Conscientious Objection and the people behind ‘Foundations’

Many members of the War and Social Order Committee , which wrote the ‘Foundations’, were ‘absolutist’ conscientious objectors. They refused all forms of war service, including non-combatant roles, or encouraged others to do so. Several of the men – and at least one of the women – spent time in prison as a result of their absolutist stance.

In their very strong opposition to all forms of war service, they were in a minority among Quakers – though it was a position that gathered more and more support within the Yearly Meeting as the war went on. A report to the Yearly Meeting in 1919 stated that of every 100 male Quakers of ‘military age’, 32 joined the armed forces, 20 did ambulance work, 17 did relief work, 6 worked in ‘munitions or transport’, 20 kept their pre-war occupations, and only 5 went to prison.

For comparison, at least 4 of about 30 men on the War and Social Order Committee spent time in prison for conscientious objection during the war – see notes on Malcolm Sparkes, Maurice Rowntree, Hubert Peet and Robert Mennell, and also on Edith Wilson and Rosa Hobhouse.

So the people who wrote the Foundations were, as a group, more strongly committed to a protest against the war – and against everything to do with the war – than Quakers were in general. But the appointment of the committee in 1916, and the acceptance of the ‘Foundations’ in 1918, also reflects the Yearly Meeting’s move towards a stronger collective pacifist position.