Conscientous objectors: A Gaol Bird’s Lay

This is a pamphlet from the Peace Collection held at the Working Class Movement Library in Salford. From August 1914 until January 1916, the British government relied on volunteers to produce an army to fight on the Western Front and other areas of the war. Towards the end of 1915, a reduction in the numbers volunteering and the sheer scale of casualties meant that conscription was being considered. Based on a mixture of religious, political and pacifist views, many people objected to the idea that people should be compelled to fight.

Salford played a significant role in this ‘conscientious objection’ to the war. Two Salford men were punished for being conscientious objectors. Harold Derbyshire of Patricroft was one; the other was James Hindle Hudson who was a geography teacher at the Salford Secondary School for Boys and had a struggle to retain his employment with the local council due to his pacifist beliefs. Several attempts to dismiss Hudson from his teaching post failed.

Front cover of pamphlet A Gaol Bird's Lay.

In November 1916 James Hudson (whose name appears on the No Conscription League flyer in this display) was arrested for being an absentee soldier and taken to Strangeways prison in Manchester, then later to Wormwood Scrubs in London. At his trial he stated ‘Though the law may deem me to be a soldier, no power on earth, military or other, can make me into a soldier’.

Conditions in these prisons could be very harsh. Hudson lost three stone after 21 months of hard labour and a report described Strangeways as ‘very unhealthy’. Eleven conscientious objectors from the Greater Manchester area died in prison or shortly after their release.

The Working Class Movement Library contains a wealth of material in its peace collections relating to WW1 conscientious objectors.

The Library embarked on an HLF-funded Invisible Histories from World War One Project in 2015 drawing upon the rich material held in its collections. The Library contains a wealth of material in its peace collections relating to WW1 conscientious objectors.

Volunteers used this material to create an exhibition telling the story of the Military Service Act 1916 which brought conscription into effect for the first time. We also did something we had never done before – develop a ‘Living Histories’ performance based on the life of James Hudson.

Find out more about Invisible Histories from World War One.

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