WW1 resources: ‘Watford’s Quiet Heroes’ and ‘Conscience’

Lots of people are talking about World War 1 at the moment, with anniversaries of things rolling around all the time. Quakers are no exception, and some of the Quakers stories from that time, especially of Conscientious Objectors, deserve to be better known. To that end, lots of resources are being produced, and I want to review two of them here.

Watford’s Quiet Heroes is a 30-minute film which tells the stories of three men from Watford who refused to fight. It’s aimed at 11+ and intended to be accessible for use in schools, but also makes good viewing for adults. Each story is told straightforwardly and with a sensible balance of archive material and modern links and reconstructions. (Disclaimer: I was involved in a very minor way in the archive research and am credited.) For those who know Watford, the combinations of archive photographs and modern images are perhaps particularly striking – the ‘I go along there all the time’ effect – but the contrast between old and new, and the link to the past created by the combination, should be equally effective if you don’t know the area.

I was particularly struck by the varied attitudes taken by the tribunals to people claiming to be COs, and by the clear description of conflict between positions taken by the armed forces and by the government of the time.

Conscience is one of two school resource packs put out by Quaker Peace and Social Witness. Conviction is aimed at 11-16s, and Conscience at younger children – so when I had a chance to try it out with my Brownies, girls aged 7 to 10, I thought we’d give Conscience a whirl. We only had one evening, and spent a bit over an hour on the material, so left quite a lot out. As befits a school-focused resource, it had lots of written activities which didn’t fit well into a Brownie meeting – I reworked these so that we did more moving about and talking. For example, we began with a game (based on ways of doing a true-or-false quiz) in which I asked girls questions like “Would you help someone?” and “Would you hurt someone?” and they moved around the room to indicate their answers – “I would” at one end and “I wouldn’t” at the other, with plenty of room for doubt in the middle and no penalties for changing your mind as we discussed things. (Questions like ‘would you hit someone?’ tended to get lots of ‘no, never’ to begin with and then lots of ‘sometimes’ as we thought about really irritating siblings, people who bullied you, and they reflected more honestly on their behaviour.)

We also talked about who helps you make moral choices and the stories of Albert French and Howard Marten. A lot of girls struggled with the idea that Marten didn’t refuse to fight because he was afraid to die – because they’d be afraid to fight, I think – but the fact that he was sentenced to death and didn’t change his mind helped to clarify that. It’s a feature of Marten’s story which makes it especially useful for this kind of discussion.

Overall, I hope both resources will be taken up widely. The DVD in particular would be good for a wide range of audiences, not only schools, and although Conscience and Conviction look easy to use in a school setting a small amount of tweaking for your group would make them accessible to lots of youth groups, including children’s meetings.

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