The 'Conchie Corps': Conflict, Compromise and Conscientious Objection in the British Army, 1940 – 1945

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The British Second World War conscientious objector is an oft forgotten figure, overshadowed in both historiography and popular culture by his First World War counterpart. This article begins to rectify that omission. Focusing on objectors conscripted to the British Army’s Non-Combatant Corps (NCC) the article uses a combination of oral history and official records to explore the lived experiences of those British men who objected to taking up arms. It shows that there were still those who sought to effectively punish objectors and communities who openly shunned the pacifist soldiers working in their midsts. For many objectors were still considered shirkers and cowards who had fundamentally rejected a key part of their male duty. However, this is only part of the story. Men entered the NCC as much as volunteers as by force. Indeed, their experiences were marked as much by knowing negotiation, their own and the army’s, as by hostility. This article argues that attitudes towards COs were much more complex and fluid than the simple overt aggression displayed during the First World War. As such this article has important implications regarding the understandings of not only conscientious objection but also notions of masculinity and duty during the Second World War.
Original languageEnglish
Article numberhwy002
Pages (from-to)411-434
JournalTwentieth Century British History
Issue number3
Early online date23 Mar 2018
Publication statusPublished - 1 Sept 2018


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