Scotland’s conscientious objectors to be remembered at Edinburgh Castle

Curator Dorothy Kidd holds a sketch by Edwin Lucas, from 1943 or 1944. Picture: Neil Hanna
Curator Dorothy Kidd holds a sketch by Edwin Lucas, from 1943 or 1944. Picture: Neil Hanna

They are the Second World War heroes whose efforts have gone virtually unrecognised – after they refused to take up arms in the conflict.

Now Scotland’s conscientious objectors are being honoured for their contributions to the war effort – in an exhibition at Edinburgh Castle.

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Doctors, nurses and ambulance drivers who objected to the war on the grounds of religious, political or humanitarian reasons are being recognised in a series of new displays at the National War Museum based at the attraction.

The exhibition recalls how people could secure an exemption from conscription at a court-style tribunal if they agreed to play a “non-combatant role “ in the war.

Among those highlighted are Peter Tennant, a children’s charity worker from Roslin, Midlothian, and son of the Liberal politician Harold Tennant, who joined the Friends Ambulance Unit, a volunteer ambulance service set up by the Quakers, which was asked by the Red Cross to provide medical assistance in China.

He became second-in-command of the unit and was with them in Burma in 1942 when they were cut off by the rapidly-advancing Japanese army, but managed to escape, via the Chindwin River and the Naga Hills.

On return to Scotland, he and his family relocated to Perthshire where he had a farm for nearly 30 years, before moving to Northern Ireland, where he became a civil rights and peace activist.

His daughter, Alison, who launched the exhibition, said: “He actually told his father several years before the war broke out that he was against killing people as a way to solve problems. His father actually had a heart attack on the billiard table when he told him.

“It’s wonderful that this exhibition is happening. The war museum is all about how to kill people in different ways. This shows here is a different way of dealing with problems and that war is not the answer. It just breeds more war.

“People still don’t understand that being a pacifist isn’t about being passive, it’s about working your socks off for peace and making sure people know there is another way.”

Sketches and a paint box belonging to Leith-born artist Edwin Lucas, who became a hospital orderly after being granted an exemption, feature in the exhibition.

It also reveals how the writer Frederick Burrows, the son of an Edinburgh chauffeur, wrestled with his conscience after being disowned by friends and relatives for his stance.

Work by celebrated Scottish writers Edwin Morgan and Norman McCaig also features in the exhibition, which will run at the museum until January next year.