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Object of the Moment: International Conscientious Objector Day

March 5, 201510:05 amSeptember 25, 2023 3:51 pmLeave a Comment

To coincide with International Conscientious Objectors Day, here are two of the many Conscientious Objectors that we have information about at The Peace Museum.

Thomas Linwood Bower

Thomas Linwood Bower was a Conscientious Objector from Bradford who refused to fight during the First World War. He opposed the war effort on religious grounds with army records showing that he was found guilty of unknown charges by the court martial on the 23rd May 1917, receiving a sentence of 2 years hard labour. Thomas successfully appealed this decision meaning that he was placed on the Home Office Scheme which allowed Conscientious Objectors to apply and be accepted for civil work. He remained on this scheme for almost two years, before eventually being released from the scheme on 28th April 1919.

We have copies of some of Thomas’ letters from his time in Wormwood Scrubs and Wakefield Work Center in the collection at The Peace Museum, though it is worth noting that some of his letters may have been toned down in order to respect the mental well-being of his family. These letters detail the conditions of his incarceration, including the physical and psychological abuse that he was subjected to at the hands of some of the NCO’s (non-commissioned officers). His first letter, co-incidentally, was sent on May 15th [1917], the date that would later become International Conscientious Objectors Day. Notably, in a letter written dated 27th May 2017, Thomas details how he was attacked by Quarter Master Sargent Lake, suffering injuries when his head came into contact with a tap.

Thomas Willis Bowyer

Thomas Willis Bowyer, known as Willis, was a Conscientious Objector and activist from Huddersfield. Willis applied for exemption after the passing of the Military Service Act in 1916 which introduced conscription. Willis’ application for exemption was heard on 10th April 1916 whereby he was offered a non-combatant service which he refused and subsequently appealed. The appeal was turned down and the previous offer of a non-combatant service was withdrawn, leading to Willis refusing to be called up for service.

Willis disappeared for six months and what he did during this time is unknown. He eventually appeared in Liverpool under the name William McCann and joined the National Sailor’s and Fireman’s Union. He set sail for New York aboard the RMS Laconia on 18th November 1916, working as a trimmer in the ship’s boiler room. Willis lived and worked in America until the end of the war and returned back home to Huddersfield in September. We are lucky to have records, pictures and mementos from his time in America in the collection.

These items belong to Willis. Some are from the Aquitania, the ship that Willis travelled home on.

Photos of Willis during his years in America

These are just two of the CO’s whose stories we are able to tell through our collection. Thank you to both families for donating the materials to the museum.

Written by Liam Hemingway (Museum Volunteer)

Written by Ezra Kingston

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