‘My grandfather’s stand for peace was extraordinary’ - Somerset teacher
PUBLISHED: 14:00 07 June 2014
COMMEMORATIVE events marking the 100th anniversary of the outbreak World War One are being held across North Somerset, but one school is doing something very different to mark the occasion.
Sidcot School, an independent Quaker organisation, will focus mainly on those who campaigned for peace during the conflict.
The Winscombe school’s head of art, Ross Wallis, is the grandson of a well-known conscientious objector, and recently brought his grandfather’s campaign to life by re-enacting his trial for refusing to sign up.
Students at the Oakridge Lane school learnt what it would have been like to be imprisoned for your beliefs.
At a special assembly, held to commemorate Conscientious Objectors Day, students re-enacted the court martial of Corder Catchpool, who was educated at the school.
Despite receiving a medal for voluntary service with the Quaker Friends Ambulance Unit, Catchpool was imprisoned for refusing to join up when compulsory conscription was introduced in 1916, two years after the war started.
Catchpool’s grandson, Mr Wallis, has taught at Sidcot School for more than 30 years.
He said: “It was a privilege to honour the memory of my grandfather. At a time when those who refused to fight were labelled as cowards, I believe that his stand was pretty much the bravest thing anyone could do.”
Released from prison in 1919, Catchpool became involved with relief and reparations work in Germany and moved there in 1931 as the Quaker representative in Berlin.
In 1933, when all Germans were instructed to boycott Jewish shops, Catchpool and members of the Quaker community openly defied orders and he was arrested and interrogated by the Gestapo.
He went on to play a key role in visiting the families of Jewish prisoners, often assisting them to find ways of emigrating to safety and finding ways of raising awareness of the horror of the early concentration camps without putting more lives in danger.
Mr Wallis added: “To one who was seriously driven, who desperately wanted to serve, the decision to face prison, or even death by firing squad, was extraordinary.
“I thank this man who helped demonstrate possibilities for a more just and peaceful world.”
Returning to London in 1936, Catchpool lent his support to the conscientious objectors of World War Two.
In 1946, Catchpool returned once more to Germany as a relief worker and he and his wife took over the running of the Quaker Rest Home for ex-prisoners of the Nazis at Bad Pyrmont. He died in a mountaineering accident in 1952.