Letters from a Conchie

An article in today’s Times puffs the publication of a new book, A Pacifist at War, a collection of letters from a would-be conscientious objector who got short shrift from the Tribunal, was conscripted and sent to fight in Palestine. The letters apparently show him having a tough time; one letter describes the attitude of an unsympathetic officer:

He . . . said I was a coward at the bottom and he had no sympathy whatever with conscientious objectors; that I was enrolled as a soldier and would do as I was told; and because I was in a place of danger I had evidently got frightened and my conscience had therefore begun to assert itself . . . he said when the men went over the top I would go over the top with them.

What makes this book look interesting (to me) is that he is not one of the political objectors, who are well documented, but a member of the Exclusive Brethren, a rather secretive offshoot of the Plymouth Brethren, the Christian separatists who regard the rest of us as corrupt and damned.

Most people, asked to name the main religious group committed to pacifism during the war would name the Quakers; this is maybe because the Society of Friends have been articulate in making their case to the wider community. In fact, of 3,964 religious objectors referred to the Pelham committee,  only 140 were Quakers, while 1,716 belonged to that mysterious group, the Christadelphians (who espoused pacifism during the American Civil War, and brought their philosophy to the industrial towns of England).

A sample of the other religions featured on the list (in Cyril Pearce’s excellent historical study of Huddersfield objectors, Comrades in Conscience ):

  • 145 were Plymouth Brethren
  • 112 were Methodists
  • 66 were Jehovah’s Witnesses
  • 51 were Church of England
  • 10 were Seventh Day Adventists
  • 9 were from the Community of the Son of God
  • 8 were from the Peculiar People
  • 5 were Christian Scientist
  • 3 were from the Jewish Christian Church
  • 3 were Tolstoyan
  • 3 were Nazarites
  • 1 was from Dowie’s Church
  • 1 was Swedenborgian

(I’ve posted that list before, but it’s one that intrigues me, with its reminder of the strange religious by-currents of British life, which almost never connect with the country’s intellectual mainstream.)

The book, Letters from a Pacifist is apparently published by Anastasia Press, but it’s not on Amazon, and Google gives no results for the name of the press. So maybe the publishing house is as secretive as the sect it features in this book.


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