The Conscientious Objector’s Wife tells the story of Frank and Lucy Sunderland. They lived in Letchworth, in Hertfordshire, north of London, with their three young children. In 1916 Frank was separated from the family when he was sentenced to hard labour for being a conscientious objector. He was not released from prison until April 1919.
Frank and Lucy wrote to each other for two and half years while Frank was incarcerated at Wandsworth and Bedford prisons.
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The Conscientious Objector’s Wife, edited by Kate Macdonald, is the letters of Frank and Lucy Sunderland, written during the First World War. They were English pacifists and fervent supporters of Labour politics and the Garden City movement, and loved their Letchworth home. In 1916 Frank gave himself up for arrest after refusing to join the army when military service became mandatory for his age group.
While Frank was in prison, Lucy looked after their three children in Letchworth, and earned enough to keep the family afloat. She kept hens, collected insurance premiums and took in sewing. Her story is a struggle of single parenthood on the domestic Home Front, and her sturdy upholding of moral principles against war. Their letters are a compelling narrative of English working-class life, and an important record of the First World War.
The Conscientious Objector’s Wife gives contemporary evidence of events on the Letchworth Home Front: spotting airships, food rationing, hearing the London air-raids, the arrival of ‘Spanish flu’ in 1918, and the sufferings of the European civilian populations immediately after the war. It’s an enthralling book of social history. The introduction and notes explain its significance for the history of the British civilian experience of the First World War, British politics, the Garden City movement, feminism and women’s emancipation, adult and workers’ education, Quakerism and pacifism.
Watch our video, which explains the background to the letters, and how we came to publish them as a book.
Watch Frank and Lucy’s grand-daughter Elizabeth read a selection of the letters, and explain their background.