Jun 16

Refusing to fight in World War I: Resistance to military conscription in First World War Britain and Ireland.

Poster for Conscientious Objectors talk
We are familiar with how Irish people responded to the threat of conscription during the First World War , with a mass campaign of resistance which prevented it’s introduction here. This event will look in detail at how the same threat was faced in Britain , by individuals and organisations who showed great courage in resisting, while faced not just with propaganda , harassment and violence , but also the legal threat of imprisonment and even the death penalty.

Come and hear two excellent speakers, who will also talk about the ‘underground railway’ to Ireland and the Irish anti-conscription movement.


“Resistance to Military Conscription in First World War Britain: The Case of the Conscientious Objectors”

This talk by Lois S. Bibbings will give an overview of the legal regime which oversaw volunteerism and conscription. It will look at conventional ideas about objectors alongside an exploration of who these men (and women) were, what they did and why, what happened to them and how they were viewed. A complex picture emerges which takes us a long way from stereotypical images of objectors as simply, for example, despised, rejected, unmanly, lacking courage and/or devotedly religious.


‘On the run –and the matter of Ireland’

This talk by Cyril Pearce will explore a largely ignored aspect of anti military resistance.From the introduction of conscription in 1916 to the end of the war each year at least 80,000 men were reported missing as deserters or absentees from the British army’s home forces. Among them was an unquantifiable number of men who identified themselves as Conscientious Objectors. Some of their stories involved Ireland as a Conscription-free place of refuge. They also involved collaboration with Irish rebels in obtaining passage to America. Their stories of temporary or permanent escape are a part of the history of Britain’s 1914-18 war resisters which has been largely ignored.



Details of speakers -

(Lois S. Bibbings is Professor of Law, Gender and History at the University of Bristol. She began research WW1 conscientious objectors in Britain nearly 30 years ago. She has delivered numerous talks as well as writing articles and a book Telling Tales about Men: Conceptions of Conscientious Objectors to Military Service During the First World War (MUP, 2009) on the subject. She is one of the curators of the ‘Refusing to Kill: Bristol’s World War 1 Conscientious Objectors’ exhibition (which moves to Bristol Records Office in the summer) and a member of Remembering the Real WW1 (https://network23.org/realww1/about/). She is also helping to put together a national WW1 festival in 2019, Commemoration, Conflict and Conscience, which focuses on telling lesser known and hidden stories of the war, including a focus on conscientious objection, war resistance, mutinies, strikes, military executions, women’s roles, commonwealth experiences, views from outside the UK as well as looking at commemoration, remembrance and reflecting on what has happened in the intervening 100 years (https://everydaylivesinwar.herts.ac.uk/ccc/).)

(Cyril Pearce is an Honorary Research Fellow in the School of History,University of Leeds. His current research interest is British war resisters in World War 1. His book, Comrades in Conscience: The story of an English community’s opposition to the Great War (First published 2001, new edition, 2014) was based or the study of the anti-war movement in his home town of Huddersfield. The search for other places like Huddersfield is what has driven his last twenty years work. A central part of that work has been the compilation of the Pearce Register of British Conscientious Objectors, a database of more than 19,000 COs which is currently on-line as part of the Imperial War Museum’s ‘Lives of the First World War’ project. A new book with the working title Communities of Resistance : Patterns of Dissent in Britain, 1914 – 1918, is in preparation.)





This event is part of a co-operative project between the East Wall History Group , the Stoneybatter & Smithfield Peoples History Project and the Bristol Radical History Group .

DCC logo (1) (1)

Supported by Dublin City Council Decade of Commemorations Fund for Communities .


Get every new post on this blog delivered to your Inbox.

Join other followers: