Has it really been a month?
Oh well, doesn’t time fly when you’re enjoying yourself? Or even when you’re not.
The truth is, I was busy elsewhere – sometimes even productively. As an almost accidental side-effect of another project, I even got published.
The funniest thing is, having totally misread a deadline, I had to produce what was supposed to be a long and thoughtful piece in just over an hour, in between doing the washing up and going shopping. I hit “send” with my better half banging on the door yelling “Oy, are you ready yet?” Life in the real world, eh?
The project, by the way, was that in response to what is becoming an ever more militaristic, jingoistic Manx community I wanted to look into more positive things, such as opposing the arms trade, conflict resolution and ways of – in general – heading off wars rather than rushing blindly into new ones.
It also seemed useful to find out if there was any Manx tradition of this that we simply don’t hear about. I had idly wondered, for example, if there were any Manx World War One conscientious objectors.
Thanks to the friendly staff at the Manx Museum Library, and then the Imperial War Museum, I now know the answer is “Yes”. To be precise, six registered, four weeded out and sent on other war work by the brutal treatment of the authorities, two “absolutists” who sat naked in prison cells in mid-winter rather than put on the uniform which was regarded by their captors as evidence that they withdrew their application. One, Elijah A. Oliver, refused to cooperate so completely that his jailors were reduced to carrying him everywhere on a stretcher.
I also unearthed a forgotten direct link between British atheists and International Conscientious Objectors Day on May 23rd, the permanent memorial to peacemakers and conscientious objectors at Tavistock Square, London, and the annual ceremony on that day and in that place. This was, in fact, the subject of my hurried article.
Even more interesting and poignant – in 2015 Elijah A. Oliver, the Manx “absolutist” mentioned above, was amongst the names remembered at that ceremony. His name was picked at random from an international record of all conscientious objectors. Sadly, absolutely nobody on the Isle of Man knew of this, so there was no Manx contingent to pay their respects.
Discovering all of this has started me wondering if we might do more locally to celebrate and remember such inspiring dissidence. An old Brighton friend of Bill McIlroy, the National Secular Society secretary who, in 1976, sparked the campaign which eventually led to ICOD and the Tavistock memorial, suggested I help establish Bill’s greater dream for local manifestations of such memorials and ceremonies.
It would be another little piece of hope in an aggressive, selfish world, wouldn’t it?