Every now and again a story stands up and hits you in the face with its combination of truth, power and humanity, its drama.
The largely unknown story of Arthur Gardiner, a dyers labourer from Huddersfield, who refused to fight in the First World War on account of his political beliefs, is such a one.
100 years later Arthur’s story speaks to us on numerous levels, and the similarities with our own time are abundant. On the one hand we have a good old fashioned David and Goliath tale of the little guy from Huddersfield who the Establishment could not beat. But the closer we looked at it, the more we saw a much broader and more nuanced narrative.
These radical Socialist CO’s were not operating in isolation.
They were linked to and part of a much wider consciousness, that crossed class boundaries, that was seeking to change, to revolutionize the world around it in a whole host of different ways.
Foremost in this must be the women’s suffrage movement. There was an amazing array of northern women from all backgrounds, campaigning tirelessly. Arthur and his good friend Percy Ellis were not just supported by the women, but also inspired by them.
By 1914 women had been imprisoned and gone on hunger strike.
The cat and mouse act had seen them being chased and harassed as fugitives, prepared to create havoc, and risk their own lives for the principle they believed in. The benchmark was set, the challenge was thrown down.
But were the men up to it?
At the same time as this, the revolutionary movements in the world of Art and Literature, the Dadists, Expressionists et al, serve to underline the sense that fundamental change is on the way. A new and deeper way of understanding the world around is taking root. Revolution is in the air, the old order is no longer sustainable, at the start of a new century, one of mechanized industry and technological advances seemingly unthinkable only a few years before.
A new dawn is on the horizon.
It is in this world, where these young men and women believe change is not just possible but inevitable, that Arthur and Percy confront the Military Tribunals and make their stance against conscription and militarism. They did so with such conviction because they knew they were not alone.
A picture of our forebears 100 years ago began to emerge that contradicts the received wisdom of mass support for the war. Arthur and Percy were part of a much wider protest movement than conventional history tells us. The story of the anti war movement has been airbrushed out of the narrative, it is one we are more than happy to play our part in placing it back with the prominence it deserves.
We have sought to capture the passion and intensity of these young people.
The real urgency of the moment, of the revolutionary times they lived in, but also a sense of their hope, humour and optimism for a better tomorrow, in spite of everything. They wanted to change the world and believed that they could. Perhaps we see a re-emergence of this optimism through the grass roots movements that are emerging today such as the Occupy and Transition, fuelled by a desire to shift the status quo and redress inequalities which are starkly similar to those faced by our heroes.
We hope so.
And we hope our shared radical history will act as a source of inspiration well into our future.
Mick Martin & Jude Wright