Conscientious Objectors Day 2018: Exploring ‘Objection Then and Now’ in Swansea Valley

A new learning resource on objecting to conflict has been launched alongside a thought-provoking exhibition in a Swansea Valley school, as Wales remembers those who took a stand against World War One on International Conscientious Objectors Day, May 15th.

View Schools Resource ‘Objection Then and Now’ 

Ysgol Maesydderwen in Ystradgynlais - working with the Welsh Centre for International Affairs (WCIA) towards becoming one of Wales’ first ‘Peace Schools’, as a legacy of the WW1 centenary from 2014-18 -  are hosting the ‘Belief and Action’ exhibition from May 14-31st 2018 - open to the local community between 4-5pm on school days. The Swansea Valley was one of the UK’s ‘hotspots’ of opposition to WW1 a century ago – and WCIA’s exhibition, supported by Cymru’n Cofio / Wales Remembers 1914-18, draws on this ‘Peace Heritage’ to explore questions around how people stood up for what they believed to be right, and how this remains relevant today.     

  

Putting in the Footwork! Setting up 'Belief and Action' in Ystradgynlais

International Conscientious Objectors Day is marked on 15 May each year in remembrance of men and women who have refused to fight on grounds of conscience: for religious or political beliefs, or as a point of principle. From WW1 and WW2 to conflicts of today such as Iraq and Syria, objectors have often been imprisoned or shamed for taking a stand against their government, and often by wider society. Nearly 900 men were sentenced for opposing military conscription in Wales during the First World War – marked on a slate memorial stone in Wales’ National Garden of Peace at the Temple of Peace, Cardiff. 

On learning that objectors were sometimes posted ‘white feathers’ as a symbol of cowardice, Maesydderwen students commented: “If you’re told you’ve got to go to war... When the government, and a lot of society are bullying you to go to war; to refuse to fight is perhaps the most courageous thing you could do.”

The students discussed parallel issues of conflict in the world today, from the war in Syria, to suspected Russian cyberwarfare, to the importance of being critical about media balance and propaganda on social media. “Everyone should have their own opinion – and the choice to make their own decisions as to what is right and wrong.

‘Objection then and now’ is a new Learning Resource for Key Stages 3 and 4, developed by the Welsh Centre for International Affairs as part of the Heritage Lottery Funded ‘Wales for Peace’ programme, which supports critical thinking and questioning around issues of conflict, resistance and expressing views. Although cross-curricular, it is likely to be of particular interest to teachers delivering History, Geography, Religious Studies, Politics and Global Citizenship; and contains a range of ideas for student projects that may suit the Welsh Baccalaureate, as well as GCSE coursework.

WCIA would like to pay a special thanks to Learning Volunteer, Jeffrey Mansfield, for his work in researching and drafting the ‘Objection Then & Now’.

Screenshot from WCIA’s Wales Peace Map

Pearce Register of Conscientious Objectors (NB - select fullscreen version)

Finding out about Objection to WW1 in your area

Nearly 900 people in Wales were sentenced for opposition to WW1. Schools and communities across Wales can now find out more about objectors from their area, using WCIA’s ‘Peace Map’ and searching the Pearce Register of WW1 Conscientious Objectors. Wales is indebted to Cyril Pearce of the University of Leeds for his meticulous life’s work in collating this register of names, and for bequeathing the Welsh database - launched at the 2016 Eisteddfod in Abergavenny - for public access through the Wales for Peace project.

WCIA are also indebted to Aled Eurig of Cardiff University, who has shared his Doctoral Research into Welsh Conscientious Objectors on the centenary in 2016 of the Military Service Act (which enforced conscription); and has produced ‘Doves and Hawks’, a series of 3 engaging radio broadcasts exploring the stories of Conscientious Objectors.    

International Conscientious Objectors Day Memorial Service

International Conscientious Objectors Day 2018 will be marked with a service in Tavistock Square in London, at midday on 15th May.

The Conscientious Objectors Memorial Stone in Tavistock Square, London

Credit: Peace Pledge Union

Becoming a Peace School?

Ysgol Maesydderwen are working towards becoming one of Wales’ first Peace Schools. They recently participated in a major project around Jewish WW2 refugee and world famous artist Josef Herman, who fled Poland in 1938 and was welcomed and settled in Ystradgynlais. Teacher Melissa Davies highlighted the enthusiasm their students have shown for projects on ethical citizenship, and offering sanctuary to refugees with a particular focus on those fleeing the Syria conflict today. To find out more about the Peace Schools scheme, contact WCIA / Jane Harries on 029 2022 8549 or email Walesforpeace@wcia.org.uk

Visiting the ‘Belief and Action’ Exhibition in Ystradgynlais

Visitors can view the ‘Belief and Action’ exhibition between 5-6pm on school days in Ysgol Maesydderwen, Ystradgynlais until 31st May; following which it will be displayed at Bridgend Quakers Meeting House from mid-June.

Ystradgynlais - Belief & Action Exhibition 

Visit the Flickr Gallery of Maesydderwen's 'Belief and Action' Exhibition

 

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