Being a Conscientious Objector during WW2

The National Service (Armed Forces) Act 1939 was enacted by UK Parliament on 3rd September 1939, the day the United Kingdom declared war on Germany at the start of the Second World War. It replaced the Military Training Act 1939 (which has been passed in May of that year) and enforced full conscription on all males between 18 and 41 who were UK residents. With a few exceptions, including Conscientious Objectors.

When the Second World War broke out, there were nearly 60,000 registered Conscientious Objectors in the UK. Testing by tribunals was resumed, but this time they were chaired by a judge in a special Conscientious Objection Tribunals, with less harsh effects. If men were not a member of a pacifist organisation, such as the Quakers, it was generally enough to say that they objected to “warfare as a means of settling international disputes.”

The tribunals could grant full exemption, exemption conditional on alternative service, exemption only from combatant duties, or dismiss the application. However, the social stigma attached to ‘conchies’ (as they were called) was considerable; regardless of the genuineness of their motives, cowardice was often imputed.

This short article appeared in the local newspaper in April 1941, following the refusal of one Douglas Leonard Corder attending a medical examination. The result of which lead to him losing his job, which on the 1939 Register lists him as working in a local government office.


Refused to be examined

Conscientious Objector Summoned

Douglas Leonard Corder,aged 23, The Chase, Bromley, was summoned at Croydon police court on Tuesday for having failed to comply with a notice to submit himself for examination by a Medical Board.

Mr A.F.S. Cotton, prosecuting, said that defendant provisionally registered in October, 1939.  His case, as that of a conscientious objector, was considered by the local tribunal.  It ordered that he should be registered as a person liable only for non-combatant duties.  The appeal tribunal upheld this decision. When given notices to attend before a Medical Board the defendant failed to comply.

The Chairman asked Corder if he had anything to say.

“Nothing,” he replied, “except that this is the natural outcome of my conscientious objection.  I have several times reiterated my willingness to undertake Civil Defence work.”

Defendant, answering questions, said he was single, and because of his views was last September dismissed from his employment.  Since then he had been living at home on his own dwindling means – savings.

A fine of £2 was imposed, with two guineas costs, and defendant’s detention forthwith for seven days for medical examination was ordered.


Bromley & District Times, 11th April 1941, page 5
1939 England and Wales Register available on Ancestry

Further Reading:
Conscription Introduced, Jan 1916

Share this:
error: Content is protected !!