An exhibition is being held until 16th August at Kingston Museum, marking the centenary of the start of the First World War and recognising the involvement of Kingston residents in that conflict. The exhibition tells the often forgotten stories of the war, recording and commemorating the contributions made by local people, by taking a themed approach to the roles they undertook. Some of the themes featured are:
- the men and women who worked long hours to produce fighter planes like the Sopwith Camel;
- the doctors and nurses caring for shell-shocked soldiers;
- young soldiers who enlisted to fight in Europe despite being under age;
- the conscientious objectors who refused to fight despite the threat of prosecution;
- the men and women working in reserved occupations;
- the Belgian refugee families who came to Kingston.
There is a map showing Elm Road Kingston annotated with details of the roles played by the inhabitants of the various houses in that road.
There is the story of Daisy Lavender, who worked in service in Belgravia before becoming a volunteer nurse at the New Malden Red Cross hospital. There she met Ernest Rainsforth, who was recuperating after sustaining severe injuries in France in 1917. He took her to his home town of Gainsborough, where they married. Within a week, Daisy began work at the Marshall, Sons & Co. factory in Gainsborough, building Bristol fighter planes. Daisy’s uncle, Albert H. Dean, was a milkman before the war but signed up as an ambulance driver with the Royal Army Service Corps. He died, aged 36, of bronchopneumonia in France, less than three weeks after the armistice was signed. Another uncle of Daisy’s, William George Dean, was also an ambulance driver.
The Military Service Bill of January 1916 provided for the conscription of single men aged 18–41; in May conscription was extended to married men. But there were many volunteers outside this age range. Sidney Lewis, who has been recognised as Britain's youngest soldier to serve in the Great War, enlisted with the East Surrey Regiment in August 1915, five months after his 12th birthday, and was fighting on the Somme by the age of 13. But within weeks he was ordered home to his mother after she told officials he was too young to fight and should be sent back. Another under-age soldier was Private Eric Matthew Turner Batstone of Kingston, who enlisted at the age of 15, and died a year later in France at the battle of Delville Wood. Ephraim Taylor was 52 when he enlisted as a Pioneer of the Royal Engineers. The Engineers were used as emergency infantry and Ephraim was killed in action in July 1917.
Albert Leverson James joined the No Conscription Fellowship. He asked to be exempted from conscription in 1916, but the Tribunal hearing found against him. They told him to enlist as a rifleman, but he did not report to barracks. He refused to attend the Magistrate’s Court, was arrested and handed over to Kingston Barracks. After refusing to undergo an army medical examination he was sent to Wormwood Scrubs, which was dirty, damp and cold. He fell ill and accepted work on the Home Office scheme. His friend Frank Lloyd said “During the last two weeks at Wormwood the weather was arctic and heating appliances became out of order. It finished Mr James off.” He was moved to Wakefield where he was kept in an unheated cell and exposed to long periods outside in snow and rain. He died on 7th May 1917. His obituary in The Tribunal (a publication for conscientious objectors) states “His life was given to frustrating the ends of that materialism which destroys not only physical life, but the life of the nation’s soul.” He is commemorated on the conscientious objectors’ plaque, with eighty others who died in the war.
There are photographs of Westcroft, on Kingston Hill, and Brooklyn in Denmark Road, the houses where Belgian refugees, several of whom were artists, were accommodated.
I’d recommend a visit to this most interesting exhibition. Kingston Museum is in Wheatfield Way, Kingston upon Thames, KT1 2PS. It is open during museum opening hours: Tuesday, Friday and Saturday from 10am to 5pm, and Thursdays from 10am to 7pm.
Kingston Museum is holding a series of free lunchtime lectures and workshops associated with the exhibition. Some that may be of interest to KPN readers are:
Tues 10 June For Kingston and Country? Ben Copsey discusses conscientious objectors and anti-war activity, 12.30 – 1.15pm
Sat 12 July Conscientious Objection Family workshop with Ben Copsey, 12.30 – 1.15pm
Please book beforehand by phoning 020 8547 5006
The International Conscientious Objectors’ Day was initiated by the International Conscientious Objectors’ Meeting (ICOM), an annual meeting of COs and their supporters held throughout the world to exchange ideas and offer solidarity. The Conscientious Objectors Stone in Tavistock Square, London, was unveiled on 15th May 1994 by Sir Michael Tippett, Peace Pledge Union President and a one time CO. Since then an annual ceremony has been held in Tavistock Square on 15th May to remember those who have refused to go to war, as a matter of conscience. Overall, there were an estimated 20,000 conscientious objectors to the First World War, many motivated by religious faith, many by political and socialist convictions, and often by a combination of these beliefs.
This year, the centenary of the start of the First World War, about 65 families of WW1 COs were invited to take part in the ceremony. They were joined by 300 supporters and the gospel choir of Maria Fidelis School, Camden, who sang “The ones who said No”, a song written by Sue Gilmurray, and “We shall overcome”.
Speakers were Sam Walton of Quaker Peace and Social Witness; Mary Dobbing, a peace activist from Bristol, whose grandfather was a CO in WW1; Christine Schweitzer of War Resisters’ International and activist in the German peace movement; and Lord John Maxton, himself a conscientious objector, who told how his father John was dismissed as a school teacher and his pet dog stoned to death by an angry mob after he refused to fight.
The family representatives then approached the microphone in turn carrying a photograph of their relative, whom they named, with a brief account of their experiences as a CO, before laying flowers on the memorial stone. Finally, further floral tributes were laid in honour of all the COs of the First World War and all COs from all countries and other eras who have suffered for their refusal to kill others.
The ceremony was organised by the First World War Peace Forum – a coalition made up of Conscience, Fellowship of Reconciliation, Network for Peace, Pax Christi, Peace News, Peace Pledge Union, Quaker Peace and Social Witness, the Right to Refuse to Kill group and the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom.
Photos: Mary Holmes
A revised and updated version of 'Refusing To Kill – conscientious objection and human rights in the First World War' was published on 15th May. Copies can be purchased at www.ppu.org.uk/ppushop.
On Wednesday 11th June, from 12 noon to 6pm, CND plans to follow up Bruce Kent’s No Faith in Trident national speaking tour, with a No Faith in Trident Lobby of Parliament. This is your opportunity, whether as a member of a faith community, or simply as someone who shares our opposition to weapons of mass destruction, to lobby your MP to oppose the replacement of Trident and Britain’s continued possession of nuclear weapons.
Bruce Kent’s recent tour, organised by a range of faith community organisations, is part of CND’s work to build an ever-broader alliance in opposition to the replacement of the Trident nuclear weapon system. By building this lobby, they hope to ensure that as many MPs as possible understand that people of all faiths, and none, reject Britain’s weapon of mass destruction.
They will be asking MPs to respond to the following concerns:
1. Get in touch with your MP and arrange a meeting with him for 11th June.
2. Put 11th June in your diary and make arrange-ments to be in London.
3. Ask your family and friends to join you.
4. Keep your evening free for the rally from 6.30pm to 8pm at Parliament.
If you’re eligible to vote in General Elections you can lobby your local MP. You do not need to be an expert - your MP regularly meets local people who care passionately about an issue, but he won’t expect you to know everything. On the other hand, he is likely to be informed by you. All the information you need will be made available in advance in a briefing and there will also be experts on hand on the day for last-minute preparation and questions.
If you would like a copy of the briefing, which will tell you where to go and what to do, or would like to discuss what’s involved, please ’phone Gill on 020 8979 2482.
Most people accept the need for and the benefits of a police force, an organisation dedicated to enforcing laws made by parliament, and to bringing to justice those who break the law. There is a perceived necessity for an organisation capable of dealing with the robbers and murderers in society, as being more effective than any counter measures that could be taken by individual citizens, in the way of making their houses into fortresses and providing themselves with weapons to deter bandits. All but the purest anarchists feel that some means of dealing with criminal behaviour by police-style enforcement is sensible, even essential, to maintain a civilised style of living. On the local, suburban level there is almost universal agreement on the need for a police force.
But attitudes change when a police force capable of dealing with criminals at an international level is suggested. History is predominantly a tale of murder and robbery on an immense scale, as whole nations are led into costly, predatory wars involving destruction and wholesale killing of foreigners. Successful military campaigns are well received in the land of the victors, and the instigators and leaders become national heroes. Alexander, son of Philip of Macedonia, became Alexander the Great after he led his troops to the bloody conquest of most of the known world. Napoleon was idolised by the French people as he marched his troops all the way to Moscow.
Is this enthusiasm for military campaigns rooted in bloodlust? Judging by everyday experience of ordinary people, who are more inclined to help strangers than to kill them, probably not. Are wars popular with the people for the chance of increasing their wealth at the expense of the conquered? This was certainly a factor in the past: Caesar was acclaimed as a successful looter when he brought treasure and slaves back to Rome. More recently, the Spanish conquistadors’ gold and silver from South America turned Spain into a wealthy nation for a time, and the looters into heroes. The Spanish ships bringing the spoils back home were in turn looted by British ‘privateers’, and these pirates were acclaimed when they returned home with treasure. Walter Raleigh became Sir Walter. But such frank acceptance of the raping of other lands is not so acceptable in today’s world.
What then? Is the acceptance of war related to national pride, a reinforcing of a sort of tribal bond? That certainly must be a factor. In addition a comforting feeling of security may also be involved, as a demonstration of one’s nation’s power. If we are so strong as to conquer other nations, maybe we feel less vulnerable, safer, ourselves. Whatever the complex of reasons people accept the need for wars, they must be powerful indeed, to overcome the almost universal aversion to theft and murder.
Do people reject the idea of a supranational police force capable of outlawing war because such a body would prevent their own nation from indulging in wars of conquest? In spite of the historical approval for Napoleons, judging from what we know of normal human goodness, this is unlikely. In fact, it is not easy to discover the real reason or reasons for this very general lack of enthusiasm for such an empowered world body, one that had the backing of powerful nations, and so one capable of outlawing war – an outcome that after all would be in every nation’s long-term interest as leading to a more prosperous, less criminal, less militarised world. Yet the fact is, there is a lack of enthusiasm for creating such an international police force. The League of Nations failed, and today the United Nations is failing. Why is this?
(Part 2 of Has the United Nations failed? will be in the next issue of KPN)
There was lots of talk of ‘products’, ‘platforms’ and ‘solutions to problems’ at BAE Systems annual general meeting on 7th May. The terms used were bland but what they were talking about were guns and bombs and the warships, tanks and drones that transport them. BAE is ranked the third largest arms firm in the world and 95% of its ‘products’ are military. I think it was important that critics of the arms trade were present at the AGM to describe the effects of BAE’s weapons in the real world.
The annual meeting has been moved from a prestige London venue to the company’s headquarters at Farnborough, allegedly as an economy measure but possibly also with a view to reducing the number of protesters who attend. However the Campaign Against Arms Trade had made sure BAE’s critics were still present.
Last year’s AGM saw a lot of low level disruption with the outgoing chairman seeming to lose control of the meeting at times, presumably not the kind of image a large arms firm wants to project. The new chairman, ex-head of the CBI Sir Roger Carr, adopted a very smooth approach, politely allowing questioners time to make their points and not cutting them short as often used to happen. This meant that we were able to preface questions with descriptions of the horror and misery inflicted by the company’s products on people - often civilians - from Afghanistan to Libya, and make comments on the ‘solutions’ provided by the company to repressive rulers in the Arab world and beyond.
I think it was really important that we were there to remind everyone - the BAE Board, staff and numerous shareholders - about what happens when bullets are fired even if they would rather listen to praise of the company’s science base etc. The answers to our questions spoke of BAE providing ‘legitimate defence’, and its ‘compliance with strict UK government rules’ on arms sales. But in their hearts everyone knew this was just rhetoric. We couldn’t claim to speak for the victims of war and conflict but we could remind people of their existence.
TRAKNAT Demands Vince Cable Stops his Promotion of Arms to Human Rights Abusers at his Dinner with Shirley Williams
More than 25 members of Twickenham, Richmond And Kingston Network against the Arms Trade (TRAKNAT) took banners and leaflets to demonstrate outside Vince Cable’s ‘Speaking Dinner’ with Baroness Shirley Williams at the Turk's Head, St Margaret’s, on 24th April, to protest at his promotion of arms to human rights abusing regimes. TRAKNAT members explained to Shirley Williams and guests, including Greg Dyke, Lord Oakshott and Geoff Pope, that British-made small arms and armoured vehicles were used to suppress democracy protesters in Bahrain and that British made helicopters were used against civilians in Egypt. The group explained that it is Vince Cable’s Business Department that is responsible for the promotion and sale of these weapons.
Shirley Williams listened carefully as group members explained that Vince Cable was critical of many aspects of the arms trade before taking office but now, in office, he lets arms brokers transfer unlimited quantities of arms. These include assault rifles and combat shotguns to some of the world’s worst human rights abusers, including Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Libya and Egypt. A spokesman for the group explained that Vince Cable has reneged on a commitment to Parliament to require brokers to submit details of weapons transfers and for this to be made public.
TRAKNAT member Harald Molgaard said “Vince Cable’s Business Department works hard to sell arms to countries where some of the world’s poorest people live including India, Bangladesh, Ghana, Nigeria, Pakistan and South Africa. He fails to see the moral case for not promoting weapons to countries with large populations of very poor people. He doesn’t seem to realise that weapons expenditure diverts resources from development. India, which has a third of the world’s poorest people and where only 30% have access to rudimentary sanitation, is a priority market for arms sales for his Department”.
Thanks go to all who turned up to make the event such a success. Martin Birdseye’s banners were great – and we offer him thanks for making and transporting them.
Paul Tippell, Photos: Roger Joiner
You may remember a report in the March edition of Kingston Peace News about an event at Reading Police Station on 8th February, when sixty peace activists, including three from Kingston Peace Council / CND, reported a crime – the crime being the Trident nuclear weapon system. We were given a crime number, and we expected to hear from the police in due course the result of their investigation into this crime. Unfortunately, we have still not heard anything. Angie Zelter, who organised the action, reports “I am still awaiting a written response that has been promised and as soon as it comes in I will put it on the AAWE website. The investigating officer has taken quite a long time as he was analysing all the reports into 3 broad categories (manufacture and deployment of nuclear weapon systems; war crimes and Non-Proliferation Treaty breaches; and transportation, and then reading up on crimes etc) - he did apparently confer with others (he said he would let me know who) and came to the conclusion that no crime was being committed!!”
Meanwhile, Angie has put out a call for people to take part in a national week of actions at local police stations in the first week of July. We shall be deciding at our meeting on 11th June whether to organise anything locally, so if you are interested let us know, or better still, come to the meeting.
For details see http://actionawe.org/reporting-a-crime-action-awe-week-of-action-1st-7th-july-2014/.
Kate Hudson spoke about Ukraine at the London Region CND meeting on 7th May. She began by welcoming Russian President Putin's recent conciliatory remarks about the situation - he has suggested that the Russian speaking people in the East of Ukraine should postpone their proposed referendum on whether to join Russia, stay with the Kiev Government, or form a separate "East Ukraine" state, until after the planned elections. However this seems unlikely.
She then gave an overview of the 25 years since 1989 which have been the build-up to the current situation.
First, after the end of the cold war and the break-up of the Warsaw Pact, the hoped-for ending of NATO did not occur. Instead it has grown in many ways. "Partnerships for Peace" were set up in countries bordering the former Soviet Union - in 1999 Poland and the Czech Republic became members. NATO changed to "out of area" activities, giving it a much wider reach. In 2004 the three Baltic States which had been Soviet Republics joined.
In 2008 Georgia (with US backing) attacked South Ossetia, and while that was going on USA signed an agreement to site missile defences there. It was then tacitly agreed that neither Georgia nor Ukraine would join NATO. In the Czech Republic there was a lot of opposition to President Bush's proposal to site radar bases for missile defence there - mayors of many local small towns and villages held referenda on this - and the opposition was massive. When Obama became President he cancelled this - but has continued with more mobile arrangements for missile defence.
Kate's opinion is that the new cold war started many years ago - against Russia and China while pretending it was all against Iran. Russia called the bluff on this by offering to site "defence" weapons against Iran at their own nuclear sites - but the US turned this down! They have now located some flexible sites in Taiwan. Belgium and Germany have asked the USA to remove nuclear weapons from their soil - but have been told this is not possible as they are NATO weapons.
She also mentioned that the Communist Party in Ukraine has good support in all areas. The new Kiev Government has a strong right-wing component - this is rarely stressed in Western media. She hopes that elections will be able to go ahead as planned. Earlier on in the crisis she published her blog "Ukraine - War is not the Answer" - available from the CND website.
Newsletter Editor for this issue: Gill Hurle
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this edition are not necessarily those of Kingston Peace Council/CND