The autograph book that reveals the secrets of a Dundee war objector

A rare collection of quotes and drawings assembled by a Dundonian conscientious objector has gone on display in the city.

First World War objector Ewan Geddes Carr, of Lawson Place, started an autograph book after he was imprisoned for refusing to join up when conscription was introduced in 1916.

The book, now on display at the city centre museum, features written and drawn contributions from other conscientious objectors (COs) Carr met in prisons and work camps.

Ewan Geddes Carr, back row, far right, with Dundee conscientious objectors.

A fresh page will be turned in the display each week, giving visitors a detailed insight into the minds of those who stood against going to war 100 years ago.

Carly Cooper, social history curator at The McManus, said that publicly known stories of COs were few and far between, and there was an ongoing effort to piece together more.

She said: “Those we know of are quite rare — in a public museum anyway. Part of this is to find out about other objectors, what their motivation was and how they were treated.

Carly Cooper at the exhibit

“We associate things such as the white feature (a mark of cowardice, and sometimes a mark of peace) with COs — some people kept it a secret.”

Carr was also a prominent member of the Independent Labour Party (ILP), which had refused to support the First World War.

During his imprisonment, he spent time at both Ballachulish Road Camp in the Highlands and Wakefield Prison.

After his release, he helped to replace Winston Churchill as Dundee’s MP.

Carly added that Dundee was respected among objectors across the country as something of a leader in the anti-war movement. Only 63% of eligible men in Dundee joined up for service between 1914 and 1918, despite the introduction of mandatory service.

A page from the autograph book

In addition, one drawing in the book, apparently by a prisoner from Yorkshire, depicts a CO being released from a Home Office Scheme work camp and heading towards Dundee.

“We think we know about 90 men and we’re trying to find out if they knew each other,” Carly added.

“A few of our men were Quakers so a lot of objections were religious. A lot of men didn’t like what the war was for and saw it as a lot of working class men that were being sacrificed for it.

“There aren’t many objectors like this in the public eye. Part of what’s great about our archive is that most people who have signed the book have put their name and address and have left a list of where they had been kept.”

Other objects featured in the display include postcards and Carr’s own prisoner card officially listing him as an objector.

However, many of the people featured are yet to be identified — and it is believed there are many untold stories waiting to be discovered.

The exhibit

The charity WEA Scotland, which promotes further education amongst adults, is running a research project called Legacies of Resistance to the First World War. The project aims to piece together the stories of Scotland’s conscientious objectors.

Those with names, anecdotes or documents related to possible COs are encouraged to get in touch with the charity to ensure their tales aren’t forgotten.

Kait Laughlin, the project’s coordinator, can be reached by email at klaughlin@wea.org.uk.

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