Conscientious ObjectorsWW1

Can you make a case for a Conchie?


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.


This task gives you the opportunity to explore more deeply one of the view points around Conchies. Choose the argument you wish to expand and write a letter, a speech or a judgement as detailed below.


This task challenges you to get inside the minds of how officials and plaintiffs thought and argued in the tribunals and beyond.

You can choose to represent one of three sides of the argument:

1. Write a letter to the editor of the Exeter Mail to offer your views on the treatment of Conscientious Objectors at Princetown

2. Write a speech for a Conscientious Objector appearing before a tribunal

3. Deliver a judgement from a tribunal to a Conscientious Objector seeking to be exempt from service.

Teacher Notes

Possible arguments for the letter to the press:

* Hearing the COs have days off and trips out

* Your son/husband may have died or been injured serving in the War

* Patriotic arguments about national need

* COs are alive whilst others preserve their freedom and risk death or injury

Possible arguments for COs

* Religious – The Bible says it is sinful to take a life, that life is sacred and we should turn our cheek.

* Political – The war is fought by working men for the benefit of owners and politicians. Working men are the fodder of the war.

* Practical – I need to help on the farm, my skills are essential at home, I have family to care for.

Extension task

Investigate other arguments: Absolutists, Alternativists, Non-Combatants.


Tribunals Information Sheet

CO Information Sheet 2

CO Information Sheet 1

David Parker on Recruitment