Discover the records of 16,600 conscientious objectors now available on Lives of the First World War

15 May 2015 | Kate Clements

For the first time, the most comprehensive record of First World War conscientious objectors (COs) will be made available to the public on IWM’s permanent digital memorial, Lives of the First World War, to mark International Conscientious Objectors Day on 15 May.

Conscientious objectors were men who refused to fight during the war and resisted compulsory military service – often being sent to jail for their beliefs.

Lives of the First World War was launched one year ago to mark the beginning of the First World War Centenary. Since then, over 7.6 million life stories of soldiers, nurses and airmen have been discovered, remembered and shared on the site.

So far, the majority of data sets in Lives of the First World War have been those who served in the Armed Forces, RAF and Navy. However, from 15 May 2015, the Pearce Register – comprised of more than 16,600 records of men who refused to go to war on religious, ethical, political or social grounds – will also be available on the website.

The register has been collated over the past 20 years by Cyril Pearce, a former senior lecturer at the University of Leeds. Pearce’s research has been sourced from documents, letters, images, tribunal records and diaries to provide the world’s most comprehensive list of First World War conscientious objectors.

Now, Lives of the First World War needs the public to help complete these records by adding more information, from attributing facts, uploading photographs through to remembering the individuals who opposed active service.

Just some of the COs featured on the site include:

– John Wilfred Harvey, a Quaker who served with the Friends’ Ambulance Unit in both France and Corsica

– William Harrison, who was court-martialled and sentenced to hard labour in Wormwood Scrubs and was not freed until 1919

– Joseph Alfred Pearson from New Brighton, who stopped being a CO after brutal treatment at Birkenhead Barracks, was sent to France and was killed near Ypres

Cyril Pearce, owner of The Pearce Register, says:

“I am delighted to be contributing The Pearce Register to IWM’s permanent digital memorial Lives of the First World War. Ahead of the centenary of conscription I hope many more people will be able to contribute to the work I’ve already done and that thousands more will learn about this alternative history of the First World War.”

Diane Lees, IWM Director-General says:

“IWM launched Lives of the First World War a year ago and since then we have added over seven and half million records. Now with the inclusion of The Pearce Register we can realise our vision to create a memorial to every man and woman who contributed to society during this conflict. We are grateful to Cyril for sharing his work with us and we hope many more people will contribute to the unique and fascinating life stories of the conscientious objectors who risked so much on principle, political or religious grounds.”

Visit Lives of the First World War and start exploring the CO records.

Listen to some of the thousands of men who refused to fight in Voices of the First World War Podcast 37: Conscientious Objection.