Conscientious Objectors and the Peace Campaign in Leicestershire

Speaker: Jess Jenkins

21 March 2023

At the March 2023 meeting of the Thurcaston and Cropston local history society, we were privileged to listen to a talk on Conscientious Objectors and the Peace Campaign in Leicestershire given by Jess Jenkins, supported by her husband Robin, both of whom were, until recently, members of the leadership team at the Leicestershire Record Office.  Jess has a particular interest in the history of protest. She is also the author of ‘The Burning Question: the Struggle for Women’s Suffrage in Leicestershire’ which I am looking forward to reading, and of “Nursing in Serbia with Lady Paget in 1915”, an account of Flora Scott, a Leicester nurse, who volunteered overseas during the First World War.

Jess began her talk by referring to the fact some religious leaders headed up the protests to Britain engaging in World War 1 from 1908, but others encouraged the recruiting of supporters, including a Dr Freeman who ‘demolished with sledge hammer blows’ government members such as Ramsey Macdonald who were opposed to the war.  Jess praised Emmeline Pankhurst and others who said that militant women had the right to go out and fight.

Despite public opposition to war, there were anti-German riots across Britain, Britain declared war on Germany on 4 August 1914.  The sinking of the Lusitania in 1915 was a key factor in American support of Britain’s engagement in World War One. 1915 saw a big recruiting campaign to our army but it wasn’t until 1916 that British men were conscripted into the armed forces, despite opposition. There was a national movement against conscription including Leicestershire locals Joseph Poole, Frederick Floode, Charles Kitchen, Edwin Walker, and many Christians, who insisted that human life was sacred. An anti-war fellowship was set up in Leicester, leading to some mob violence. Many of those who refused to serve were imprisoned, some not being released until 1919. Local Quakers joined the Friends’ Ambulance Unit.  The Armistice of 11 November 1918 finally brought the fighting to a close.

Of particular interest were Jess’ stories of local Leicestershire men who were either conscripted or imprisoned because they refused to serve in the armed forces. Her talk engaged us all. Family memories still run deep!