PASSERS-BY joined dozens of peace activists on The Mound in Edinburgh yesterday in a vigil to mark the centenary of the onset of conscription in the First World War and remember the thousands of conscientious objectors who suffered as a result.
The International Conscientious Objectors’ Day vigil remembered those from Edinburgh and elsewhere who refused conscription in the
First World War and all wars past and present. The event included singing from local choir Protest in Harmony, recollections by descendants of their fathers' and grandfathers’ ordeals, and the reading of names of First World War conscientious objectors.
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Peace activists also laid flowers in front of a photo of First World War conscientious objectors and a panel of their names.
Brian Larkin, co-ordinator of Edinburgh Peace and Justice
Centre, said: “We read the names of the 235 Edinburgh men from among the more than 16,000 from across Britain who refused to fight in the First World War, with 6,000 of them going to prison for their stance.
“We also called attention to the thousands of people currently in prison around the world for refusing to take part in wars or to do military service.
“Conscientious objectors during the First World War suffered vilification in their local communities, hard labour, sometimes torture and even death in prison, and some were kept on starvation diets while forced to do slave labour, with 73 men dying in prison or because of their mistreatment.
“More than 300 men were shot at dawn in France for refusing to continue to fight.
“Most European states later came to recognise conscientious objection as a human right, yet today many who refuse to be conscripted are fleeing from countries like Somalia, Eritrea and Ethiopia to claim asylum in Europe and the UK – only to have their claims denied and to be sent back to face persecution.”
Larkin said the vigil was to show solidarity with those who flee from war even as we remember those who refused to participate in the First World War.
The Edinburgh Peace and Justice Centre intends to erect a memorial to conscientious objectors in Princes Street Gardens.
Larkin added: “To the people at the vigil, I quoted the words of Father Daniel Berrigan, the Jesuit priest who died last month, who went to prison for his protests against the Vietnam war.
"He said ‘know where you stand and stand there’.”