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Conscientious Objectors.

It was not until the First World War that the term conscientious objection was recognised. “Conscription was introduced in 1916 to replace the thousands of men who had already been killed, and more than 6,000 men went to prison because the Government refused to recognise their beliefs,” said Mr Hetherington, who has spent years compiling a database of every British conscientious objector.

A Conscientious Objector is a person who objects to participation in all forms of war, and whose belief is based on a religious, moral, or ethical belief system.

“A lot of those men suffered terribly or even died for refusing to fight. They shouldn’t be forgotten.”

Although the Government agreed to a “conscience clause” in the 1916 Conscription Act, which gave the right to claim exemption from military service, out of more than 16,000 men who applied, only a handful were successful.

Conscientious objectors fell into three categories – “absolutists”, opposed to any form of military service and anything which helped the war effort; “alternativists” who were prepared to undertake alternative civilian work free from military control; and “non-combatants” who were prepared enter the military in a non-combat role. If the men failed to get an exemption they were liable to be drafted or arrested and punished.

There was little sympathy among the public. Although about 3,400 conscientious objectors accepted call-up into the Non-Combatant Corps, which the press dubbed the No Courage Corps, or the Royal Army Medical Corps, other men, who regarded themselves as absolutists or alternativists, who were forcibly enlisted were often bullied, deprived of basic rights, and imprisoned if they refused to obey orders.

It is estimated that more than 6,312 conscientious objectors were arrested; 5,970 were court-martialled – some were sentenced to death but had their sentences commuted before being sent to prison. Other conscientious objectors were sent to work in camps, set up by the Home Office, where they were forced to make fertiliser from dead animals or do back-breaking manual labour for non-existent projects.

At a camp at Dyce, near Aberdeen, about 200 men were forced to quarry stone while living in leaky tents with poor sanitation, little food, and no medical attention. One man, Walter Roberts, died and became the first of 73 conscientious objectors across the UK to lose their lives as a result of their treatment.

Sussex is is more often than not portrayed as a tranquil and idyllic place to live and work, and in first War this portrayal prevailed,  but the truth was far from this.

The landed gentry would give the impression that all was fine, and that there workers were only too willing to join up, work harder in the fields, and they were portrayed as fit and strong, but remember the sick, workers suffering from many years of hardship, crippled with arthritis, fit and well, not all.

Many for personal reasons and other objections would not fight, but on the whole accepted alternative work f national importance.

Seaford Camp.

Double click photo to enlarge.

The photo shows conscientious objectors going to work, mainly employed in road construction, and beach defences repair work

In 1916 the roof of a hut at Seaford used to house some 90 conscientious objectors was tarred by Canadian troops in a arson attack.In Seaford there was great tension between the troops about to embark to the trenches of France, and for many it would be a one way journey, and the camp of conscientious objectors.But it should be noted that many of the objectors’ were employed in work of national importance, such as road construction.By 1918 there was not so much tension, and more understanding, tolerance, between conscientious objectors and enlisted men.







In Sompting the local well known architect L.J. Redgrave Cripps a conscientious objector was found work in the local nursery’s growing vegetables.

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