Letters to Peace Lovers

Richard Sheppard, the canon of St. Paul's Cathedral, had been an army chaplain during the First World War. A committed pacifist, was concerned by the failure of the major nations to agree to international disarmament and in July 1935 established the Peace Pledge Union (PPU). The organization included other prominent religious, political and literary figures including George Lansbury, Vera Brittain, Siegfried Sassoon, Donald Soper, Aldous Huxley, Laurence Housman and Bertrand Russell.

In 1938 the Peace Pledge Union campaigned against legislation introduced by Parliament for military conscription and air raid precautions. The also organized alternative Remembrance Day commemorations including the wearing of white rather than red poppies on 11th November.

In September 1939, Vera Brittain of the PPU began publishing Letters to Peace Lovers, a small journal that expressed her views on the war. This made her extremely unpopular as the journal criticized the government for bombing urban areas in Nazi Germany. The newsletter obtained over 2,000 subscribers and was published throughout the war.

Primary Sources

(1) Vera Brittain, Testament of Experience (1979)

Ever since Armistice Day 1918 had found me alone, with my young and dear contemporaries gone, I had been trying to understand why they died. Was not the unthinking acceptance of an aggressive or short-sighted national policy, followed by mass-participation in sociable war-time activities, one of the ingredients which created a militant psychology and made shooting wars possible? I had studied their consequences too, and knew how rapid a deterioration of civilised values followed the initial nobility and generosity, until the Christian virtues themselves came to be regarded with derision.

Surely the path which I had trodden for two decades now summoned me to struggle against that catastrophic process? Though I still underrated the cost of such a stand, I knew that the routine performance of dangerous duties would be stimulating and congenial compared with the exhausting demands of independent thought and the task of maintaining, against the deceptive surge of popular currents, a conscious realisation of what was actually happening.

And where, apart from the usual writings and speeches, could I newly begin? An idea suddenly came from my endeavours to answer the daily quota of letters from unknown correspondents which had increased so rapidly since the outbreak of war. Some wanted to help others to be helped; all were eager to stop hostilities. One correspondent hopefully suggested that the women of the world should immediately unite, and call a truce.

By means of a regular published letter I could not only reply to these anxious, bewildered people, but seek out and rally such independent-minded commentators as the author who wrote to deplore the lack of vision among Britain's rulers.

A periodic word to similar correspondents, if based on determined research behind the news, could elucidate vital issues for the doubting, galvanise the discouraged, and assure the isolated that ' they were not alone. Its title, I thought, might be Letter to Peace Lovers, for the group that I hoped to reach was much wider than the small bodies of organised war-resisters.

(2) Circular sent out to people considering subscribing to Letters to Peace Lovers (1939)

What I do want is to consider and discuss with you the ideas, principles and problems which have concerned genuine peace-lovers for the past twenty years. In helping to sustain the spirits of my readers (and through writing to them to invigorate my own). I hope to play a small part in keeping the peace movement together during the dark hours before us. By constantly calling on reason to mitigate passion, and truth to put falsehood to shame, I shall try, so far as one person can, to stem the tide of hatred which in wartime rises so quickly that many of us are engulfed before we realise it.

In a word, I want to help in the important task of keeping alive decent values at a time when these are undergoing the maximum strain.

My only object is to keep in close personal touch with all who are deeply concerned that war shall end and peace return and who understand what Johan Bojer meant when he wrote: "I went and sowed corn in mine enemy's field that God might exist".

(3) Vera Brittain, Letters to Peace Lovers (25th October, 1939)

Even supposing that we do destroy Hitler, we shall not again be confronted by a Europe agreeably free from competitors for power. The disappearance of Herr Hitler will probably lead instead to a revolutionary situation in Germany, controlled by puppets who own allegiance to another Power. We, the democracies, will still be faced by totalitarianism, in a form less clumsy but no less aggressive, and even more sinister in its ruthless unexhausted might.