Conscientious objectors to World War I were honoured at a special ceremony in Tavistock Square in Bloomsbury, London today to commemorate International Conscientious Objector’s Day. Descendants of more than fifty conscientious objectors gathered as part of the celebrations.
The event is organised each year by the First World War Peace Forum, which includes among its member organisations Right to Refuse to Kill, which is proudly supported by the British Humanist Association (BHA). BHA Vice President Jane Wynne Willson was among the attendees of this year’s ceremony, where she honoured her father, who was a conscientious objector.
Many conscientious objectors were motivated by their humanist beliefs and values to exempt themselves from military combat, just as others were by religious convictions. For this reason, Bloomsbury is a particularly fitting location for the ceremony; it was prominently home to a number of secular intellectuals who were conscientious objectors to ‘the Great War,’ such as the humanist novelist E. M. Forster, who served on the BHA’s Advisory Council until his death. Instead of fighting in the war, Forster volunteered with the International Red Cross at Alexandria in Egypt.
However, many conscientious objectors were also imprisoned, force-fed, and otherwise penalised and discriminated against for their decision not to take up arms.
This International Conscientious Objector’s Day Ceremony fell on the centenary year of the start of World War I. But while humanist conscientious objectors were honoured at the event, humanist service personnel are still currently being denied representation at the National Remembrance Day Ceremony by its organising committee. The BHA is continuing with its efforts to win recognition for deceased service personnel who fought in the War.
BHA Head of Public Affairs Pavan Dhaliwal commented, ‘Many conscientious objectors to World War I endured hardships following the war, and it is right that both non-religious and religious conscientious objectors are recognised at this World War I centenary event for them. But just as conscientious objectors were made up of the religious and non-religious alike, so too were service personnel. I would like to once again call upon the organisers of the National Remembrance Day Ceremony to change their stance on recognising humanists who fought in the war, much as in the European ceremony being held in Belgium.’
For further information or comment, please contact Pavan Dhaliwal, Head of Public Affairs at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The British Humanist Association is the national charity working on behalf of non-religious people who seek to live ethical and fulfilling lives on the basis of reason and humanity. It promotes a secular state and equal treatment in law and policy of everyone, regardless of religion or belief.
About International Conscientious Objector’s Day
International Conscientious Objectors Day is marked around the world each year on 15 May. In London each year a brief ceremony is held at the Commemorative Stone in Tavistock Square, during which the names of representative people who ‘maintained the right to refuse to kill’ are read out and a white flower is laid on the Stone for each of the 50 people remembered.