Radical art during the Second World War in Britain
: conscientious objection in the work of Don Treacher

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


This research is an exploration of the art of conscientious objectors through the lens of a previously undocumented body of artwork and writing by Don Treacher. Treacher was a conscientious objector (CO) who lived in the Southeast of England during the Second World War. His application for CO status was rejected after tribunal, he enlisted into the army, he was court-martialled and imprisoned, and he took his own life by jumping under a train in 1942 aged 20. He was also my great-uncle. During the war Don Treacher created dozens of paintings, drawings, and illustrated narratives in bright paint or black ink and notebooks as well as numerous letters, cuttings and collages totaling over 150 works preserved by my family in a collection held primarily by his only surviving brother Graham Treacher. These works have been written about by his brother Keith Treacher, further contextualized in oral history interviews that I have conducted with Graham Treacher, and additionally contextualized by letters kept by the family of Don Treacher’s friend Harry Zelinski.

By drawing on methodologies from art and design history, family history, oral history, and memory studies, this thesis investigates what the life and work of Don Treacher can contribute to the understanding of conscientious objection and anti-war politics and, additionally, art practice and the social imagination of the 1930s and 1940s. By drawing links between 20th century British romanticism, anarchism, science fiction, and pacifism, this research offers a new perspective on art and conscientious objection in Britain by situating Treacher’s work in a broader institutional, legal, social, and artistic context. Ultimately, the research uses Treacher’s artwork as a lens through which to focus on the wider context of conscientious objection along with its varied visual language and political belief.
Date of AwardJul 2024
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Brighton
SupervisorRebecca Searle (Supervisor) & Prof Tobias Kelly (Supervisor)


  • Conscientious Objection
  • Second World War
  • Radical Art
  • Family Memory

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