A musical evening highlighting historic opposition to war was held last night at the Catholic Worker House in Haringey. It marked 100 years since the start of conscription and was organised by the Haringey First World War Peace Forum, Hinde Street Methodist Church, the Methodist Peace Fellowship, the Anglican Pacifist Fellowship and Pax Christi. Pax Christi members were prominent in the choir and in the audience, as were members of Westminster Justice and Peace.
One of the organisers, Valerie Flessati of Pax Christi, opened the evening by saying: "We want to give people the opportunity to discover the stories of those who were courageous enough to resist the First World War's recruitment campaigns and conscription." She noted that Haringey had 350 conscientious objectors in the First World War and two of them were brothers who lived in the same street as the Catholic Worker House, which at that time was a Methodist Church. Peace banners typical of the Catholic Worker movement were hung around the auditorium, plus one saying 'Refugees Welcome', an indication that the house offers hospitality to refugees.
Clive Barrett, Chair of the Peace Museum in Bradford, gave an illustrated presentation on the conscientious objectors of the First World War, interspersed with examples of the music that inspired them. The music was led by Sue Gilmurray, a songwriter whose music supports the peace movement, and the audience of around 80 people was encouraged to sing along and did so with enthusiasm.
Titles such as 'I didn't raise my boy to be a soldier' were sung, along with the peace version of the National Anthem. 'A Song of Fellowship' concluded the evening with the line, 'For peace on Earth, goodwill to men, we hear a welcome call, that all should care and strive for each, and each should live for all'.
Clive showed images of the graffiti in the cells of Richmond Castle where conscientious objectors were imprisoned, such as 'I was put in this cell for refusing to be made a soldier'. Christian graffiti included, 'Thou shalt not kill' and 'love one another as I have loved you'. He pointed out that the conscientious objectors felt deeply patriotic, stressing an infinity with the land and culture of their country, and a duty as good citizens to challenge war. The lasting legacy of the conscientious objectors of the First World War is the right not to kill, the recognition of conscientious objection in British law, and the inspiration they have given to future anti-war activists - even 100 years later.
There will be a second musical evening tomorrow:
Tuesday 1 March 7-9pm
Hinde Street Methodist Church, Thayer St, Marylebone, London W1U 2QJ
All welcome, free, but donations towards costs accepted.