The Bravery of Being Different
When I was a child I was just as familiar with Irish rebel songs as I was with nursery rhymes.
Every weekend my dad would play songs about the Irish armed struggle against unwanted English rule. Songs with lyrics like: ‘Up the long ladder and down the short rope, to hell with King Billy and God bless the Pope.’
I had no idea that this song was referring to hanging someone, I thought it was about a game, like snakes and ladders.
Fast forward several years, and my dad became a pacifist. Every November, when people wore red poppies in remembrance of the war dead, my dad would wear a white poppy, to symbolise not only remembrance of the dead but also a lasting commitment to peace.
White poppies were created by the Peace Pledge Union, back in 1933, to emphasise the ‘never again’ message borne of the horrors of World War 1, or the ‘Great War’ as it was known.
So many people had lost loved ones in such horrific ways during the Great War that hundreds of thousands of people in the UK alone became pacifists, wanting to turn their backs on war forever.
But then Hitler happened.
It’s easy to be a pacifist when all is well in the world but in the face of a rising tide of fascism, surely war is justified?
This is the question I decided to explore in my new novel, Beyond This Broken Sky, by making one of my main characters, Joseph, a conscientious objector.
Many people labelled conscientious objectors, who refused to go and fight, as cowards, but once I began my research for the novel, I learned that the vast majority of them were highly principled people, who had been so scarred by the horrors of the First World War, they couldn’t physically bring themselves to take another human life.
And, rather than cowering away, many conscientious objectors displayed extreme bravery, volunteering to help save lives back at home – like Joseph in my novel, who becomes a volunteer for the Ambulance Service, driving through the perilous pitch dark of the blackout to save lives during the German bombing raids of the Blitz.
I would never have had the idea to write about a conscientious objector if it hadn’t been for my dad, and more specifically, something that happened a few years ago, when he and I went on holiday to visit friends and family in Ireland.
One day, towards the end of our trip, we met up with one of my dad’s childhood friends for lunch – both of them then in their late seventies.
After a lovely meal, we headed back to the carpark and my dad’s friend handed me his keys and told us to go and wait in the car while he went and paid the parking ticket.
My dad and I had got half way across the carpark when he told me to go on ahead, as there was something he needed to do.
My dad headed off towards a statue of Jesus by the road and I went back to the car and waited. And waited.
Eventually, my dad’s friend returned. ‘Where’s your father?’ he asked.
‘He went to look at a statue,’ I replied, wondering what could be taking him so long. Was my dad having some kind of spiritual epiphany? A literal ‘come to Jesus’ moment?
Finally, I saw him returning at breakneck speed – or at least, breakneck speed for someone who now walked with a stick.
‘Drive!’ he barked, getting into the front passenger seat.
Hmm, that was a little unnecessary, I thought to myself, given that we’re the ones who’ve been waiting for you!
My dad’s friend began driving at a snail’s pace out of the carpark, with my dad looking furtively out of the window. It was only when we’d been driving (at no more that 20mph) for a couple of minutes that he seemed to relax.
Two days later, my dad and I were having breakfast on the ferry back to the UK, and I’d forgotten all about the weird statue incident.
‘I have something to tell you,’ he announced gravely, leaning forward on the table.
I watched as he took something from his jacket pocket and unfolded it, to reveal a huge sticker with huge writing on it, saying: “LOVE YOUR ENEMIES!”
I’m not a Christian but I know enough to know that it was a quote from Jesus. I felt a stab of horror. Surely he wasn’t about to start defacing the ferry with Bible quotes on stickers!
I watched as he took more from his pocket. ‘What are they?’
‘Yes, but what for?’
‘Do you remember that statue of Jesus by the carpark?’
‘I hate that statue.’
‘What? Why?’ My dad wasn’t a fan of the Catholic church any more but I knew that he still loved Jesus’s teachings.
‘It was erected in the memory of the Irish Republicans who died fighting the English. Fighting and killing the English. A statue of Jesus, who told us to LOVE our enemies, dedicated to people who killed.’
‘Oh…’ I looked at the stickers in his hands and the penny began to drop. ‘So, you weren’t praying to that statue then?’
‘No! I was trying to put these on it, to remind people of what Jesus actually said, but I couldn’t get the bloody backs off so I was only able to stick one this time.’
‘What do you mean, this time?’
‘I put stickers on it every time I go back. Only my fingers aren’t as nimble as they used to be so I need you to carry on the tradition.’ He passed the stickers across the table to me.
I started cracking up laughing as everything began falling into place. My dad hadn’t been having a spiritual epiphany that day by the statue, he’d been giving Jesus a stickery speech bubble! And then his friend and I had unwittingly become a part of the slowest get-away drive in history!
‘So, will you do it? Will you carry on the tradition?’ My dad looked at me hopefully.
Would I remind people that the only real way out of the downward spiral of hate and fear is to love – even our enemies? Yes, I would be proud to.
I haven’t defaced any statues, and if I’m totally honest, I can’t see any way that Hitler could have been defeated other than by fighting back through force, but I hope that my new novel, Beyond This Broken Sky, gives people a fresh perspective on war and helps them see that there are many different types of bravery.
Beyond This Broken Sky is available now for just 99p / 99c. Find out more and order your copy here.
‘Exciting and addictive from start to finish … the most unique WW2 novel I have ever read and incredibly well written. I loved every minute.’ Goodreads Review ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
‘Fantastic… I don’t want to give the unique twists of this story away… But suffice it to say that you won’t want to put this one down!’ 2 Bags Full, ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
‘I absolutely loved Beyond This Broken Sky so much that I never wanted it to end… Exciting and addictive from start to finish… I loved every minute of it.’ Confessions of a Bookaholic, ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
‘Once you start reading this book you won’t want to put it down… It had me reading into the early hours of the morning… A real rollercoaster of emotion… I totally loved this book.’ Goodreads reviewer, ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐