support the First World War and their families, that over 300 British “Deserters” were shot, and Conscientious Objectors were subjected to harsh treatment by the military, in prison, and in their communities and 73 First World War conscientious objectors died in or following imprisonment; their courageous stance cleared the way for improved recognition of the right to oppose war and to refuse to take part in wars and helped lay the foundations for the promotion of peaceful means for the resolution of conflicts and for achieving a just peace.  

Please sign the petition here.  And please Share it. We only need 200 signatures, but let’s get 2000!

The campaign for a memorial was initiated by the Edinburgh Peace and Justice Centre and Fellowship of Reconciliation Scotland and is backed by Iona Community,  Edinburgh Stop the War, Edinburgh CND, Scottish WILPF, Muslim Women’s Association of Edinburgh, Edinburgh Central Friends Meeting, Church and Society Council of the Church of Scotland, St Mary’s Cathedral Pax Christi, St Mary’s Cathedral Justice and Peace Group and the Religious Society of Friends Scotland.

There will be a fundraising concert at the Pleasance Cafe on the 20th of June. This evening is being organised by local peace and justice singer songwriter Penny Stone and should be a great evening. Please save the date!

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