Welcome to Peace News, the newspaper for the UK grassroots peace and justice movement. We seek to oppose all forms of violence, and to create positive change based on cooperation and responsibility. See more

"Peace News has compiled an exemplary record... its tasks have never been more critically important than they are today." Noam Chomsky

  • facebook
  • rss
  • twitter

Articles from the Peace News log: First World War

Articles from the Peace News log.
For articles in this category from the whole site, look here

Image

In some ways it is hard to believe it has now been over a century since the guns of the First World War fell silent. The 'war to end all wars' is so deeply engraved on our national consciousness that even now, when there is no living memory of the conflict, people gather to speak, remember and reflect on that awful, bloody war.

I observed the two minute silence at 11am in front of my television at home, unable to face the militarism (not to mention the crowds) taking place down the river at the Whitehall Cenotaph. The service in Tavistock Square, politely timed at 1pm for those who wished to attend both services in person, is far more my speed. Here there is no marching, no saluting, no talk of the glorious dead. Instead there is quiet reflection, poetry, and a deep sadness that far from ending all wars, 'The Great War' sowed the seeds for the next major conflict, and the Cold and proxy wars that followed. There was a theme this year at Tavistock Square, and a pledge – 'No More War – Let's Make Peace Happen'.

...Read More

The case of Henry Rivett Albrow, a conscientious objector.

Devils on HorsebackIt is the case of Henry Rivett Albrow that forms much of the plot of Devils on Horseback. When he is called before the tribunal he is erudite and eloquent in his impassioned defence of his conscience, calling himself a ‘dissident Christian’ – mainly because he cannot reconcile ‘love thy neighbour’ and ‘thou shalt not kill’ with the church’s acceptance of warfare. He is berated mercilessly by the members of the tribunal, with the usual nonsensical questions that are asked of pacifists; ‘what if a German raped your mother?’ Calmly and clearly Albrow states that he would not take a life to save one, but he would gladly give his own to save another – rendering moot the argument that pacifism is based in cowardice.

...Read More

31 October – 24 November, Jermyn Street Theatre

ImageBased on the memoirs of a real-life Canadian  flying ace, this play charts the rise of the eponymous Billy from under-achiever, to airman, to international celebrity. The latter for the astonishingly high number of air-to-air combat “victories” that he achieved  during the First World War. With a cast of only two, Charles Aitken playing the young Billy, and Oliver Beamish the elder, the play is a simple, but very effective, production.

The set is reminiscent of my great-grandfather’s shed, contributing to the sense that we, the audience, are simply having an intimate chat with Billy himself. The sense of intimacy continues throughout the play, with the audience  being made privy to the darkest parts of Billy’s wartime experiences, often using letters to his real-life fiancée Margaret as a narrative tool.

While the play uses a good dose of humour to convey its message, there is no evasion of the misery of war. Billy remarks on the casualties the Canadian Expeditionary Forces are experiencing in Europe, and concludes that he is ‘a casualty in training’. During his journey across the Atlantic, Billy’s war trauma begins to manifest itself in nightmares. And there is no sanitising the reality of troop transport, with seasickness featuring heavily.

...Read More

A film that uses humour to convey the absurdity of armed conflict.

Image

Sands Films is a unique gem; snuggled up against the south bank of the Thames, it is one of those little secrets that Londoners cherish. Not usually known for their events – it’s normally a fully functional film studio – they felt they couldn’t let the centenary of the First World War Armistice pass unmarked. I’m very glad they didn’t, and judging by the packed house, I’m not alone.

Schwejk (pronounced Sh-wei-ck) is Sands’ own project, shot with the WW1 Centenary in mind. They screen it in the same room in which it was filmed, adding an interesting, atmospheric twist. Based on the famous series of stories by the Czech writer Jaroslav Hašek, Schwejk is a satire on the absurdity of war. Many people have identified with the character of Schwejk since his first appearance in cabaret in 1912; he is just an ordinary young man, sold lies and sent to fight someone else’s war. As a play it has been performed all over the world, from Germany in the inter-war period, to Manchester and beyond, often being brought up to date to reflect contemporary events. Sands’ version is no different, containing references to Iraq, Afghanistan and the so-called ‘War on Terror’.

...Read More

Blending theatre, art and politics, the Peace History Conferences go from strength to strength

Michael Mears performs This evil thing

The Movement for the Abolition of War (MAW), organiser of the series of Peace History Conferences, has a strong and creative relationship with the Imperial War Museum (IWM) in London. This works because, on MAW’s side, there is an attitude not of dogmatic pacifism but of reasoned opposition to the legitimacy of war; and on the Museum’s side, war is not glamorised but commemorated in all its aspects. This makes it a fitting venue for a conference like the one on 10 June, especially as the IWM in London is also currently running a major exhibition on the history of the peace movement.

The previous evening, actor and writer Michael Mears presented his one-man play This evil thing at the nearby Oasis Hub. The story of conscientious objectors in the First World War, and especially of CO Bert Brocklesby, was brought to life by Mr Mears as he rearranged the wooden crates which served as props to suggest platforms, trenches or rooms. He also played every role, putting on a jacket to indicate a new character, and switching accents and mannerisms with ease. The play, which first won praise at the Edinburgh Fringe, is accessible to all, a riveting story for those with no prior knowledge of the subject, and one that will probably shed new light on this topic even for seasoned peace campaigners.

The day which followed illustrated both the diversity and the consistency to be found in those working for peace.

Frank Cottrell-Boyce, writer and screenwriter famed for his opening ceremony for the 2012 Olympics, read extracts from a work written in 1517 by Desiderius Erasmus, The Complaint of Peace, in which Peace, personified, wonders why humanity persists in the use of violence. Both the issues and the wit with which they are described are surprisingly relevant for a modern audience.

...Read More