British anti-militarist died on D-day

This video is called Conscientious Objectors in World War One.

By Peter Lazenby in Britain:

My ‘conshie’ uncle who died in Normandy

Monday 19th May 2014

This month’s commemoration of British conscientious objectors prompted family memories for PETER LAZENBY

I NEVER knew my uncle Ken Mortimer. He died in 1944, five years before I was born.

I can picture him though — I regularly saw his photo on the mantelpiece of my paternal grandparents’ home at Menston, outside Leeds, when I visited them as a boy in the 1960s.

He had jet-black, wavy hair, round, black-rimmed spectacles and a cheery, slightly chubby face.

In the second world war Uncle Ken had been a “conshie.”

A man of deeply held beliefs, he refused to take up arms. His principles of non-violence were rooted in religion. He was a devout Baptist, a lay preacher at his local chapel.

Early in the 1940s he married my dad’s elder sister, auntie Ivy, who shared his Baptist faith.

When call-up time came he declared himself a conscientious objector, and said he would not carry or use weapons.

Instead, he became a medical orderly. Although he would not kill or injure, he dedicated himself to providng aid to the wounded.

He was sent to Normandy on D-Day, June 6,1944.

He was transported in on a landing craft. The ramp fell forward, splashing into the sea. Uncle Ken leapt out. He was carrying more than 60llbs of medical provisions on his back. The landing craft had not gone in far enough. The water, which should have been at most chest-high, engulfed him. He drowned.

His body was recovered and he was buried in Normandy.

My auntie Ivy never re-married. She became a highly respected district nurse and spent the rest of her life working for the National Health Service, and eventually caring for her ageing parents. (Her father Tom, my grandfather, had been in the trenches in France in the first world war, and on return became an active and militant trade unionist in Leeds, and was blacklisted from his skilled engineering job for his role in a strike).

A few years ago I knew an ex-military man who ran a pub at Morley, outside Leeds.

The pub was bedecked with military memorabilia — regimental insignia, medals, items brought in from old and current conflicts, donated by customers.

I told him about my Uncle Ken. He frowned. As an ex-military man, unsurprisingly he had little time for “conshies.”

Then I told him uncle Ken had been a lance-corporal.

His eyes widened. He looked puzzled.

“He must have been a bit special,” he said. “They never promoted conshies.”

He took it as a mark of the calibre of my uncle Ken that he had been made a lance-corporal, despite his refusal to fight.

Auntie Ivy maintained the Baptist beliefs she had shared with her husband until she died in her eighties around 20 years ago.

She attended a Baptist chapel in the town of Ilkley in the most southerly of the Yorkshire Dales, Wharfedale.

Inside the chapel is a wooden crucifix, about six feet high. On its rear side is a plaque, dedicating the crucifix to Uncle Ken.

I have no religion. But attending the chapel for auntie Ivy’s funeral, I looked at the plaque and the memorial to the “conshie” who had died at Normandy and I was moved close to tears for the uncle I never knew.

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2 thoughts on “British anti-militarist died on D-day

  1. Pingback: British disabled poet Mark Burnhope interviewed | Dear Kitty. Some blog

  2. Pingback: World War I in Britain, April 2018 | Dear Kitty. Some blog

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