Tag Archives: world war one

Who Do You Think You Are, Fearne Cotton and her conscientious objector great-grandfather

By Prof Lois Bibbings, Professor of Law, Gender and History (University of Bristol Law School).

One hot sunny day in the middle of June I set out on the train, bacon butty and extra strong coffee in hand, for an afternoon of secret filming at a location I couldn’t talk about.

Weeks earlier I had been contacted by a production company, researching for possible programme content. It soon became clear that others working in the relevant area had had similar approaches. The company, Wall To Wall, the programme, Who Do You Think You Are.

Each episode of WDYTYA takes a celebrity on a journey, investigating their family history. It seeks to tell historical stories in an engaging, human way, with the featured celebrity discovering a gradually unfolding narrative about some of their ancestors. There have been a fair few surprises and twists in the tales told over the 13 series to date, with Danny Dyer’s shock at uncovering a royal lineage perhaps one of the most memorable for me. At the point I was contacted they were working on series 14 and the celebrity at the centre of their investigations remained unknown. Initially I was asked about my research on WW1 conscientious objectors. Then I was given was a name, Evan Meredith, and a little information about the part of his story Wall to Wall were interested in.

Having conducted some initial research, looked at some documents and been sounded/sussed out in person by the director and assistant producer, I was signed up to appear. I was to cover some aspect of one of the stories investigated. It was at this point that everything became pretty clandestine – I signed a scary non-disclosure agreement and, as if by magic, was sent the name of the celebrity.

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Commemorating Conchies: A time to remember the men who rejected military conscription in WW1

By Prof Lois Bibbings, Professor of Law, Gender and History (University of Bristol Law School).*

Telling Tales cover_A hundred years ago general military conscription was introduced into Britain. The Military Service Acts of 1916 meant that men aged between 18 and 41 were deemed to have enlisted and decisions as to what happened to them were now in the hands of the state. However, in a controversial and seemingly contradictory move, the Act allowed men to be exempted from military service on the grounds that they had a conscientious objection to the undertaking of combatant service. These conscientious objectors (COs) deserve to be commemorated – and that is precisely what a series of events around the country are seeking to do.

Although no exact figures exist, Cyril Pearce, the brains behind the marvellous Pearce Register of British World War One Conscientious Objectors, estimates that there were 20,000 COs – a very small number as compared to the around 5 million men who joined the military, most of whom were conscripts. Objectors were a diverse group. Their widely varying perspectives on the Act and their consciences led them to take very different courses. What is clear though is that they displayed remarkable conviction and courage, both as individuals and collectively. Continue reading