National service or national slavery?
Peace activists made a last-ditch attempt to resist the introduction of conscription as it was being debated by Parliament. A strongly worded leaflet produced by the No-Conscription Fellowship was attacked in the press at the beginning of 1916. Here it is.
SHALL BRITONS BE CONSCRIPTS?
The time has come to appeal to all those who value our traditional British freedom.
A determined resistance must be made to the sinister endeavour to impose upon the people under some such formula as “compulsory attestation for single men”, the evils inherent in Conscription.
National service must not be degraded to national slavery. Freedom of conscience must not be sacrificed to military necessity, nor British liberty to political expediency. Man's deepest religious and moral convictions must not be swept aside.
WE ARE CONFIDENT THIS DANGER CAN YET BE AVERTED.
We appeal to the servants of Christ and to lovers of religious freedom. Is religious persecution once again to stain the life of our country?
We appeal to our fellow workers in factory, workshop, and mine to maintain the right of every man to decide for himself the issue of life and death.
We appeal to those who rejoice in that liberty of conscience, that tolerance of thought and action, which make them honour the name of their country.
THE RESPONSIBILITY IS YOURS TO MAINTAIN INTACT THE LIBERTIES OF THE BRITISH PEOPLE.
If you fail to do this we – men of military age – must and will resist alone, whatever the consequences.
We believe in human brotherhood, in the sanctity of human life and personality. We will not kill. We will accept no military duties. While the soul of Britain lives our witness cannot be in vain.
Signed on behalf of the No-Conscription Fellowship:
Clifford Allen, Chairman
Edward Grubb, Hon. Treasurer
A. Fenner Brockway, Hon Secretary
W.J. Chamberlain, Hon. Organiser
A. Barrett Brown
John P. Fletcher
Leyton Richards (Rev.)
Source: Produced by the No-Conscription Fellowship, 1915.
The BBC Radio 4 Thought for the Day on the centenary of the Act that brought in conscription and recognised the right to conscientious objection.