Major study into role of World War Two conscientious objectors

10 May 2023
Dr Linsey Robb
The stories of the British men who chose not to fight in the Second World War due to their moral, political or religious beliefs are to be explored by a Northumbria University historian.

In the first major study of WW2 conscientious objectors, Dr Linsey Robb will examine the reasons why people applied for exemption from conscription, the impact it had on their lives, and the contribution they went on to make to the war effort. 

Her research project, British Conscientious Objection in The Second World War, has received more than £180,000 funding from the Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) and will see her uncovering written and oral histories of conscientious objectors stored at the Imperial War Museum in London, as well as at libraries and archives across the UK.

Conscientious objectors of World War Two

There were almost 60,000 conscientious objectors during the Second World War, with many objecting to fighting on religious grounds, including a large number of Quakers – a traditionally pacifist faith.

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However, unlike the First World War, when conscientious objectors were shunned by society and often ended up in prison, by the time of the Second World War the British government had realised they could still play a vital role in the war effort, even if they were not fighting on the front line.

With the horrors of the First World War still within living memory for many, there was also greater public sympathy with anti-war sentiment.

Those choosing to object to wartime conscription were required to go before a tribunal where they would set out their reasons before a judge. They would then either be refused, given an alternative role, or completely exempt.