The Conscientious Objectors’ Stone in Tavistock Square – and how it came about

Participants at CO Day 2014. Photo: Dave Pybus/FoR

Participants at CO Day 2014. Photo: Dave Pybus/FoR

This is the third of four blogs by Edna Mathieson telling the story of how the conscientious objectors’ memorial in Tavistock Square, London came about. In the first blog, she told of her early attempts to create a memorial through the Greater London Council (GLC) and how they failed when the GLC was abolished. In the second, she detailed her subsequent, successful, efforts to get support and money for the project. Now she explains how the stone itself came to be. 

In the meantime, the proposed venue for the memorial shifted from the vicinity of the now defunct London County Hall to what was becoming a peace garden in Tavistock Square, Bloomsbury; and the concept changed from a sculpture to a rock, symbolic of those who refused, against the odds, to fight. Hugh Court, of Architects for Peace, was brought in as designer and suggested slate as more durable than granite. He went to Cumbria with Paul Wehrle, sculptor, in search of such a stone, and they were so attracted by a naturally shaped piece of grey green volcanic slate (some 400m years old, and rather larger than the size we had planned) that they chose that.

Paul Wehrle inscribed a tablet inset in the rock bearing words written by Bill, with the addition of ‘Their foresight and courage give us hope’, and it was unveiled at 2pm on 15 May 1994 by the composer Sir Michael Tippett, President of the PPU, who was imprisoned in the Second World War as a CO. All donors had been invited, and about 200 people were present, the occasion going impressively well, followed by refreshments at the then nearby PPU office. A Guardian reporter was there, whom I unfortunately did not manage to meet.

But I had wanted not only the stone, but a gathering of people around it to remember and celebrate the COs, just as, in the case of the Cenotaph, people are present there each November, remembering armed forces men and women killed during two world wars. I mentioned this to Bill, and suggested we do this the following year. He pointed out that the following year, 1995, people would be marking 50 years since the end of WW2. He had a point, and of course I agreed. I set about getting together a group of people keen to organise an annual celebration around the stone in future years.

My first task was to write to organisations that would appear, by their name, to be either definitely, or possibly, interested in coming to a meeting to discuss the possibility of an annual gathering around the stone. I wrote to just over one hundred, and about eight came! Not very many – disappointing – but enough to ‘set the ball rolling’, I thought.

The BHA and NSS were both at the time at Conway Hall, Red Lion Square, Holborn. They agreed with my suggestion that we hold the meeting of interested people at Conway Hall, and kindly offered the Bertrand Russell Room. Of course, I eagerly accepted! Those who came all agreed to try out the idea the following year (that would now be 1998), to see whether it would be successful, and inviting as many as possible.

Robert Ashby, Secretary of the BHA at the time, was extremely helpful. He publicised the event, organised it, had leaflets printed, and a programme, of the event. And so the group of eight from various peace organisations, and others, met regularly, along with Robert, at Conway Hall to plan the celebration around the stone, which, indeed, proved to be a success.

Find out what happened in subsequent years in the final part of this blog series, coming next week. 

Gospel nonviolence in action: Early Christians

Martin of Tours, while a soldier. Image by Fr Lawrence Lew OP, Creative Commons licence CC BY-NC-ND

Martin of Tours, while a soldier. Image by Fr Lawrence Lew OP, Creative Commons licence CC BY-NC-ND

What does Gospel nonviolence look like in action? The Fellowship of Reconciliation held a joint conference with the Anglican Pacifist Fellowship looking at this, and included a talk from the Revd David Mumford. Over a series of 14 blogs, some short and some longer, he outlines the different themes and topics covered in his presentation. 

Christians throughout the ages have declared that their first loyalty is to Christ rather than to any secular power. For those Christians for whom a gospel commitment to nonviolence is paramount, that has sometimes led to martyrdom.

Take what happened in 295 CE, in Tebessa in Algeria. Saint Maximilian was brought by his father to enlist. Maximilian declared: “I am not allowed to be a soldier for I am a Christian”.

When told that he must either serve or die, he replied “You may cut off my head but I shall never be a soldier”.

The proconsul Dion did not want to have to execute Maximilian and pointed out to him that there were soldiers who were Christians who served in the Emperor’s bodyguard. Maximilian replied: “They make up their minds what is right for them; I am a Christian and I cannot do what is wrong. My service is for the Lord.”

The choice to follow Christ led to his martyrdom.

Some 60 years later Saint Martin of Tours found himself in the same position. Martin had been baptised in his late teens but was then compelled to join the army – his father had the legal duty to get his son enlisted and Martin apparently was brought in chains to be signed on.

Martin was with the army for many years and during this time his Christian faith deepened. There is the famous account of him cutting his cloak in two to give half to a beggar and then having a vision of Christ coming to him in the selfsame half cloak. The Roman army at that time carried out many of the tasks that our present-day police and highways authorities do.

Eventually in 356 CE Martin, seems to have been faced with a situation where he would have to fight. He declared to his sovereign: “hitherto I have served you as a soldier. Allow me now to become a soldier of God. I am a soldier of Christ. It is not lawful for me to fight.”

He was accused of cowardice, so he demanded on the following day he be placed without arms in front of the line of battle. But there was no battle – the barbarians surrendered and Martin was set free to become a monk and then Bishop of Tours.

The Conscientious Objectors’ Stone in Tavistock Square – and how it came about

Participants at CO Day 2014. Photo: Dave Pybus/FoR

Participants at CO Day 2014. Photo: Dave Pybus/FoR

This is the second of four blogs by Edna Mathieson telling the story of how the conscientious objectors’ memorial in Tavistock Square, London came about. In the first blog, available here, she told of her early attempts to create a memorial through the Greater London Council (GLC) and how they failed when the GLC was abolished. Here, she details her efforts to get others to support the idea. 

The GLC headquarters at County Hall is in the London Borough of Lambeth, so I contacted Lambeth Council. They were sympathetic and supportive. As it happened, they had just set up a small section within the Council which was to help local people wishing to carry forward ideas they had for their local area. I met the new post-holder heading this small section and we decided that an art competition would be set up, to include all London art schools/colleges. It would ask for a figurative or abstract piece of sculpture, to be situated somewhere in the space next to County Hall, dedicated to all COs.

We got as far as drafting letters to the schools and colleges and others we thought might be interested, and finding addresses, when the government began its first series of cuts of local authority budgets. This post was one of the first to go. Back to square one!

I decided to get funding myself. I could only send a letter to newspapers, explaining what I hoped to do and asking for financial help and perhaps general support. Charities are excluded of course from giving funding to groups for political – in the broadest sense – purposes. A lawyer friend pointed out that my proposed course would be illegal – I had to be part of an organisation.

I had been a member of CND but no other peace group. I decided to contact them. Bruce Kent, then Chair of CND, rang me at home, after receiving my letter asking for help. He pointed out the obvious, really – CND is against nuclear war. I wanted to say that non-nuclear bombs also kill and maim, but thought better of it. I didn’t think it would help – not for probably a short, fairly casual, telephone conversation.

The Quakers! Of course! They are against war in both thought and deed. My uncle had met many Quakers while in prison. Their central offices at Friends House in Euston told me that the Society of Friends was similar to a federation – each Meeting had its own aims and ways of acting. I needed to contact a Meeting – maybe my local one. I knew of none in south east London where I lived, so I went south west – in particular, Streatham. It was fairly close.

I contacted them, and was invited to speak to them about the idea. I did. My reception was rather chilly, but food had been kindly laid on so that it might be rather an occasion. I simply put forward the idea of having a stone dedicated to all COs. Their first question was how much did I think it would cost? I had not the foggiest – it would obviously depend on how much a stone cost, how much we received, etc, but I suggested £2/3,000. It was pointed out that many people in Africa and India were starving, surely such a sum would be best spent on them? I replied that Christ had said Man does not live by bread alone (I had gone to church schools!). They were refusing, of course, so I added that, as they were naturally and rightly concerned with people in Africa and India, they might consider asking the National Gallery to sell one of their less famous pieces of art and use that money for the starving. They would get so much more than £2/3,000! I thanked them for listening, and left.

The question then was who else to contact. As I have said, I was not – am not – very familiar with peace organisations.

But I did recall the Peace Pledge Union (PPU) being mentioned when talking, or hearing, of my uncle’s experiences. I made an appointment and saw Bill Hetherington and Lucy Beck. After a consultative meeting with representatives of other peace organisations, it was agreed that Bill would negotiate with the Guardian newspaper for a letter drafted by him in the name of the PPU to be published on International COs’ Day, 15 May 1993, inviting donations. We got support and funding. Of course, I gave, as did friends and relatives of COs.

Read the third blog in the series to see what came of the support Edna raised. 

Gospel nonviolence in action: Jesus


Jesus being tempted by the Devil. Image by  Fr Lawrence Lew OP, Creative Commons licence CC BY-NC-ND

Jesus being tempted by the Devil. Image by Fr Lawrence Lew OP, Creative Commons licence CC BY-NC-ND

What does Gospel nonviolence look like in action? The Fellowship of Reconciliation held a joint conference with the Anglican Pacifist Fellowship looking at this, and included a talk from the Revd David Mumford. Over a series of 14 blogs, some short and some longer, he outlines the different themes and topics covered in his presentation. 

How did Jesus demonstrate Gospel nonviolence? Think of the temptations in the wilderness – especially the temptation to have political power. Jesus resists these temptations, both then and through the rest of his life until his crucifixion. He embodied the words: ‘worship the Lord your God and serve only him’ (Deut 6:13).

The Jewish people were expecting a messiah who would (in the words of the Archangel Gabriel) have the throne of his father David – who would throw out the Roman occupiers and re-establish an independent Jewish state. During the first part of his ministry Jesus refuses to have his messiahship confirmed (except by evil spirits) as the common expectation was that the Messiah would triumph through violence. He teaches his disciples to love their neighbour and their enemy – and yet Peter in the garden of Gethsemane still has a sword and uses it. He rides into Jerusalem on a donkey and not on a war horse – and this is after people have tried to make him king by violence and Jesus has fled from that. Jesus heals the high priest’s servant’s ear; and at the last he refused to summon the legions of angels and instead goes the way of Calvary.


The Conscientious Objectors’ Stone in Tavistock Square – and how it came about

Participants at CO Day 2014. Photo: Dave Pybus/FoR

Participants at CO Day 2014. Photo: Dave Pybus/FoR

This is the first of four blogs by Edna Mathieson telling the story of how the conscientious objectors’ memorial in Tavistock Square, London came about. In this piece, she tells how the idea for the memorial came about and the first attempts to create it. 

In 1976, my uncle, Joe Brett, died. He had been a life-long socialist, and because of those principles, had been a conscientious objector (CO) in the First World War. He had chosen Tom Paine’s ‘simple’ words to express what he believed: “The world is my country, all men are my brothers, to do good is my religion”. He had been an absolutist, that is, did not believe in killing, or helping in any way which might enable some-one else to accept military service and thus kill in his, my uncle’s, place. It was said that to be a CO on political grounds was considered to be less acceptable than on religious ones.

I had asked the Secretary of the National Secular Society (NSS), Bill McIlroy, to speak at my uncle’s funeral. I am a member of both the NSS and the British Humanist Association (BHA). He had agreed and spoke, mainly, of my uncle’s experience as an absolutist. Bill went on to say that, one day, people would acknowledge the courage and foresight of COs as they had, and do, recognise those who fight in wars – and had set up a memorial to them, the Cenotaph in Whitehall.

I thought that a great idea – so obvious, really! But “Never”, I also thought, “in my life time!”

In 1981, I became a Member of the Inner London Education Authority (ILEA), a subgroup of the Greater London Council (GLC). I was on many committees and chaired two, and was somewhat overwhelmed by the strangeness of it all – so much to learn to do. But by 1984, becoming more used to it all, it suddenly occurred to me that I had a degree of power/influence … Uncle Joe and a CO commemorative stone … Bill McIlroy’s almost chance remark at my uncle’s funeral! This might now be possible. I put this to the GLC’s Labour Group. All agreed, except one: Andy Harris insisted on a motion, suggesting a commemoration of COs, going to London Regional Labour Party.

This would take time – it always did – and we had heard the rumour of then-Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher’s intention of abolishing the GLC/ILEA! Why hadn’t I thought of it earlier? Then, suddenly, I realised that John Carr (GLC/ILEA Member) was the husband of Glenys Thornton, then Chair of London Region Labour! This might be the short-cut I needed – he might be interested. The reply from Region, instead of being very slow, was only slow, much to my relief!

It was not merely a rumour that Thatcher intended to abolish the GLC, but abolition was more of a fight than perhaps some had thought – the Church, the Lords and a member of the Royal Family were against it – much to some people’s surprise. But what about my CO motion – would that ‘fall by the wayside’?

The London Residuary Body (LRB) was set up after abolition to take care of all agreements, contracts etc the GLC/ILEA had made. So, as my motion, or any action accruing to it, had not appeared, I wrote to the LRB, asking them where the agreement was that had been made to have some commemorative object dedicated to COs. Nothing so far had been made public, whilst other agreements and contracts had been. I had guessed that this particular one would not have been very popular. Their reply confirmed what I had thought might happen – the agreement by Labour Group could not be found! But now what do I do?

Find out how Edna next tried to move the project forwards in the next blog in this series. 

Introducing Diko

diko picIt’s a new day, it’s a new dawn and… there is a new Diko!

Greetings, my name is Diko Blackings and I am the newest addition to the Fellowship of Reconciliation (FoR) team; I’ll be working as the Campaigns and Engagement Officer. As an International Development and Peace Studies graduate I have a keen interest and understanding of peace and the importance of promoting non-violent peace work and peace efforts. I also really enjoy putting together your excellent campaign ideas to create great campaigns and materials.

You will be sure to hear from me in the next few weeks but until then keep your eyes peeled on the FoR website and social media accounts for upcoming resources and events. Be sure to get in touch – I’d love to hear about the work you are doing and more importantly about the work you think we should be doing. I look forward to hearing more from you all.

With love and courage,


“What dreams may come…?” – International Peacemakers’ Fund 2018

A Fragments Theatre workshop

A Fragments Theatre workshop

Shakespeare and the Bible are probably the two most quoted canons of western literature, and for many good reasons; they both offer guidance for those navigating what it means to be human.

Of all Shakespeare’s plays the most quoted is Hamlet, and of all his characters it is perhaps in Hamlet that we feel most sympathy. We feel ourselves his struggles in working out the fundamental matters associated with this “mortal coil.” We all know that:

“To be, or not, to be. That is the question. Whether ‘tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, or to take arms against a sea of troubles, and by opposing, end them. To die, to sleep, no more.”

Obligated by tradition, Hamlet’s ‘wrong’, his father’s murder, demands revenge; it is a question of honour. Yet Shakespeare’s hero is perplexed by two questions. He doesn’t know if he can believe in his father’s ghost. Is what he says true? Not only this, Hamlet looks further ahead, and considers the consequences of revenging by murder… “For in that sleep of death what dreams may come, when we have shuffled off this mortal coil, must give us pause. And thus, the native hue of resolution is sicklied over with the pale cast of thought.”

Our International Peacemakers’ Fund awards financial means for people faced with the kinds of issues as Hamlet. Their lives have been, are, or will be threatened. Many voices call out for revenge, to violently ‘right’ the ‘wrongs’ committed against them. Our peacemakers are Hamlets for this time, pausing to consider future consequences and silence the calls for retribution.

Yet the heros and heroines of our time, living in these conflict areas, go further than Hamlet. He sees things from an individual perspective and is resolved against revenge by realising that we are all to die, it’s just a case of when, not if, so to murder isn’t necessary. Our peacemakers are motivated by more than this. They have a vision of their community, their society, living in peace and harmony. The vision they have is one for the collective, for the many, to live a better life now and in future.


The director of Fragments Theatre

The director of Fragments Theatre

This year we made awards to two projects situated in communities riddled with conflict for decades. Fragments Theatre is based in Jenin of the Palestinian Territories. They are working with young people often recruited for violence in the ongoing Isreali-Palestinian conflicts. Jenin, and much of the West Bank generally, suffers from a lack of outlets for young adults. With high unemployment and almost no channels for their energy these youngsters have literally nothing to do.

Fragments will be travelling to refugee camps, villages, towns and cities throughout the West Bank and offering workshops on stand-up comedy. Creating a safe space in which young people can build their confidence, creatively release their frustrations, and use comedy to diffuse and ultimately transform the anger they experience. Fragments uses the stand-up format to guide youngsters toward independent, peaceful and successful lives, to transform despair into hope.

Burundi, a relatively small country in Central Africa, is also no stranger to conflict. In the past 50 years it has endured two genocides and almost uninterrupted civil conflict, often between the Hutu and Tutsi ethnic groups. From 2006 to 2015 relative stability was created but recent elections have been boycotted by the opposition in protest against President Pierre Nkurunzia. Alarmingly, Burundi officially withdrew from the International Criminal Court following accusations by the UN of extrajudicial killings, torture and sexual violence (human rights violations). Burundi’s recent period of relative peace is looking particularly fragile.

We received an application from Coventry Cathedral’s Reconciliation Ministry that spoke to this instability in a way that interested us. Due to fraudulent activity by a former Bishop many members of the Holy Trinity Cathedral in Bujumbura, Burundi’s capital, were finding it difficult to serve the congregation and beyond. Their burden was not simply financial; trust had broken down and the many pains of being betrayed were keenly felt. They asked for the Ministry’s assistance. The exciting thing about this from our perspective is that the Ministry’s reconciliation intervention is Christian-based, rooted in Christ’s life and message. Along with creating harmony within the pastoral and staff community their task is to train the pastors and staff such that they can be active and engaged as reconcilers within the wider community.

We love supporting such peacemakers’ vision of harmony but we need your help to continue doing so. We rely on individuals donating specifically to this Fund. Most of our current donors give regularly, allowing us to plan each year to maintain commitments to peacemakers old and new. We are asking you to become one our partners in this by giving money, large or small, regularly or as a one-off payment. Why not do something right now that fulfils Jesus’, not Hamlet’s, message of peace and love on earth?


Shooting in Paradise Square

On Monday 7th May, there was a non-fatal shooting and standoff in Paradise Square, Oxford. Peace House on Paradise St is just metres from where the siege happened, and though nobody from the Peace House community was in the building that day (it being a public holiday), it naturally affected people. Some of our neighbours were at home and more directly affected – they were told to stay at home until the standoff ended, which happened at 3am that night. Details of the incident have been reported by the BBC and others.

The following afternoon, staff from various organisations in Peace House met together to silently pray and reflect on the attack and the people involved. We ended the silence with a reading of part of the Prayer of St Francis:

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace, 
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy


Nuclear letter to Boris

7936244308_e9d803f3f8_mThe Fellowship of Reconciliation joined with 30 other organisations to sign and send a letter to Boris Johnson, UK Foreign Secretary. We urged him to ensure the UK fully participates in upcoming meetings about nuclear weapons and to make progress on the country’s obligations to disarm its nuclear arsenal.

Read the full text of the letter here.

Image by ICAN (International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons), published under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-commercial 2.0 Generic licence. 

Fellowship of Reconciliation condemns chemical weapons attacks and retaliation in Syria

FOR logo

The Fellowship of Reconciliation understands and shares the outrage that people justifiably feel when told about a government deliberately killing its own people with outlawed chemical weapons. We do not believe in impunity for chemical weapons attacks. But the correct response is to hold to account those individuals who perpetrated the attack and those in the military and political chain of command who authorised and organised it.

We oppose retaliatory strikes, such as those carried out by the USA, France and Britain, on both principled and pragmatic grounds. Our conviction for over a century is that military force does not bring genuine peace. In practice, such escalation often multiplies the number of casualties and leads to more suffering. Moreover, the feeling that ‘we must do something’ should not mean that we do whatever is quickest or easiest, and especially when the stakes are so high we should think carefully of the consequences. We must not salve our outrage using the lives of others.

The Fellowship of Reconciliation was formed in the days before World War One to oppose war and to demonstrate that there could be another way. We hold fast to that message, and to the belief that the Christian way is to reach out, not to bomb, kill and maim. We want to break bread, not break bodies.