Call for memorial to conscientious objectors

Keir Hardie addresses a crowd in Trafalgar Square in 1914
Keir Hardie addresses a crowd in Trafalgar Square in 1914
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ACTIVISTS have launched a campaign to create a memorial to conscientious objectors in the heart of the Capital.

Campaigners at Edinburgh Peace and Justice Centre, working with the Fellowship of Reconciliation Scotland, are calling on the city council to grant permanent use of a space in 
Princes Street Gardens.

And they have lodged a 
petition requesting “material and financial support” for the monument, which would commemorate objectors past and present.

It is hoped approval can be secured by February next year to coincide with the centenary of the Military Service Act, which led to conscription in 1916.

In their petition, the campaigners state: “With the centenary of the First World War there is a feeling that there should be a memorial in Scotland’s capital city to 
conscientious objectors and opponents of wars which would henceforth provide a public focus for those who wish to gather to remember all those, past or present, refusing to participate in or opposing wars.

“Taking this stance meant considerable hardship for those who refused to participate in or support the First World War and their families. Over 300 British ‘deserters’ were shot, and conscientious objectors were subjected to harsh treatment by the military, in prison, and in their communities, while 73 First World War conscientious objectors died in or following imprisonment.

“Their courageous stance cleared the way for improved recognition of the right to oppose war and to refuse to take part in wars and helped lay the foundations for the promotion of peaceful means for the resolution of conflicts and for achieving a just peace.”

Members of Iona Community, Edinburgh Stop the War, Edinburgh CND and the Muslim Women’s Association of Edinburgh are among those backing the plans.

Eileen Cook, of Edinburgh CND, said: “Edinburgh CND is a strong and active supporter of the campaign to erect a memorial to conscientious objectors in Princes Street Gardens.

“As we recall the huge loss of life that took place between 1914 and 1918 and the continuous engagement of Britain in overseas wars since then, marking the courage and sacrifice of those who resisted war has never been more important.”

Political figures said the council would willingly consider memorial proposals. But a cash bid would have to be “scrutinised thoroughly” given the need to make budget cuts, they added.

Councillor Joanna Mowat, Conservative member for the city centre, said: “The difficulty with that petition seems to be the financial request – asking for financial support.

“Should there be a memorial to conscientious objectors? I don’t have a particular issue with there being a memorial in principle. I’m sure some people would but I think we’ve moved on.”

johnpaul.holden@edinburghnews.com