Challenging Militarism

1918-2018 Some reflections

Northern Friends Peace Board’s trustees gathered in worship at the beginning of November 2018 and were led to share some reflections on the centenary of the armistice.
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The peace testimony, today, is seen in what we do, severally and together, with our lives. We pray for the involvement of the Spirit with us, that we may work for a more just world. – London Yearly Meeting, 1993
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NO VICTIMISATION

From The Tribunal August 29th 1918

This is a further update in a series of extracts from the No Conscription Fellowship’s journal, published in the UK between March 1916 and November 1918
_For other updates go to:_http://nfpb.org.uk/tribunal

From the “Edinburgh Evening News,” Aug. 14th, 1918:-

A deputation from the No Conscription Fellowship was received in Edinburgh Trades Council at their meeting last night. The Rev. Raymond Hold brought before the notice of the Council the treatment of conscientious objectors who were willing to do work of national importance under the Government scheme, and had accordingly been release from Home Office Camps. It had been found, however, that other men in the works where the conscientious objectors had obtained employment, had threatened to strike. The deputation asked the Council to do all they could to prevent the continuance of such treatment. Mr. Holt said it would be a terrible blot on the honour and reputation of the trades unions if they were found to be more intolerant thant the Government itself. (Applause). The Council, by a large majority, approved of a motion that no member of any trades union should be barred from working because of his political or religious opinions. An amendment that no expression of opinion with regard to action by the trades union should be given, was supported by only four votes.

A C.O AT ARMENTIERES

h3, From The Tribunal August 22nd 1918

This is a further update in a series of extracts from the No Conscription fellowship’s journal, published in the UK between March 1916 and November 1918
_For other extracts go to:_http://nfpb.org.uk/tribunal

AMAZING EXPERIENCES IN FRANCE

Information has just come to hand of the extraordinary history of a comrade who has lately been released under the “Cat and Mouse Act” after hunger striking in Pentonville. His appeals for exemption were of no avail, and although neurasthenic and incapable of work, he was conscripted into the Army early in 1917.

After the usual trouble in the hands of the military, who forced him into khaki, he was handed over to the Civil Police and kept in custody for five days at Old Street Police station, from whence he was moved, handcuffed, to Leonard Street Barracks, Shoreditch. Manacled to another prisoner, he was taken from there to the 7th Infantry Labour company, Queen’s West Surreys. He soon found himself in Boulogne, where he refused to work. No notice was taken of him, but he was moved to Steenwich, behind the Ypres lines on the Armentieres front. Here he refused pick and shovel work, and was sentenced to 42 days’ No.2 Field Punishment.

Terrible as these experiences must have been to a boy of his temperament, they did not in the slightest degree shake his faith or induce him to abandon resistance. At the Punishment Compound at Armentieres he was the only conscientious objector, yet he refused to work; and in spite of the loneliness he won through to the extent of being left alone after several paradings. here he actually witnessed the fighting at Messines Rudge which was taking place on the other side of the valley, and was so close to the battle that he was finally shelled out of the compound and hand to be taken to camp to finish his sentence. He was re-examined by a Field Medical Board which passed him fit for light duty only, and was then on the sick list for several weeks. An appeal against his sentence had no result.

Later in June at Neuve Eglise, our comrade refused to ‘clean camp,’ and was again remanded for C.M., which took place at Bailleul. In spite of his own clear statement, and a testimony from the officer who prosecuted, he was sentenced to six g months F.H.L. He was detained at St Omer for a week, and was then sent to Rouen No. 1 Prison. On refusing to work here, he was put in a cell for 12 days on punishment diet, with his arms fastened behind his back in a ‘figure 8’ fot 12 hours a day.

Fortunately he was removed, via Havre and Southampton, to Wormwood Scrubs to finish his sentence. He refused the Home Office Scheme, and completed his term of 6 months’ imprisonment. At Chelsea Barracks on Jan 8th last, our comrade was sentenced to 2 years’ hard labour for refusing to do fatigues at Bassing Road Barracks, Peckham, and was sent to Pentonville. After two months here he refused to work or take food, and was soon in hospital. His mother entreated him to take food, bit after complying with the request for a time, he became confirmed in his attitude of hunger-striking.
He was released on July 3rd for one month which expired on August 1st, and although in a state of health which has been certified by high medical authority as being extremely critical, he has been granted a further respite of only another month.

A VISIT TO WILDERNESS CAMP

From The Tribunal August 15th 1918

_This is a further update in a series of extracts from the No Conscription Fellowship’s journal, published in the UK between March 1916 and November 1918.
For other extracts go to: http://nfpb.org.uk/tribunal

On August 2nd I went down with two Polish friends to visit the Russians, Poles and other Slavonic comrades attached to the Labour Company in Wilderness Camp, Sevenoaks. At first, I must confess, I felt somewhat bewildered. Numbers of men were brought up and presented to me, and for a while the air seemed charged with something which resembled an Overture by Strauss rendered by an orchestra suffering from hay-fever!

When it cleared a little I found to my great relief that most of my new acquaintances spoke French, some of them German, one or two of them English. My few polite nothings in Czech proffered with much trepidation forged a way into their hearts, and acquaintances became comrades and friends.

There were about 1,000 men in the Camp. Of these only 60 were Russians and Poles, the remainder being of the Hebrew faith. The latter I gathered had appealed in many instances on behalf of domestic grounds, but the former are purely political objectors, holding the belief that in event of their being sent overseas, they will sooner or later be called upon to take up arms against their own people. Many of them have signed a formal protest laying stress upon their passionate support of the Bolshevik government. I use the word “passionate” advisedly, and we should do well to keep this quality of our Russian friends in mind.

Owing to the language difficulty, they can hold little communication with the Jewish members of the Company who in the majority of cases speak only Yiddish and English.

When we remember that these men have been “put” into Labour compamies, and that they are officered by English N.C.O.‘s and commissioned officers, it is not difficult to visualise many awkward situations.

The position has not been relieved by the addition of three Russian officers to the staff. The three officers do not recognise Lenin and Trotsky, and the men whom they command do not recognise Kerensky! The parade ground must frequently have presented a scent rivaling the best of those in “Alice in Wonderland.”

A month ago 500 of these men were drafted out to France, and a fortnight ago another 150 were dispatched from Wilderness Camp for the same destination. A large number of these men have signed the protest mentioned above, and as a result of this, or of some change in policy, they were held up at an English port, and sent, it is believed, to Wales.

While drinking in the tales of adventures past and present which poured from the lips of these political objectors, I did not forget those men who are conscientious objectors as we understood the term. I was able to obtain a complete list of such men who were in the guardroom, together with their regimental numbers and further details regarding the position. That had been rumours of brutal treatment at Wilderness Camp, and I fear that this had been only too true in certain instances. Once the men are in the guardrooms there is less danger of this taking place, but I should like to impress upon all friends and sympathisers of conscientious objectors the need of careful watch over the men who are taken to Camp in obscure and inaccessible places. it is impossible to take effective action unless we possess the requisite knowledge. The War Office does not sanction brutality in the treatment of conscientious objectors, but we must remember that the War Office does not know conscientious objectors by name. To the War Office they represent numbered parts of a huge machine, and not flesh and blood individuals. Might I therefore urge the importance of taking note of regimental numbers?

On Monday, August 5th, I received information that 500 men, among them my delightful hosts of the previous Friday, had been sent from Sevenoaks to an unknown destination.

Readers of the Tribunal will sympathise with me, I feel sure, in my anxiety for their welfare, and my interest in the fight which they must inevitably make, and make soon. M.M.J.

SCRAP THE BIBLE

From The Tribunal 8th August 1918

This is a further update in a series of extracts from No Conscription Fellowship’s journal, published in the UK between March 1916 and November 1918
For other extracts go to: http://nfpb.org.uk/tribunal

By EX-INSPECTOR SYME

Now we shall win the war!!
In a war for justice it is right that a just and righteous people should be led to victory in a just and righteous cause by a just and righteous leader. Surely no one better than a just and righteous judge, learned in the laws of the land of justice and freedom could be chosen for the position.

Wizards – even Welsh – must fail, but Time brings the man. He has arrived.

At the Lanarkshire Tribunal, sitting in the County Buildings, Glasgow, on July 22nd, last, was heard the appeal for exemption from military service of William Starkey, Junior, a young International Bible Student, who is so un-British as to claim a conscience.

Willie is a simple lad (not a simpleton, but like many similar throughout the land, clean minded and clear brained), and, believing in the Bible commandment “Thou shalt not kill,” he cannot grasp the revised version, “Thou shalt not kill except in war now preached by the khaki clothed ministers of the Gospel of the Prince of Peace.

Sheriff Lee of Lanarkshire, who presided at the Tribunal soon sized up the situation: no ordinary Sunday-go-to-meeting Christian this, but a just and righteous judge to Israel who has no room for a law which allows a conscientious objection and no mercy for those who believe the British government ever intended such a clause in the Military Service Act to become operative.

“Thou shalt not steal” is a sensible and conscientious Bible commandment which the learned judge is determined shall be obeyed: but “Thou shalt not kile”-! Scrap the Bible.

William Starkey’s father attended the Tribunal on his son’s behalf, and notified me that the appeal was dismissed and permission to appeal to the Central Tribunal refused.

Mr. Starkey, senior, writes me: “I was amazed at the apathy of the Court when confronted with scripture texts: they were simply ignored, and so far as the clause in the Act is concerned, for the conscientious objector, it is a diabolical mockery – for a C.O. has no quarter. However, we can thank God for the strength that enables us to sympathise with even our enemies. I feel I must tell you that during the Sheriff’s questioning, as I was explaining that the Christian is exhorted to render unto no men evil for evil, he remarked that we might as well scrap the Bible if that was it.”

William Starkey, Junior, is the first C.O. from the village of Gartcosh, near Glasgow. It requires great courage for a young lad to stand out in a small village where everyone knows him. This William Starkey has done, and his parents have reason to be proud of him: but we all owe Willie a special recognition in that he has discovered for us the man and the way to win the war.

His Honour, Sheriff Lee, of Lanarkshire, is the man the way is “Scrap the Bible.” So simple a solution after 4 years of slaughter!

OUT OF THE DEPTHS

From The Tribunal August 1st 1918

This is a further update in a series of extracts from the No Conscription Fellowship’s journal, published in the UK between March 1916 and November 1918
For other extracts go to: http://nfpb.org.uk/tribunal

Among the mass of poetry which has been inspired by the war it is refreshing to find something which does not hold up for admiration that which every soldier knows to be a revoltingly ugly business. Realism in a war poem is rare. Too often we see murder presented in a false light of glorification. At a time therefore when songs and poetry are being used in the service of militarism, a volume of verse which strives after truth is particularly welcome.

Mr. Seigfried Sassoon is a unique war poet. He alone of our young writers has succeeded in conveying through the medium of verse something of war’s horror and its effect upon the soldier. The “Old Huntsman” is already well known. Those to whom it appealed will be interested in “Counter Attack and other Poems,” which contains his more recent work. This collection was aptly pronounced by a reviewer to be the production of a “soul in torment.” It voices the cry of a heart harrowed by personal contact with the frightfulness of a war which is fast devouring “The unreturning army that was youth.” It has a poignant interest for all who are working for the deliverance of mankind from the horror and misery through which we are now passing. The following for example is a description of a German trench captured in an advance:-

“The place was rotten with dead: green clumsy legs,
High booted, sprawled and grovelled along the saps,
And trunks, face downward, in the sucking mud,
Wallowed like trodden sand bags, loosely filled;
Bulged clotted heads slept in plastering slime”

In “Remorse” we have a poor “Tommy” lost in a muddy swamp:-

“Remembering how he saw those Germans run
Screaming for mercy among the stumps of trees;
Green-faced they dodged and darted: there was one
Livid with terror clutching at his knees…
Our chaps were sticking them like pigs… ‘Oh Hell!’
He thought – ‘there’s things in war one dare not tell
Poor father sitting safe at home, who reads
Of dying heroes and their deathless deeds,’”

He treats with irony and satire in more than one poems the attitude of bellicose old men:

“ . . . . . who died
Slow natural deaths – old men with ugly souls
Who wore their bodies out with nasty sins.”

“The Fathers” is a picture of “two cross goggle-eyed” old men talking platitudes about the war. One says that his son “Arthur is getting all the fun,” and the other replies:-

“Yes, . . . . that’s the luck!
My boy’s quite broken-hearted, stuck
In England training all the year,”

In a “Fight to a finish” Tommies on their return charge in exasperation at the “Yellow Pressmen” who “thronged the sunlit street to the soldiers who’d refrained from dying.”

It would be impossible to give here all the points of view from which the war is painted by the poet. Two more must suffice. Boys are now forced to become soldiers at the age of 18. This fact comes to one’s mind with startling force on reading “Suicide in the trenches,” which shows how a ‘simple soldier boy’ driven to distraction by a winter of ‘crumps and lice’ puts a bullet through his brain. It ends:-

“You snug faced cowards with kindling eye
Who cheer when soldier-lads march by
Sneak home and pray you’ll never know
The hell where youth and laughter go.”

Those acquainted with the attitude take up last year by Mr. Sassoon with regard to military service will see a personal note in “Banishment,” where he says:-

“I am banished from the patient men who fight…

…The darkness tells how vainly I have striven
To free them from the pit where they must dwell
In outcast gloom convulsed, gagged and riven
By grappling guns. Love drove with me to rebel.
Love drives me back to grope with them through hell,
And in their tortured eyes I am forgiven.”

Since the beginning of this war many men have experienced this struggle between the love which moves them to strive to free their fellow men by rebellion, and that which impels them to share the suffering of their combatant brothers.

It is difficult to take up what to so many appears to be a stand of indifferent aloofness, yet to us the way is clear. To assist or acquiesce in keeping alive what Mr. Sassoon calls “The foul beast of war that bludgeons life” is impossible. We believe that a position in the army is incompatible with pacifism. In saying this we do not seek to detract in any way from the value of the peace service which we believe Seigfried Sassoon to be rendering. To reveal the truth about war is to do much, and although to some the material with which he works may appear to be unfitted for poetic expression, none can deny the arresting force of what are undoubtedly sincere creations.
PFH

PIONEERS O! PIONEERS

From The Tribunal 25th July 1918

This is a further update in a series of extracts from the No Conscription Fellowship’s journal, published in the UK between March 1916 and November 1918
For other extracts go to: http://nfpb.org.uk/tribunal

Twelve hundred men in prison to-day have become popularly known as “The Absolutist Conscience Men.” It is a tremendous tribute for the world to have paid them. Even in the midst of a great war most people pause now and again to listen to a voice which is commonly believed to speak within all men: a voice quickly hushed amid the din of battle. To one little handful of men the people look and call them “Absolutist Conscience Men,” expecting them at all times and under all circumstances guided by that voice: following wheresoever it may lead and whatever the consequences may be. It need hardly be said that these men did not set out to make such a stupendous claim, neither do they claim such mastery over self.

“Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.” So with Conscientious Objectors. Some have been born with great ideals, some have achieved a wider outlook than their fellows, but most have had the championing of a great cause thrust upon them.

To simple people like Archbishops who doubt if these men know the duty of citizenship; to honest politicians like Robert Cecil who fear that these men are not all “religious”; those who urge compromise, – these men have but one answer: The great cause, the high ideal, the wide outlook that may be summed up in one word “Fellowship.” Fellowship is Love of Humanity, Hope for Humanity, Trust in Humanity. Fellowship transcends Citizenship. And having championed this great cause, these men have become free citizens of the world. To do good is their religion, to make no compromise with evil their determination.

These men have been taken in almost every case from useful occupations, and very many stayed in the midst of philanthropic and valuable work for their fellows; their posts in many cases remain open for them, in others they have sacrificed all, but many are eager enough to have their services were they free to render them, for they know that these men have always worked hard and well, and the voluntary service some have rendered to their fellows in the past has been generally recognised. Yet they will make no promise to do this or that at the will of a government, they will not even bind themselves to go back to their previous occupations, although this is what most of them hope and intend to do; they will make no bargain with any Military Service Act, the object of which is the prosecution of war and the subjugation of people.

Their motto may be taken as Liberty, Equality, Fraternity, – which does not mean they are are all Socialists or all Christians, neither are they Agnostics of believers in any set of doctrines, but they are one in common brotherhood of humanity; they recognise that Fellowship and Liberty with equal opportunity for service go hand in hand, and to bargain away liberty as a price of exemption from Military Service is as immoral as to acquiesce in the demand that somehow and in some way they shall lay aside their principles and become tools in the bloody work in which all nations are now engaged, and for their immediate gain to become instruments used to shackle conscription and slavery upon themselves and fellows. No! these men will not sell themselves to avoid the penalties and help to fasten conscription on the country; they will take no part in such disservice, for they believe that the highest work of national and international service which they can render at the present time is to demand first and foremost Absolute Exemption from the terms of all and every Military Service Act. Make them free men and they will again be of service to the nation. Bind them and they will do nothing to further the ends of their tyrants.

They are not claiming special treatment, they claim in their own person the right to serve not as slaves serves, cringing before the lash, but as free men who have never bowed the knee to threats and tyranny. They are making the path for you to follow; where one can travel, all can travel. If you let tyranny have its way, if you succumb to religious and moral persecution, you will close the path of liberty to yourselves, but these men will not be conquered, they will not retreat. Two years ago they burned their boats behind them, some did many years ago; if you fail them they will take the consequences.

H.R.B.

COURTMARTIAL DEFENCE

From The Tribunal July 18th 1918

This is a further update in a series of extracts from the No Conscription Fellowship’s journal, published in the UK between March 1916 and November 1918
For other extracts go to: http://nfpb.org.uk/tribunal

Of H.R. Cudbird, July 2nd 1918, at Blackdown Camp

“I resist conscription because I am opposed to war and every form of militarism, and after two sentences involving over 18 months’ imprisonment with hard labour, I am still resolutely opposed to any compromise whatever with compulsory military service, whatever the consequences, and I feel I am doing a work not only of national but of international importance.

I do not hold myself liable to observe military law; my inner conviction of what is right is the truest and best guide to conduct and the only one to which I feel allegiance. It is because loyalty to conscience is my true defence that it meets with no recognition by a military Tribunal, since military law knows no truth.

Both religion and morality, however, have a social value greater than their importance to the individual. To be faithful to the vision of a better humanity, to preserve freedom and justice, it is imperative to override military necessity, or military necessity reduces the best ideals to futilities. Conscription is the indispensable tool of militarism wherever it is found, and militarism, like every evil, has its roots in false ideals, the extensions of which cut right across national geographical boundaries. And the increasing extension, likewise in all countries, of those whose humanitarian feelings are outraged by war is also not confined to any artificial territorial divisions. The growth of the collective human spirit is widespread, and it is fostered by a religious faith and a social altruism greater than national sentiment.

If I had obeyed the alleged order I could not justify myself. I do not require to defend disobedience; there is no valid reason why I should obey. This Tribunal administers certain laws, but what is the justification of these laws? They enact conscription, they have militarised British rule, they have destroyed in a few years the whole fabric of religious and political liberty which the genius of England had built up by centuries of struggle. They have combined with the military licence of other countries to devastate Europe, to destroy lives and break numberless hearts; is it not time they were disobeyed. The war has immeasurably increased every danger it was intended to avert. The peoples in Russia, in Ireland, and in Austria, cry aloud that the laws must be broken if humanity is to be saved from the projects of selfish imperialism, the rivalry of ambitious powers and the intrigues of diplomats, and the cry finds an echo in every part of Europe. All the world sees now the futility of war war and longs for the break-up of the military machine, yet hesitates through pride an servility and fear to adopt the only way. This court cannot consider a plan of justification in those proceedings, but history will confirm that such a plea is based on a high conception of the true interests of humanity.

This Evil Thing

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

7pm, St Thomas Of Aquinas R.C. High School, Edinburgh. Michael Mears’ solo play telling the compelling and inspiring story of Britain’s WW1 conscientious objectors. Background and booking details – http://peaceandjustice.org.uk/this-evil-thing/

This Evil Thing

Friday, November 30, 2018

7.30pm Cross Street Chapel, Manchester. Michael Mears’ solo play telling the compelling and inspiring story of Britain’s WW1 conscientious objectors. Tickets available from https://www.trybooking.com/uk/book/event?eid=4522& and on the door.

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