Quakers highlight dissent, courage and conscience in World War 1 exhibition

Dissent and opposition to the war, and to preparations for war, are highlighted in a World War 1 centenary exhibition at the Quaker Meeting House, 119 Devonshire Street, Surry Hills, Sydney.


Quakers are presenting the exhibition, entitled ‘World War 1: Quaker witness to peace and nonviolence’, as part of NSW History Week, 6-14 September.


Australian historian, Professor Emerita Jill Roe, who will open the exhibition, says: Quakers have been vital to the peace tradition since the 17th century, and never more so than during and after World War 1. Their advocacy of peace and non-violence, and their work for postwar relief, is as relevant today as it was then, and rightfully highlighted in this valuable contribution to History Week 2014.


The emphasis on peacemaking provides a counterpoint to the centenary’s focus on the commemoration of military engagement, the appropriation of the memory of war, and the myth that our national identity was forged at Gallipoli and other World War 1 military actions.


The exhibition tells the story of Quakers’ commitment to peacemaking, their opposition to militarism, and their active role in the provision of relief to the victims of war in Europe during and after World War 1.


Quakers joined with many other people, some of faith and some not, who advocated for peace and opposed war and preparations for war. When compulsory military training for boys aged 14-18 yeåars was introduced in Australia under the Defence Act from 1911, Quakers were among those who refused training and were prosecuted, fined, and in some cases imprisoned in military barracks. At the time Quakers held that: ‘children ought not to be taught the necessity of war, much less its glory.’


During World War 1, Quakers were influential in opposing conscription. Despite considerable local and British propaganda, Australians rejected conscription for overseas military service at two referendums.


The exhibition draws attention to the terrible consequences of war and illustrates Quakers’ continuing commitment to peacemaking, nuclear disarmament, and non-violent methods of solving conflict within and between nations.


The exhibition will later travel within NSW and to other States and Territories.

Opening hours at Quaker Meeting House, 119 Devonshire Street, Surry Hills:

  1. Saturdays 6, 13 September: 10.30am–3.00pm
  2. Monday 8 September: 10.30am–3.00pm
  3. Tuesday 9 September: 1.00pm–8.00pm
  4. Wednesday 10 September: 1.00pm–8.00pm
  5. Thursday 11 September: 10.30am–3.00pm

Further information: Jenny Madeline, Religious Society of Friends (Quakers) in NSW

jmadeline@optusnet.com.au; 0424 286 582

historycouncilnsw.org.au/history/post/quaker-witness-to-peace-and-non-violence

The centenary of World War 1: Australian Quakers’ response Read full statement here