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Ann Kramer and her book Conscientious Objectors Of The Second World War

Ann Kramer and her book Conscientious Objectors Of The Second World War

Conscientious writing

A new book by respected local author and historian, Ann Kramer, on the topic of conscientious objectors in WWII will be launched in early November. HOT’s Zelly Restorick met with her to speak about the book and her reasons for writing it.

“A lot has been written about the trail blazing conscientious objectors of WWI”, explained Ann, “but not so much about the stories of the 60,000 men and 600 women who objected to conscription in WWII. This is an important topic and it’s also important for me to do those individuals justice. In this book, I’m proud that I’ve broken new ground, as I’ve been able to include material that’s not seen the light of day before.”

Ann clarified that conscientious objection and pacifism aren’t the same thing. “Most conscientious objectors believed killing was wrong, but they all believed that no government had the right to force people, via conscription, to kill other people, nor was it acceptable to impose penalties on those who refused to fight. For many, their decision was a huge moral and ethical dilemma, bearing in mind Nazi atrocities and the fact that friends and family members were willingly complying with conscription. It wasn’t a decision to be taken lightly. Conscientious objectors were often portrayed as cads, cowards, disloyal members of the public not willing to fight for their country. However, the CO’s believed war wasn’t the way to resolve conflict and the greatest good they could do for their nearest and dearest was to work to prevent war.”

People had the legal right to refuse conscription on grounds of conscience. During

Fred Vahey from 1930-40s

WWI, the men who objected were treated very severely, being imprisoned, treated brutally and punitively and sentenced to hard labour. However, their strong, determined stance paved the way for the increased number of COs in WWII. Men and later women came from all walks of life: artists, musicians, civil servants, shipping clerks, social workers, shop workers, teachers, electricians, journalists, solicitors, bricklayers, students. Some weren’t willing to be involved in any aspects of the war, others agreed to do make a humanitarian or civilian contribution or agreed to non-combatant duties in the military.

The men and women who refused conscription experienced a wide range of responses from their families, friends, colleagues and fellow members of the public.

Eric Farley

“Although some people experienced tolerance and understanding, others were vilified for their choice, sacked from their employment, were unable to get a job, were subject to much unpleasantness, hostility, discrimination and hardship, treated appallingly at tribunals, physically and verbally abused and treated as social pariahs. To go against the tide was extraordinarily difficult. It was the compulsion of conscription that forced people’s hands.

“Conscientious objector, William Elliot, said that not a day went past when he didn’t wonder if he’d made the right decision. But some never doubted their actions, although they were aware that it was a privilege to be able to make this stand; in Germany they would have been killed.”

I asked Ann what the catalyst was for writing this book and about her involvement with the peace movement. “I’ve long wanted to write a book about peace. The publisher, Pen and Sword, have commissioned me to write a number of books on the topic of war and I recently asked them if they would be interested in a book about peace movement. At this time, peace isn’t a very marketable subject, but they suggested two books on conscientious objectors from the first and second world wars. I thoroughly enjoyed the research, interviewing people, listening to the CO interviews held by the Imperial War Museum, going to Sussex University to investigate the research of Mass Observation who studied pacifists and CO’s, reading specialist books and lots of prime source material like letters and information booklets.

“I’ve been involved in the peace movement since I was fifteen. The catalyst was finding out about Hiroshima and Nagasaki. I wasn’t anti-war in those days, but I was anti-atomic war. The absolute unspeakable horror of the atom bomb was terrifying to me – and this progressed into questioning the validity of war and believing that all war is wrong.”

I asked Ann about alternatives to war and how did she envision the development of a peaceful future world?

“People have firstly got to want to live in a world of peace and to stop assuming that war is an inevitable solution to conflict and argument. The recent parliamentary decision not to go to war with Syria shocked and delighted me. I believe this comes from our involvement in Iraq and Afghanistan. I have a naïve faith. I believe that the majority of people just want to get on with their neighbours; it’s leaders who take us into war and the arms trade fuels it.

“Bringing people round a table and feeding discussion with blame and historic responsibility won’t work. People need to talk about things that don’t bring generations of hatred along with them. I believe we can’t look solely to government to make the change, this involves all of us. And people involved in the peace movement need to be developing policies and suggestions that could be taken up as alternatives to war.

“We need to educate people. We need to market peace as well as the military and others market war. We need a mass movement of people who refuse to pay a tax contribution towards the defence budget, who conscientiously object to working for the military, to manufacturing arms and who refuse to be the fodder for the war machine.”

Conscientious Objectors Of The Second World War: Refusing To Fight is to be launched to a packed house at The White Rock Hotel in early November, where Ann will be joined by Susannah Farley Green, Lorna Vahey and Sally Philips who will talk about their fathers’ experiences of conscientious objection.

Conscientious Objectors of the Second World War: Refusing To Fight can be bought from Pen and Sword for £15.99 or ordered from Waterstones or Amazon. Ann’s book on WWI conscientious objectors will come out next year.

Ann Kramer’s website here.

Pen and Sword Books here.



Posted 19:44 Tuesday, Oct 29, 2013 In: Literature

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