Scottish conscientious objectors who took stance against World War One remembered in new book

Picture: TSPL
Picture: TSPL
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The thousands of Scots who protested against the Great War have been commemorated in a new book telling the stories of conscientious objectors and others who campaigned against the conflict.

The anti-war movement that saw 5,000 people gather on Glasgow Green after the outbreak of hostilities is chronicled by author Robert Duncan in “Objectors & Resisters: Opposition to Conscription and War in Scotland.”

The book examines the role played by political figures like the Labour Party founder Keir Hardie, the early Scottish nationalist Roland Muirhead and the Communist MP Willie Gallacher.

Gallacher was one of many to be jailed for sedition serving a sentence in Calton Prison.

Also imprisoned was John Maclean, the revolutionary socialist who was arrested on 7 February, tried in April for seditious speeches in and around Glasgow, and sentenced to three years imprisonment, initially in Calton, then Peterhead.

Also dealt with in the book is the the exiled anti-war Russian revolutionary Peter Petroff, who worked closely with Maclean in Glasgow and was imprisoned in Edinburgh Castle, followed by a two year internment in a labour camp.

Yesterday Mr Duncan said: “This book redresses the balance in that there has been a lot written about the Great War, but there has been very little about those who objected.

“They were taking a courageous stance for their principles. They were prepared to go to prison or labour camps. They were prepared to suffer for their principles and that is something that not many people know about these days.”

With many of the male leaders of the movement imprisoned, the book charts the important role played by female peace campaigns including rallies organised by the Women Peace Crusaders that attracted up to 14,000 men, women and children through Glasgow.

It also details the “state suppression” of the anti-war movement, discussing state surveillance, harassment, intimidation, political victimisation, repression, and what it describes as “violent attention from organised jingoism”.

The book does not neglect the courage of ordinary working class people who argued for their right not to fight.

For example, it quotes a teenage tailor from Edinburgh Abel Freeman, who was brought before a tribunal to explain his anti-war stance.

Appearing before the tribunal, Freeman,19, said: “If you do not grant me absolute exemption, I am prepared to be shot for my principles, which I would not allow to be violated.”

The book has been published this week by Common Print, the publishing arm of the left-wing Common Weal think-tank.

Isobel Lindsay of the Common Weal and Vice Convener of Scottish CND said: “The opponents of WW1 deserve recognition and now they have it. Scotland had the highest proportionate loss of life on the battlefield apart from Turkey and Serbia but Scotland also saw some of the most active opposition to the war. The struggles of those who opposed the war in the face of persecution and repression helped to shape Scotland’s radical tradition in ways that live on today.”