Lost letters of objector tricked into fighting

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The anguish of a First World War soldier who was forced to fight despite being a conscientious objector has come to light after seven letters he wrote home were found in a dusty cupboard.

Donald McNair was a member of the Plymouth Brethren who registered as a conscientious objector when conscription was introduced in 1916. As a member of the Exclusive Brethren, a branch of the Plymouth Brethren, McNair avoided the temptations of society. He never went to the cinema or theatre, never danced, and did not vote.

He was called before a tribunal but was tricked into giving an answer that led to his finding himself on the front line. He was asked what he would do if he found a German attacking his wife, to which he replied: “I would defend her against German and Englishman alike”. This was taken as an indication that he was prepared to fight to defend his country. He was posted to Palestine to fight the Turks with the 8th Battalion, the Hampshire Regiment, but told officers that he did not intend to fight. Some were understanding and assigned him duties behind the lines. Others warned him that he faced execution if he disobeyed.

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