Conscientious objectors at a work centre in Wakefield. Euclid Thursby (front row, second from left) - Photo courtesy of Sheila Lorimer/Imperial War Museum
There were approximately 16,000 registered conscientious objectors in WW1. Of these, about 1,500 spent the war in prison with the rest doing work of 'national importance' or undertaking non-combatant army roles.
A conscientious objector is 'an individual who has claimed the right to refuse to perform military service on the grounds of freedom of thought, conscience or religion' - United Nations Human Rights Committee
In WW1 in Nelson there were 93 registered conscientious objectors (sometimes called 'conchies'). The men had to go in front of a Tribunal for a hearing where they had to put forward their case for exemption. The hearing might only last 10 minutes and the Tribunals had the reputation of being notoriously hard on conscientious objectors, reflecting widespread negative public opinion.
Euclid Thursby was a young Nelson weaver who lived in Larch St. He refused to be conscripted into the military on political grounds and as a consequence was sentenced to one year's hard labour. He spent time in a number of prisons such as Wormwood Scrubs, Preston and Wakefield. After the war he lived quietly and worked as a school caretaker firstly at the Old Grammar School on Market Street and then at the new Grammar School off Walton Lane. He features in the Imperial War Museum North's exhibition 'Street to Trench'
Film courtesy of www.in-sit u.org.uk/ courage-of-conviction.
John Burrows of Napier Street was born in 1898 and became a weaver. He was a member of the Independent Labour Party who held strong pacifist views. He refused to be conscripted int o the military because of his pacifist views; he would not allow himself to be put into a position where he would be killing other working men just like himself. His story is told by his son Jack Burrows in the short film He spent 3 years in prison at Strangeways, Worm wood Scrubs and lastly at a work centre at Wakefield prison.
Conscientious objectors were often treated badly. The Military Service Act of 1916 included a 'conscience clause' allowing men to object on moral grounds and to apply for exemption. Nevertheless the media often portrayed them as lazy or even branded them as traitors for their beliefs.
Questions were asked in Parliament following a telegram received from a Mr Bland of 203 Barkerhouse Road on the 19th June 1916 who complained about the poor treatment of conscientious objectors in the 17th Battalion of the Cheshire Regiment by a certain lance corporal. A Mr Morrell asked the Under Secretary of State for War if he could elaborate on claims of brutal ill-treatment and cruelty at the Prees Hill Camp near Whitchurch. Reports of similar occurences were not uncommon.