Channel 4 remembers bravery of conscientious objectors

By staff writers
November 10, 2008

A programme which examines the bravery and the Christian faith of conscientious objectors, will be screened tonight on Channel 4.

It is the latest episode in the series Not Forgotten, presented by Ian Hislop, which looks at the stories behind the names on First World War memorials.

Tonight, Conscientious Objectors, or "conchies" as they were popularly – but not affectionately – known, come under the spotlight. Often Methodists or Quakers, they took the commandment Thou Shall Not Kill, as well as Jesus teaching about violence and love of enemies seriously.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4's Today Programme this morning, Hislop talked with the nephew of one Methodist conscientious objector who had been court marshalled and sentenced to death. His sentence was later changed to a 10 year prison term.

He had outraged his congregation in a sermon by asking "Would Jesus bayonet a German?"

Some 16,000 men applied for exemption when conscription was introduced in 1916.

"Most of the ones trying it on soon gave it up. They went before a tribunal where they would be asked: 'What would you do if a German was going to kill your mother?' Most buckled at that point and enlisted. The ones who held out despite the intimidation were incredibly brave in their way. Their single-mindedness was extraordinary" Hislop told the Daily Telegraph newspaper.

"The C of E wasn't the limp and liberal institution it is today," he says. "It was much more muscular. Some of the sermons by the likes of Bishop Winnington-Ingram were blood-curdling. I found a sermon my grandfather gave after the war and it was clear that he believed it was his Christian duty to fight. It had been a testing moment for him to go over the top. He had been tried and, to his relief, had not been found wanting. I can imagine his attitude to the conchies would have fallen short of admiration."

"Not Forgotten: The Men Who Wouldn't Fight" is on Channel 4 tonight (Monday) at 8pm

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