Tuesday, March 17, 2015

The past is a mystery

Since all the first World War hoohah started last year thanks to David Cameron’s devoting £50,000,000 to ‘commemorating’ it (in a cynical manoeuvre to continue on from national celebrations like the diamond jubilee  – ooh, politics alert! – this is a politics free blog) I’ve been thinking about my grandfather a lot. My grandfather was a conscientious objector.

It was easy for me to stand in the cold rain for an hour last November in a peace vigil to mark Remembrance day – my local Quaker meeting’s response to the 2014 commemoration.

Our banner -


We see WW1 as a political and humanitarian disaster and not a cause for any kind of celebration, and we’re concerned that the current commemoration risks glorifying militarism.

Since November, I’ve been wondering how easy it was for my grandfather to stand up before a conscription tribunal, and to live with the aftermath in his community when he was granted exemption. I have imagined him being denied promotion in the bank where he worked, being given white feathers, ostracised, and much much worse.

This is his exemption certificate:

Matthew's cert 1

matthew's cert 2 

I don’t know what were the prevailing attitudes to C.O.s in West Hartlepool in 1916, but at a lecture on Saturday given by Cyril Pearce, I discovered that there were places around the country where the local community supported the conscientious objectors, because of the local political zeitgeist. Huddersfield was one such notable place, and Cyril Pearce’s book explores this. Following on from his research on Huddersfield and other hotspots of dissent around the country, he questions how popular the War was amongst ordinary people of the time.

It was a fascinating lecture, and when I get back from seeing the chundies in Colorado…….


…..I’ll be organising more peace vigils in Bakewell. 

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