"It seems essential to discover whether or not it be true, as we are told, that the majority ... in this country are convinced that war of any kind or for any cause, is a crime against humanity which is not to be permitted by civilised people"


The founder of the Peace Pledge Union

Dick Sheppard, born in 1880, first thought of a career as a soldier, but a serious accident put an end to this idea. While a student at Cambridge he became involved in social work in London’s impoverished East End, and later was appointed personal secretary to the Archbishop of Canterbury. Dick himself was ordained as an Anglican priest in 1907, and in 1914 he took up the post of vicar of St Martin-in-the-Fields, the famous church in London’s Trafalgar Square. It was Dick who made St Martin’s the centre for social care it still is today.

A pacifist since 1919, he began speaking out for peace at every opportunity. In 1927 he published a book in which he argued that the Church of England should ‘outlaw all war’ and require its members to ‘refuse to kill their brethren’, meaning all other human beings whatever their faith. During the 1930s he supported the No More War movement. In 1934 he wrote his famous letter, published in several newspapers, in which he described war as ‘a crime against humanity which is not to be permitted by civilised people’. So many thousands wrote to him in support that he was inspired to found a peace movement, which in 1936 was named the Peace Pledge Union. Local groups sprang up across the country. Dick also introduced the idea of ‘alternative Remembrance’: pacifist events for Remembrance Day.

Sadly, Dick died – seated at work at his desk – before the first of these. His health had always been poor, and his work for peace passionate and exhausting. People queued to walk past his coffin in St Martin’s. He is buried in Canterbury, where he was a Dean. There are memorials to him at Canterbury and in St Martin’s.

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