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Tavistock Square’s Conscientious Objectors’ Commemorative Stone is a 400 million year old piece of volcanic slate, placed in memory of all those who have refused to fight. It was the work of a group of humanists and pacifists, and is dedicated ‘To all those who have established and who are maintaining the right to refuse to kill’. The campaign was led by Edna Mathieson, whose uncle Joe Brett had been a conscientious objector, and whose enduring philosophy Mathieson described as that of Thomas Paine: ‘my country is the world, and my religion is to do good.’ She was inspired by a comment made by humanist Bill McIlroy, who had led her uncle’s funeral in 1976. Some years later, and with the support of the Peace Pledge Union, Mathieson set about fundraising for the memorial, which was ultimately designed by Hugh Court, of Architects for Peace, and sculptor Paul Wehrle. The stone – sourced in Cumbria – was unveiled at a ceremony on 15 May 1994 by humanist, composer, former conscientious objector, and then President of the Peace Pledge Union Sir Michael Tippett. In the following years, Mathieson worked to organise annual commemorations at the memorial, supported by the British Humanist Association (now Humanists UK), and nearby Conway Hall.

Humanists throughout history and across the UK have been actively involved in other efforts to commemorate lives lost to war, to acknowledge the efforts of conscientious objectors, and to maintain peace. In recent years, humanist and activist Steve Roman has been an influential part of the work towards creating Manchester’s Peace Garden, and has for many years led walkers on the Manchester Peace Trail.

Image: © Charlie Lynch

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