#whitefeather diaries

Quakers smeared in the media

Monday 7 March 2016

Quaker opposition to war had led to the Religious Society of Friends being attacked in the press ever since the war began. The attacks intensified once conscription was introduced as Quakers supported those resisting it – whether members of the Society or not. This article appeared in the York Herald on 24 February 1916.

Not satisfied apparently with the provisions of the Military Service Act, which enable a conscientious objector to register his protest against combatant service before a local tribunal, and secure relegation to a non-combatant unit, the Society of Friends and “The Fellowship of Reconciliation”, whatever that might be, have determined upon a campaign of propaganda.

This seems to be directed with a view to obtaining more adherents to “the cause”, for the literature concerning it has been circulated in York, Scarborough and other towns to people unconnected with either body. In York, it has also reached the members of the local tribunal, apparently with a view to influencing them in their decisions when the time for dealing with conscientious objectors arrives.

Mr S.H. Davies, until recently a member of the City Council, and who is prominently identified with the Union of Democratic Control, is responsible for the issue of the literature in York. It consists of two circulars. One is headed “Friends and Military Service”. The other, from “The Fellowship of Reconciliation”, contains four closely printed quarto sheets of type matter, and is addressed to members of military age. It recites the steps that should be taken to obtain exemption, and further states that members will not be satisfied with exemption only from combatant duties. At the same time, they are willing to do work “of national importance in the true sense of the word,” but “not for the prosecution of the war”.

It is pointed out that refusal by conscientious objectors does not involve the death penalty. In view of the specific provisions of the Military Service Act, it is scarcely likely that such a selfish claim can – much less than will – be entertained, although the promoters of the movement place much reliance on a statement by Mr. Herbert Samuel which claimed to give a very wide interpretation to the exemptions.

Source: York Herald, 24 February 1916. 

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