SCOTLAND'S first major memorial to conscientious objectors has been given the go-ahead.

It is hoped the memorial, which has been approved by Edinburgh City Council following a petition put forward by Peace and Justice Scotland and its supporters, will be sited in Princess Street Gardens and is due to be completed 2019.

Historians claim it will highlight the hidden stories and sacrifices made by those who resisted war on moral, political and religious grounds and were often imprisoned and publicly vilified as a result.

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Nearly 20,000 men across the UK refused conscription in the First World War and 60,000 did so in the Second World War. Some 6000 went to prison and were subjected to harsh treatment, often stripped naked, put in solitary for months on a diet of bread and water.

Many went on hunger strike in protest at conditions and were force fed and 73 died in jail. Others were forced to step down from their jobs, sentenced to hard labour and ostracised for their perceived cowardice.

The 235 Edinburgh men who refused conscription during WWI include Arthur Woodburn, who served a long term in Calton Jail. Later he became an MP and went on to serve as Secretary of State for Scotland from 1947 until 1950. Poets Edwin Morgan and Norman MacCaig were also war resisters as well as Scottish nationalist politician Douglas Young and Bishop of Edinburgh Alastair Haggart.The right to object to engage with fighting on principle was first given legal recognition by the Military Service Act in 1916.

Brian Larkin, coordinator of Peace and Justice Scotland, said the idea for the memorial was born in 2014 after the UK Government announced a £50 million lottery fund to commemorate WW1, prompting peace campaigners to reflect on the need to honour those who believed in alternatives to military action. There is already a memorial in London but only a small plaque in Glasgow.

"There are hundreds of monuments to those who have fought and died in wars," Larkin said. "Conscientious objectors and those who opposed war are an important part of our history too."

He said the project, now being driven by a consortium of peace campaigning and faith-based organisations and currently tendering for artists to design the memorial, was about "providing the space for reflection on alternatives to war". The committee had their plans approved unanimously by Edinburgh City Council earlier this year. They have been offered a number of city centre sites but opted for Princess Street Gardens to give it due visibility.

"Like those who fought in wars, objectors and opponents of wars have often made great sacrifices, their opposition came at a cost to themselves and to their families," Larkin added. "They were often ostracised in communities and even tortured by the military. But they have also made huge contributions to society."

Historian Lesley Orr, of Edinburgh University, who is on the memorial committee claimed that though an increasing amount of research was being now done on war resisters many of their stories were still largely unknown.

She added: "It will be a place where their courage and conviction may be honoured, just as those who fought are honoured. The memorial, in a central location, will create space and opportunity for reflection on the dilemmas and difficult choices which confront us all in a world which continues to be blighted by the abuse of power, greed and inequalities which feed so much violence and conflict."

The Sunday Herald contacted Poppy Scotland, which today is marking Remembrance Sunday, honouring the contribution of those who served in the military during the First and Second World Wars and later conflicts, but they declined to comment.

Box out: "My grandfather made great sacrifices"

George Searson was 26 when WW1 broke out, he was newly married and working as a librarian at the Mitchell Library in Glasgow, a job that he was passionate about. He was a highly-principled man, according to his granddaughter Elizabeth Allen – who cherishes affectionate memories of her inspiring maternal grandfather – and a member of the Independent Labour Party (ILP). Killing "brother workers in another country", who he considered were being exploited by the state, was against his moral code.

"He applied for an exemption on political and moral grounds," she said. "It was quite common in Scotland amongst people connected to the ILP. He went to a military tribunal and he must have argued his case well because it was given exemption. But he had to resign from the library and do hard labour." Although he applied to be reinstated it took 10 years before he was allowed to return to the job he loved.

His membership of the pacifist Peace Pledge Union and activism was central to his identity, claimed Allen. "He was committed to building peace for the rest of his life," she said. She hopes that the memorial will remind people of the contribution conscientious objectors made and help prompt conversations about alternatives to war.

"Their actions formed the foundations of our understand of peace building," she added. "We now have a more bigger understanding of that. It can often be seen as a very negative stance but it was a very courageous one."