By Stroma McDermott
LCI were delighted to be part of the book launch of Clive Barrett’s new book Subversive Peacemakers at which both Clive Barret and Lindis Percy shared their perspectives of conscientious objection and resistance to war making.
Clive concentrated on the ‘then aspect’ of the peace movement and the Christian presence within the build up to and beyond WW1. I hadn’t appreciated that there was a thriving peace movement in the build up to the war, with peace conferences organised by Catholics and Protestants even up to August 1914. However, as Clive noted the pursuit of peace is often best enjoyed by those with time and money and these conferences were largely middle class and Internationalist affairs; the ‘working class’ were working and therefore unable to make their voice and contribution.
And yet from the material gathered into the book it is clear that the workers and ordinary folk played a big part in the promulgation of peace and resistance to war, their thoughts, hopes, fears and consciences revealed in the lyrics and metre of their songs and poetry. We listened to one example “I didn’t raise my boy to be a soldier” written in 1915 which sold 650,000 copies in the first three months of its publication. The lyrics were honest and heartfelt and clearly resonated with many, both then and now. War was not necessarily perceived as a glorious adventure, many were only too aware of the devastation and havoc that was occurring and there was a steady stream of objection throughout the period. What I liked about the material Clive shared was that it clearly reflected the many tensions that went through people’s minds, the daily dilemmas of resistance and objection; facing neighbours and loved ones; loving your country; opposition from clergy and church to apologetic arguments for peace and resistance. The sense of struggle with the concept and justice of the war across entire communities has perhaps been lost to us over time.
What I found particularly fascinating was both the role of women and the number of significant women involved within the war resistance movement. These were women who pioneered a way forward for women’s voices and opinions to be heard about significant national issues and whose faith inspired them to take risks and go against the mainstream of opinion to stay true to their values and beliefs. Women such as Maude Royden who pioneered ‘Pilgrimages for Peace’ and who wrote and spoke prolifically both at home and abroad at peace conferences. I was surprised and saddened that this was the first time I had ever encountered the name of Isabella Ford, a fellow Leodensian and Quaker who also rose to prominence locally within the peace movement. These were names and characters forgotten within mainstream or even local history. Both my teenagers have studied the First World War to death as part of their GCSE’s and yet barely knew anything about Conscientious Objection and certainly nothing of the role of women within the peace and reconciliation movement. I was left wondering what legacy we leave those we currently educate when we apparently airbrush out parts of the narrative and their alternative role models.
Thankfully, I was reminded that there are some people who simply don’t allow such airbrushing to take place and who have continued in the strong tradition of women like Maude and Isabella to stand up for their beliefs and rights to express them. Lindis Percy gave a wonderfully erudite yet humorous talk about her many years of being involved with first the Greenham Common Women’s Peace movement and more latterly as founder of the Campaign for the Accountability of American Bases. Another Leeds born activist, Lindis like many of the other women we had heard about from Clive clearly has a strong sense of vocation and calling to the work that she has been involved over many years. Indeed as she spoke it was as if these other women were lifted back out of history and given fresh life and recognition. In her work Lindis has faced numerous imprisonments, threats, jibes, name calling and mockery all of which she handles with impressive resilience. Not everyone agrees with her principles or methods but like the women of WW1 she is willing to debate and discuss and try to move the dialogue forward whilst steadfastly refusing to toe the (yellow) line.
As the launch ended I was glad that I had attended. I learnt some new names to look up and remember, I heard some new songs whose words will echo each time I see troops being deployed, I thought about my own stance towards war and asked myself the question, what would I do? And finally it struck me that there was nothing soft or necessarily peaceable about working for peace, it is a costly affair. ‘Blessed are the peacemakers’.
By Stroma McDermott