My father and uncle stood against the tide when they refused to fight in the First World War
Among those remembered on International Conscientious Objectors Day, 15 May 2014, were Chris Lawson's father and uncle, who refused to fight in World War One.
"It was very interesting to see the rough 'palliness' which existed between the different nationalities, including German PoWs, for instance over the exchange of cigarettes, crumpled family pictures etc."
There were times when they carried captured German soldiers. My father's comments echo many similar sentiments about the underlying common humanity that exists even during a war
It is good that there are always people who will stand up for their moral position against the tide of public opinion and government aims. My father and my uncle were among them when in 1916 they refused to be conscripted into the army.
My father's position was based on his understanding of what it means to be a Christian. He said to the tribunal before which he had to appear to apply for exemption from military service: "I am firmly convinced that war in any form is absolutely contrary to the life and teaching of Christ, that nothing justifies the taking of life and also that it is a great illusion to imagine that a spiritual evil can be overcome by physical force … I acknowledge no one to have power, claim or control over my conscience except Christ."
This uncompromising position was balanced by a desire to do something that would be of aid to those caught up in the fighting. Later in his life he wrote that he wanted to do "some form of work or service which aimed at lessening suffering and benefiting humanity, in some form which did not result in actively furthering war aims and which might perhaps give the opportunity of sharing in some way in the hardships and risks of the soldier – and reversing the public misconception that cowardice lay at the bottom of the pacifist stand".
After two tribunals, his exemption was allowed on condition that he joined the Friends Ambulance Unit. This was an independent organisation, set up by Quakers and others in 1914, to provide relief services as and where it could. Among other tasks it provided staffing for several ambulance trains.
My father spent the rest of the war going up and down the railway lines of north-west France caring for wounded and convalescing soldiers as they went to the ports on their way back to England. The train was adapted from standard rolling stock with only basic facilities. He commented: "We only did dressings if they were essential. Occasionally a patient would be in a bad way and if he became critical one of the orderlies would have to go along the footboards to the nearest doctor. This was not too difficult provided you knew where there might be tunnels or narrow bridges."
There were times when they carried captured German soldiers. My father's comments echo many similar sentiments about the underlying common humanity that exists even during a war: "It was very interesting to see the rough 'palliness' which existed between the different nationalities, including German PoWs, for instance over the exchange of cigarettes, rather crumpled family pictures etc."
I, too, was a conscientious objector, and though in the 1950s it was straightforward for me as a Quaker, I know it is in many ways an idealistic position, but it gave my father and I a sense of personal integrity and helps keep alive the question of why military action is accepted as the solution to conflicts when so often it just adds to the problems.