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Men of God in wartime

13 March 2015

Alan Wilkinson reads the stories of Great War experiences

Edward Hicks: Pacifist bishop at war
G. R. Evans
Lion £9.99
Church Times Bookshop £9 (Use code CT656 )

Subversive Peacemakers: War resistance 1914-1918. An Anglican perspective
Clive Barrett
The Lutterworth Press £20

Hell on Earth: My life in the trenches 1914-1918
C. V. Burder
New Generation Publishing* £9.95

THE first two books define "pacifism" very differently. Clive Barrett in Subversive Peacemakers follows the classic definition by Martin Ceadel (Pacifism in Britain, 1914-45, 1980): "the personal conviction that it is wrong to take part in war". The subtitle of G. R. Evans's study of Edward Hicks is Pacifist bishop at war. But Hicks was not a pacifist. He was a peace-lover, a pacifier. As Evans points out, Hicks opposed both the Boer Wars because "the motives for them were corrupt and mistaken, rather than because he believed that war was always wrong".

Who was Hicks? He was considered so important that, within three years of his death, a substantial biography was published. A decade or so ago, Graham Neville devoted two books to him. Evans succinctly describes Hicks as "an able and principled person willing to take some risks and work for unpopular or controversial causes". He was born in 1843 into a humbler family than most bishops. But he won an Oxford scholarship, and became a don, and unfashionably an ordinand.

He was naturally sensitive and generous to people. In his first parish, he helped people suffering from the agricultural depression, campaigned against drink, created allotments and a communal shop, and supported trade unions. Later, as vicar of a Manchester slum parish, his heart went out to the poor, and he worked with the Church Army and became a foe of unscrupulous landlords.

In 1910, he became Bishop of Lincoln. In this huge diocese, he discovered problem clergy and problematic church buildings. His unceasing pastoral work led to two lengthy breakdowns. As President of the Church of England Peace League from 1910, he combated the war spirit, but when war came could not work out a consistent position. He gave hospitality to Belgian refugees, visited troops, defended the rights of conscientious objectors, and promoted the place of women in Church and State. The liberal causes that he championed became, thanks to his influence, more widely proclaimed, not least by William Temple, who became Bishop of Manchester shortly after Hicks died in 1919.

Hardly anyone associated pacifism with Anglicanism until the 1930s, when some well-known Anglicans such as Dick Sheppard and Charles Raven announced their conversion. Clive Barrett in this well-documented study Subversive Peacemakers reveals new material, especially about the small number of Anglican COs in the First World War.

In the 19th and early 20th centuries, groups, often Quaker-led, campaigned for arbitration instead of war. Some Anglican leaders gave strong support. Once Germany invaded Belgium, attitudes changed dramatically, but Temple believed that the nation needed the pacifist witness.

A few Anglican pacifists became fairly prominent - for example, George Lansbury, and Maude Royden, a campaigner by caravan. She envisaged pacifists flinging themselves in front of troop trains. Many were individualists. When the pacifist priest Bernard Walke met 600 COs at Dartmoor he was dismayed by their variety, from quiet Quakers to fanatics brandishing their Bibles. Nothing united them except a refusal to fight.

The introduction of conscrip- tion in 1916 made the position of the CO acute. Objections varied. Christadelphians would make munitions, provided they were not under military discipline. Others objected to this war, but not to all wars. Many would serve on farms, in schools, and with the Red Cross, RAMC, or Friends' Ambulance Units. Absolutists would not accept any alternative employ- ment.

Though Archbishop Davidson, Bishops Gore and Hicks, and other leaders defended the right of conscientious objection, some COs were brutally treated. Barrett reproduces some of the touching drawings by COs imprisoned in Richmond Castle. Some were marched to France; some were sentenced to death, but at the last minute had their sentences commuted to ten years' imprisonment.

Barrett claims, without any evidence, that the peace movement came close to preventing the Second World War. True, pacifists supported appeasement up to and beyond September 1939. But they never listened to Reinhold Niebuhr's entreaty for them to develop a realistic political expression of their faith.

When Claud Burder, a retired priest, died in 1968, he thought, like many veterans, that he had taken his memories of the Great War to his grave. But, 40 years later, his son, rummaging through a trunk, discovered his father's account of his service from 1915 to 1919. Hence Hell on Earth, in paperback, but also in other formats explained in the accompanying DVD.

After curacies, he was chaplain to congregations around the world. When war broke out, he sailed home, feeling a duty (unexplained) to participate. In this story of his war service, he did not express or ponder his inner feelings about vocation, faith, and prayer, but concentrated on vivid depictions of external events. Offers to become an army chaplain were rejected. Without any apparent hesitation (he showed contempt for a CO), he volunteered as a combatant officer.

Latent malaria deepened bouts of exhaustion: once he accepted a mouse lying on his forehead to warm itself. He experienced extremities: two feet of mud in the trenches; a delivery from Fortnum & Mason of tinned duck in aspic; a corpse infested with maggots; welcome rests behind the lines. Awarded the MC, he took a long time to recover after a wound and septicaemia. He returned to active ministry without comment.

The book deserved better editing. There are no chapter headings, no index or page numbers, and only one break in a book of more than 300 pages.

Canon Alan Wilkinson is a Fellow of the George Bell Institute, University of Chichester.

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