About Me

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I lead workshops at the British Library, on literature, language, art, history, and the culture of the book; and teach the history of printing at other institutions. I research language usage during the First World War, and lead the Languages and the First World War project. Author of Discovering Words, Discovering Words in the Kitchen, Evolving English Explored, Team Talk - sporting words & their origins, Trench Talk - the Language of the First World War (with Peter Doyle); How to Cure the Plague; The Finishing Touch; and Words and the First World War. As an artist I work in performance, public engagement, and intervention using drawing, curating, text, changing things and embroidery.


Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Trench Journal column on the Quakers

Conscientious objectors came in for an enormous amount of abuse during the First World War. They were seen by many as actively hindering the war effort, and were sometimes labelled as 'bespectacled peace-cranks' - spectacles being one of the many objects specially pertaining to Germans.

It was particularly interesting to note this article in The Grey Brigade, the camp journal of a number of territorial regiments, including the London Scottish, the Kensingtons, the Queens Westminsters, and the Civil Service regiment. The article in the 26th June 1915 issue carries a few gentle prods at the unresolvable nature of the Quakers' pacifism in time of war (unresolvable other than to Quakers that is), but finishes with a surprisingly generous text:

The world needs no assurance that Quakers are not cowards, however. It is sometimes harder to clench one's teeth and turn away, than to deal the blow which would send the hated enemy staggering to the ground.

The Friends stand for a principle which may be regarded, universally at any rate, as an untried adventure. To leave the righting of wrongs to the conscience of the wrong-doer, and to the hand of God has sometimes been a satisfactory solution of a difficulty. As far as we can see at present armed evil must be met by armed good, and we are leaving it to another generation to try the experiment of unarmed righteousness.

But one thing is certain - they are brave men.

Hats off all round on this, I think.

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