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1847-1981 :

A thesis presented to the London School of Economics, University of London,
for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy, by Julia Twigg
©AUTUMN 1981 - Thesis Index

The author is now Professor of Social Policy and Sociology at Kent University, England, and has given permission for this previously unpublished thesis to be published on the IVU website. The ownership and copyright remain hers and no part of this thesis may be used elsewhere without her express permission.


[Numerical links are to the author's footnotes, use your back button to return to the same point in the text. Text links are to relevant items on the IVU website, all open in new windows]


Before looking, at the interwar peace movement with which vegetarianism is closely associated, we must look back briefly to the tradition of the peace crusade and in particular to the wartime experience of conscription.

In 1914 the peace movement was about a century old, dating back to the post-Napoleonic era when the first attempts were made to stimulate public opinion in favour of peace. (1) The free-trade campaign of the 1830s brought a new element, with men like Cobden and Bright arguing that the removal of trade barriers would so tie countries together as to make war an aristocratic anachronism; and many of the vegetarians of that period, Simpson, Brotherton, Isaac Pitman among them, were supporters of the peace societies, which tended to be identified with the non-conformist pressure groups, and which rose and fell with their fortunes. Among the Quakers, (2) the peace witness had a long history. Although it had been one of their most characteristic affiliations and although they were prominent in many of the nineteenth-century peace societies, the absence of a serious war involving Britain and the dominance of the evangelical influence among Quakers had however weakened its hold. However, the revival of the Quaker tradition of the Inner Light and the impact of the Boer War stimulated a new concern among Quakers with their pacifist roots. These years of the growing war climate also saw the growth of secular pacifism, particularly associated with the views of Norman Angell.

Despite these developments, when the war came it met a peace movement that proved unable to marshal effective opposition. (3) The liberal anti-war movement had been geared to public debate and influence and not direct action, and so long as there was no conscription, there was no head-on issue to take up with the state. Among the socialists, though Hardie and Lansbury stayed out against the war, it became clear that no mass movement against the fighting would be marshalled. For some socialists, looking to the international brotherhood of workers, this was a tragedy. Rennie Smith, later to be an MP, peace worker and vegetarian, conveys the disillusionment of that time. Smith had gone to Berlin in 1914 to work for the International Federation of Trade Unions. He believed, then that 'the war-mongers were the principal enemies of socialism, that workers would not fight their fellow workers, and that the international labour movement would stand strong against militaristic nationalism; but he found that the whole thing fell 'like a pack of cards'. Overnight all Germany was for the war, and the International Federation became an organ of the German war. machine. (4)

Though the old peace movement was rendered largely impotent by the declaration of war, new groups soon emerged, most notably the ILP and left-dominated Union for Democratic Control and the No Conscription Fellowship. The NCF founded in 1914 by Fenner Brockway and others, for those who would refuse enlistment, sprang into life as the possibility of conscription approached. The bases for their pacifism were very varied and often idiosyncratic; some like the Quaker Edward Grubb, saw the issue as moral and religious, while others like Fenner Brockway and the ILP associates were much more political and revolutionary in their analysis of the causes and nature of the war. The imposition of conscription in 1916 was a turning point, since it united a range of pacifist rejectors of the war as unjust or caused by imperialist capitalism, and liberals opposed to state coercion. The government had taken the step slightly reluctantly, and historians differ over the motive; Robbins stresses the usual explanation of falling levels of voluntary recruitment for the front, though Taylor believes that it was more a response to jingoistic pressures. (5)

The government was willing to accept some elements of conscience objection to fighting, and local tribunals were set up to determine claims. The approach adopted however varied greatly from board to board, and some were plainly very hostile. Broadly speaking, the tribunals tended to be more favourable towards those who produced a religious objection to fighting - most prominently the Quakers - and some institutional affiliation. COs on purely secular grounds often had great difficulty. However one vegetarian CO reported that a letter from the Vegetarian Society testifying to his having, been a life vegetarian meant that the tribunal accepted his claim. (6)

Many of the COs, particularly those who failed the tribunal, were treated very harshly. One Quaker vegetarian (7) looked back at one of the most notorious events of the war when he and some thirty-two others who had failed the tribunal were passed over to the military, who smuggled them over to France, where coming under the jurisdiction of the army, they could be court marshalled and sentenced to death. While being passed from gaol to gaol and paraded before the troops prior to execution, the No Conscription Fellowship managed, through their parliamentary friends, to secure a statement from Asquith that there would be no execution, and imposing instead a sentence of life imprisonment.

Schemes of alternative work were established. Just as the reasons for objection varied greatly, so did the responses to work: some were willing to serve, provided they were not asked to kill; others would do life-saving work in medical divisions; others agreed to approved work at home, but some argued that all such work furthered the cause of the war, and they refused to be party to this, even indirectly. Of about 16,000 COs, 3,300 accepted work in the non-combatant corp; 3,000 in various forms of ambulance work; 4,000 in alternative work under the Pelham committee; about 6,000 were in prison at some time, and of these about 1,500 remained absolutists. Towards these the government was very harsh; some seventy men, according to Marwick, died from their prison treatment. (8) Among those imprisoned were a number of vegetarians; all of these found great difficulty in obtaining a vegetarian diet. Without meat and without the gravy or suet with which it was often mixed up, prison fare, never very adequate, became seriously deficient. Edward Puller, imprisoned for flouting DORA, collapsed in the workshops at Pentonville before becoming the first vegetarian to receive supplementary rations. (9) Fenner Brockway, one of the leaders of the No Conscription Fellowship and an absolutist, gives an account of the difficulties in Wormwood Scrubs which eventually led to a food strike. (10) Terence Lane of the Friends Vegetarian Society had similar difficulties in Plymouth. (11) Once a vegetarian diet was allowed, it was often preferred to the prison fare. One vegetarian reported how after being very ill in Wormwood Scrubs, he recovered with the fresh air and vegetarian diet provided at Dartmoor, where he says about half the 1,200 prisoners elected to go vegetarian. (12) The experience of prison and the contact with vegetarians there converted a number of COs to the diet. (13) It was not only among the absolutists that vegetarianism flourished; one CO released to do railway building work wrote that of 150 men there, 60 were vegetarians. (14)

It was out of this war-time experience that the much larger and more significant peace movement of the interwar years emerged. (15) The peace movement in the twenties and especially, the thirties flourished as never before or since, and in this widespread revulsion from war, the vegetarians played their part. Though the social roots of the phenomena still remain slightly uncertain an aspect of central significance was the revulsion from the First World War itself. Opposition to war generally became bound up with the opposition to the war that had just occurred. Certain aspects of the Great War reinforced this: the nineteenth-century expectation of a brief and mobile campaign had given way to the horrors of trench warfare, with the particular futility and sense of pointlessness that that engendered. From the late 1920s with the publication of the great anti-war novels and poems, the belief grew in the public mind that the war had been a horrific and pointless mistake. Increasingly it was seen as coming from the folly of old men, from secret and elite diplomacy, from militaristic dreams, from the pressures of arms manufacturers, from competing imperialisms; and these new perceptions gave status to those who at the time had spoken out against the war from the pacifist and anti-war tradition. Added to this mood were the fears of the nature of the war that was to come, with its new and horrific forms of weaponry and with the involvement of the civilian population in, what was for the first time called, 'total war'.

The peace movement contained within it two contrasting tendencies: the pacifist and the internationalist. (16) Some individuals belonged strongly to one or other wing; though many occupied a mixed position combining elements of both in their general commitment to peace. Commitment to one or other also changes with the rise and fall of the League of Nations and the advance of fascism. Though certain vegetarians were prominent in the pacifist groups, no clear conclusions can be drawn as the affiliation of vegetarians as a whole.

The internationalists sought to remove from the individual states the right to use force, and transfer this to international organisations like the League in its reformed state (the exact nature of the reforms needed was a source of differences). Its principal advocates were the League of Nations Union, founded in 1918, and the New Commonwealth, founded in 1932. Though they drew on a wide range of support, their social and political links tended to be more establishment than those of the pacifists. Buzan's figures for these groups show a steady rise from the mid 1920s to a peak in 1932/3 with the hopes of the Disarmament Conference; and a decline after the failure of sanctions following the Abyssinian crisis. From then on, hopes of collective security based on arbitration faded.

The pacifists, though through the twenties and early thirties they tended to support attempts at disarmament and arbitration, put little hope in such schemes; and. as military policing action by the League became increasingly a possibility, they broke with the internationalist wing and stressed instead the strictly pacifist approach. Of the secular pacifist groups, the most significant was the No More War Movement, founded in 1921, largely from the politically motivated absolutists of the NOF. Theirs was not so much a pacifism of individual conscience as something expanded into a larger political philosophy concerning the state and the ultimate causes of war - they were strongly anti-capitalist - and as such drew largely from the left. Of the religious pacifists, the Friends maintained their peace witness in the Friend's Peace Committee. The Peace Pledge Union founded by Dick Sheppard in 1934 disclaimed many of the older political and peace society links and grounded itself on the will and pledge of ordinary people for peace. It sought to make war impossible by denying to the government the ability to mobilise the population.

Vegetarianism with its revulsion from killing has obvious links with pacifism, (17) and in its concern with the inducement of calmer, less aggressive temperament had relevance for the popular concern in the twenties and thirties with the psychological roots of war. But the connections between food and pacifism existed also at an expressive level. Beverley Nichols in his best-selling pacifist book of 1933, Cry Havoc, drew on food as a symbol of the old order of political inertia and interest. Looking down on the delegates at the Geneva disarmament conference, he mused:

What must be their condition, after the heavy meals which I had seen them devouring in their hotels? . . . I think of old hearts wearily pumping the over-sugared blood through hardened arteries, the hearts that have also to fight against choking lungs. And suddenly, I want to stop the conference, and bundle all the delegates by force, into vans which would take them up on to the mountains, and keep them there on a diet of orange juice for a fortnight before they began to make any more speeches.

These are no wild speculation, unworthy of record. Man is what he eats and drinks and breathes. There is too much eating and drinking and too little breathing at Geneva . . . even the shortest sojourn at a disarmament conference makes one feel that the world will never know peace until it is run by vegetarians, and until its business is conducted in the open air.

Secret diplomacy has more than a merely symbolic connection with closed doors and barred windows. (18)

The peace' movement began to decline in the late 1930s as the threat from Germany rose. For many on the left, like Fenner Brockway and Reg Reynolds, (19) Spain was the turning point, and the war against fascism now replaced pacifism as the central issue for the left. Pacifism based on religious absolutes ultimately proved more enduring, even in the face of what was widely seen as a just war. Though Buzan gives evidence for the widespread inclination towards pacifism as late as 1937 and '38, this largely collapsed in the face of a war against Hitler. (The role of the rightness of the cause, should not conceal the important sense in which the reversal came from the enduring power of the state to mobilise public support.)

In the end, some 61,000 registered as COs, a considerable increase on the First World War figure of 16,000; and as such provides some evidence for, the influence of the pacifist ideals of the interwar period.

  1. 105. For the nineteenth-century peace movement see A.C.F. Beales, The History of Peace, 1931.
  2. 106. For the Quakers see also p283
  3. 107. For the peace movement in the war see K. Robbins, The Abolition of War: The 'Peace Movement' in Britain, 1914-1919, Cardiff 1976.
  4. 108. For the situation in Germany, see his, Peace Verboten, 1943, p32-41.
    RENNIE SMITH: b.1888, in Nelson, Lancashire. Went into a cotton mill at eleven; subsequently worked in local government. Ruskin College, and then London University. 1921-3, Joint principle of Elsinore International People's College. 1924, Labour MP Penistone. 1924-9 General Secretary of National Peace Council. 1929-31 PPS to Dalton as Under Secretary for Foreign Affairs. 1925-30 secretary of National Council for prevention of War. Vegetarian from about 1919. 1932-40 translated and published pamphlets about Nazi Germany. See VM, Feb 1932, p49; and : biography in his Peace Verboten.
  5. 109. K. Robbins, p70; A.J.P. Taylor, English History, 1914-1945, 1965, p55; also Marwick, p76.
  6. 110. VM, June 1917, p123.
  7. 111. John Brocklesby, in Some Aspects of the History of the Friends’ Vegetarian Society, 1979
  8. 112. See Marwick, p81-2, for the figures. Percy Redfern, though he joined Fenner Brockway's No Conscription Fellowship, disagreed with the absolutist line and helped organise alternative work. Journey to Understanding, p177.
  9. 113. VN, May 1921, p70.
  10. 114. Towards Tomorrow, p50.
  11. 115. Some Aspects of the Friend's Vegetarian Society, p3,
  12. 116. VM, Jan 1920, p6.
  13. 117. Testimony of Quakers Ada and Frank Hancock in Our Approach to Vegetarianism, n.d., Friends Vegetarian Society.
  14. 118. VM, June 1917, p123.
  15. 119. See David Martin, Pacifism, 1965; B.G. Buzan, 'The British Peace Movement, from 1919 to 1939', thesis presented at LSE, 1973; and Martin Ceadal, Pacifism in Britain, 1914-1945: The Defining of a Faith, Oxford 1980.
  16. 120. I am using Buzan's terminology here; Ceadal would distinguish between pacifism and pacificism.
  17. 121. Though the VS was officially apolitical, it supported strongly the 1932 hopes for the disarmament conference, VM, Feb 1932, p35. See also R. Smith on food, the League & War, VM, July 1928, p121, VN, Jan 1929, p34.
  18. 122. P127.
  19. 123. Reynolds was a not-very-strict vegetarian and unorthodox Quaker. See his, My Life & Crimes, 1956.

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