Conscientious Objectors In Their Own Words

Before the First World War there had never been compulsory military service in Britain. The first Military Service Bill was passed into law in January 1916 following the failure of recruitment schemes to gain sufficient volunteers in 1914 and 1915.

There were approximately 16,000 British men on record as conscientious objectors (COs) to armed service during the First World War. This figure does not include men who may have had anti-war sentiments but were either unfit, in reserved occupations, or had joined the forces anyway. The number of COs may appear small compared with the six million men who served, but the impact of these men on public opinion and on future governments was to be profound.

Nellie’s husband in The 306:Day is one such Conscientious Objector, in prison for his beliefs.

In recognition of Conscientious Objectors Day, discover the stories of individuals who vehemently opposed the First World War in this fascinating article and interviews with COs by The Imperial War Museums, Lives of First World War project.

image: IWM Q 103094
‘On The Stool’ Postcard of a conscientious objector prison

An insight into a true family story at the heart of The 306:Day

GERTRUDE FARR was 99 when she died and for most of her years she kept a shocking secret from even her closest family.

Her husband, Harry, was executed for cowardice during the First World War.

Now Gertrude’s struggle in the aftermath is being played out on stage in The 306: Day.

And her granddaughter, Janet Booth, who successfully fought to have shell shock sufferer Harry pardoned 90 years later, had a front row seat to see her family’s history being dramatised.

Read the full Sunday Post Story.

Four star reviews in for The 306: Day

The Scotsman– Four Stars:

“although there have been many shows created in memory of the Great War over the past three years, I can’t recall one so possessed by the urgent sense that however much has changed, the world of these women is the same one we still inhabit today.”

The Herald– Four Stars:

“Jemima Levick’s production is a beautifully conceived construction.”

The Stage – Four stars:

“a production which finds modern resonances in century-old injustices.”

The 306: Day – 4 Stars The Scotsman

“The music and song is sometimes almost overwhelming, the movement eloquent, the cast so fiercely committed to the story that they glow with a kind of angry incandescence.”

Jemima Levick and The 306: Day writer Oliver Emanuel discuss women & war with The Herald

“What struck me about the first part,” says Levick, “was that it was about these vulnerable men, and the second is about strong women. In the first play, the men were led to their death, and were effectively shot after being led astray by the government. In part two, we see how women begin the peace process, and how, rather than being just about the home front, it was women who begin acting to try and stop the war.”

“The play started off as a historical drama,” says Emanuel, “and we thought it might run the risk of ending up being about something arcane and old fashioned. Since then, the rise of Donald Trump has prompted this angry upsurge from women protesting, and who are singing out for equality and peace, and suddenly it felt like we were doing something that was about today.”

“The time the play is set in is when women’s emancipation began,” says Levick, “and that was hugely affected by everything else that was going on. Would women have got the vote without the war? We don’t know, but The 306: Day is a deeply personal story about how these women work out their survival techniques in extraordinary times.”

Read Neil Cooper’s full article in the Herald.

The importance of being dangerous: Lesley Orr pays tribute to the unsung Scotswomen who fought for peace and justice during WWI in The Herald

“A century ago, on a wet December evening in 1917, as the incessant slaughter and grinding hardships of the First World War were extracting an ever greater toll from the working-class families of Glasgow, groups of protesting women marched from Govan and Bridgeton, from Partick and Maryhill, carrying placards and singing songs through the city streets. They converged on George Square, distributing illegal leaflets and holding banners aloft bearing slogans including “Peace Is Victory” and “Stop The War” – not quite “Trump is a bawbag”, but their message was just as direct and extremely provocative at a time when the government’s policy was for total military victory and the unconditional surrender of Germany. The Women’s Peace Crusade (WPC) was on the march.

That story of Scottish women-led movements putting their bodies on the line to protest against carnage at the Front and the draconian policies of a militarised state has remained mostly untold for a century.

In recent years, Scottish historians and activists have contributed to a revival of interest in researching and highlighting the diverse ways that women responded to the experience of the war years. The Remember Mary Barbour Association has successfully campaigned for a lasting memorial to “a great Govan hero”.

Last year, Glasgow Women’s Library hosted learning groups, an exhibition and re-enacted a rally at Glasgow Green to commemorate the WPC centenary. And now, a new piece of theatre tells the story of three women who follow different paths of speaking and silence, of dissent and resistance, as they struggle in their own ways to survive the impacts of war in their lives.”

Read Lesley Orr’s full Herald article.

Finding out more about The 306: Day at Glasgow Women’s Library

Our Producer Rebecca visited Glasgow Women’s Library last weekend to hear more about the characters in The 306:Day, their stories and the context for the experiences of women in WW1 from a panel including by feminist, historian and writer Dr Lesley Orr, the play’s writer Oliver Emanuel and composer Gareth Williams.

The work of participants who took part in Silence and Song workshops was also on display in the library, including over 200 embroidered handkerchieves with the names of women effected by the deaths of the 306. It was a fascinating and moving day.