Letters - 16 November 2018

From an unknown champion of peace to thimbles and meanings

An unknown champion of peace

I was at my Local Meeting on Armistice Day. Halfway through the Meeting, I started thinking about my maternal grandfather George.

My mother told me that during world war one, George and his family attended the abbey in Dunfermline, the ancient capital of Scotland, the abbey being where many Scottish kings had once been crowned. George was a miner, noted chess champion and a devout member of the Kirk.

As the war ground on, Dunfermline Abbey witnessed many a sermon urging the men to volunteer to ‘kill the Hun’. By 1916, George could take this no longer. He got up and walked out. Ten years later the whole family had moved to Adelaide, South Australia. Sadly, George never found a way whereby he felt he could re-enter the Presbyterian Church in either Britain or Australia. For him, Jesus epitomised peace. George could not bear his church preaching war and being a vital military recruiter.

By the time the children of our Meeting joined the adults, I was feeling rather sad. As well as admiring of my long-dead grandfather, I was seeing him as a somewhat lost, disillusioned man – an unknown champion of peace.

Religious institutions identifying with militarism and war is something our world is still enduring and it remains frightening.

Ian Tilley

Theodora Wilson Wilson

As we mark the centenary of the 1918 Armistice and remember the slaughter of millions, it is pertinent to recall the Quaker Theodora Wilson Wilson and her 1916 novel, The Last Weapon, which has a powerful anti-war message.

She worshipped in both Kendal and Sedbergh and, in 1914, became active with the Fellowship of Reconciliation, which campaigned for peace. The Last Weapon sold very well until March 1917 when the government banned it. The sequel, The Weapon Unsheathed, was also banned.

The Last Weapon still has relevance. It depicts characters representing the arms trade, the church, the government, the rich and the press – all baying for war. Theodora Wilson Wilson even foresaw a weapon of mass destruction. She imagined ‘Hellite’, which would travel ‘swift as lightning’ and could ‘as easily destroy ships, armies, fortifications, cities, as the whole vegetation of a country’. The parallels with today’s nuclear weapons are direct and chilling. Woven through the story is the appearance of ‘the Child from Paradise’, who brings the true message from Christ. His weapon is ‘Fearless Love’.

Theodora Wilson Wilson and her work have largely been forgotten, but this may be partly because she died in 1941 in the middle of the second world war. Obituaries did not mention her anti-war books, only her novels and children’s writing.

The book is difficult to obtain, although the library in Friends House, London, has several copies. A group in Manchester is looking to see how the books could be made more readily available.

Rae Street

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