Bishop of Ely says “Peace now would be a crime” – August 1915

In 1915 on the first anniversary of the outbreak of the First World War, the then Bishop of Ely gave an extremely belligerent speech given his clerical office. The article is an extensive one so I’ve only transcribed the comments of The Mayor and the Bishop of Ely as public figures.  From the British Newspaper Archive here.

150806 Bishop of Ely calls for no peace

“We long for peace but we know that peace now would be a crime and an act of paltry cowardice. With the help of God we are what we are to-day; Not victorious, let us confess it—far, far. as yet from victory; . . . but strong and waxing stronger the days go by.”

“In these words the Bishop of Ely gave voice to the feelings of the audience at a mass meeting held in the Guildhall on Wednesday evening to mark the first anniversary of the war. The meeting was held under the auspices of the Central Committee for National Patriotic Organisations, and was organised by a local committee, of which the Master of Christ’s is president and Councillor E. Purvis secretary.

Two resolutions were put to the meeting, and carried with applause. The first, proposed the Bishop of Ely. seconded Sir George Fordham was as follows;

“That on this anniversary of righteous war, this meeting of the citizens of Cambridge records once more its inflexible determination to continue to victorious end the struggle maintain that ideal of liberty and justice which is the common and sacred cause of the Allies.”

“The second resolution, proposed Mr. J. F. P. Rawlinson, MP., and seconded the Master of Jesus, called upon the people of Cambridge and the neighbourhood to render further help to the national cause of military civilian service, and contribute loyally to the expenditure necessary for ensuring a victorious end to the war.

“Mr. Rawlinson in a humorous speech, said that they had got to do small things. They must not afraid any tasks that might put upon them. Wheel-greasing had got to be done.

“The meeting was presided over by the Mayor *(Mr. W. L. Raynes), who was supported the Platform by the Bishop of Ely, Sir George Fordham. Mr. J. F. P. Rawlinson, MP, the Master of Trinity (Dr. Montagu Butler), the Master of Jesus (Mr. A. Gray). Mr. Harold Spender [Liberal candidate for Cambridge Borough], Prof. J S. Reid. Col. Sturgis, General Fortescue. Major Bishop, Sir Joseph Larmor, MP, Archdeacon Cunningham, Mr. A R. Fordham, Rev. C. L. Hulbert and Mrs. Hulbert, Alderman George Stace, Alderman W. B. Redfern, Councillors J. E. Purvis, H.B. Bailey. Oliver Papworth, A. Negus [featured in a previous blogpost here], Dr. Christian Simpson, Dr. Dalton, and others. Before the opening of the meeting the Borough Organist (Dr Alan Gray) played several patriotic elections on the organ.


“The Mayor (Mr. W. L. Haynes) aaid August 4th. 1914 was a solemn and memorable day. On August 4th, 1915, they were there to pledge themselves a second time devote their entire energies and to prosecute the war to successful conclusion.

“August 4th would always remembered as a day which was decided the fate the nation, the Empire, the world. The civilisation of centuries was at stake. August 4th, 1914, we decided to respond to the plaintive call by his Majesty the King the Belgians. remembered that our word was our bond.

“What are fighting for?’” asked his Worship. In the first place, continued, we are fighting for honour. A phrase appealed to human nature more than that of our beloved King “If I had stood aside.”

“We were fighting the existence of small nations. On the one side the Kaiser told that conscience was clear. That depended on the word conscience. Civilisation had decided that conscience depends on a scrap of paper. Commerce, said The Mayor, depended scraps paper, as Mr. Lloyd George had pointed out, and decided to honour our scrap of paper.

“Germany considered the scrap paper as scrap of paper. Treaties and international law, according the German version, were non-existent. That meant that they were going back pre-civilised times.

“Our Navy ruled so quietly that no one quite realised what it was doing, but it had kept our Colonial Empire free, while the colonies of the German Empire were being wiped off the earth. The object the meeting was not cry out about the past, but re-dedicate ourselves to the prosecution of the war.

“Before calling upon the Bishop of Ely to propose the first resolution, the Mayor stated that the following were unable to be present:

  • The Lord Lieutenant the County who was absent through illness;
  • General Sir Horace Smith-Dorrien, who was unable to be present owing to military duties elsewhere; .
  • the Vice-Chancellor of the University. who was away;
  • Lord Braybrooke, the High Steward of the Borough.
  • Col. Harding; and
  • Mr. Almeric Paget MP [The MP for Cambridge Borough]

“They had one venerable and respected member the University with them who thought it his duty—and he (the Mayor) thanked him most cordially—to postpone leaving Cambridge in order to attend that meeting, the venerably Master of Trinity, who had written stating his Intention of being present, but regretting his inability speak. The Mayor then read the letter from the Master of Trinity, and called and called on the Bishop of Ely to propose the first resolution. (Applause.)


“The Bishop of Ely in moving the resolution, said that meeting was no ordinary meeting, and the resolution was no ordinary resolution. It was, he might almost say, of the nature of a solemn vow. It year that day since those tense, strained hours were in which the issues of war and peace were hanging in the balance, hours such as we had never passed before, and he trusted might never pass again. And every day which had elapsed since had been a day on which history was being made.

“It was well-worn truism, but thought it never could be said too often, that this country entered upon that war without premeditation and with profound unwillingness. Did the world seek proof of that? The world had many proofs. proof lay in the voices the country in Parliament and without Parliament which then expressed the consciousness of men.

“The world had an answer in the diplomatic correspondence which, as we believed, every shred had seen the light. Tho world had proof of it in that unpreparedness which we had regretted grow as the weeks and the months had passed by. No nation was so insane as to plan and plot a war for which it was profoundly unready. (Applause.)

“Between us and the war there raised this barrier of a great unwillingness. It was broken down, crumbled to powder, by two forces, than which there could be no greater, no more sacred forces which promote action in a nation. First there was our plighted word, secondly there was the instinct self-preservation.

A Right Decision.

“Since that day when the great decision was made, many events had happened. There had been many revelations of the character and policy of our enemies, and would say without fear of contradiction that every event which had taken place, and every revelation on which had gazed with horror had set their seal upon the rightness of that great decision. (Applause.)

He was not going to speak of the details of the events that had taken place during these 12 months, the untold sacrifices we had endured, the immense anxieties of that time those desolating sorrows, failures, mistakes, successes and then the unbroken stories of magnificent heroism. (Applause.)

“Of course had our difficulties, reverses, and frustrations our hopes. War was no primrose path of dalliance. A nation which took upon its shoulder the huge burden a great war must needs stumble on the steep and stony road of duty on which it had made up its mind to tread. It had been so in the past.

“At the beginning of the last century this country, as it was to-day, was withslanding a vast military despotism. He would recall two incidents of the Napoleonic wars—the mutiny in the Fleet at Portsmouth, followed the mutiny at Sheerness which spread to the Fleet guarding the coast of Holland. Had we, the Bishop went on, heard a breath of mutiny in these last 12 months, either among our soldiers at the Western front or in the Dardanelles? Had there been anything but unquestioning and unquestioned loyalty? (Applause.)


“And our Fleet, in these silent months of service – he spoke with all reverence – our Fleet had been a chosen instrument of the living Providence which had been watching over country and saving it from evil. No mutiny, thank God. not a breath of those not a breath of it in these 12 months.

“Turning again the Napoleonic war, the Bishop remarked that towards the close of his life, William Pitt devoted his energies maturing a new coalition of nations to withstand the growing power of Napoleon, and the first fruit of it was the great defeat at Ulm, with its surrender of 35,000 of the picked men of the Allies. That defeat was followed by the worn renowned victory at Trafalgar, and then came the crushing disaster at Austerlitz, after which Pitt himself said the map of Europe might be hung up because there would be no use of it for years to come.

“In the midst of it Pitt made his briefest and greatest of speeches at the [London] Guildhall.

“No man can save Europe, but England has saved herself by her exertions, and I trust she will save Europe by her example”

Pregnant words those; might they be fulfilled today. (Hear, hear.) In these days owing to no cause over which we had any control, we had had no chance of a Trafalgar but on the other hand we had had no Ulm and no Austerlitz. If our noble and brave allies were hard pressed in the Eastern Theatre of war, their spirit and forces were alike unbroken. (Applause) – and we prayed that they might still withstand the foe, and that Warsaw might be saved. (Applause)


But at this time, so critical and anxious there came a whisper of peace, and peace, perhaps, more that a whisper coming from the Vatican. Oh. how longed for peace the citizens of England as human beings, as Christians! It was the deep desire of our utmost hearts. But he would venture to say deliberately, with a sense responsibility, that to make peace to-day would  be a crime. (Appplause) — a crime against our soldiers and sailors who had laid down their lives for us for then they would have shed their life blood in vain; a crime against the brave, desolate land of Belgium; a crime against our children and our children’s children; crime against the world for a peace made today, we might be very sure would the prolific mother of wars more horrible than that we were engaged in now. (.Hear bear)

We longed for peace, but we knew that peace now would be a crime and an act of paltry cowardice. No. our trial was not over yet. But by the help God we are what are to-day; not victorious, let us confess it, far, far as yet from victory; but with the loyalty and devotion of a world-wide Empire at our back strong and waxing stronger as the days go by (applause)—and also firm, immovable in the determination that will shrink from no sacrifice if so be that in the end we may free the world from monstrous tyranny and give the world peace truly righteous and truly abiding. (Applause.)

And, therefore, because this was so, they were going to pass that resolution which he had the honour to propose them. It was no otiose form of words. It meant much to each one us, each man and woman in that hall. It touched the very intimate secrets of our own household and personal lives.  He could well imagine that a thoughtful man would hold up his hand for it with a prayer in his heart that his country and he alike might able to keep it. It pledged us to great duties. Let them not mistake it. Let them think it as they voted. It pledged them to the great duty of sacrifice and if sacrificing to the great duty of unsleeping thrift, to the great duty of a sober cheerfulness, which yes, an abiding, lasting cheerfulness, which could only be maintained because we had in strong conviction that God is laying a great task upon us, which, by His help we could and would perform. (Applause.)”

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