First World War: Conscientious Objection

Robin Page Arnot

Having studied Ancient Greek at Glasgow University, Arnot joined the Greenock branch of the Social Democratic Federation (SDF) in 1907. He became actively involved in socialist politics in Glasgow through the University Fabian Society and was instrumental in the establishment of the University Socialist Federation in 1912. Arnot left Glasgow for London in the spring of 1914 to join the Fabian Research Department (LRD) before later being appointed Secretary, a post which brought him into close contact with members of the trade union and labour movements.

Following the outbreak of the First World War, Arnot's political convictions led him to resist military service, not as a pacifist, but as a revolutionary socialist. He was charged with refusal to obey military orders and sentenced to two years' hard labour. See U DAR/2/1-12 for letters written by Arnot during his imprisonment, a journal dating from the date of his arrest on 28 June 1917 to 13 July 1917, and a copy of prison regulations for conscientious objectors.

The online catalogue includes a detailed overview of this collection (ref U DAR).

No Conscription Fellowship

Founded by Fenner Brockway in 1914 to organise opposition to conscription, the NCF was an explicitly pacifist body. Members committed themselves to 'refuse from conscientious motives to bear arms, because they consider[ed] human life too sacred'. Membership peaked at 10,000, consisting largely of members of the Independent Labour Party and Quakers. Its role expanded to include provision of information and welfare services for its members, many of whom were imprisoned. The Records Department of the NCF, which kept detailed information on the cases of every known conscientious objector, was later renamed the Conscientious Objectors Information Bureau (COIB). The NCF worked closely with the Friends Service Committee and the Fellowship of Reconciliation, through the Joint Advisory Council. The movement went underground following state harassment and was wound up in November 1919 after the release of the last conscientious objectors.

The collection (ref U DCO) features a number of case files of individual conscientious objectors. Each file contains details of any charges levied, subsequent custodial sentences, and correspondence detailing their experiences whilst interned.

The online catalogue includes a detailed overview of this collection (ref U DCO).

Papers of P. Smith

Papers (ref U DX76) relating to conscientious objectors, mainly in Manchester. See also U DX156 for a small collection of items relating to conscientious objection.

The online catalogue includes a detailed overview of this collection (ref U DX76).

Union of Democratic Control

Initially called the Committee of Democratic Control, the UDC was established during the first days of the First World War. Its stated objectives were: parliamentary control over foreign policy and the prevention of secret diplomacy, a movement for international understanding after the war, and a just peace. The early leaders of the group were Charles Trevelyan (the only member of the Liberal government to resign over the declaration of war), James Ramsay Macdonald, Arthur Ponsonby, Norman Angell and ED Morel. A Committee of 18 members was established, including Arthur Henderson, JA Hobson and Bertrand Russell. By 1918, 300 other groups (mainly co-operatives, trade unions and women's organisations) with 650,000 members were also affiliated to the UDC.

The UDC undertook a massive publicity effort in support of its aims. The collection (ref U DDC) includes 28 pamphlets, 47 leaflets and 18 books that were issued during the war. Items of particular interest include the UDC's periodical, The UDC, Vol. 2. Nos. 1–12 (at U DDC/5/28); UDC Leaflet No. 8 'Our Soldiers and the Union of Democratic Control' at U DDC/5/91; UDC Pamphlet No. 8. 'War and the Workers' at U DDC/5/332; and 'A Plea for Democratic Control', by J. Ramsay Macdonald (at U DDC/5/130).

The online catalogue includes a detailed overview of this collection (ref U DDC).

Frank and Myfanwy Westrope

Frank Westrope and Myfanwy Wynne married in 1911. The couple were pacifists and members of the Independent Labour Party since the early 1900s. Myfanwy was also involved in the women's suffrage movement. Frank was imprisoned as a conscientious objector during the First World War and served his sentence in Wormwood Scrubs, Wandsworth Prison, Hounslow Barracks and Pentonville Prison. By the early 1930s the Westropes had a bookshop in Hampstead, and for a brief period George Orwell lodged with them in the flat above the shop and served in the bookshop in the afternoons. Out of his experiences during this period grew his novel Keep the Aspidistra Flying.

The most significant part of this collection (ref U DX135) is the correspondence between Frank and Myfanwy Westrope, written during Frank's imprisonment as a conscientious objector during the First World War, at U DX/135/3-4. This includes items such as charge sheets, summaries of evidence, a notice to appear before a Military Service Tribunal and Frank's final discharge certificate. Myfanwy Westrope wrote over 300 poems during her lifetime. Those related to the war, which were published in local newspapers and magazines, are held at U DX/135/21.

The online catalogue includes a detailed overview of this collection (ref U DX135).