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We Will Not Fight...: The Untold Story of WW1's Conscientious Objectors [Paperback]

Will Ellsworth-Jones
4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)

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Paperback £8.09  
Paperback, 25 Nov 2008 --  

Book Description

25 Nov 2008
In June 1916 Philip Brocklesby, a young second lieutenant just arrived in Boulogne, slipped away from his regiment in a desperate attempt to see his brother who had been imprisoned nearby. But it wasn't the enemy who were holding Bert, but his own army. Bert, along with 34 other conscientious objectors, had been court marshalled for refusing to fight, and was waiting to hear if he would be sentenced to death. The meeting was happy and affectionate, but then both brothers knew it may be their last.Through the amazing story of the Brocklesby family, Will Ellsworth-Jones explores the history of conscientious objection in World War I, charting the experiences of the men who took a stand despite being stigmatised, vilified and facing death. This amazing book also considers the men's lasting legacy. Without the courage of men such as Bert who were prepared to die for their beliefs, we wouldn't have the freedom to voice our beliefs and protest at our government's involvement in conflict. At the end of this touching book, the reader will ask themselves whether they would have had the courage to fight in the trenches, but more importantly whether they would have had the courage not to fight. Packed with unpublished letters, diaries, memoir extracts and oral interviews, We Will Not Fight is a fascinating look at conscientious objection in WWI, and its legacy.This book explores Conscientious Objection in WWI through an extraordinary personal story of two British brothers - one who was prepared to die fighting; the other who was prepared to die refusing to fight. It offers a well-researched and intensely moving history full of unpublished diaries, letters, trial notes and memoir extracts. Richard Holmes' Tommy sold 35,000 HBs & 50,000 PBs, while Max Arthur's, Forgotton Voices sold 125,000 PBs. This book offers a unique perspective on an ever popular period of history, especially in light of recent protest over Iraq. It is ideal for review and media coverage.

Frequently Bought Together

We Will Not Fight...: The Untold Story of WW1's Conscientious Objectors + We Will Not Go To War: Conscientious Objection during the World Wars + Telling Tales about Men: Conceptions of Conscientious Objectors to Military Service During the First World War
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Product details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Aurum Press Ltd (25 Nov 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1845134036
  • ISBN-13: 978-1845134037
  • Product Dimensions: 19.2 x 13 x 2.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 372,215 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description


'It is by now a rare experience to read a book on that war which seems wholly fresh and original, but this is such a book. A significant and fascinating contribution to our understanding of the period, and one which deserves to be widely read.' --Publishing News

'...both illuminating and moving in the face of cataclysmic suffering, while crucially retaining its intimacy' --Glasgow Herald, November 2008

'[a] fine book' --Seven (The Sunday Telegraph), December 2008

About the Author

WILL ELLSWORTH-JONES was chief reporter and then New York correspondent for the Sunday Times as well as holding senior editorial positions at the Telegraph Magazine, The Independent Magazine and Saga Magazine. His books for Aurum are a history of conscientious objectors in the First World War, We Will Not Fight, and Banksy: The Man Behind the Wall. He lives in London.

--This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

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Customer Reviews

4.2 out of 5 stars
4.2 out of 5 stars
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
It is almost obligatory these days to use a subtitle like "the untold story" when publishing a book about the First World War; but this book really merits the title. It tells the story of the Sixteen thousand or so men who declared themselves Conscientious Objectors. Many were prepared to do non combatant work such as transport or ambulanc work, but a couple of thousand refused to do anything to assist the war effort. These men came from many parts of society, though artisans (watchmakers, shopkeepers) and teachers were more common than other sorts.

Their reasons were refusing were religious or political. They were Quakers, methodists, socialists. Many of them paid a high price for their principles. In the worst cases they were regularly beaten and threatened with execution ("We shot sixteen of your lot yesterday and you'll be next"); hundreds were kept in prison under a no-talking régime for years. Others were obliged to carry out useless work, breaking rocks and so on.

Although their sufferings were clearly lighter than those of the battalions in the trenches, the courage they required was huge. As time went by, they earned the respect of many soldiers, especially once the massive death tolls on the Somme had shaken people up. They would still be discriminated against after the war ("No COs need apply), and during the war they were generally presented in parodies as homosexual effeminate and bourgeois. A few of them may have been each of these, but the most important lesson of the book is that they were right.
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3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars We Will Not Fight...... 14 Aug 2012
After a bit of a slow start of what seemed liked a list of names, dates and places this became a truly fascinating read in which the author explored the journey of some of the first known conscientious objectors, some of whom agreed to non-combatant work, some of whom refused to 'help' the war effort in any way, shape or form, all of them men prepared to risk much, some of them their lives, for their beliefs.

Using a vast array of letters, many of them unpublished, diaries, memoirs and interviews, We Will Not Fight also takes a look at the men and women who were with and against the objectors. My favourite section, albeit a very harrowing one, being about the phenomenon that saw (mostly) young women giving white feathers* to men out of uniform believing them to be 'shirkers' or cowards.

Not just a military history, so much more than a story of war, this is a very human story and a fitting tribute to a group of determined men with very strong beliefs.

We Will Not Fight...: The Untold Story of World War Ones Conscientious Objectors
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Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
A sad story and you have to feel some sympathy for what they suffered but then others paid the ultimate price.
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4.0 out of 5 stars The luxury of having a conscience 24 May 2014
Warning: this review contains spoilers.

This is a gripping account of those men, the COs or 'conchies', who chose not to fight in the First World War. The book has two main threads: a general account of the plight facing COs and, more particularly, the story of the Brocklesby brothers - the absolutist Bert who refused to have anything to do with the War and his brother Phil who fought on the Western Front.

Reading a book of this type will almost certainly engender strong feelings and Ellsworth-Jones is commendably even handed, though I have to say that some of the stubborness displayed by the COs in refusing to do even the most menial of tasks in prison because they maintained it contributed to the continuation of the war struck me as selfish and self-righteous.

Mention is made of a fellow inmate of one of the COs, a soldier who avoids fighting by repeatedly being imprisoned for deliberately getting drunk. Who is the more honest about their avoidance of military service? The CO whose conscience tells him it is wrong to kill or the enlisted soldier who plays the system in order to avoid combat?

A chapter is devoted to the antics of the women who gave white feathers to men who were not in uniform as an encouragement to them to enlist. I would have liked more on this movement, but as Ellsworth-Jones points out, it is hard to get information on the topic; in light of the appalling casualties, women were reluctant to talk about their role in distributing feathers once the War was over.

Well written and researched, the book throws light on an aspect of the 1914-18 conflict which hasn't perhaps received much attention before.
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