Conscientious ObjectorsWW1

A Dramatic Reconstruction


In 1916, the Military Service Act was passed, resulting in compulsory enlistment to the armed forces for most men. This was known as conscription. Following the introduction of conscription, local tribunals were set up to rule on whether individuals who claimed exemption from military service had sufficiently good reason or whether they must serve.

During these sessions plaintiffs were required to put their case as to why, for economic, family or reasons of conscience, they were unable to serve.

Many reasons were often put forward relating to farms and businesses where the individual was claimed to have special skills or be the only family member left.

Some put their case as Conscientious Objectors – those who felt unable to join the War on moral grounds. These fell into two categories; those who would not fight but would help the war effort in some capacity (first aid/stretcher bearers, working in mines or farms) and the Absolutists who would have nothing to do with any part of the war.

Some of these Absolutists were sent to Dartmoor (Princetown) after the prison was cleared of prisoners, to serve time in a work camp.

Under the terms of the Conscription Act 1916 decisions regarding who should or would not face military service was left to local committees to decide. Typically a tribunal consisted of local political worthies and an appointed military advisor who was often likened to a prosecuting counsel.


Reconstruct a tribunal.

The intention of this task is to offer you the opportunity to reconstruct a tribunal and, in doing so, get a flavour of the arguments, tension and pressures.


You are invited to make use of the resources provided to re-create the arguments and passions that were part of such a tribunal.

Perhaps see if you can find examples of the types of questions those appealing were asked and samples of some of the arguments those appearing before the tribunal used.

Are you finding that you begin to feel some of the passions tribunal generated?

Teacher Notes

This task helps students to use identified sources to research a topic.

A suggested method for this task is for the whole class to read about the Conscientious Objection movement by using the suggested websites and resources before assigning roles and asking students to prepare their questions and arguments.


CO Information Sheet 2

CO Information Sheet 1

Tribunals Information Sheet

David Parker on Recruitment