‘How do you prove you have a conscience?’
You came to me via a pdf,
Out of the blue,
Via a Facebook message,
On a hot afternoon in late July,
With names, occupations, addresses and ages –
A bit like a census, in a strange way:
Official, bald, and bureaucratic
In your modernity,
No telegrams today.
Eighteen conscientious objectors
Whose courage, principles and politics,
Whose ethics, morals and steadfastness
Enabled them to stand up against the crowd,
In those heated days before and after July 1916,
And before and after November 1918.
The paintings of badgers on the posts at Slad,
Are beguiling and deceptive in their art,
Seemingly comic and anthropomorphic,
Each one contributes to a tragic tale,
Summarised in that curt and cruel word: cull.
They look like Tommies facing execution,
Tied to their posts at dawn’s first red-streaked light:
What passing-bells for those who die for cattle?
‘Only the monstrous anger of the guns,
Only the stuttering rifles’ rapid rattle.’
The local Swindon paper’s obituary for Edward Thomas
Commented on his love for the country around the town –
And William Cobbett’s hated rotten borough,
‘The place by the river’, was just six miles or so
From his grandmother’s house near the railway works;
Did he, I wonder, ever make an Easter visit
To the Lammas Meadows at Cricklade,
From Swindon’s Old Town station,
After talking with Alfred Williams,
‘The hammer man poet’,
Glimpsing the ‘Other man’ in the Anglo-Saxon fields,
Or near where a vengeful King Canute crossed the Thames,
And did those memories flit through his mind
On that fateful Easter Monday in 1917,
Recalling some of the ‘Other names’
Of the snake’s head fritillary,
Such as bloody warrior or widow’s wall.
Echo Chamber: Voices of Conscience – a sound and photography exhibition marking 100 years of conscientious objection – owes its inspirational existence to Fiona Meadley, Dom Thomas and Ruth Davey. The exhibition includes information submitted by living relatives of Conscientious Objectors from WW1: it was a privilege to contribute to this history, with our performance of the story of Dorothy and Archibald.
The link: http://radicalstroud.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2016/11/Archie-And-Dorothy.m4a takes you to a recording made of Dorothy and Archibald , featuring the voices of Rachel Simpson and Stuart Butler, as they read the words of Alice Butler and Stuart, during the Stroud Book Festival in November 2016.
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