This in turn was coincidentally complemented by the arrival of another book, Voices Against War - A Century of Protest by Lyn Smith, also the author of Forgotten Voices of the Holocaust which I knew I had here somewhere.
I want books that will offer me some different angles on war for this year's Remembrance reading. I'm focusing on World War Two but not ruling anything out and the themes in Eunice Fleet caught my attention. I knew precious little about conscientious objectors but Lily Tobias knew a great deal because both her brothers had been just that.
The novel is divided into three, Present, Past and Present and Eunice is living with the exuberant Dorry in a flat in Maida Vale. There's money because they have a housekeeper, Mrs Johns and this is all because Eunice is big in corsetry, if you see what I mean. There is mention of a missing husband Vin, and hints of 'remorse and repentance on Eunice's part but nothing becomes clear until the book heads into Past. Slowly the tragedy unfolds, not only of Eunice's family life and quite who Dorry is but gradually Vincent's First World War pacifist stance unfolds and alongside it Eunice's feelings about it all.
The white feather, the coward's symbol, prevails and the horror, humiliation and cruelty of Vincent's incarceration and subsequent trials make for very uncomfortable reading. His letters from prison had me on he brink of tears.
This is courage of a different sort, but is it any different from a soldier facing the enemy, and who has the right to say? There were plenty of questions to ask myself as I read.
Lily Tobias presents the pacifist stance from several different angles and I crept away from this amazing book both quietly stunned and deeply enlightened, not only with what had been revealed but for the book's courageous subject matter and prescience written as it was in 1932,
'According to the signs, there was bound to be a "next war". which might really prove to be " the last war." The horrors would be greater than ever. And perhaps it wouldn't matter if objectors weren't listened to then, for everyone, militarists, pacifists, soldiers, civilians - everyone - would be swept away in the holocaust.'To say more would be to spoil but suffice to say Eunice struggles with her own beliefs in the face of outright hostility and disdain from the local community and must decide her own position whilst Vincent must also decide how steadfastly he will keep to his, a man beyond broken in body, but not in spirit.
'It was simply that she was weary of rancour, and that there was a great gap in her heart that felt like a bottomless pit, into which everything might fall - good words and ill - without filling a fraction of space.'
As the book moves back into the present and towards its final pages, I wonder if you might have to remind yourself to breath as I did. From one page to the next, quite suddenly it hit me and with a growing sense of disbelief I realised a terrible outcome beckoned and to be honest...well DON'T READ THE LAST LINE before you get there, but when you have please come back and tell me what you think happens, because I'm still very uncertain. This book has echoed in my thoughts ever since and my thanks again to Honno Press for putting me in touch with Jasmine Donahaye because I needed to know much more about Lily Tobias once I'd read Eunice Fleet.So the horrors of war from a very different perspective; in its own way every bit as heartbreaking as accounts of death and destruction from the front, and revealing yet again the underbelly of conflict. For an account of that century of protest and a book the Imperial War Museum are promoting as a means of understanding war in its entirety, the personal testimonies in Lyn Smith's Voices Against War make a perfect, thought-provoking and incredibly moving companion read.
'Mark Hayler, absolutist CO, HOS, Princetown, Dartmoor (First World War)
...I remember once when we went out to work on the moor, this chap said, ' isn't it odd that I'm here in Dartmoor because I won't kill anybody and my father-in-law had been here because he killed someone.'