A FASCINATING collection of forgotten records reveals in great detail the stories behind Glasgow’s conscientious objectors during the First World War.

Men who chose not to fight could apply to a military tribunal, explaining why they wished to be exempt from conscription, explains city archivist Michael Gallagher.

“Due to the sensitive nature of compulsory conscription, nearly all records of these tribunals were destroyed,” he says.

“The Government actually asked local authority boards to destroy their records. Only a small number – for Middlesex and Lothian and Peebles – were kept as a sample.”

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He adds: “We’re lucky to have a very small number for Glasgow, which had been held for decades in the Town Clerk’s Department archives, but we only discovered them fairly recently.

“They give an almost word-for-word account of the arguments and the positions of the applicants, and give a real flavour of the contempt with which the Tribunal treated those who applied. Nearly all were refused.”

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Reasons for applying included medical, family and economic situations, as well as conscientious objection on religious or moral grounds. The tribunal would then decide whether or not the men would have to serve in the army, or perform some other work in support the war effort.

“We only hold around 10, so not a lot, but they’re amazing because of their scarcity and the detail they contain,” says Michael.

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One record concerns John Cormack Junior, a 21-year-old Royal Technical College student from Langside. “I cannot under any circumstances assume the responsibility of taking human life,” reads his statement to the tribunal. “I consider human life to be sacred…and am prepared to suffer any penalties rather than surrender the principles I believe in.”

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George McMillan, 24, of Partick, a timekeeper for engineers and boilermakers on ships told the tribunal: “Whilst I could hide my conscious antagonism under the plea of domestic responsibility being the only support of my grandfather and my grandmother I scorn to do so. My allegiance was and ever will be to my own understanding of right and wrong…thus am I a Socialist, and an enemy of all war.”

The tribunal records are part of an extensive First World War collection held by Glasgow City Archives at the Mitchell Library.

While libraries remain closed, Michael and his colleagues have launched Ask the Archivist as part of #glasgowlifegoeson, giving people the chance to ask questions about a range of topics based on the city collections. More details are available on the Glasgow City Archives Facebook page.

The collection includes the official Roll of Honour, which lists details of service personnel killed in WWI and records of the HLI battalions the city set up, including one at Tramway which was inspected by Lord Roberts.

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He adds: “Glasgow responded enthusiastically on the outbreak of war: 22,000 men enlisted in the first week, with some 200,000 serving overall. It was a source of pride - Glasgow playing up to its role as the Second City of the Empire, and the desire to transfer its civic success to the war effort. Not everyone in the city was fully behind it – there was a mass anti-war demonstration on Glasgow Green just after war was declared, for example – but the “official” response was one of great zeal.”