Active opposition to World War One took place in the form of protests, public meetings and conscientious objection to conscription. The organisations involved include Christian pacifists, socialists and intellectuals.
There were two major pacifist organisations in Britain:
FOR was founded in Cambridge 1914 by a group of pacifist Christians. During the summer of 1914 an ecumenical conference of Christians who shared the motivation to prevent war was held in Switzerland. However, war broke out before the end of the conference and leading figures, Henry Hodgkin, an English Quaker, and Friedrich Siegmund-Schulze, a German Lutheran, pledged themselves to a continued search for peace with the words: “We are at one in Christ and can never be at war”.
Archives of the Fellowship and its London Branch including minute books and publications are held in the LSE Library Archives, providing insight into their campaigns. Cataloguing of the collection was recently completed as part of the Swords into Ploughshares Project and recent blog postings by the archivist provide insight into this. They include extracts from the scrapbook of a conscientious objector who was sent to prison in 1916.
The No Conscription Fellowship (NCF)
The NCF was formed to support those who objected to taking up arms in the First World War. It was founded by Fenner Brockway – editor of the newspaper the Labour Leader.
Archives and papers of the organisation are held in the Working Class Movement Library in Manchester. LSE Library has holdings of the Labour Leader which took an antiwar stance, as well as Brockway’s biography, in which he describes his imprisonment for distributing anti-conscription leaflets.
Also available are The COs’ Hansard, a weekly report of all references to conscientious objectors in parliament and Troublesome people: a reprint of a NCF souvenir describing their work during the years 1914-1919.
The Women’s International Congress in The Hague
In April 1915, a 1200 women from 12 countries met in The Hague to discuss how to end all wars. Passports were granted to only 25 of the 180 British delegates and eventually only 3 were able to attend: Chrystal Macmillan, Kathleen Courtney and Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence.
LSE Library’s Archives has papers from the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (British Section) which include materials relating to the conference. The main Library also has a history by Gertrude Bussey which provides insight into the early work of the WIPF.
- Shipyard workers around Glasgow mobilised against the war. A key organisation was the Clyde Worker’s Committee. Read accounts of their activities on the Red Clydeside site of the Glasgow Digital Library.
- Marxist leader John Maclean was also jailed for anti-conscription activities. See examples of his writings on the Marxist Internet Archive
- The LSE archives has an account of his trial
- The Peace Pledge Union has a special website on conscientious objection 1914-1918
- The National Archives provides background and highlights relevant sources.
- Imperial War Museum has transcripts of CO testimony as well as a history.
- No Glory in War seeks to use the centenary to promote peace.
You can discover more about LSE Library’s First World War archives with this exclusive online exhibition- World War One at LSE: a common cause.