A War of Individuals: Bloomsbury Attitudes to the Great War

By Jonathan Atkin | Go to book overview
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`Recognised' forms of opposition

Opposition to the Great War took many forms. This was perhaps not surprising, given its scale. It was a unique occasion for Great Britain. Never before had the whole, industrialised nation been mobilised for war on this scale. In medieval times, men who worked on the land had, in times of threat, left their harvests and gone to war as part of the agreement between landowner and serf. Much later, with the establishment of a regular army and navy, there was little need of binding agreements. As often as not, men joined up out of sheer patriotism or desire to repel foreign invaders. The more unfortunate were simply press-ganged, even in times of peace. Now, with the coming of the first 'total war', and an initial rush to answer the nation's call to arms; the government was able to boast by September 1915 that almost three million men had volunteered for armed service. This was not deemed ultimately sufficient and, for the first time, everyone from humble clerks to country squires was forced to bear arms from 1916.

Such a call-up was bound to find disfavour and foster discontent. The majority of those who declared an opposition towards compulsory enlistment (or the war as a whole) did so in the name of Christ. As outlined in the Introduction, of a wartime total of 3,964 conscientious objectors referred to the adjudicating Pelham Committee by local tribunals, 1,716 declared themselves Christadelphians and hence possessed of a religious objection to the war. There existed, of course, other denominations of religious opposition within the almost 4,000 declared conscientious objectors in particular the Quakers. However, out of this total, 240 men declined to state a specific denomination and instead declared a personal objection of a religious nature. More crucially, although forty-two men stated their objection to be of a specific political nature, almost five times as many declared their objection to be a moral objection to the conflict whilst over a quarter of all the men referred did not state (or were not able to state) the nature of their objection. 1 If these figures are taken as representative of overall proportions of categories of opposition to the war then it is clear that there was a significant proportion of individuals who did not base their opposition to the war on specifically religious or political grounds. This book aims to fill some of the gaps in these statistics.

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