Memorial for Conscientious Objectors
Installed in May 2016 to commemorate the sacrifices and bravery of those men who refused to go to war, despite the introduction of conscription in 1916.
In response to dramatic and devastating losses in the early years of the war the Military Service Bill made it a legal obligation for men aged between 18 and 41 (later extended to 50) to enlist for military service, unless they had grounds for exception. Most who applied for exception did so on medical grounds or because their work was of national importance.
Some men however applied for exemption on the grounds of personal, political or religious objection to war, these men became known as conscientious objectors. In the Great War there were between 16,000 and 20,000 conscientious objectors across the UK, many were arrested and imprisoned for their beliefs. Some of those imprisoned were held at Carlisle Castle as they were classed as military personnel and refusal to serve was subject to military punishment.
Carlisle’s most notable conscientious objector is James Scott Duckers, born and raised in Wetheral but living in London in 1914. On political grounds Duckers established the Stop-the-War campaign and also campaigned against the introduction of conscription. Duckers returned to Carlisle briefly in 1915 to address a meeting of the Independent Labour Party. In 1916 he was called up to enlist, and following an unsuccessful appeal was imprisoned in Wormwood Scrubs for the remainder of the war. Tragically Ducker’s sister, Margaret Ellison Duckers, was fatally wounded serving in the Queen Alexandra Nursing Service on the Salonica Front (modern day Macedonia) in 1918.
Conscientious objectors, or ‘Conchies’ as they became known, were demonised by wartime society. With so many men being called up and killed, it was believed that objectors were shirking their responsibility. The Order of the White Feather sought to shame reluctant recruits and conscientious objectors by presenting young men not in uniform with a white feather, a traditional symbol of cowardice. However these men were courageous for standing against being forced into a war they could not accept or be part of. Later conflicts, increasing public support for peaceful solutions and high profile conscientious objectors, such as Muhammad Ali, have brought some recognition of the actions and beliefs of these men.