In this year that commemorates the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of the First World War there is much in the media concerning the acts of courage and compassion of so many alongside the appalling effects on families and communities who lost so many.
Pax Christi, together with other agencies who work for peace, have planned events and created resources to ensure that the commemorations also reflect the need for a commitment to future peace making.
Mindful of this aim and as a fitting remembrance of the courage and bravery of the ‘Richmond 16’ the Justice and Peace Commission is planning a ‘pilgrimage walk’ from Richmond Castle to Easby Abbey on Saturday September 6th.
The Richmond 16 were men in the North East who took a stand for pacifism when conscription was introduced in 1916 and were incarcerated in Richmond Castle. They included Quakers, Methodists, Jehovah’s Witnesses and socialists.
During the Somme offensive in 1916, in order to send a powerful message to recruits, Kitchener decided to make an example of the conscientious objectors who were imprisoned in the UK. They were secretly taken to Boulogne and forced to watch a ‘deserter’ being shot. In France they were now subject to military law and, after refusing to obey a direct order, they were condemned to be shot by firing squad.
Fortunately one of the condemned men was allowed to send a postcard home and ingeniously coded the format to indicate their whereabouts. Arthur Rowntree, the Liberal MP for York, himself a Quaker, took up their cause and asked questions in Parliament which resulted in their safe return to England. On release in 1919 they were often reviled and abused for the stand they took, treated as social outcasts and unable to find employment.
In Richmond Castle are 8 small cells whose walls bear the pencilled graffiti sketched by the men; drawing, notes and devotional quotations. The cells are undergoing renovation and will be open to the public in 2016. Meanwhile there are facsimiles in the museum. A garden in the castle grounds is dedicated to their memory.
The strong moral convictions of conscientious objectors during the First World War led the way to a change in public attitude towards pacifism. There were many in the Second World War who took a similar stand.
The need for peace making is every more urgent in today’s world.
Our walk will begin at 11.00a.m. with a short liturgy in the Garden where there are 16 topiary pieces made up of green and golden yew trees. We will then walk along the banks of the river to Easby Abbey (approx. 1 mile) for the conclusion and a picnic lunch.
You are most welcome to join us but please let us know if you are coming as we need to know numbers for a group booking for the Castle.
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