White Feather Diaries: remembering those who resisted the First World War

By Symon Hill
May 16, 2014

Yesterday saw the formal launch of the White Feather Diaries, a social media project exploring the lives of British pacifists during the first world war. The project's run by Quakers in Britain, who hired me as a writer and an editor for the project. I'm really pleased to be working on this project. Yesterday we announced the names of the five individuals whose writings will form the basis of the project, when it goes online in the summer.

The White Feather Diaries, using blogging methods and Twitter, will serialise the real writings of these five very different people, beginning on 4th August, the centenary of the UK's entry to the war. The writings include diaries, letters and memoirs, the majority of which have never previously been published.

As the Guardian reported yesterday, the five people to feature will be Howard Marten, a 30-year-old clerk from London; John "Ted" Hoare, an 18-year-old student from Derbyshire; Hilda Clark, a 33-year-old doctor from Somerset; Laurence Cadbury, a 25-year old engineer from Birmingham; and John "Bert" Brocklesby, a 27-year-old teacher from Conisborough in Yorkshire. There will of course be references to several others too.

Between now and August, you can follow news about the project on Facebook (https://www.facebook.com/wfdiaries).

The public launch of the project was held yesterday because it was International Conscientious Objectors' Day, when people around the world remember all those who have asserted and are maintaining the right to refuse to kill. The Day received far more attention than usual because of the centenary of the outbreak of world war one.

We remember the past because it affects the present and the future. Hundreds of conscientious objectors are still in prison around the world. Members of the British armed forces who have a change of heart are not provided with meaningful opportunities to register a conscientious objection. As recently as 2010, Michael Lyons, a member of the Royal Navy, was sent to a military prison for refusing to pick up a rifle, after his views on war changed.

In the UK, our taxes go to fund one of the world's highest military budgets and a constant stream of messages tell us to admire "our" troops and to believe that violence is the ultimate response to conflict. Our bodies are no longer conscripted, but our minds and money are conscripted instead.

So let's learn from those who showed the way a hundred years ago and had the courage to say no. We will remember them.


(c) Symon Hil is a Christian pacifist writer and campaigner. He is an Ekklesia associate and an associate tutor at the Woodbrooke Quaker Study Centre. His latest book is Digital Revolutions: Activism in the internet age, which can be ordered from the publisher at http://newint.org/books/politics/digital-revolutions.

For links to more of Symon's work, please see http://www.symonhill.wordpress.com.

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