Letter to a Young Friend in 1943

Simon Baker writes:
This letter was sent to my aunt Elizabeth Baker in September 1943, shortly before her 15th birthday, when she was a pupil at the Friends School in Sibford. It is from the Clerk to Meeting for Sufferings, and offers support to young Friends considering whether to refuse to perform military or industrial service during the Second World War.

1943 letter from Meeting for Sufferings

The full text of the letter is:

Dear Elizabeth

Under the laws dealing with Military Service and Industrial conscription you will be faced shortly with the need to make vital decisions. I want to assure you at once that, whatever course you feel it right to follow, you can count on the sympathetic understanding of other Friends. Conflicting influences are being brought to bear on you, so I would ask you to consider why the Society of Friends has always refused to take part in war. You are probably familiar with the words of the Declaration’ presented by the Quakers to Charles II in 1660, and reaffirmed in 1938, “We utterly deny all outward wars and strife, and fightings with outward weapons, for any end, or under any pretence whatever; this is our testimony to the whole world…….and we certainly know and testify to the world that the Spirit of Christ, which leads us into all Truth, will never move us to fight and war against any man with outward weapons, neither for the kingdom of Christ nor for the kingdoms of this world”.

As the war goes on the problems with which we are all faced become more and more complex. In a war-ridden world it is increasingly difficult to stand out against those things that weas Quakers believe to be wrong. Nevertheless the Yearly Meeting of 1942 spoke of “our sure and certain conviction, born anew out of the experience of these years, that all war is contrary to the heart and mind of God as known in Jesus Christ.”

If you decide that it is right for you to unite in upholding the peace testimony of the Society and to stand out from the majority of your fellows, you may have to face unpopularity and hardship but, in the opening words of the Epistle of James, “Greet it as pure joy when you come across any sort of trial, sure that the sterling temper of your faith produces endurance.”*

It was in this spirit that the early Friends faced their problems. Indeed, the Meeting for Sufferings, on whose behalf I write, first met to provide help for those suffering in prison, and other ways, for conscience sake. Through the centuries this Meeting has acted, and still acts, for the Society as its Executive. You will say, and rightly so, that in these days a refusal to take part in war is not enough. You want to be doing something now. It is very likely that you are already spending some of your spare time in useful service, or training for it, through your school group, youth club or other association. There are many ways open to us of serving our country and a pamphlet outlining some of them can be obtained from the Friends Education Council at Friends House.

It is for you to make your own decision but you may find it useful to have a talk first with some Friend older than yourself. When considering what line or action you ought to take will you think not only of the present situation but of the part played by Friends in the past and your responsibility for the future? Will you also seek God’s guidance and ask for His strength to support you in whatever you decide to be your duty?

Meet the present situation courageously – act only after careful thought and prayer. Action so taken will always command respect.

I am,
Your Friend sincerely,
Arthur J Eddington
(Clerk to the Meeting for Sufferings).

*(Moffatt translation).

I don’t think Elizabeth had to make this decision, as she was in full-time education at Sibford and then The Mount until 1946, and then went straight to Royal Holloway College for a Modern Languages degree.

Elizabeth Baker with her brother Philip (my father) and their parents Edith and Dennis Baker, 1940s

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