Commemorating war by celebrating the courage of peace.
In-Situ was commissioned to develop Courage of Conviction as Lancashire Library Service’s contribution to the Society of Chief Librarians Digital War Memorial project in commemoration of World War One. The aim was to engage the current, ethnically diverse population of young people in our area with the history of their community, and at the same time, introduce them to the collections and archives that the library service offers.
We decided to focus specifically on Conscientious Objectors (those who refused to fight in the war) and to explore the issues that their actions raised. This is particularly relevant to the Pendle area which had been a hotbed of Conscientious Objectors during WWI and WWII, with links to the Clarion and Socialist history. Our decision to explore the idea of peace encouraged an alternative way to think about WWI. It was also a chance to reflect on Pennine Lancashire’s strong tradition of pacifist faith groups like the Quakers, and local political groups such as the Independent Labour Party and Social Democratic Federation.
We worked in partnership with three groups of young people, library staff, youth workers and teachers linked to Nelson, Burnley and Accrington libraries, andartists Dan Russell, Kelly Loughlin and Bob Heath were appointed a group each to work with to create new artistic connections to the historical past. Throughout the project they produced a series of films, reenacted the trial of a conscientious objector at Burnley town hall, created a series of artworks, and led a walk to the Clarion where we enjoyed performances and song with local young people. At the launch in Accrington Library we were joined by Jane Dawson of Quakers in Britian who gave a powerful presentation of peace and pacifism both in WW1 and in the modern age.
Courage of Conviction Banner
We created a tapestry-esque banner to bring together the different strands of the Courage of Conviction project. It is divided into four loose sections each of which present the various project starting points – the outbreak of war, conscientious objection, and contemporary issues that ought to unite people in the same way that people’s convictions about the war united them in the past.
Why reference the Bayeux Tapestry, you may ask. Even though it was created a thousand years ago, the Bayeaux Tapestry is still very powerful and serves as a great example of a monument to war – indeed, UNESCO calls it a “Memory of the World”. Bayeux, in Northern France, wasn’t directly touched by WWI, and it was in fact the place where peace first broke out at the tail-end of WWII. It is also the location of a huge WWII Commonwealth cemetery. Bayeaux has therefore provided an iconic backdrop to scenes of both war and of peace and demonstrates the need for us to consider history in different ways according to time and place. While The Bayeaux Tapestry already serves as a momument to war, we produced a banner which tells a alternate story from a time of conflict and is a memorial to peace.
Jack Burrows, the son of a conscientious objector, tells his profound and very significant story in this film. Jack’s father, John Burrows, was born in 1898 and was a conscientious objector during the First World War. He was a member of the Independent Labour Party (ILP) in Nelson. He was a weaver and objected to the killing of other working men who he viewed to be no different to him. Like many other conscientious objectors during this time, John spent three years at Strangeways Prison, Wormwood Scrubs, and a work centre in Wakefield because he refused to take part in the war. He created a scrapbook documenting his objection to the War, which Bob and his group had access to and were able to base new artworks on.
The Tribunal was adapted from an original transcript of a Military Tribunal that took place in 1916. Most of the records detailing what happened in the tribunals were destroyed after the War but sample collections from Lothian and Middlesex were saved. This film is based on a tribunal from Middlesex. The character Tom is an absolutist, a conscientious objector who refused any involvement in War. Once conscription was introduced in 1916, thousands of men attended tribunals seeking exemption from front-line military duties. Many men sought exemption for medical reasons, others argued the case based on their occupation or family responsibilities. Men who objected on the grounds of conscience put forward moral and religious arguments. Some conscientious objectors were willing to accept a non-combatant role, and agreed to work with Red Cross ambulance teams but absolutists refused any involvement in the war.
Ghosts in the Archive
This film documents the work of Burnley groups and their attempt to locate local conscientious objectors in the records. The government destroyed the records of military tribunals after the war, so we had to search prison records to identify these men.
Digital War Memorial
Kelly’s groups drew the outline of an unknown warrior and filled this with ideas of who was involved in the conflict at the front – men, women, people of different faiths – and who refused combat duties. They also looked at collage as an appropriate and relevant method for expression inspired by German Dada as an anti-war movement. They studied John Heartfield’s and Hannah Hoch’s use of this art form and learned that Heartfield had actually adopted the Anglicised version of his name as a protest against anti-British feeling in Berlin at the outbreak of war. Through the materials used in the collages, the groups explored ideas of preservation. They looked at original, very fragile newspapers, photographed them, and printed them on fabric. All the material produced were then used to create a peace banner.
Bob and his group produced a collection of paintings which were inspired by:
► Dada artist George Grosz
► Anti-conscientious objector propaganda
► Red clouds forming over the 1911 OS Map of Nelson
► Extracts from Dan Carradice’s Military Tribunal
► Euclid Thursby and his conscientious objectors cricket team in Wakefield
► The Socialist ten commandments
► Independent Labour party
► The Primitive Methodist movement
► Indian Army Privates, or Sepoys
► Dazzle camouflage and the colours of the Palestinian flag to highlight the recent hostilities in Gaza
What people thought…
“Being asked to be involved with The Courage Of Conviction as part of the Digital Memorial Project for Lancashire Libraries has been a fantastic and thoroughly enjoyable experience for me both personally and professionally. I have gained knowledge and skills and being a part of this project has helped me to develop a whole new way of working as a library assistant. Time spent working with Barden Faith Centre, In-Situ arts organisation and local secondary schools has enabled me to learn about partnership working. Helping young people to create art work with local artist Kelly Loughlin has introduced a creative aspect to my work, and the research we undertook for the project has strengthened existing skills. The whole project has given me the confidence and experience to move forward with new projects.” – Joanne Hook, Library Assistant, Burnley Library
“Working on The Digital War Memorial project has been a wonderful experience. ‘The Courage of Conviction’ was an interesting title to work with and I think I can speak for the group when I say it’s been an incredible learning curve for everyone. By using primary sources such as newspaper articles, photographs, war records and even poetry, Artist Bob Heath and the youth group from Marsden Heights consumed the resources at Nelson Library to create some amazing artwork. The most rewarding aspect for myself, was meeting Jack Burrows, whose father was a Conscientious Objector in Pendle. Jack’s stories and local knowledge provided us with something very valuable: a verbal history and a personal touch, which helped us to connect to the past in a way that other resources could not. When viewing Jack’s film, it is worthwhile to know that his involvement was a tremendous inspiration for the project. This really motivated the group to create some profound pieces of work, which truly capture their reactions to the First World War and especially the issues surrounding Conscientious Objection.” – Kirsty Hornsby, Library Assistant, Nelson Library