From The Tribunal November 7 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


As I write, Birmingham is in the midst of its “Big Guns Week.” The good patriots of “Brum” are “feeding the guns with War Bonds.” ap per instructions on the postmark, without a thought of such a thing as five per cent: their sole desire to “get on with the war.” At least, that is what one gathers from the speeches made on the opening day, when canons of the Christian Church made stirring appeals to the patriotism of their fellow Christians. One of the items of the opening ceremony was the singing of “O God, our help in ages past,” by children of the Bluecoat School.

It was particularly fitting that Christian ministers should give their blessing to a “Big Guns Week.Says Erasmus in his Complaint of peace “Whose invention was a cannon? Was it not the invention of the meek, lowly, merciful followers of Jesus Christ, whose law was love, and whose last legacy to His disciples and the world, peace?” To the cannon we must now add such things as high explosives, poison gas, liquid fire, torpedoes, submarines, bombing air-craft, and a hundred and one other examples of the inventive genius of Christian nations.

“Sufficient is Thine arm alone,” sang the children. Said a right reverend father in God, in effect: “M’yes – that may be so; but it is just as well that you should not lose sight of the fact that £5000 will buy four splendid quick-firing field guns. .” And as a magnificent example of pure, disinterested patriotism, the Birmingham Small Arms Company led off with an investment of £500,000.

A few of our pacifist women are distributing peace literature during the lunch hour when the centre of the city is crowded with people anxious to see the monster guns. “No, thanks miss; I’ve had enough”“ said a wounded soldier to one of the distributors who had offered him a leaflet. “But this is not a war leaflet; it’s for peace,” she told him. “Then give me one,” he replied eagerly; “that’s what the boys in the trenches want.” “Feed the guns that hammer the Huns!” shrieks a banner hung across one of the main thoroughfares. i find myself wondering what would happen if that device were made to read, “Feed the guns with the blood of your sons!” If only the people would associate “Big Guns” with “cannon fodder” instead of War Bonds! Of course the war must be paid for; and if patriots cannot be persuaded to lend their money to the state at good interest without the aid of free picture shows and appeals from canons and bishops, we need not complain of such methods. But why not tell the people about the real food of the guns?” Even Mr. Lloyd George himself has said: “The people of this country are all the better for being told even unpalatable truths.” Why not begin to give them some idea of the appetite of the guns?”

At the end of 1917 Gen. Smuts estimated the total casualties resulting from three years of war to be no less than 8,000,000 killed and 20,000,000 maimed and wounded. To that extimate must be added the figures for 1918.” “A.G.G.” in the “Daily News and Leader” of August 3, 1918, wrote as follows:-

“If we sat day and night and saw the ghostly procession of those slain in this war file by in ranks of four, minute by minute, ten years would pass and still the tale of the world’s sacrifice of youth and strength and hope would not have been told. And if behind the dead, there filed the host of the maimed, the halt, the blind, the dumb, the paralysed, fifty years would hardly exhaust the dreadful spectacle.”

If we continue to “feed the guns,” nothing can save the nations from another universal massacre in the near future. There is only one way to a lasting peace, and that is by the peoples of all countries insisting on Total Disarmament as the first step towards International Goodwill.


From The Tribunal 31st October 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

At a time when much of contemporary poetry is either strident with the feverish tone of militarism, or distraught and piteous over its effects, there is a distinctly bracing quality discernable in the voice of anyone who is happily able to treat the limitations and injustices that fall to the lot of those who attempt to lead a normal life at an abnormal period, in a spirit of brave humour that is as free from levity as it is devoid of cynicism.

The wind that blows through the country of the Comic Muse is not too rarified an air for common mortals to breather, and so it is that weary minds will find there not only relief from mental stress, but a readjustment of distorted values and warped judgements, both desirable and necessary if we would keep ourselves sane.

So one hails with genuine enthusiasm, the appearance of a little book of parodies and verses, just published by Messrs. Headley Bros. under the title “Carols of a Convict,” price 1/3. The author, Allan M. Laing, is a Liverpool man who has served a term of 12 months’ imprisonment in Wormwood Scrubs, where without paper or pencil to aid his memory, these impressions of an evidently sane, albeit a whimsical imagination, took on the garments of rhyme and reason.

No man who has served his term, however short, in Wormwood Scrubs, should miss reading this book, for is is literally packed with unerring humour at the expense of every detail of prison routine. One may well be envious of the temperament of a man who could so accept what was meant to be in the nature of a punishment. Most of the contents of the book are parodies of well-known songs; a form which makes them particularly adaptable for popular use. The sense and spirit of the originals have been so inverted and fashioned to the new purpose, that one is almost induced to believe they were written with the intention of being burlesqued, and this is surely the illusion that all good parody is meant to produce.

In these days, when (thanks largely to the art of J. C. Squire) successful parody is coming into its rightful place in literature, there is little need to emphasise the value of its healthful and astringent properties, but if anyone has not benefited by them, they should not neglect to read “Carols of a Convict.”

Mr. Laing is himself a keen enthusiast (and has on several previous occasions delighted his friends with samples of his ability) in this direction. Perhaps his Scottish heritage is mainly responsible for the caustic character of his with; but whatever good fairy bequeathed him this gift of a truly “saving” sense of humour, let us hope that the magic power will remain with him during his second sentence in Birmingham prison, even as in Wormwood Scrubs.


From The Tribunal October 24th 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


Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God.

Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness sake: for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for Mt sake…

These men are undergoing repeated sentences of hard labour, for the one offence of refusing to relinquish their conscience and their ideals to the control of the State, and therefore become mere breathing automatons.

Their souls cry out for freedom for all the sons of men, and it is impossible for them to use any force towards a brother, but that of love.

A mighty force they hold, far stronger than puny hate, that, to live for long, even among so-called Christians of today, must be continually fed on war atrocities to keep it at high water mark. It is a force which, if allowed full sway, would crumble hate before it, as the snow melts beneath the kindly rays of the sunshine.

These men are trying to carry out Christ’s teaching embodied in the Sermon on the Mount. They, too, are despised and rejected of men. Brute force us used to try and make them surrender their souls to the demands of an earthly State, the whole ground-work of which is militarism. But they will not.

To me, the C.O.s are Christ’s Officers. They will shine out in radiant relief from this, the blackest picture of the world’s history, as having striven to guard that heritage for all Mankind, of peace. Love. Brotherhood and Liberty, that Christ left to us.

These men have striven, and are still striving, to show all with whom they come in contact that by true Christ-likeness only, can Christ’s kingdom come on earth. Although so little leaks out from our prisons, the little that does is more than sufficient to show any thinking person that brute force can crush and bruise and maim, but it is powerless to subdue the this greater force that dwells within these men.

We hear of repeated sentences of hard labour, of men released only on the point of death, of men dying in prison. Christ was hounded to His death in much the same way, by much the same people, for the very same reason. It was the High Priests and soldiers that crucified Him, because His Kingdom of Love was unthinkable. For then the poor would get their fair share and that would never do. The Kingdom of God might come after death, they had no use for it here. So they crucified Him. Now they persecute His followers.


From The Tribunal October 17th 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

The “Bradford Pioneer” of Sept 29, publishes the English translation of a German document picked up by a British soldier. In it the writer appeals to his fellow soldiers to put an end to militarism. He says, “In the interest of humanity we must escape from this power, which has exposed us to such risks and evidently wants our death. The only obstacle is the Army, to which we have the misfortune to belong. We have all of us seem enough to recognise it as the greatest enemy of all humanity; is it not therefore our duty to destroy it? The highest judge of all civilisation and humanity, your own heart, comrades, will absolve you, if you carry out the order of justice which bids you to throw away your rifles. Surrender in thousands and the future is ours! A real league of Nations of the World must be created, where no uniform is seen, all arms have vanished, and the workers, the only party of thinkers, must do it.”


From The Tribunal 10th October 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 further extracts go to: http://nfpb.org.uk/tribunal

The following is an extract from a latter (dated July 21, 1918) from a friend at Christchurch, New Zealand, whose name we are not at liberty to give since it would not be possible to obtain his permission for some months; but the information may be relied on as correct:-

“We are, I suppose, going through similar stages in New Zealand with regard to C.O’s. Just recently they have in one or two places been subjected to much actual physical violence, and also in one case, at least, to untellable obscenities. Every effort is made to stifle enquiry, At Wanganui some men were knocked unconscious, dragged over the yard with ropes that cut into the neck, etc. This was doubtless done with the connivance of authorities in high position, possibly on actual instruction from them. Now every attempt is being made to burke enquiry. Allen, the Defence Minister, states that public enquiry is quite unnecessary. However, he will get a magistrate to make private investigation. The magistrate chosen has already stated that he thinks all conscientious objectors should be put up against a wall and shot; so that one can anticipate his conclusions beforehand. There are some 300 C.O’s in prison and more to come. In the Civil prisons they are well treated, but it is the solitary military prison at Wanganui and in the Trentham barracks they have been abused. It is true that in official and well-to-do classed nothing whatever is known about the C.O.s, and the attitude to them is one of indifference. It is only occasionally that any reference is made to them in the daily prints, though one or two not anti-militarist have taken up their cause. The anti-militarists proper are unable to do so, because they cannot secure a hearing. Miss ______, a gifted woman, though militarist, has lately taken up their cause, and has at least found out that it is impossible to secure a hearing, and that the press is rigidly partisan. Still, now that the married men are being taken from New Zealand, I think perhaps people will be a little more ready to listen to the other side…

The snow still continues to swirl. Fortunately this household has a sufficiency of coal for the next few days, but I feel sorry for the C.O.s and other prisoners some seven miles from here with nothing between them and the bitter sky but a sheet of galvanised iron, and in weather like this, spending the whole of the 24 hours in absolutely unwarmed cells. Possibly they are not worse off physically than the men in the trenches; but it is the solitariness of it that must be so trying and devilish. Few have got the resources within them that John Fletcher has, whose letter from Wormwood Scrubs are those of a saint. Copies of them reach me here, and they are doing good in one or two places.

I go out occasionally to the gaol here. So far the C.O.s have been bright and contented; but this great snowstorm is bound to be detrimental to them. they have nothing a small skylight for illumination. These to-day will be covered with snow; and if a man is ill they take his books and bedding from him during the day unless he is ill enough to go to bed. It will be many days now before they get out to work.”


From The Tribunal October 3rd 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 further extracts go to:_http://nfpb.org.uk/tribunal

The symbolic importance of the red cap and the cross needs no emphasis. The former has attained international significance, whilst the latter, after a chequered history of nearly 2,000 years still points the way to a world-wide fellowship. We are living through times of drastic change. Revolution is in the air. When it comes “will it be a dance of death or a pageant of life?”

Richard Roberts, who asks this question in “The Red Cap on the Cross” (Headley Bros., 2/6 net) believes that the Christian Church is confronted with choice between “new wars and a new religious synthesis,” and enquires “Has it a word with which to face the tremendous emergencies that at hand?” He sees clearly that the modern church with its selfish “gospel of benefits” is not ready to cope with the situation.

The title of his new book – taken from Lamennais’s “Paroles d’un Croyant” – gives the key to what he believes to be necessary if revolution is to bring about the establishment of a new and better society. In 1825, Lamennais wrote “Society is dying; and they are disputing about the clothes with which to cover it, so clear is that the disease is in its clothes.” Like the great French reformer, Mr. Roberts perceives that economic readjustments and political changes, however necessary, are not of themselves likely to take us nearer the co-operative commonwealth. The end of capitalistic exploitation may quite easily be the beginning of a new kind of tyranny. Society needs a new body before it needs new clothes. Class war can effect only a change of clothing. We are members one of another, and if our hopes for the Future are to be realised, there must come a change of heart. “For the old single slogan of Freedom, we must adopt the double slogan of Freedom and Fellowship.”

Mr. Roberts is convinced that the movement of the peoples towards freedom must be actuated by a strong spiritual impulse. Religion and revolution must go hand in hand if the latter is avoid disaster. If the red cap is to accomplish its purpose it must be nailed to the cross. “There is a creative quality, a restless originality in the released moral impulse which drives it to outdo its own best, to stretch out beyond its own highest achievements. it is not satisfied with loving neighbours; it presses on to the love of enemies. Christian morality has a starting point but no terminus.

We must have the will to fellowship – “So true to itself that it will count no man an enemy to be defeated, but a brother to be won, and will go forth with an unconquerable patience, to create a society in which there shall be no rancour or hate or self-seeking, no bitterness or partisanship or any other divisive thing, but a great and willing co-operation in the making of men and in the enrichment of life.”


h3, From The Tribunal September 19th 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

“We desire to affirm that we can accept no scheme whatever in satisfaction of our inflexible demand for absolute and unconditional release.” This is the final clause of the resolution carried at the meeting of Absolutists held on Sept. 6 in Wakefield Gaol. There is no hesitation about these men. Two years of the most rigorous prison conditions have not broken their spirit: their first thought is for the principle for which they stand – not for their own well-being or physical comfort. “We are waiting to see what the Government intends before we do anything,” writes Ayles. “We are not going to administer any scheme of confinement or internment – I’ve already told the Governor that if he leaves the gate open I will walk out, and that if I refuse to consent to accept prison discipline or rules except in so far as they are necessary for helath and sanitation and my work outside.”

“About 70 C.O.‘s are here now,” writes Scott Duckers on Sept. 10. “With few exceptions all have done over two years in civil prisons… Our time of action is the subject of endless discussions, and I have lost so much sleep since I first heard of this transfer that I shall think of the place as ‘Jeep-awake-field.’ The first fact that strikes us is that this is the H.O. Scheme over again except: (1) That we do not have to sign away our liberty and (2) that we cannot go outside or have liberty to buy food, etc., for ourselves. To my mind compulsory labour under these conditions is nothing else than Industrial Conscription, and I have decided to refuse compliance with it. This morning about 20 of us flatly refused to work under compulsion; others are cleaning their own cells or else working in the cookhouse or tidying up generally. No one has started Industrial Work… The Deputy-Governor has booked my name as an ‘Absolute-Absolutist,’ and i quite expect that a batch of us will be transferred to a ‘real’ prison again. In the meantime he (the Deputy) is waiting for the Government’s return. Four of us are on report for different objections about work… Whether we shall ever resume work if we go back to hard labour is quite another question under consideration. Some think we should go on as before: others that we should claim that by sending us here the Government have recognised our point about 2 years being the maximum anyone can be expected to stand. Altogether we are having lively times!”

It is evident from the above quotations that the transferred men are not accepting their new position with docility. Their case has not yet been honestly met. The cause for which they stand is dearer to them than life itself, and they cannot be cajoled or bribed into a quiet acquiescence in what is still a denial of the right of individual freedom.


From The Tribunal September 12th 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

The fundamental error running through all the proposals for a League of Nations now before us is that of assuming the efficacy of armed force as an ultimate arbiter. We are told that in the event of any member of the League refusing to accept the findings of the International Tribunal, the whole of the armed forces of the remaining members of the League are to be used to coerce the recalcitrant member.

That way madness lies. Mights is not Right when applied by one nation to another, it cannot be right when applied by a group of nations to one of its neighbours.

Mr. Balfour, speaking in the House of Commons on Aug 8, made a very valuable contribution to the discussion as to the right basis for such a League of Nations as would ensure peace. The fact that he was the moment rebuking pacifists does not detract from the value of his contribution. This is what he said:-

“If you can once make it clear to German minds that in modern civilisation the moral view of a majority of nations is sufficient to coerce recalcitrant members of society; then, and not till then, is there some prospect of that peace which the hon. gentleman, as well as everyone on this side of the House desires.”

Now it is perfectly obvious that it is not only to German minds that this truth must be made clear; minds very much nearer home are sadly in need of enlightenment, Mr. Balfour himself does not seem to realise the implication of his dictum. But it is high time for statesmen and peoples of all nations to recognise the fact that armed force – the doctrine of punishment – is a complete failure in whatever circumstances it may be applied; that just as the only result of the penal system applied to our erring fellows has been to create a permanent criminal class ever at war with society, so, too, the only result of a League of Nations based on punishment by armed forces as a last resort would be to perpetuate the very evil it set out to destroy.

Russia was “punished” in 1856; France was “punished” in 1871; and in spite of the fact the blood-soaked Continent to-day bears ghastly witness to the futility of such methods, we are asked to contemplate 3 more years of war with the object of “punishing” Germany. And even some pacifists are to be found who pin their faith to a League of Nations based on military force!

Is it too much to suggest that the way out of this Hell is to give Christianity a trial? A League of Nations based on the Sermon on the Mount is the only practical method of ensuring peace. The force behind such a League would be that of an enlightened people who, realising their brotherhood, would refuse to be led to the shambles for mutual slaughter because “they have not so much madness left in their brains.”

W.J. Chamberlain


From The Tribunal September 5th 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

In the “Nation” of August 24th there appears a very fine study by John Galsworthy, entitled “Cafard.” With wonderful sympathy and descriptive power he depicts the feeling of a French soldier, Jean Liotard, who has been suffering from shell-shock and is due to leave the hospital and return to the front next day. The following extracts will show something of the ruthlessness and penetrating sincerity with which Mr. Galsworthy lays bare that aspect of War which our hack journalists try to hide under the tinsel of false glory:—

“He had ‘cafard’ – the little black beetle in the brain, that gnaws and eats and destroys all hope and heaven in a man. It had been working at him all week and now was at its monstrous depth of evil and despair. To begin again the cursed barrack-round, the driven life, until in a month perhaps, packed like bleating sheep, in a troop train, he made that journey once more to the fighting-line – ‘a la hachette – a la hachette!’

He had stripped off his red flannel jacket, and lay with shirt opened to the waist, to get the breeze against his heart. In his brown, good-looking face the hazel eyes, which in these God-deserted years has acquired a sort of startled gloom, stared out like a dog’s, rather prominent, seeing only the thoughts within him – thoughts and images swirling round and round on a dark whirlpool, drawing his whole being deeper and deeper . . . .

He was in the mood to curse God die; for he was devout – a Catholic, and still went to Mass. And God, it seemed, had betrayed the earth and Jean Liotard. All the enormities he had seen in his two years at the frong – the mouthless, mangled faces, the human ribs whence rats would steal; the frenzied, tortured horses, with leg or quarter rent away, still living; the rotted farms, the dazed and hopeless peasants; his innumerable suffering comrades; the desert of no-man’s land; and all the thunder and moaning of war; and the reek and freezing of war; and the driving – the callous, perpetual driving – by some Force that shovelled warm human hopes and loves by the million into the furnace; and over all, dark sky without a break, without a gleam of blue, or lift anywhere – all this enclosed him, lying in the golden hear, so that not a glimmer of life or hope could get at him. Back into it all again! Back into it, he who had been through forty times the hell that the ‘majors’ ever endured, five hundred times the hell ever glimpsed at by those who stayed at home with their slallaries, and eloquence! ‘Les journax – les journax!’ Ah, he was sick of them! Let them allow the soldiers, whose lives were spent like water – poor devils who bled, and froze and starved, and sweated – let them suffer to make the peace!

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.
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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