Year of Graduation


Level of Access

Open Access Thesis

Embargo Period


Department or Program


First Advisor

Page Herrlinger


During the Great War, the Military Service Act was introduced on January 27, 1916 and redefined British citizenship. Moreover, some men objected to the state’s military service mandate, adamant that compliance violated their conscience. This thesis investigates how the introduction of conscription reshaped British society, dismantled the “sacred principle” of volunteerism, and replaced it with conscription, resulting in political and popular debates, which altered the individual’s relationship with the state. British society transformed from a polity defined by the tenets of Liberalism and a free-will social contract to a society where citizenship was correlated to duty to the state. Building off Lois Bibbings’ research on conscientious objectors, this thesis nuances the analysis with the case studies of David Blelloch and Norman Gaudie. Framed by two theories—Benedict Anderson’s imagined community and Barbara Rosenwein’s emotional community—these case studies demonstrate how conscientious objectors exposed the incongruence of the British imagined and emotional community, and the redefinition of citizenship. By weaving these theories into the British Great War tapestry, this thesis contends that the British nation was imagined differently before the war than it was after the war because of the introduction of conscription. Drawing from parliamentary debate transcripts, newspaper articles, and archival material from the Imperial War Museum in London, and the Liddle Personal Collection at the University of Leeds, Blelloch’s and Gaudie’s respective case studies ultimately bait the question: “What does it mean to be British?”