Percy Redfern, sometimes referred to as ‘the Twenty-Ninth Pioneer,’ was a prominent writer on co-operative matters throughout the first half of the twentieth century. He had become a member of the Socialist Democratic Federation aged only 18, and gained a reputation as an anarchist. When he moved north however, his views mellowed and he joined the local co-operative movement. He later worked as the editor of The Wheatsheaf, the Co-operative Wholesale Society’s monthly magazine that was distributed to shoppers.
When the war began, his enlistment was not compulsory as he was a married man by that point. In 1916 the terms of conscription were expanded to include married men and Redfern was asked to join up. However, he was fundamentally anti-war and had written in 1914 that ‘war means a descent from civilisation to tribal barbarism.’ Therefore, he refused to join up. As a result of this he was sent before a tribunal to be judged. He was granted the status of a conscientious objector, provided he joined the Friend’s Ambulance Unit. The FAU was a movement founded by Quakers to help treat the wounded of the First World War, and was an alternative to fighting for those who were pacifists but still wanted to assist in the war effort.
Redfern, however, did not join the unit. He instead moved to Manchester, setting up the Alternative Service Guild. This served to find work for other conscientious objectors and anyone else who opposed the war.
Christine Clayton, ‘Pacifism and Socialism in Hyde during the Great War’, North West Labour History, issue 35, 2010-2011, pp. 5-11.
WWI co-operative voices
This post is part of ‘WWI co-operative voices’ which shares the stories of co-operative workers and members during the conflict. In order to mark the centenary of the WWI, the Rochdale Pioneers Museum is staging an exhibition entitled ‘From shop floor to front line’ and the accounts of these soldiers, shop workers and conscientious objectors will run alongside it. They are tales of death, duty and of those who chose not to fight.
Through ‘WWI co-operative voices’ we will be releasing new posts about these individuals throughout the duration of the exhibition (due to open mid-May 2015 and run until May 2016). Read about the co-operative movement’s involvement in a war that shook the world by selecting a name from the column on the left. You can also follow us on social media for regular updates.
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We wish to thank the Heritage Lottery Fund for supporting the ‘From shop floor to front line’ exhibition and project.