Aims: • The reasons why conscription was introduced. • Why some men were exempt from conscription. • The treatment of conscientious objectors during the war.
Conscription • Britain entered the war with a volunteer army of 90,000 men. In the first year of the war over 2 million men volunteered to join the army. • By 1915 high casualty rates and a drop in volunteers led the government to introduce conscription in 1916. • Conscription is when a government introduces compulsory military service. • At first this new law applied to unmarried men between the ages of 18-41 but within six months it was extended to married men as well.
Exemptions Some categories of men could apply to be exempt from this new law. • Carried out a job vital to the war effort. • Religious beliefs • Moral grounds
Conscientious Objectors • Some men totally refused to be conscripted. • They were called conscientious objectors or ‘conchies’ because their conscience would not allow them to fight – there were 16,000 in total. • Some refused for religious reasons, political reasons and others argued that they were pacifists. • They would have to face a special court called a Tribunal and convince the court of their beliefs.
People regarded conscientious objectors as cowards and even at the end of the war they were despised and often found it difficult to get a job. • Most of them were prepared to accept non-combatant duties e.g. stretchers bearers, drivers etc. • They often faced the same dangers as those fighting in the trenches.
Absolutists • Some conscientious objectors refused to help the war effort in any way. • They were shown no sympathy by Military Tribunals. • Around 6,261 were sent to prison or labour camps. • Conditions were harsh – inmates were beaten, kept in solitary confinement, thrown into wooden cages and pits in the ground. • Some went on hunger strike to protest but they never won round public sympathy.
Absolutists • Around 1,500 absolutists were sent to the Western Front for active service. • If they refused to obey orders they could be court-martialled. • Field Punishment Number One involved the offender being attached to a fixed object for up to two hours a day for a period of up to three months. • Men who suffered this punishment were sometimes put in a place within range of enemy fire.
Group Task – Conchie Cartoon: Study the cartoon carefully and answer the questions which follow: • Who does the man in the chair represent? How do we know this? • Describe what the man in the chair is doing. • Who else do you see in the cartoon? • What are they wearing? • What does this cartoon tells us about peoples’ attitudes towards conscientious objectors?
A cartoon produced by Frank Holland during the war ‘This Little Pig Stayed at Home’