On May 15 2014 Veterans For Peace attended the Annual Conscientious Objector memorial in Tavistock Square, London. Over 300 people attended to commemorate the often unacknowledged and neglected story of Conscientious Objectors. Although remembering Conscientious Objectors from all conflicts and countries, this year paid particular attention to those Conscientious Objectors of the misnamed ‘Great War’. Great effort has been put into tracking down the families of these men and women.The untold stories of many of the Conscientious Objectors and the impact it had on their lives and the lives of their families was expounded upon by their descendants in a touching ceremony. What shone through whilst listening to the stories was their bravery in the face of overt hostility from the state and general public.
Family members carried photos of their ancestors and laid flowers at the granite memorial to Conscientious Objectors, which was erected in the square in 1994. The gospel choir of Maria Fidelis Catholic School in Somers Town added to the atmosphere.We were given some pertinent facts about Conscientious Objection such as there are more Conscientious Objection in prison in South Korea than anywhere else, ironic because S Korea is held up as a paragon of successful Asian Democracy. That in the British Army servicemen are not made aware of their right to Conscientious Objection status and those that do attempt to follow this route are often punished.
VFP UK have both Conscientious Objectors and Military Resistors within our ranks. In attendance on the day were Stephen Mann who obtained Conscientious Objector status whilst serving with the Royal Navy in the 1960’s. Ben Griffin who refused to return to the war in Iraq and myself who gained Conscientious Objector status whilst serving with the United States Marine Corps. We also have Joe Glenton and Mike Lyons who both served prison time for resisting the war in Afghanistan. All of us have in common that at some point during our service we found that military service and or war are irrational or immoral or illegal. After coming to this conclusion each of us decided to take responsibility for our predicament.
It is important to remember that resistance to war and militarism from within the military still occurs and is not a thing of the past. Within VFP UK we place a priority on supporting and standing in Solidarity with Military Resistors. Events like this can only help to raise the issue.
Chase Sydnor is a member of Veterans For Peace UK
Fenner Brockway was a Labour politician in Britain. In one of his books he wrote, “I spent three years in prison (as a Conscientious Objectors in The Great War) & three years as a Member of Parliament during World War II, & saw character deteriorate faster in Parliament than in prison”.