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Corder Catchpool’s Statement at his Court-Martial

Norton Barracks, Worcester. 30/1/1917

I need not reiterate the case against war on religious, moral and socialist grounds, of which for many years I have been convinced, or enlarge on the positive alternative, the better way of overcoming evil revealed in the life of Jesus Christ. I believe that a nation with the vision and courage to choose His way may win a like redemptive victory - the only kind of victory that can rid the world of war. My love for England, my faith in her, makes me hope that she will some day be that nation. I despise my own comfort and safety when my fellow-men are laying down their lives. I honour those who believe that by fighting they advance a noble cause. It is hard for me to withhold from sharing their self-sacrifice. If I held their views I should be in the trenches and nowhere else. But I am commanded to fight for the Cause of Peace with other weapons. When the war broke out there was great need for ambulance workers. I could not take the military oath, even for this service, but volunteered for the “Friends’ Ambulance Unit,” and sailed for France after eight weeks’ training. I had to defend this action against many members of the religious body to which I belong - the Quakers - who feared that it might lead to a compromise of our Peace testimony. Although the Society of Friends refused officially to recognise the unit, I went out with a clear conscience longing to relieve the suffering caused by war, to shoe sympathy with men who had obeyed a call of duty different from my own, and to share their dangers and hardships in my work of love. In the army medical services, especially the French, with which I served at the front in Belgium, there was need at that time for voluntary aid, and for months I gave my best in ambulance work, being appointed adjutant of the unit. In course of time, however, the medical services became completely organised; voluntary units were either dispensed with, or practically absorbed into the Regular Armies. The R.A.M.C. was often closed, and those allocated to it transferred to infantry regiments. There were men in the firing line who complained that I and my colleagues of the F.A.U. had sent them there. More and more men were wanted for the Army, but not because the wounded lacked help. The nation became more and more organised, but not for peace. Conscription emphasised this aspect of the situation. At home men who stood for the same ideals as myself were called cowards and shirkers at the Tribunals, whilst members of the unit were often held up as the “genuine conscientious objectors.” I knew that the course chosen by my friends who had remained behind was harder that the one I had so eagerly taken. In the circumstances which had arisen, I felt able to serve the cause of Peace better at home than abroad. On May 23rd, 1916, after nearly 19 months at the front, I left the unit and returned to take my stand with 84 comrades who were then expecting sentence of death for their faith. I set myself to spread the spirit of goodwill, through which alone permanent peace can come, studying and helping others to study the principles which must govern national and international relations if wars are to cease. Meanwhile the certificate of Absolute Exemption issued to me by the War Office in February, 1916, was cancelled, although it had been granted solely on the grounds of conscientious objection. I went before two Tribunals, but failed to secure the absolute exemption provided by the Act for genuine cases. Refusing all forms of compromise, I continued the work I had undertaken until the day of my arrest. It is hard for me to withhold any service, to disobey any order, or to cause any trouble. But the spectacle before the world as I stand here to-day, of two highly civilised Christian nations straining every nerve in the effort to starve each other’s women and children, to destroy the greatest possible proportion of each other’s manhood, strengthens my confidence in the better way, and lays upon me afresh the duty of proclaiming it. I rejoice in every opportunity to do so, and look forward with peace of mind to all that waits me in this service.

Corder Catchpool.