On 26 February 1916, Arthur Woodburn appeared for a local tribunal and applied for total exemption from military service, stating: “I do not believe in war. I believe it absolutely wrong to take human life. I believe that a man’s conscience is the only power in which a man can give absolute obedience, and cannot, therefore, consent by silence to any other human beings assuming that power.” His request was dismissed, and he appealed on 20 March 1916 stating: “I stated in my first appeal, I am conscientiously opposed to taking human life, and to taking part in war. I also object on principle to the Government or any section of the people attempting to force me into such military service. I may state that although I have domestic reasons enough – which I do not wish to discuss- to warrant my declining service, I state my appeal solely in conscientious grounds, believing as I do in the vital principle involved. I understand from the newspapers that the Local Tribunal was influenced by the length of me these convictions have been held, and although I could not honestly claim long standing, I can only solemnly affirm that they are strong, and that nothing will make me depart from them. I am a socialist and believe that a collectivist state would solve all wars. I believe that the fact of my being a badged man, also influenced the decision, but as I stated I could not be expected to leave my regular work but I do not wish this to be made a condition of exemption.” The tribunal dismissed the appeal, and he appealed to the central tribunal writing: “1) That the appeal tribunal widely accepted the sincerity of my objection, since they never questioned it or […] interrogate me in any way, and that therefore under the act I am entitled to absolute exemption. 2) I cannot accept the decision because I consciously believe that my attitude towards war and my endeavours to have an immediate peace declared is the best service I can render humanity, and therefore must make all sacrifices and give all my strength to that end.”
The central tribunal dismissed his appeal. He was court-martialled six times between October 1916 and January 1918. On 11 October 1916, he was sentenced to 56 days hard labour at Wormwood S. Two months later, on 7 December 1916, he was sentenced to one-year hard labour commuted to 112 days. He was taken to Wormwood S and refused admission. He returned to Calton Prison in Edinburgh. In April 1917 he was sentenced to 8 months hard labour, in November 1917 to 31 days hard labour, and in January 1918 to a further two years hard labour, then commuted to 6 months. He started a hunger strike and was released on 2 March 1919.