Men Who Said No


Co Group: Dartmoor   Long before the start of the 1914-1918 war thousands of men and women across Europe campaigned against the escalating signs of war and, finally, against the war itself.

As the war progressed and the numbers of the dead and injured mounted and volunteer numbers shrank to a trickle, the army urgently needed replacements. The stage was set for the passing of the Military Service Act which forced men to be trained to fight and ultimately kill 'the enemy' which they did in prodigious numbers. Over 10,000,000 soldiers in total were killed in that war.

Between May 1916 and the armistice in November 1918 some 20,000 men, for a variety of reasons, refused to be conscripted into the British army. Many felt that it was wrong to kill under any circumstance and that war was not the solution to any problem. In the Second World War over 60,000 men refused to fight. Today, around the world, many still end up in prison for refusing to be conscripted.

Here we remember these men, their many supporters and their often courageous stand against the power of an overweening state.

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From the moment men received the letter demanding that they present themselves at a Military Depot they were deemed to be soldiers. From then on all their actions were judged under military law. How men responded varied but many, as Henry above, simply refused all orders.


Some 2,000 Military Service Tribunals were set up around the country to question men who wished to be exempted from the universal and legally enforced compulsion to join the army. There were a number of reasons for which an exemption could be given. Conscientious objection was one. Applicants, such as John above, had to fill in questionnaires making their case. While this process was intended to be fair and impartial it was rarely the case. Many Tribunals were biased against conscientious objectors and the ever present Military representative made sure there was no backsliding by other members of the Tribunal. The military need for fighting men at the front was paramount.


The Tribunal was the paper of the No-Conscription Fellowship. It was launched in March 1916 shortly after the first conscientious objectors were being forced into the army and experiencing brutal attempts to force them to conform. Month by month we publish extracts from The Tribunal and include contextual commentary. Read the instalments here

The Tribunal



Some of the men and women who resisted war

The names



Banged Up

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In Britain between 1916 and 1918 some 20,000 men resisted the call to fight and kill. These were the conscientious objectors. Of those we have information for, more than 1,500 spent the war in prison, mostly in solitary confinement, some 13,000 complied in various degrees to perform ‘work of national importance’, well over 5,000 accepted being part of the army in an noncombatant role. Only a tiny number were given total exemption which according to the Act should have been available to all ‘genuine’ conscientious objectors - in effect all of the above. * figures are approximate


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Kier Hardie: Trafalgar Sq
Keir Hardie speaking at Anti War rally in Trafalgar Square 2 days before Britain declared war on Germany. Countdown to war    


The Context The Women The punishment International CO Day  
CO Stone  
Refusal by men to be forced into the military is part of a different world view to the one that led to war. | more Women played an important role in the support of COs and in the anti war movements. | more The Army's brutal mindset revealed.
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International Conscientious Objectors Day is marked around the world each year on 15 May. | More  


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