In March 1916, as war with Germany continued to rage in France, the Military Services Act came into law. The act introduced compulsory conscription for all adult men, a blow to those who did not wish to fight. The only consolation was that thanks to the work of campaigners, it also introduced the right to conscientious objection. Over the next two years, 16,000 men were to claim that right, appearing before tribunals up and down the land. Some were given the option of serving in the Non Combatant Corps but others refused as they believed it supported the war effort. Those who refuse to fight or join the NCC were imprisoned, often in harsh circumstances. They and their families were vlified and some were taken to the frontline where they were threatened with the firing squad.
Although I've always been a big fan of the CO's courageous witness for peace, I didn't initially intend any to appear in 'Echo Hall'. But as I gradually developed the story, it became clear to me that some of my characters would want to resist war. And in doing so, I thought it would be interesting to explore the costs of such resistance. My husband Chris is a peace activist, and I wholeheartedly support his work. Even so, the absences created by his many speaking tours, conferences, and a couple of (very short) prison sentence, have had an impact on family life at times. Which left me wondering what our lives would be like if I didn't agree with his campaign work, or didn't support his occasional acts of civil disobedience? The result of such musings is the love story between Rachel and Joseph in the central section of the novel. I hope it is a truthful reflection of the tensions created when one half of a couple is passionately committed to a cause, and the other is unsure.
Today (15th May) is International Conscientious Objectors Day, an opportunity to remember CO's past and present around the world. I salute all those peacemakers who are in jail for their beliefs. I hope in a small way, 'Echo Hall' provides an honest reflection about the bravery it takes to resist war, and the price it sometimes exacts.
If you wish to register your own conscientious objection to war, join the Conscience campaign to spend your taxes on peace
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