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By Phillip Cary

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4 A conchie I t is, surely, to the credit of both Britain and the United States that they recognise that some people have a conscientious objection to taking part in the mass homicide that we call war. In the 1914–18 war conscientious objectors were sometimes very harshly treated in Britain. Many were imprisoned and some were forcibly dressed in army uniforms, taken to the front, given an order which their conscience required them to disobey, sentenced to be shot but later reprieved. There were some 60,000 conchies in the 1939–45 war but nothing so drastic happened to us, although a few who refused any alternative service – and all honour to them, although I did not share their viewpoint – had a hard time in prison.

Hull with its port and huge storage facilities was a target and we all took our turns in overnight fire-watching teams at the college to put out any fires from incendiary bombs. Shortly after dark, as we stood on the roof there would be a distant rumble growing gradually louder, and then searchlight beams stabbing the sky and anti-aircraft fire, and then the bombs exploding. I was on duty during the two successive nights when the centre of Hull was destroyed: Two nights ago we had the worst air-raid Hull has had so far.

My second, brief, love was a nurse there called Googie (Guggenheim). In August 1940 there were two hundred and thirty FAU members in British hospitals, some doing whatever unskilled jobs needed to be done and some receiving training and in a few cases (but not me) quite advanced training. In the great majority of cases hospital work in Britain was a prelude to service overseas, early on in the war in Finland and Norway where the first fighting took place; running medical clinics in Syria and Ethiopia; the China Convoy; later throughout the North Africa campaign; later again in refugee camps in the Middle East and relief work in the Balkans; and after the Allied invasion of Europe driving ambulances and looking after the wounded there.

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Augustine: Philosopher and Saint by Phillip Cary


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