Conscientious objectors

Conscientious objectors were taken to a military tribunal. In 1916 approximately 14,000 appeared before tribunals.

These tribunals were like military courts and they listened to objectors’ reasons for their refusal to accept conscription. Their arguments were usually rejected. However there were exceptions.

One of the most extraordinary cases involved a mother, Elsie M. Cowie from Glasgow, who pleaded for her youngest son to serve at home. The reason was that four of her sons had already gone to war and three had been killed in 1915 - two in the army and one in the navy. The tribunal granted her son Frank Hamilton Cowie exemption on the grounds of hardship.

Around 7,000 conscientious objectors agreed to perform non-combat duties, often as stretcher-bearers in the front line. However, more than 1,500 pacifists refused all military service. These ‘absolutists’ opposed undertaking any work whatsoever that helped Britain's war effort.

Across the UK, almost 6,000 conscientious objectors were court martialled and sent to prison. Conditions were harsh and at least 71 died because of the harsh treatment they received.

When the war ended, many conscientious objectors returned to civilian life to find that they weren't welcomed by their families and employers refused to offer them jobs.