#whitefeather diaries

Quakers divided

Thursday 10 March 2016

Laurence was not the only Quaker to be critical of conscientious objectors. While many Quaker groups – such as the Friends Service Committee – took a radically pacifist stance, others disagreed. A group of prominent Quakers in Birmingham signed a letter declaring their support for alternative service. It was published in the Birmingham Post on 19 February 1916.

Sir,

As there seems to be a feeling in some quarters that the attitude of the Society of Friends with regard to national service in the present crisis is a negative one, we wish if possible to remove that impression.

The Society has recently re-affirmed its opposition to compulsory military service, but we are convinced that as a whole its members gratefully recognise the consideration which the government has shown for those who share the views of Friends with regard to war, by inserting provisions in the Act permitting exemption from military service to the conscientious objector, and by instructions given to the new tribunals that “every consideration should be given to the man whose objection genuinely rests on religious or moral convictions.”

We owe so much to our country for liberty of conscience and the full privileges of citizenship that we should at all times willingly offer her our best service. Especially should we do so at the present time when our land is overshadowed by suffering, anxiety and death. Probably in no other country in Europe could the Society of Friends exist with any freedom of speech and action. We feel strongly that under these circumstances every one of us, whether affected by the Military Service Act or not, is in duty bound to render any national service that conscience may permit, and which he has capacity and strength to give.

Some hundreds of our younger members, both men and women, have for a long time been giving voluntary service in Flanders, France, Holland and elsewhere in connection with the Friends Ambulance Unit and the Friends War Victims Relief Fund. We hope that those remaining in this country who claim exemption from military service on conscientious grounds, if not already engaged in work of national importance, will make whole-hearted offers of such service to the tribunals. We have confidence that they will receive a fair hearing, and that the tribunals will treat with respect any sincere and honest conviction.

Walter Barrow
William A. Cadbury
Alfred J. Cudworth
William Darby
John Glaisyer
Gilbert Southall
T. Stacey Wilson

Source: Birmingham Post, 19 February 1916. 

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