the men who said no
'I wish one were sure one was really ‘nourishing life in the world’  


Gladys Rinder

Gladys Rinder worked as a secretary for the No Conscription Fellowship during WW1. She helped to set up and run the Conscientious Objectors’ Information Bureau which maintained records of the arrests, tribunals and prison sentences of the conscientious objectors, on behalf of all the groups concerned with COs - the NCF, Friends Service Committee and the Fellowship of Reconciliation. By the autumn of 1916 this was fully integrated with the NCF Records office. She was described after the war as ‘chiefly responsible for securing the extraordinarily wide and influential support given to the petitions for the release of COs from prison.’

In 1916, when the authorities started raids on the NCF offices, they also raided Mrs. Gladys Rinder’s private residence at 14 Westgate Terrace, Redcliffe Square, London SW. ‘Two Scotland Yard detectives arrived at the house, saying that they had information it contained documents relating to the Sinn Fein and the Suffragette agitations and were under instructions to search the house. When asked for a warrant, they said it was not necessary to have a warrant under the Defence of the Realm Act.

‘The officer showed Mrs. Rinder a letter from the Home Office at the foot of which was written a note to the effect that they knew the people accused had no connection with Sinn Fein or suffragette action but “you may as well search the house.”

‘In searching the house they found no trace of any such documents as they were looking for, but they found papers…which they removed. They asked … what they were and she replied they were papers she had been asked to take in; that she did not feel at liberty to give the name of the person to whom they belonged because she was not sure to whom they actually did belong; she would take the responsibility herself.’

The documents taken included letters from COs, investigations into bad treatment of COs, information about arrests etc. which she had been asked to copy to enable the preparation of records and reports by Catherine Marshall at the NCF office. It was pointed out these records were largely intended for the information of members of Parliament. (Aware of the possibility of raids, the NCF worked hard to keep duplicates of papers in many different places.)

Gladys Rinder worked closely with and for Bertrand Russell while he was involved with and acting Chair (in 1917) of the organisation. During his imprisonment in 1918 he would send a letter to Gladys composed of many messages for his friends, with the use of code names. She would then send the messages on to the appropriate person. She helped raise money to enable to him to take up a philosophical lectureship when he came out, and it was to her house that he went for dinner, with other friends, on his release on 14 September.

She described how she felt about Bertrand Russell’s involvement with the NCF in a letter to him, after copying a letter he had written from prison to Clifford Allen. Russell had written of his fear about the post-war world - that ‘men would value only bread and guns: the means of keeping the body alive at the expense of others…’ He urged ‘Let us keep before our minds constantly the thought of serving the world: …the positive desire to nourish life in the world rather than to minister to death. War develops in almost all a certain hysteria of destruction - self-destruction, among the more generous, but still destruction. We have to stand out against this hysteria, and realize, and make others realize, that Life, not Death (however heroic) is the source of all good.’

Gladys wrote: ‘You have put into words what many of us have been grasping for…If we are to be of value at all we must be creative, it isn’t enough to pull down incessantly. I always felt that your influence in the offices was in some sense creative: it brought harmony and good feeling…I wish one were sure one was really ‘nourishing life in the world’ in your sense.’

Cumbria Records office, Catherine Marshall archive
Conscientious Objection: Bertrand Russell and the Pacifists in the First World War, Jo Vellacott. Republished 2015, Spokesman.



red line