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Subversive Peacemakers: War resistance 1914-1918 An Anglican Perspective

Symon Hill

Clive Barrett

The Lutterworth Press, 299pp

In November 1917, the police raided the offices of peacegroups and cracked down on anti-war publications.When the police turned up at the headquarters of theFellowship of Reconciliation (FoR), they were greetedby its general secretary, Leyton Richards. He told them:'I will save you some trouble by giving you straight awaythe most subversive literature we have in this office'. Hethen handed a police officer a copy of the New Testament.This is one of the examples of Christian resistanceto World War One that appear in Clive Barrett's book.Uncountable thousands of books have been written onthe First World War. Books on theopposition to the war form a smallproportion of a tiny fraction ofwell below 0.1% of them. Such awell-researched new book on thissubject is therefore very welcome.It brings together informationpreviously only available to thosewith the time and resources totrawl through scattered archives.Barrett's subtitle is wellchosen. This is 'an Anglican perspective'rather than a book aboutAnglicans. Many of the charactersand movements that appear arenot Anglican, or are Christianswho seem to be Anglican bydefault. Barrett preserves anAnglican focus without beingrestricted by it.Barrett does not deny thatanti-war feeling was more commonin non-conformist churchesbut he presents evidence to makeclear it was not absent from the Church of England.In a chapter on 'Clergy in the front line of resistance',we meet Edward Bulstrode, a curate in Coventry who wasprevented from speaking to troops because of his pacifistviews. Bernard Walke, a high church priest, campaignedalongside Quakers in Cornwall. In Sheffield, CharlesStimson shocked his middle class congregation with hisadvocacy of peace and his support for striking workers. Acurate called Henry Cecil held anti-war public meetings tocoincide with recruitment rallies at which the Bishop ofSheffield encouraged men to enlist in the army.The two Anglican activists who appear most prominentlyin this book were not clergy. George Lansbury waseditor of the socialist anti-war newspaper, the Herald,Lansbury was as passionate about Christ as he was outragedby the Church of England's leadership colludingwith war. Lansbury wrote scathingly: 'Priests in khaki,bishops in khaki, are loudly calling to us to fight... for the"Prince of Peace"'.The second dominant character is Maude Royden, anactivist for both women's suffrage and peace. When readingBarrett's quotes from Royden, I realised that she used arguments that were to become commonplace among later pacifists. She argued that violence is better than neutrality - but that there is an alternative that is better than both. She asked: 'Was Christ the "neutral" on the cross? Or was his life... a perpetual resistance to evil?' In 1918, Royden became the first woman ever to preach in the Church of England. As Barrett puts it: 'The suggestion that women could ever speak in an Anglican Church provoked a response in some quarters little short of the hostility that accompanied the German invasion of Belgium.' I would have liked to read more discussion of whether anti-war feeling was more common in, say, low church contexts than high church ones. I also found myself wondering if those areas of Britain with strong secular peace movements - such as West Yorkshire, South Wales and Glasgow - tended to produce anti-war Anglicans, or whether Anglican churches provided local support for war. As the historian Cyril Pearce points out, the tendency of pacifist writers to focus on the heroism of individual war resisters can have the unintended effect of reinforcing the perception of them as isolated individuals rather than part of wider movements. Barrett's discussion of organisations - such as FoR, which thankfully still exist - is therefore appreciated. This is not to criticise Barrett's research, which is impressively deep and wide. The book brings together his work of twenty years. The fifty-one pages of footnotes are very useful for researchers as well as containing fascinating extra information. Barrett writes from an unashamedly pacifist perspective but this book is far from being a simple polemic. It is essentially an academic text. The material is arranged thematically rather than chronologically, meaning that a researcher on, say, George Lansbury, can go straight to the chapter about him. I would be unlikely to recommend this book to someone who had never previously read or heard anything about the peace movement in World War One. It is not an introductory book. However, it is a vitally useful addition to the literature on the subject. I have already drawn on it several times in my own teaching. Barrett's book provides a balance to writings such as Alan Wilkinson's pro-war book, The Church of England and the First World War, published in 1974 and still the definitive text on that subject. Wilkinson made the demonstrably inaccurate claim that support for the war was 'virtually unanimous'. Such views have been debunked in academic circles, but are still widely believed. The people who come across least well in Barrett's book are bishops. Several backed peace movements prior to 1914, only to fall in line and support the war once it started. Now as then, churches are torn between competing calls of respectability and radicalism. The pacifists of World War One are a reminder that we cannot choose both. As Lansbury put it: 'Had I the power I would shout from the porch of every church and chapel every day of the week, "Choose ye this day whom ye will serve: ye cannot serve God and Mammon."