John Hoare’s diaries will be serialised as part of the Quaker’s project
A new online project telling the stories of men who refused to fight during WW1 has been launched by the Quakers to mark the war’s centenary.
“The White Feather Diaries” will serialise the diaries of conscientious objectors describing the prejudice and personal conflict they faced, the diaries are published in conjunction with powerful filmed oral-history accounts from their children.
The series is named after the symbol of shame and cowardice given by women to men who were out of uniform — a white feather.
One of the moving filmed testimonies is from the son of Donald Saunders, a talented pianist who was forced into years of hard labour due to his pacifist convictions.
“He had an ideal and believed strongly that it was wrong to kill another human being in any circumstances,” says his son — now an old man himself.
Saunders was nonetheless ordered to register for service, but after he refused to put on the uniform, he was court marshalled and sentenced to six months hard labour, breaking rocks.
Even for the time, conditions in prison were brutal — “because of his views, he suffered terrible treatment from warders and prisoners”.
Spat on in the street
The contempt society had for men who refused to enlist, also impacted on his wife outside prison, who was insulted, spat on in the street and sent white feathers.
He spent several years in prison, eventually being released in 1919 — a year after the war had ended. Even then, however, he was haunted by the prejudice against presumed cowards and remained a marked man, with few willing to employ him.
The project will run at incremental periods over three years (2014-2016) up to the anniversary of the 1916 Military Service Act which introduced conscription and recognised conscientious objection.
By Dan Bell
Photograph: © 2014 The Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) in Britain
What do you think of the actions of conscientious objectors? Why do you think the shame imposed on men who did not enlist during WW1 is so rarely discussed? If the nation faced an external threat again on the scale of WW1 or WW2, would we still expect men and boys to sign up? Tell us what you think in a comment or a tweet.
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