20th December 2017
In 1916, the world-famous philosopher and mathematician Bertrand Russell was ousted from his lectureship at Trinity College, Cambridge, because of his work for the conscientious objectors – more specifically, because of the scandal of his arrest for having written an article about one CO in particular (the much-abused Ernest Everett).
That summer, the government also denied Russell a US passport, preventing him from lecturing at Harvard, and banned him from speaking in certain parts of the UK – especially near coastal areas – ‘For fear I might signal to enemy submarines,’ as he sourly commented.
‘Have you got it then?’ I asked, in hushed tones.
We were standing outside a Quaker Meeting House,our designated rendezvous.
‘Yeah. Here it is.’ He handed me a nondescript carrier bag, I can’t recall whether it was an Aldi or a Nisa – Aldi, I think. Protruding from it was the end of a short wooden plank. I peered inside the bag to investigate further and sure enough, at the other end of the plank were three vicious-looking rusty nails – more than enough to do damage to an unsuspecting person.
Well my insect bites have finally gone down!
One week ago I had a brilliant photographic session with the wonderful Simon Richardson at his house outside Bedford. We were trying to get some good images for the play I’ve written and will be performing in Edinburgh this August – THIS EVIL THING – the compelling and inspiring story of the young British men who in 1916 said no to war.
One conscientious objector in 1917, James Brightmore, had been imprisoned by the Army in a ten feet deep pit, as no cell was available at the time. Simon didn’t have a pit in his garden (we could have dug one, I suppose) but he did know of a nearby well that had been cleaned up and might prove to be a good approximation.
Red Lion Square
Only through researching the COs’ struggle against conscription, did I come to learn the full extent of Bertrand Russell’s passionate commitment to the anti-war effort – pretty much giving up his own work for the duration of the war in order to help and support the young COs. He became acting chairman of the No-Conscription Fellowship, and eventually went to prison himself for six months in 1918 – for an article he’d written.