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Remembrance: the conscientious objectors, the Festival, the poppies

14 November 2014


From Mr Symon Hill

Sir, - Well done to the Church Times for covering the overlooked topic of conscientious objectors in the First World War (Features, 31 October). As Tim Wyatt rightly points out, there were at least 16,000 British conscientious objectors in that war. They were not alone. The semi-illegal anti-war newsletter The Tribunal had 100,000 readers in 1916. There were also anti-war movements in Germany and elsewhere.

Your reporter perhaps overstates the extent to which conscientious objection has since been recognised. He states: "Today, even volunteer soldiers have the right to change their minds, become conscientious objectors, and be discharged."

This is true in theory. In practice, as the group Forces Watch points out, there is considerable evidence that most British soldiers are unaware of this right, and many more are pressurised not to exercise it. Michael Lyons, a member of the Navy, spent several months in a military prison in 2011 after his application for discharge on grounds of conscientious objection was rejected.

While we no longer have physical conscription in the UK, our money is conscripted through taxes that fund the sixth highest military budget in the world. Our minds are conscripted through constant pressure to idolise the armed forces. Our very language is conscripted, as words such as "defence" are twisted into euphemisms for war.

If more people in Britain, Germany, and elsewhere had refused to fight a hundred years ago - and if churches had supported them - they could have stopped the Great War. Now, as then, the first step to stopping war is to refuse to be part of it.

19 Thayer Street
London W1U 2QH


From the Revd Geoffrey F. Squire

Sir, - For as long as I can remember, the service at the end of the annual Festival of Remembrance in the Royal Albert Hall was one of great dignity, which brought that rather grand and colourful event to its climax. The processional cross was carried in by a server, and he was accompanied by two acolytes, and there was a robed choir and a banner.

Now all that has changed. We now have a soldier walking in glorious isolation, carrying the processional cross, which is as inappropriate as a server carrying in the Union flag. The acolytes have been eliminated, as have the robed choir and banner, and the clergy now wear a mismatch of purple stoles and hood and scarf.

Apart from the fact that this is now an undignified muddle for such a grand occasion, it means that two groups of people, robed choir and servers, have been totally eliminated, just as other groups present have been broadened in their inclusiveness.

I used to encourage young servers to observe this dignified but simple bit of liturgy, but not any more. In fact, after seeing that service on the television, a young server telephoned me to ask me whether I knew what had happened, but I have not the slightest idea.

Little Cross, Northleigh Hill
Goodleigh, Barnstaple
Devon EX32 7NR


From the Revd Alan W. Wright

Sir, - My wife, my son, and I were at the Tower of London ("Drowning in a sea of poppies", Comment, 7 November) on the day to which the Revd Bertrand Oliver refers: the Thursday of half-term week. This was the day before the barriers were erected. Although it was very difficult physically to get around (we had walked over Tower Bridge and so perhaps got a better view than some), it was obvious that the scene wasn't some mass-hysteria, mawkish, "must-see-at-all-costs" event such as there has been in times past -I think of the days that followed the death of Diana, Princess of Wales. There was a sense of wonder and awe at the enormity of the scene; individual battles gave rise to many deaths, but only seen as an entirety does the cost of war become apparent.

Many have decried the immediate disinstallation of the poppies, but the whole is a living work of art; the dispersing of the ceramic flowers to individual homes represents the individual homes from which those who perished came. I notice that 11 November 2018 - the centenary of the signing of the Armistice - falls on a Sunday. Perhaps that can be a suitable occasion for a similar but permanent memorial.

1 Birchdale, Barton-upon-Humber
North Lincolnshire DN18 5ED

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