On the 15th of May, following the fourth annual International Conscientious Objectors Day Vigil the Opposing War Memorial design was launched at the Quaker Meeting House in Edinburgh. An engaged audience of more than sixty people packed the room to hear a presentation by Edinburgh based artist Kate Ive on the design concept, and to find out how to get involved in creating and supporting the sculpture.
The Memorial will pay tribute to WW1 conscientious objectors who paved the way for a wider peace movement that continues to this day. Organisers hope that, pending planning approval, the finished sculpture will be installed by August next year, the centenary of the end of the First World War for COs who were imprisoned until August 1919.
University of Edinburgh Historian Lesley Orr set the context, speaking about the very significant opposition to First World War in Scotland. She spoke of the grassroots, working class Women’s Peace Crusade and Edinburgh resisters, William Marwick and Arthur Woodburn who served the longest time in prison of Scottish COs. Woodburn later became an MP and Secretary of State for Scotland.
Introducing the artist Brian Larkin, Coordinator of the Edinburgh Peace & Justice Centre, said: “Those who died in the First World War are well represented in public space with 37 war memorials in Edinburgh alone. But the voices of those who oppose war are practically invisible. Britain was the first country to establish a right to conscientious objection – that’s an important part of our heritage. Thousands of men went to prison for refusing conscription. They endured harsh conditions, hard labour and abuse in prison. The Opposing War Memorial will commemorate their principled resistance as an important part of our history and ensure that the voices of opposition to war are represented in our public space for the future.”
The artist Kate Ive shared how she came up with the design for her unique sculpture and explained how people can be involved in creating an intriguing and enduring monument to war resisters amidst 8 war memorials in Scotland’s capital city. She was inspired by an account of a meeting of the No Conscription Fellowship in 1916 when an agressive mob outside was threatening to break down the doors. The Chair asked everyone present to wave their handkerchiefs instead of applaud to avoid aggravating the mob.
This led Kate to investigate handkerchiefs which were embroidered as souvenirs of the First and Second World Wars. Further research led her to the “Hadkerchief Tree” or “Dove Tree” which, with its white bracts, is a peace tree associated with the story of a woman who brought peace between warlords in 16th century China. Because handkerchiefs are such a personal item, suggesting the unique journey of every CO Kate conceived the idea of embroidering handkerchiefs with names of conscientious objectors, emblems of organisations that have opposed war, peace symbols, and casting them as part of a bronze sculpture of the tree.
Workshops will take place where participants can create embroidered handkerchiefs of their own design allowing everyone to be part of the project through an exhibition of these and possibly to be one of the 40 on the sculpture.
Through the embroidered bracts Kate’s accesible and intriguing design will suggest the history of conscientious objection and opposition to war and be notably different from the war memorials surrounding it, which often place an heroic figure on a plinth. This Opposing War Memorial will invite people to explore its intricate details and find out more about opposition to war thourgh a link on the base plate to this website, and provide a space for and invite people to reflect on the role of individual conscience and the possibility of peacebuilding and conflict resolution.
The bracts will each hold a piece of granite from the Dyce Work Camp, where COs were imprisoned are forced to do hard labour. And the seating will be made of granite with the back showing the inscription “Dedicated to conscientious objectors all those who oppose wars.”
The event launched a campaign to raise funds for the next phase of the project – including completion of technical drawings, casting and installation. The design will be submitted for approval by City committees, before the sculpture can be installed.
To complete the project we need to raise £125,000. We’re working on a video and will launch a Crowdfuder to raise £25,000 toward that total from individual donations. We want as many people as possible to contribute to show popular support for the Memorial. Please consider making a donation, small or large, and help spread the word to make this vision for a lasting memorial that will ensure the voices of opposition to war have a place in public space in Scotland.