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THE MEN WHO SAID NO | ROAD TO CONSCRIPTION | CONSCIENTIOUS OBJECTION | PRISONS | SENTENCED TO DEATH | TRIBUNALS | WIDER CONTEXT | INDEX
FREDERICK WILLIAM PETHICK-LAWRENCE 1871 - 1961  

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Frederick Lawrence was born in 1871, into a family involved in Unitarianism and the Liberal Party. Educated at Eton College and Cambridge University (mathematics and science), he turned to reading law, becoming a barrister in 1899. Meanwhile, his developing social conscience led him whilst studying to give free legal advice to the poor of east London at Mansfield House settlement, and through this he met Emmeline Pethick, an active socialist. Under her influence Fred turned to socialism and the Independent Labour Party. As a mark of their common causes, when they married in 1901 they adopted the joint surname Pethick-Lawrence.

In 1906 Keir Hardie, leader of the ILP, introduced Fred and Emmeline to Emmeline Pankhurst, leader of the Women’s Social and Political Union, advocating women’s right to vote. Emmeline Pethick-Lawrence became an active member, and Fred began to defend suffragettes taken to court. This involvement eventually led to them both being sent to prison (and going on hunger-strike and being forcibly fed) over the window-smashing campaign in 1912, even though Fred disapproved of that particular tactic and was expelled by Emmeline Pankhurst because of his disapproval. The Pethick-Lawrences transferred their allegiance to the United Suffragists.

In the First World War Fred joined the Union of Democratic Control, an organisation critical of the war and war methods, though not actually pacifist, and became its treasurer. In 1917 he stood as UDC candidate in a parliamentary by-election: “There is a choice between two policies. The first is peace by negotiation. The second is war going on for months and months. Peace by negotiation does not mean going to the Kaiser and asking what terms he will graciously give us… [It] means a peace in which Great Britain and her allies would insist on certain irreducible terms and come to a settlement with regard to others”.

Fred took a directly personal stance in 1918, when the raising of the maximum age for conscription made him liable: “Believing as I did that the war could and should be brought to an end by a negotiated peace… I went before a tribunal as a conscientious objector. The Clerk to [the Tribunal] told the tribunal that he knew I had held my views for some considerable time, and the military representative said that he did not particularly ‘want this man’, so I was awarded exemption conditional on my doing work of national importance, and work on the land was indicated … I got a job as a labourer at a wage of 27/6 a week on a farm [in Sussex]”,

In 1923 Fred (standing for the ILP) was elected MP for Leicester West, holding the seat until 1931, including the junior post of Financial Secretary to the Treasury in the second Labour government, 1939-31. He returned to Parliament in 1935, representing Edinburgh East, and was made a Privy Councillor in 1937. From 1942 he acted effectively as Leader of the Opposition to the three-party wartime Coalition government. During that war he wrote to a friend, “… with very great reluctance, I find myself compelled to support the war”, echoing a letter from Emmeline to Sybil Morrison of the PPU: “I am appalled by the war as I should be appalled by the Day of Judgement, but we cannot stay its execution by crying ‘Peace’ …”

In 1945, although Fred was re-elected MP, Prime Minister Clement Attlee asked him to make up the Labour strength in the House of Lords, as Lord Pethick-Lawrence, with a post in the Cabinet as Secretary of State for India and Burma. That involved the momentous and fraught division and transition to independence of India and Pakistan.

Despite their distancing themselves from pacifism during WW2, both Fred and Emmeline (who died in 1954) retained friendship with the pacifist movement, and the redoubtable pacifist Vera Brittain published a warm biography, Pethick-Lawrence, in 1963, two years after Fred’s death (in 1942 Fred had published his autobiography, Fate Has Been Kind). On 7 July 1962 a plaque was unveiled at the Pethick-Lawrence house, Holmwood, Dorking: “In living memory of Fred and Emmeline, Lord and Lady Pethick-Lawrence of Peaslake, lovers of freedom and humanity, whose combined work for emancipation of women and for world peace will be remembered for countless generations.”

 

 

 

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CO DATA

Born: 1871
Died: 1961
Address: Holmwood, Dorking, Surrey
Tribunal: Exempted conditional on Work of National Importance
Prison:
HO Scheme:
CO Work: Farm labouring, Sussex
Occupation: Barrister

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