Paci­fists held at Loch Awe

Poignant let­ter tells story of First World War ob­jec­tors who were de­tained at Cru­achan

The Oban Times - - NEWS - By Sandy Neil sneil@oban­times.co.uk

The struggle of Scot­land’s con­sci­en­tious ob­jec­tors who re­fused the call to arms in the First World War is be­ing high­lighted by a let­ter from an Ayr­shire fa­ther to his baby daugh­ter, writ­ten from a labour camp in Ar­gyll.

Ayr­shire postal worker Robert Climie had been a life­long ac­tivist in the in­ter­na­tional peace move­ment be­fore he was con­scripted in 1916.

Ex­er­cis­ing his right to ap­peal on po­lit­i­cal grounds, a tri­bunal hear­ing ini­tially backed Robert’s case be­fore a re­tired army of­fi­cer, out­raged at his re­fusal to fight, pur­sued the mat­ter and saw it over­turned. Like hun­dreds of other Scot­tish ob­jec­tors, Robert was im­pris­oned at Worm­wood Scrubs, be­fore be­ing moved to a labour camp by Loch Awe to work on forestry.

Writ­ing from Cru­achan Es­tate on his daugh­ter Cathie’s first birth­day, the ab­sent fa­ther’s four-page let­ter says: ‘The first year of your life … will in later years be known as one of the worst years in the His­tory of the World.’

It con­tin­ues: ‘A most fear­ful war is rag­ing … The World is just now di­vided into na­tions and the peo­ple of each na­tion be­lieve them­selves to be fight­ing on be­half of their own par­tic­u­lar coun­try … How­ever, there are men and women who be­lieve that all men and women are broth­ers and sis­ters. Th­ese peo­ple are known as Paci­fists.’

His­to­rian and au­thor Robert Dun­can, whose book Ob­jec­tors and Re­sisters chron­i­cles the story of the peace move­ment from 191418, says Robert’s story is not un­usual.

‘Be­tween 1,400 and 1,500 Scots men were con­victed for op­pos­ing the war,’ he said. ‘The con­science clause which en­abled them to ap­peal con­scrip­tion only ap­plied to re­li­gious or moral grounds, and not the po­lit­i­cal be­liefs which led so many to be in­volved in the in­ter­na­tional peace move­ment.’

As the centenary of the Ar­mistice agree­ment ap­proaches this month, Mr Dun­can says the men’s story has been largely ne­glected. ‘The com­mem­o­ra­tions have been on the side of pa­tri­o­tism,’ he said. ‘The con­sci­en­tious ob­jec­tors re­main much ma­ligned and mis­un­der­stood. At the time, they split fam­i­lies and com­mu­ni­ties, but th­ese were prin­ci­pled men who were pre­pared to face the con­se­quences and their story should be heard.’

Ac­tor Gary Lewis has con­trib­uted a pow­er­ful read­ing of the in­ti­mate cor­re­spon­dence which is held in Glas­gow Cale­do­nian Univer­sity’s ar­chive. It is now be­ing shared on­line to help tell the for­got­ten story of Scot­land’s paci­fist move­ment.

Glas­gow Cale­do­nian Univer­sity ar­chiv­ist Ca­role McCal­lum says the let­ter was do­nated by the Ste­wart/ Climie fam­ily, along with mem­o­ra­bilia and pho­to­graphs from the paci­fist move­ment to the univer­sity’s col­lec­tion on so­cial jus­tice. And they have par­tic­u­lar cause to re­mem­ber Robert’s wartime legacy.

Ca­role says: ‘When Robert Climie was put to work in the labour camp, he be­friended a fel­low paci­fist called Alex Ste­wart. The men stayed in touch and Robert’s daugh­ter Cathie went on to marry Alex’s son – whom she sup­ported when he be­came a con­sci­en­tious ob­jec­tor in the Sec­ond World War. It is their son who now wishes his grand­fa­ther Robert’s story to be re­mem­bered.’

She added: ‘Every time I have read Robert’s let­ter I have cried, and never more so than hear­ing Gary Lewis read it out aloud in front of our cam­eras. We have heard lots of peo­ple’s sto­ries from the First World War over the past four years, and I feel this one stands out in our ar­chives and de­served to be told in a dif­fer­ent way.

‘I hope peo­ple will lis­ten to Gary’s read­ing and think about why a child was brought up with­out her fa­ther be­cause of some­thing her par­ents be­lieved in and which was against the pre­vail­ing mood at the time.’

Oban Ro­tary Club pres­i­dent Iain MacIntyre is seen here pre­sent­ing a cheque for £200 to P3 pupils at Rock­field Pri­mary School with the funds go­ing to­wards the pur­chase of shinty sticks for be­gin­ners at the school. As a stal­wart for Oban Ca­manachd for many years, Iain was impressed with the num­ber of boys and girls at­tend­ing the over­all train­ing ses­sion and this re­flects much credit on the coaches who were in at­ten­dance.

Pho­to­graphs Peter Devlin

Robert Climie, back row, far right, and fel­low con­sci­en­tious ob­jec­tors in the labour camp on the Cru­achan Es­tate.

Ac­tor Gary Lewis with Robert Climie’s let­ter, writ­ten to his daugh­ter Cathie, in the back­ground.

Sandy Ste­wart and Robert Climie met at Loch Awe.

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