Ross Wallis

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Sidcot students re-enact trial of WWI Conscientious Objector

16 July 2014

History has been brought to life for students at Sidcot School who learnt what it was like to be a Conscientious Objector and be imprisoned for your beliefs in World War I. At a special assembly, held to commemorate Conscientious Objectors Day, students were involved in the re-enactment of the Court Martial of Corder Catchpool who was educated at Sidcot School and, despite receiving a medal for voluntary service with the Quaker Friends Ambulance Unit, was imprisoned for refusing to join-up when compulsory conscription was introduced in 1916.

Corder Catchpool’s grandson, Ross Wallis, has taught at Sidcot School for over 30 years. He said “It was a privilege to honour the memory of my grandfather. At a time when those who refused to fight were labelled as cowards, I believe that his stand was pretty much the bravest thing anyone could do. To one who was seriously driven, who desperately wanted to serve, the decision to face prison, or even death by firing squad, was extraordinary. I thank this man who helped demonstrate possibilities for a more just and peaceful world”.

Sidcot is a Quaker school and students are encouraged to think for themselves and to stand up for their beliefs.  The Conscientious Objector assembly formed part of an on-going programme of lessons and activities that help students to become happy and well-rounded individuals alongside striving for academic excellence.  To find out more about the school visit www.sidcot.org.uk

Released from prison in 1919, Catchpool became involved with relief and reparations work in Germany and moved there in 1931 as the Quaker representative in Berlin. In 1933 when all Germans were instructed to boycott Jewish shops, Catchpool and members of the Quaker community openly defied orders and was arrested and interrogated by the Gestapo. He went on to play a key role in visiting the families of Jewish prisoners, often assisting them to find ways of emigrating to safety and finding ways of raising awareness of the horror of the early concentration camps without putting more lives in danger.  

Returning to London in 1936, Catchpool lent his support to the Conscientious Objectors of WWII and when war commenced he helped set up the Bombing Restriction Committee which called upon Britain and Germany to cease the mass bombing of cities and killing of civilians.

In 1946, Catchpool returned once more to Germany as a relief worker.  In 1947, at the invitation of the Friends Relief Service, he and his wife took over the running of the Quaker Rest Home for ex-prisoners of the Nazis at Bad Pyrmont in Germany.  He died in a mountaineering accident in 1952.