Scotland’s conscientious objectors remembered through father’s letter to baby

The story of Scotland’s First World War conscientious objectors is being highlighted through a letter from an Ayrshire father to his baby daughter.

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

A tribunal hearing initially backed his case, but a retired army officer pursued the matter and saw it overturned.

Cathie Climie as a child
Cathie Climie as a child (Peter Devlin)

Like hundreds of other Scottish objectors, he was imprisoned at Wormwood Scrubs, before being moved to a labour camp by Loch Awe in Argyll and Bute to work on forestry.

Actor Gary Lewis has now recited a letter Mr Climie wrote to his daughter Cathie for her first birthday, while at the camp.

A recording of it is being shared online to help tell the story of Scotland’s pacifist movement.

The 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.”

Mr Lewis said: “Men like Robert Climie were victimised and persecuted because of their stance, but it was a principled stance.

“It wasn’t that they were cowards – it was because of their very firm conviction that men should not fight.”

Actor Gary Lewis with Robert Climie's letter
Actor Gary Lewis with Robert Climie’s letter (Peter Devlin)

The letter was donated by the Climie family, along with memorabilia and photographs from the pacifist movement to Glasgow Caledonian University’s collection on social justice.

Mr Climie’s daughter went on to marry the son of a fellow pacifist, Sandy Stewart, who he met while at the labour camp.

University archivist Carole McCallum said: “When Robert Climie was put to work in the labour camp, he befriended a fellow pacifist called Sandy Stewart.

“The men stayed in touch, and Robert’s daughter Cathie went on to marry Sandy’s son – who 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.”