Relatives fly the flag for conscientious objectors

Relatives remember family members outside the Royal Scottish Academy. Picture: Scott Taylor.
Relatives remember family members outside the Royal Scottish Academy. Picture: Scott Taylor.
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Relatives of conscientious objectors from two world wars have gathered in Edinburgh to remember their loved ones who became the forgotten victims of conflict.

The gathering beside the Royal Scottish Academy in the city centre paused for a moment of silence after each of the 234 names of First World War objectors from Edinburgh were read out. It is the 100th anniversary of the 1914-18 ­conflict.

Up to 20,000 British men refused to fight because their political, moral or religious beliefs prevented them from killing. They faced imprisonment – with many held in Calton Jail during the first First World War – and persecution within their communities.

Relatives of objectors laid candles and white flowers symbolising peace in front of pictures of their family members, as multi-coloured peace flags fluttered overhead. The memorial also featured music, with a choir performing a specially composed song, The Ones Who Said No, which paid tribute to the pacifist stance of objectors.

One of those taking part was David Turner, 89, who lives in Portobello. He was 15 when the Second World War started, and ran away to the Highlands from his home in Glasgow to escape being drafted into service. Sheltered by a friend in a flat in Glen Nevis for two months, he eventually returned to Glasgow and worked for another objector doing decorating work until the end of the war.

Mr Turner said: “My moral and humanitarian views were formed in my home. My mother always said, ‘Follow your conscience in everything that you do. If your conscience tells you something, you must do it, otherwise you’ll regret it all your life.’” He said Gandhi’s belief in peaceful protest also inspired his own pacifism.

The ceremony was particularly emotional for Joyce Taylor-Richards, 66, from St Andrews, who was remembering two generations of her family who were conscientious objectors. Her grandfather John Taylor was an engineer, trade unionist and councillor for the Independent Labour Party in Glasgow. He spoke at rallies around the country against the First World War.

At the outbreak of fighting in 1914, he refused to work in a munitions factory, because he didn’t want to contribute to the deaths of others. Worn out by the strain he was under for his stance against conscription, he died of an infection at the age of 31, while his application for an exemption was still being processed.

John’s son Tom, who became Ms Taylor-Richards’ father, was just three years old. Tom also became an Independent Labour Party councillor in Glasgow and refused to fight when the Second World War broke out.

Ms Taylor-Richards said: “I think it’s an important part of my family history to have these very principled people and wonderful examples of the way we should live our lives, holding fast to principles despite really quite difficult times.

“During the Second World War, it wasn’t just unpopular, it was very, very difficult. The propaganda was that other people were giving their lives, but you weren’t prepared to do that. The imprisonment of people and the divides it caused in families were enormous.”

paris.gourtsoyannis@edinburghnews.com