Lord John Maxton told how his father John was dismissed as a school teacher and his pet dog was stoned to death by an angry mob, after he refused to serve in the First World War.
Lord Maxton, who later refused to serve himself, when called up for national service in the 1950s was one of the relatives of 65 conscientious objectors remembered at a moving ceremony at the conscientious objectors stone memorial in Tavistock Square.
Lord Maxton recalled how after the 1945 election his father was cheered as one of the newly returned Labour MPs. “Some of those cheering would be the sons and daughters of those who stoned my father’s dog,” said Lord Maxton, whose uncle James Maxton was another conscientious objector in the First World War.
Some 250 people gathered to mark the 100th anniversary of the First World War and the vital role played by conscientious objectors . Each relative of a CO went forward to place a flower on the monument to the sound of Maria Fidelis school choir singing “We shall overcome.”
Mary Dobbing recalled how her grandfather Herbert refused to be conscripted at the age of 23. “He was court marshalled and sent to Durham Prison for 2.5 years, initially in solidarity confinement,” said Ms Dobbing, who has protested for peace in Iraq, Afghanistan and with the Palestinians. “I am convinced face to face friendship is an important force for peace – it is outside the government structures,” said Ms Dobbing.
Christine Schweitzer of War Resisters’ International and a member of the German peace movement, told how militarism was stronger in Germany that Britain, though there was a right to conscientiously object in the First World War. “Today there are still strategic and economic motivations driving war. War is a crime against humanity,” said Ms Schweitzer.
General secretary of Pax Christi Pat Gaffney remembered the acts of conscientious objection blazing a path for peace campaigners in the future. “The conscientious objectors needed courage beyond the prison experience. They couldn’t get work afterwards and had to change proffessions – the work of witness went on beyond the war,” said Ms Gaffney, who suggested the challenge facing peace makers today is “what are the issues today that would push us to make such a stand against war and violence.”
The event was organised by Pax Christi, First World War Peace Forum — a coalition made up of Conscience, Fellowship of Reconciliation, Network for Peace, Peace News, Peace Pledge Union, Quaker Peace and Social Witness, the Right to Refuse to Kill group and the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom.