#whitefeather diaries

Resistance, whatever the penalties

Friday 13 November 2015

As 1915 went on, Howard, like many others, realised that conscription was becoming increasingly likely. On 27 November 1915 the No-Conscription Fellowship gathered in London to discuss tactics and to pledge themselves to resist conscription.

The NCF's chairman was the 25-year-old Clifford Allen. His speech was remembered by many of those present. This is an edited extract.

Speaking with a full sense of responsibility, I want the government and the public to know that our opposition is not going to be a mere political game.

We want to make it perfectly clear that if now the majority in the state (if indeed there is a majority) decides to impose a system which violates men's deepest religious convictions, we are not going to play at opposition.

If, despite our present determined opposition, and notwithstanding our determined opposition in the future, conscription becomes the law of the land, we are willing to undergo the penalties that the state may inflict – yes, even death itself – rather than go back upon our convictions. Let it be clearly understood that the members of our organisation have not formed the Fellowship in order to shelter themselves from suffering.

Life is a very precious thing to young men. We cherish life because of the opportunities for adventure and achievement which it offers to a man who is young. We cherish life because of the call it offers to national and international service, and as we come to our decision here in this conference, we do it casting our eyes over many years of opportunity which lie spread out before us. I believe there is no man amongst us who has any lust for martyrdom for martyrdom's sake.

But once our minds have been made up, I suggest to you that there has come to us a certain joy, because we are able now to put to the practical test the words which we have used so often in the past, and the principles which we have merely proclaimed and debated.

I hold that it is a privilege that the young men of our generation should have such an opportunity of bearing witness to the faith that is in them. Probably far more powerful than countless meetings, or countless declarations, will be the testimony of men who are willing to suffer rather than sacrifice their convictions in this matter of peace.

The conference later passed the following resolution. The members stood in silence as it was adopted.

We, the delegates and members of the No-Conscription Fellowship, assembled in National Conference, fully conscious of the attempt that may be made to impose conscription on this country, recognising that such a system must destroy the sanctity of human life, betray the free traditions of our country and hinder its social and industrial emancipation, though realising the grave consequences to ourselves that may follow our decision, hereby solemnly and sincerely reaffirm our intention to resist conscription, whatever the penalties may be.

You can read more about the consequences in early 2016, when the White feather diaries will resume.

Source: David Boulton, Objection Overruled: Conscription and Conscience in the First World War (Friends' Historical Society, 2014)

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Friday 13 November 2015

On 28 December 1915, the Cabinet agreed to introduce conscription for unmarried men aged 18–40. Howard was 31 and not married. He knew his opposition to war was about to become extremely personal, but this was still for him part of a wider struggle and a bigger faith.