Remembering the Conscientious Objectors

Quakers project "The White Feather Diaries"

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Ruth Cadbury took time out from the heat of the recent election campaign to remember the roles her grandfathers played in World War One. Ruth was at the launch of a three year online project, ‘The White Feather Diaries’ that is being set up by Quakers in Britain to remember those who refused to take part in the Great War.

As Quakers, Paul Cadbury and Edwin Ransome, Ruth’s grandfathers, both felt they could not participate in killing others.  Instead they joined the Friends Ambulance Unit (FAU) as a way of taking part in the war yet avoiding direct military fighting. The FAU ran field hospitals, treated wounded combatants and civilians and provided essential health care during the deadly typhoid epidemic that swept northern France.  

Ruth Cadbury
Ruth Cadbury with Jane Dawson, of Quakers in Britain, in Friends House library, Euston (Michael Preston / © 2014 Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) in Britain )

Those, like Ruth’s grandparents, who refused to fight, were known as conscientious objectors and were frequently despised. Many were called before tribunals and then thrown into prison. Often, a young man not seen to be volunteering to fight would be handed a white feather as a symbol of cowardice.

Looking back at her family’s involvement in ‘the war to end all wars’ Ruth said,  "I am extremely proud of my relatives and the way their faith led them to stand up for what they felt was right  despite the criticism they would have endured at that time.  Their service saved lives, and showed their dedication to Pacifism."

‘The White Feather Diaries’ will follow five Quakers as the war unfolds and examine the different dilemmas and choices they faced. The project goes live on August 4 and will run up to the anniversary of the 1916 Military Service Act which introduced conscription and recognised conscientious objection.

Ruth Cadbury added, “Using Twitter and Facebook this project will show that the decisions the conscientious objectors faced at the beginning of the 20th Century are still relevant a hundred years later - whether in Afghanistan or Syria”

For more details:

June 6, 2014

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