#whitefeather diaries

Quaker women imprisoned for peace activism

Wednesday 9 March 2016

While young Quaker men were resisting conscription, Quakers of both sexes were facing arrest and prosecution for campaigning against the war. Anti-war activism was restricted by the Defence of the Realm Act, though the wording of the act was unclear and it was applied differently in different places.

Rosa Hobhouse was a Quaker who was tried along with another peace activist, Clara Cole, on 25 May 1916. An account of the trial appeared in The Friend, the independent weekly Quaker magazine. Here's an abridged version.

The prisoners were charged with having by word of mouth and circular made false statements likely to prejudice the recruiting, training and discipline of the Forces, and with having in their possession at the time of their arrest, without lawful authority, documents, the publication of which was in contravention of Regulation 27 of the Defence of the Realm Act.

These included some leaflets written and previously distributed by Mrs. Cole, of which the most pointed was one addressed “To the World,” beginning, “Cease Killing”.

The prosecuting counsel asked that the Court should consider whether taken as a whole the conduct and the literature of the defendants “would not create among the common folk of this realm a most unfortunate and prejudicial atmosphere... just such an atmosphere as would gravely prejudice recruiting and would be most likely to interfere with the training and discipline of persons who had offered themselves for the service of the country”.

His speech ended as follows: “One might say that the law of this country has been and is very tender towards persons who are genuinely conscientious objectors. But sir, are you going to permit a propaganda of conscientious objection? Are you going to allow persons to go about the country encouraging, inciting and canvassing persons to acquire a conscience? Are you going to allow what one might call a crusade of conscientious objection?

"One has to remember that recruiting is not over in this country and there are men to whom nature has denied many of the qualities of courage, endurance and imagination which a soldier needs. Are not these persons to be protected from literature of this kind? The tendency of the crusade in which the defendants were engaged was to infect persons not already in the army with an acquired conscience, to give a person anxious to avoid the service of his country a loophole, so that he can pose as a conscientious objector, and to infest and disaffect the minds of persons already in the army with ideals contrary to those ideals which go to the making of a successful soldier.”

Rosa Hobhouse said that the pamphlets she had selected were distributed in broad daylight, and that none of them had been suppressed previously by the authorities. Her testimony was against oppression and bloodshed, whether in the slums or in international relations. She had made no endeavour to invent conscientious objectors but to appeal to the divine element in every man.

“It is very hard for me to understand the spirit behind the 'Defence of the Realm' Act. The only defence I can understand, or desire to take part in, is the defence of the Kingdom of God on earth; and the use of weapons of slaughter in the defence of that Kingdom is unthinkable. Its only true weapons are love and reason. It was because of this faith in me that I set forth on my journey. My other motive was the desire to spread thoughts of peace by negotiation. To negotiate is not to give in, it is simply to use reason instead of force.”

When the verdict of a £50 fine, with the alternative of three months' imprisonment in the second division, was given, Rosa Hobhouse, who had not sufficient property of her own to pay the fine, was unwilling to ask for it to be paid for her because she felt this would be an admission of having done wrong, and that as a Socialist she could not avail herself of the rich man's privilege of paying a fine. Clara Cole took a similar course.

Source: The Friend, 23 June 1916.

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