Conscientious Objectors

Refusing to fight in the war often took as much bravery as the soldiers who served in the trenches. In 1916, with the numbers of volunteers for the army dwindling, conscription was introduced which forced young, able bodied men to sign up to the armed forces.

A small minority refused to obey the command to serve on the basis of religious and moral grounds. The outcome of these actions was forced labour or imprisonment. Conscientious objectors came from across Hertfordshire; in particular the often socialist and independent thinking residents of the Garden Cities.


This section of the Herts at War site will look at the personal stories of the men who objected and their experiences during The Great War. There were a multitude of reasons for Conscientious Objection; religious grounds, morality issues, personal circumstances and family life, all of which were heard by county-based tribunals and judged on a regular basis within the British legal system.

Whatever the case or reason, it cannot be said that 'Conchies' had it easy. Many were ridiculed in the streets, handed white feathers as a sign of cowardice, shunned by neighbours who they had known for years and ostracised from local communities.

Through collections of records, newspaper archives, personal letters and family stories, we will tell these forgotten stories and highlight the impact of global war on those who chose not to fight. Hertfordshire provides a fascinating insight into many of the complex issues associated with Conscientious Objection, particularly in the Hitchin District which had the highest rate of Conscientious Objection in the entire country, due in part to its strong 'Quaker' and socialist links.

One of the more famous 'Conchies' to spend time in Hertfordshire during WW1 was Herbert Morrison MP, who spent the war working on a market garden farm in Norton, Herts. Morrison would later go on to hold a cabinet post during the Second World War and also spent a periods of time as Foreign Secretary, Home Secretary and Deputy Prime-Minister.