This exhibition will explore the little-known story of British conscientious objectors of the Second World War through paintings, poems, letters, music and speeches.

The reintroduction of conscription meant that British citizens were expected to contribute directly to the war effort. To gain exemptions from conscription on the grounds of conscience, individuals were required to appear before a tribunal and produce evidence about their honesty and commitment to their principles. 

During the Second World War, over 60,000 men and women chose not to fight for religious, political or moral reasons.

Following the stories of conscientious objectors including Scottish author, Fred Urquhart, and poet, Edwin Morgan, the exhibition will examine the application process, the reasons people had for opposing conscription, and what happened to them as a result.

If successful in their application, conscientious objectors could be exempted from national service altogether, or more commonly assigned to other non-combatant roles such as bomb disposal, hospital work or agricultural labour. Some of those whose applications were unsuccessful were ultimately imprisoned. 

Conscience Matters is the result of a major research project into conscientious objectors in Britain led by the University of Edinburgh.


Images (c) Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) in Britain

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Plan your visit

The National War Museum is located within Edinburgh Castle. Find out how to get the most from your visit here.

First World War

1914 brought war to Scotland on what would prove to be an unprecedented scale. Delve into the stories behind those who fought in the First World War here.

Things to see and do

Discover uniforms, insignia and equipment, medals, decorations, weapons, paintings, ceramics and silverware, all of which throw light on Scotland's military history, from world-changing events to the everyday life of Scottish servicemen.
Exhibition information


8 Mar 2019 - 26 Jan 2020


National War Museum, Hospital Square, Edinburgh Castle

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Included in Edinburgh Castle admission

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An adapted courtesy vehicle is available at the Castle's admissions kiosk to take visitors with mobility difficulties, including wheelchair users, to the Museum and other parts of the Castle.

The Museum itself has a level entrance and wheelchairs are available for loan at no charge. There is a public lift between the two floors and seating is available throughout. Adapted toilets are also available.

Guide dogs, hearing dogs and other recognised assistance dogs are admitted.

Click here to find more information.

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