#whitefeather diaries

Pacifists censored

Thursday 5 November 2015

While Laurence was frustrated with the censorship regulations at the front, others were resisting them at home. As the war went on, the authorities used the Defence of the Realm Act to restrict speeches and publications criticising the war.

People with anti-war views were in some cases forced from their jobs. Edward Bulstrode was a 29-year-old Church of England curate in Horsham in Sussex. His duties included preaching to troops awaiting departure to France, who were surprised to discover that he was a pacifist. In May 1915 he wrote to his mother to tell her that he had been removed from his position.

The officers of the Artillery complained to the vicar that what I said to the men the Sunday before last had had a depressing effect and they did not like what I had said about being men of peace.

So the vicar asked me to take a certain line with them which I could not in faithfulness do. I cannot tell beforehand what the Lord shall put into my mouth. I try to ask the Holy Spirit to speak through me and I cannot limit His operation. So I offered to cease my ministrations and the offer was accepted.

A higher duty

In late 1917 the government introduced a new regulation under the Defence of the Realm Act that required various publications to be submitted to the national censor before publication. The Northern Friends Peace Board, representing Quaker peace activists in the north of England and Scotland, met and agreed the following.

While recognising to the full our duty as citizens to obey the Law of the land as far as we can, we hold that the present regulation... conflicts with our higher duty to the Truth. We therefore feel that we have no alternative but to decline to submit our publications to the Censor.

A challenge to militarism

The Friends Service Committee (FSC), which oversaw some of the more radical Quaker peace activism across Britain, took a similar decision. In May 1918 the Quaker central offices of Devonshire House in London were raided by police. The three executive officers of the FSC were prosecuted under the Defence of the Realm Act for publishing the pamphlet A challenge to militarism without first submitting it to the censor. In their defence, they declared:

We feel that the declaration of peace and goodwill is the duty of all Christians and ought not to be dependent upon the permission of any government official. We therefore intend to continue the publication of such leaflets as we feel it our duty to put forth, without submitting them to the Censor.

The three defendants were each sent to prison for between three and six months.

Sources: Clive Barrett, Subversive Peacemakers: War resistance 1914–1918 (Lutterworth Press, 2014); Barry Mills, 'Edith Maud Ellis' website of South London Quakers

Related Materials

FAU magazine
Thursday 5 November 2015

In early 1915 the army tightened up censorship rules for letters home from the front. Laurence's letters from the Friends Ambulance Unit show both amusement and frustration with the new regulations. The authorities did not want the public to know the extent of the typhoid outbreak at the front – so banned the word from being mentioned.