The Peace Initiative

That’s the umbrella name I came up with (rather than the already used Peace Project) for those projects of mine which are connected to peace issues.

For some years now I have been reading and researching and writing about Britain’s First World War Conscientious Objectors – truly brave young men (and the women and men who supported them in their struggle against military conscription in 1916 and beyond).

Young men who were willing to endure all kinds of punishments, even willing to face the firing squad, in order not to compromise their consciences, their beliefs – that human life is sacred, that warfare is not the way to solve international disputes, and that a man cannot, must not be forced to kill another man.

Inspiring men – whose story is too rarely told and honoured.

This led me to organising an event 100 years to the day that general military conscription came into force in this country – an event at Conway Hall, London, on May 25th 2016, COMRADES IN CONSCIENCE, involving a semi-staged reading of my dramatic piece on the subject called THIS EVIL THING, followed by speakers with expertise on the subject, Cyril Pearce, Lois Bibbings, and Ben Copsey (of the Peace Pledge Union), beautiful songs sung acapella by the Helen Chadwick Song Theatre, and with photos, images and quotes around the walls of the Hall, plus lovely posters on anti-war themes by Emily Johns. A special evening – with a very supportive crowd.

My solo version of THIS EVIL THING was performed by myself at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2016 to very positive reviews. Through 2017, I toured the play to non-theatrical venues as well as theatre venues.  To places which feature prominently in the COs’ story: to cities where the prisons can be found that held them captive, Winchester, Maidstone, Brixton, for example; to Dyce near Aberdeen, where there was a pretty gruesome quarry and work camp for the COs … etc etc.   Touring dates can be found here.

BEYOND THAT..?

THIS EVIL THING is the first part of a planned ‘anti-war’ trilogy … go to the page The Mistake – a new play about Hiroshima for news on the ‘second part’ of this mooted trilogy.

And then I had this idea for  a while, which may well still materialise, to walk the whole of the Western Front, as was, which is about 475 miles from Switzerland through to the Belgian coast.  It needs planning and research, but I would love to do it – in aid of peace causes and charities of course… and perhaps perform poetry readings and dramatic pieces along the way.  Might take about eight weeks to do.  I had thought that if I could finish it on November 11th  (at 11am??) that would be quite something…

I walked 500 miles from the French border along the Pilgrim’s way to Santiago de Compostela in 2003, so I know what it might involve!

[ UPDATE: see blog TO WALK OR NOT TO WALK…the Western Front walk didn’t happen in 2018 as I had half-proposed to myself…because I came to the decision that I felt it was more important at that time to tour THIS EVIL THING, about the WW1 conscientious objectors, as there was considerable demand for the play around the UK.]

Do check out the Network for Peace, the Peace Pledge Union and the many other great peace organisations …

And the wonderful organisation PEACE ONE DAY – every September 21st – please check them out and support them too.

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WHAT TO DO?

What to do…with my anger at events in the world?  What to do with my sorrow and sadness?  What to do with my frustration at politicians? What to do with the fury I feel towards the arms manufacturers who will be rubbing their hands in glee (though trying to remember not to do so in public)?  What to do with the voice inside me that wants to shout at the instigators of conflicts, this conflict and all conflicts in the world right now: ‘Have you forgotten the climate crisis?  Or do you simply not care?’

Our thoughts are with those, particularly the innocent, caught up in this and all conflicts.  There are many small things we can or could do.  Donations, financial or otherwise.  Prayers, vigils, protests.  Providing refuge.  And much more.  But for myself, the main thing I have decided, and this decision was taken weeks ago, before any actual invasion of Ukraine seemed likely, is to take my play THE MISTAKE – about Hiroshima and the first atomic bomb – to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival this year.  This is a risk for all kinds of reasons, but if not now, then when?  The subject matter has always seemed of the utmost importance.  But how could I know that in these grim times it would seem even more urgent and relevant?

So this will be my modest contribution to peace, justice and understanding in the world.  Next year I plan to take the play round the country more widely and get it into schools. 

Photo by SIMON RICHARDSON Image design by JERRY WILLIAMS

There are two of us performing in the play.  I will portray numerous people involved in events preceding the dropping of the bomb – in particular, one of the scientists involved, Leo Szilard, who did all he could to stop the bomb being deployed and subsequently worked for peace and disarmament.  And an English-speaking female Japanese performer will portray a young woman who survives the blast and then goes in search of her parents in the devastated city. Some verbatim testimonies are used in the play.    

If you know of anyone going to the Festival this August or have any friends or family there or nearby we would greatly welcome their support.  The play runs from Aug 5-27 (not 14th) at Venue 36, the Space on North Bridge, Edinburgh, at 10.45 in the morning.  There will also be performances in London at some point which I will let you know about.  Should anyone wish to contribute something, however small, to our crowd-funding for this non-profit making venture, it would be most gratefully received – but with so many other demands on people’s pockets, I don’t expect it.                                         

The play’s title refers to the inscription on the memorial to the victims of the atomic bombs in Hiroshima Peace Park.  ‘Rest in peace, for the mistake will not be repeated.’   We have to do whatever we can, in whatever way we can, to ensure that the mistake will indeed NOT be repeated.   

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