The Conchie

Item type: Painting Date: 1931 Description: Oil painting by Arthur W. Gay showing a conscientious objector on his way to prison, escorted by two soldiers. The term ‘conscientious objector’, or ‘CO’ for short, was first used in World War 1 to describe those who objected to serving in the armed forces on moral grounds. When conscription was introduced in 1916, 16,000 such men claimed exemption from military service. Some felt that fighting went against their religion, others simply held all life sacred or saw the war as purely an upper class quarrel. Very few COs were granted full exemption by the tribunals judging their cases. Many accepted call-ups to non-combatant roles such as ambulance work, however, about 6,000 were imprisoned for refusing to help in the war effort in any way. The majority of these were employed by the government to grow food, but 1,500 refused even to compromise that much and remained in prison. 24 of these actually died due to the harsh treatment which they received. The remaining COs were not released until 1919 and were deprived of the right to vote until 1929. The United Nations Commission on Human Rights did not recognise the right to conscientious objection until 1987. There are still many places where it is not acknowledged today.

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