Last spring, based on documents in the Central Library, we published details of 47 men from Bristol who were imprisoned as conscientious objectors during World War 1. For moral, religious or political reasons they refused to take part in the war. Many people contacted us having seen these names and provided us with more information about these men or other conscientious objectors.

Nationally, Cyril Pearce, has been working for many years to compile a database of conscientious objectors. To date he has collated information about over 17000 men. We have been able to access this data and can now publish details of 350 men from Bristol and the surrounding area who saw themselves as conscientious objectors. Many were subjected to harsh conditions in prison. After the war many found it difficult to return to their jobs. Others agreed to serve in non-combatant roles like the Friends’ Ambulance Service. All paid a great price for having the courage to stand up for their principles.

 Whiteford brothers
A combatant, conchie and ambulance driver; the Whiteford brothers go to ‘war’.

2016 is the centenary of the introduction of conscription; the centenary of the imprisonment of the first of these men. We will be holding a number of events to mark this over the coming months. Now we have these 350 names we want to find out as much as possible about these men and their families. Please follow the links and help us if you can

Conscientious Objectors

We have been collecting a list of Bristol’s conscientious objectors. The list of names that we have found so far can be found in “Do You Have A Conchie In The Family?“.

Stuff linked to this project...

Articles

Walter Ayles 1945

Walter Ayles

If I believed in the efficacy of slaughter to remedy evils, I would long ago have advocated the killing of those who, year after year, have been responsible for the sweated, the starved, the slummed. I know however, in my heart of hearts, that slaughter being wrong is no remedy. Walter Ayles, 1916 […] Read More =>
Whiteford brothers

Do You Have A Conchie In The Family?

From 1916-19 many men & women in Bristol organised opposition to conscription. Dozens of Bristolians were imprisoned as conscientious objectors. These included Walter Ayles, who was a city councillor and Bristol's most prominent opponent of World War 1; the three Reinge brothers from Totterdown […] Read More =>

The Christmas Truce(s)

A British sergeant is shot dead almost at the outset, as he stands on the parapet. But this makes no difference. It must be an accident. The supreme craving of humanity, the irresistible, spontaneous impulse born of a common faith and a common fear, fully triumph. And so the grey and khaki figures […] Read More =>
Anti-war Womens’ choir

Dockside Debate 2nd August 1914: The Movie

On Sunday 2nd August 1914, tens of thousands of people demonstrated across the country against Britain's entry into what became the first World War. In Bristol an anti-war demonstration on the Downs was followed by a mass meeting of Dockers on the Grove to discuss the worrying situation on the […] Read More =>
Anti-war politician Kier Hardie addresses a protest in Trafalgar Square (Sunday August 2nd 1914)

Should Britain Go to War With Germany?

Opposition to WW1 in Bristol in August 1914 War enthusiasm? There is a perception in Britain that popular patriotic pressure drove politicians to declare war on Germany on August 4th 1914 and that the population somehow desired war. This so-called ‘war enthusiasm’ has been characterised in the […] Read More =>

Pamphlets

Walter Ayles Front Cover

Slaughter No Remedy

Walter Ayles was a fighter – but a fighter who didn’t believe in killing. He fought against unemployment and ruthless employers but also against the pro-war fever that led to the First World War. A Bristol councillor before the War, he was sent to prison for his opposition to it. Soon after his […] Read More =>
The Bristol Deserter front cover

The Bristol Deserter

The years leading up to 1914 saw a wave of strike action across Britain; at the same time there were fears of war with Germany whipped up by the press and in popular culture. Some like Bristol’s Trade Union Leader Ernest Bevin argued that workers’ interests were the same worldwide and that war would […] Read More =>

Class Cohesion versus Spurious Patriotism

With a new afterword by Kevin Morgan. A 2015 reprint of a 1915 pamphlet, originally published at the height of reaction during World War One. Proposing class struggle and international solidarity in response to nationalism and war, it’s a unique voice of dissent within the British labour movement of […] Read More =>
Strikers, Hobblers, Conchies & Reds front cover

Strikers, Hobblers, Conchies & Reds

This book can be bought from breviarystuff.org.uk. In the 1970s and 80s a revival of interest emerged in researching Bristol’s vigorous radical past, reflected in the publications of the Bristol branch of the Historical Association and Bristol Broadsides. This revival has continued, echoed in the […] Read More =>
#31 Bristol ILP Front Cover

Bristol Independent Labour Party

During World War One a significant minority of women and men throughout the country took part in a peace movement. They demanded the democratic control of foreign policy, a negotiated peace and a just, non- punitive settlement at the end of the conflict. They also joined with the wider labour […] Read More =>

Coal On One Hand, Men On The Other

The following resolutions were passed at a meeting of Forest of Dean Miners at Speech House in August 1917. “That we, the Forest of Dean Miners, enter our most emphatic protest against the agent for committing us to the comb-out scheme before first of all ascertaining the view of the miners of the […] Read More =>

Event Series

WWI Autumn 2016 Poster

Resisting the War: Deserters, Conchies and Mutineers

Download the Resisting the War programme (pdf) Read More =>

Remembering the Real WW1 – Summer 1916

The scale of Britain's involvement in World War 1 changed in 1916. Any initial enthusiasm for the war was wearing off. Early recruits had been trained and sent to the front. There was no sign of imminent victory. Volunteer numbers were drying up. Those who had opposed the war in 1914 were joined by […] Read More =>

Remembering the Real WW1 – Autumn 2014

World War One is often portrayed as an inevitable or necessary conflict, which the majority of Britons enthusiastically accepted. This is far from the truth. Remembering the Real World War One is three weeks of events aimed at uncovering hidden histories of resistance to the ‘Great War’ in Bristol […] Read More =>

Remembering the Real WWI

2014 is the 100th anniversary of the start of the First World War. The British government plans to spend £55 million marking this occasion (and the centenary of other stages of the war). Comments from David Cameron calling for a 'truly national commemoration' stressing our 'national spirit' suggest […] Read More =>

Events

Women and Conscientious Objection to Military Service

Quaker Meeting House, 126 Hampton Road, Redland, Bristol BS6 6JE A free event on women and conscientious objection to military service. Note: Registration is required for this event, details here. Speakers will include:- Professor Lois Bibbings, University of Bristol, author of Telling Tales About […] Read More =>

The Dings and World War One

Bethesda Methodist Church, 138a Church Road, Redfield, Bristol, BS5 9HH An illustrated talk by Geoff Woolfe author of The Bristol Deserter on the life and times of Arthur and Alfred Jefferies, both of whom were born in St Philips and lived in the Dings. Both fell as victims of the Battle of the […] Read More =>

Slaughter No Remedy

Upper Engagement Room, The Students' Union at UWE, Union 1, Frenchay Campus, Coldharbour Lane, Bristol, BS16 1QY ‘Canting humbugs’ was the way some in Bristol characterised opponents of the ‘Great War’. But it is now clear that men like local councillor Walter Ayles, prepared to go to prison for […] Read More =>
WWI Autumn 2016 Poster

Victims of the Somme

Dings Park, Oxford St, Bristol BS2 0QU. A commemoration and wreath-laying to remember Arthur and Alfred Jefferies, both of whom were born in St Philips and lived in the Dings. Both fell as victims of the Battle of the Somme in 1916. Arthur was killed in action in Geuedecourt on September 16th 1916. […] Read More =>
WWI Autumn 2016 Poster

Slaughter No Remedy

The premier of Slaughter No Remedy a short film that studies the life of Walter Ayles a leading member of the Independent Labour Party in Bristol who was jailed in 1916 for his refusal to fight in World War One. This is followed by Watford’s Quiet Heroes a documentary telling the dramatic and […] Read More =>
WWI Autumn 2016 Poster

Sylvia Pankhurst, The Dreadnought and the ‘Great War’

During the First World War Sylvia Pankhurst's newspaper, The Dreadnought was the most consistently anti-war publication. It not only opposed the global conflict but condemned the crushing of the 1916 Easter Rising in Ireland, supported the 1917 Russian Revolution and campaigned for a revolution in […] Read More =>
WWI Autumn 2016 Poster

Bristol – Opposition to the First World War

'Canting humbugs' was the way some in Bristol characterised opponents of the 'Great War'. But it is now clear that men like local councillor Walter Ayles, prepared to go to prison for their beliefs, had considerable local support. A talk with video extracts. Venue: Kingfisher Cafe, 99 Burley Grove […] Read More =>
WWI Autumn 2016 Poster

Deserters, Conchies and Mutineers

Ringleaders and Reds in Khaki - British Army mutinies during the First World War British Military historians and assorted flag-wavers celebrate the enthusiastic rush to the colours; the ensuing blood sacrifice of British Tommies, White Dominion troops and (belatedly) colonial formations and even […] Read More =>
WWI Autumn 2016 Poster

Smoke, Gas, Strikes, Metal and Slums

Meet at Bristol Temple Meads station forecourt. Well over 50 people turned up when we put on this walk in July. It was so popular we’re doing it again. So if you enjoyed it so much last time you want to do it again, or you’ve been kicking yourself because you missed it, come along on 2nd October. […] Read More =>

Smoke: Gas: Strikes: Metal: Slums

A 2 hour walk around St Philips and the Dings. Alfred Jefferies lived in St Philips before 1914, he was shot for desertion in France On 1st November 1916. We will walk around the area, highlighting forgotten industry, back streets, schools, and social history. The years leading up to 1914 saw a wave […] Read More =>

Battle Of The Somme

At the Watershed, 1 Canons Road, Harbourside, Bristol, BS1 5TX. 1 July 1916 was the first day of the battle of the Somme. That day saw the highest British casualties of any day in World War 1. The battle continued for four months. Over a million men on both sides were killed or wounded. The British […] Read More =>

Slaughter No Remedy

A re-enactment of Walter Ayles' Militry Tribunal Bristol Register Office, Corn Street, BS1 1JG. Walter Ayles was Bristol’s most prominent opponent of World War 1. He was a member of the Independent Labour Party and city councillor for Easton from 1912. When war was declared in 1914 he was the only […] Read More =>

Discovering British 1914-1918 War Resisters

Cyril Pearce is Britain's foremost researcher into World War 1 conscientious objectors (COs) and war resisters. His book 'Comrades in Conscience' looked at the anti-war movement in Huddersfield. Since then, Cyril has extended his work to look for other ‘Huddersfields’ and has created a database of […] Read More =>

Unveiling of a Blue Plaque to Walter Ayles

Venue: 12 Station Road, Ashley Down, Bristol, BS7 9LA A blue plaque for Walter Ayles will be unveiled on Sunday April 17th – the centenary of the date that Ayles was first arrested. Please put this date in your diary. The unveiling will take place from 3.30pm at the house where lived with his wife […] Read More =>
Radical History Zone 2015 Poster

Strikers, Hobblers, Conchies and Reds + The Berkeley Poachers’

Members of our very own Bristol Radical History Group will share some choice snippets from their research as an appetiser to promote two new publications, including the group’s first book-length collaboration. Strikers, Hobblers and Conchies is published by Breviary Stuff. Watch this talk Read More =>

Echoes of the ‘Great War’

World War One is often characterised in the popular memory through the narrative of trench warfare on the Western Front. However, it was a global war fought by imperialist powers, ranging from Africa and the Middle East to the South Pacific. These conflicts, essentially struggles to create or […] Read More =>

Deserters, Conchies and Reds

The Bristol Deserter – Alfred Jefferies – His War Story During World war One nearly 300 British soldiers on the Western Front were shot at dawn for deserting or for ‘cowardice’. One victim, Alfred Jefferies, a Bristolian, was executed on 1st November 1916. Based on official archives, including war […] Read More =>

Opening the Archives

In a long tradition of Opening the Archives events the excellent Central Reference Library staff have done us proud in presenting a collection of primary sources relating to resistance and reaction during World War One. So come on down and sample the actual sources in the Bristol Room, from anti-war […] Read More =>

Women Resisting the Great War

The Friends of Alice Wheeldon In 1917 a Derby socialist and feminist in the anti-war movement, Alice Wheeldon was sent to prison on the evidence of an agent provocateur for plotting to kill Lloyd George. The evidence was flimsy, her accuser so dubious the prosecution kept him away from the trial. In […] Read More =>

Hidden Histories of World War One

Bristol Radical History Group are hosting the international History From Below network conference which brings together historian-activists from all over Europe. This is a great opportunity to hear international perspectives, as participants in the conference give short presentations on hidden […] Read More =>

1914-1918: The War within the War

As we mark the centenary of the First World War, this epochal event is usually remembered as a bloody conflict between rival alliances of nations. But there was another struggle as well: between people who regarded the war as a noble and necessary crusade, and a brave minority who felt it was tragic […] Read More =>
Radical History Zone 2014 poster

WWI Resistance

Shirkers, Skulkers, Deserters and the 'Live and Let Live' Principle: Everyday Resistance to Combat on the Western Front in World War 1 With Roger Ball Fraternisation between opposing armed forces on the Western front on Christmas Day 1914 is part of the British collective memory; sold to us a […] Read More =>

No Glory: The Real History Of World War 1

Presented by 'Remembering The Real World War 1' - Bristol's campaign to commemorate the real World War 1 – all welcome This meeting represents an opportunity to hear different views about the war and discuss how we can ensure that the real World War 1 is remembered by people across the city. How the […] Read More =>

Books

The Nightmare Trail

Scenes from the Life of Poet and War Casualty: FW Harvey The poet FW Harvey (1886-1957) spent the last thirty years of his life in Yorkley in the Forest of Dean. I was brought up in the Forest of Dean and was always taught that Harvey was our very own war poet and First World War hero who won a […] Read More =>

News

The wreath laid in memory of the Jeffries Brothers who died at The Somme in 1916

Victims of the Somme – Event Report

Today at noon a commemoration was held for the soldiers from The Dings who died at the Somme in World War 1. (See the event listing.) In particular we remembered the Jeffries brothers: Arthur who was killed in action at Geuedecourt on September 16th 1916 and Alfred who was shot at dawn for desertion […] Read More =>
Alfred Jefferies' stake in the Shot at Dawn Memorial within the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire.

National Memorial Arboretum, 29 Oct 2016

Three more of the British and Commonwealth soldiers executed during the First World War were remembered on Saturday at the Shot at Dawn Memorial within the National Memorial Arboretum in Staffordshire with a re-dedication service. The Memorial, which was unveiled in 2001, commemorates men shot for […] Read More =>

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