Peace Pledge Union

The Peace Pledge Union (PPU) is a British pacifist non-governmental organization. It is open to everyone who can sign the PPU pledge: "I renounce war, and am therefore determined not to support any kind of war. I am also determined to work for the removal of all causes of war."[1] Its members work for a world without war and promote peaceful and non-violent solutions to conflict.[1]



The PPU emerged from an initiative by Dick Sheppard, canon of St Paul's Cathedral, in 1934, after he had published a letter in the Manchester Guardian and other newspapers, inviting men (but not women) to send him postcards pledging never to support war.[2] 135,000 men responded and became members. The initial male-only aspect of the pledge was aimed at countering the idea that only women were involved in the peace movement. In 1936 membership was opened to women, and the newly founded Peace News was adopted as the PPU's weekly newspaper. The PPU assembled several noted public figures as sponsors, including Aldous Huxley, Bertrand Russell, Storm Jameson, Rose Macaulay, Donald Soper, Siegfried Sassoon, Reginald Sorensen, J. D. Beresford, Ursula Roberts (who wrote under the pseudonym "Susan Miles") [3] and Brigadier-General F. P. Crozier (a former army officer turned pacifist). [4] The PPU attracted members across the political spectrum, including Christian pacifists, socialists, anarchists and in the words of member Derek Savage, "an amorphous mass of ordinary well-meaning but fluffy peace-lovers".[2] In 1937 the No More War Movement formally merged with the PPU. George Lansbury, previously chair of the No More War Movement, became president of the PPU, holding the post until his death in 1940. In 1937 a group of clergy and laity led by Sheppard formed the Anglican Pacifist Fellowship as an Anglican complement to the non-sectarian PPU. The Union was associated with the Welsh group, Heddwchwyr Cymru, founded by Gwynfor Evans.[2] In March 1938, PPU George Lansbury launched the PPU's first manifesto and peace campaign. The campaign argued that the idea of a war to defend democracy was a contradiction in terms and that "in a period of total war, democracy would be submerged under totalitarianism".[2]

A large part of the PPU's work involved providing for the victims of war. Its members sponsored a house where 64 Basque children, refugees from the Spanish Civil War, were cared for. PPU archivist William Hetherington[5] writes that "The PPU also encouraged members and groups to sponsor individual Jewish refugees from Germany, Austria and Czechoslovakia to enable them to be received into the United Kingdom".[6][7]

Appeasement of Nazi Germany

Like many in the 1930s, the PPU supported appeasement, believing that Nazi Germany would cease its aggression if the territorial provisions of the Versailles Treaty were undone.[8] It backed Neville Chamberlain's policy at Munich in 1938, regarding Hitler's claims on the Sudetenland as legitimate. Peace News editor and PPU sponsor John Middleton Murry and his supporters in the group caused considerable controversy by arguing Germany should be given control of mainland Europe. In a PPU publication, Warmongers, Clive Bell said that Germany should be permitted to "absorb" France, Poland, the Low Countries and the Balkans. This position drew criticism from other PPU activists such as Vera Brittain and Andrew Stewart.[9] At the time of the Munich crisis, several PPU sponsors tried to send "five thousand pacifists to the Sudetenland as a non-violent presence", however this attempt came to nothing.[2]

Some PPU supporters were so sympathetic to German grievances that Rose Macaulay claimed she found it difficult to distinguish between the propaganda of the PPU and that of the British Union of Fascists (BUF), saying, "Occasionally when reading Peace News, I (and others) half think we have got hold of the [BUF journal] Blackshirt by mistake."[10][11] There was Fascist infiltration of the PPU[12] and MI5 kept an eye on the PPU's "small Fascist connections".[13] After Dick Sheppard's death in October 1937, George Orwell, always hostile to pacifism, accused the PPU of "moral collapse" on the grounds that some members even joined the BUF.[14] The historian Mark Gilbert said, "it is hard to think of a British newspaper that was so consistent an apologist for nazi Germany as Peace News," which "assiduously echoed the nazi press's claims that far worse offences than the Kristallnacht events were a regular feature of British colonial rule."[15] But David C. Lukowitz argues that, "it is nonsense to charge the PPU with pro-Nazi sentiments. From the outset it emphasised that its primary dedication was to world peace, to economic justice and racial equality," but it had "too much sympathy for the German position, often the product of ignorance and superficial thinking."[8]

In 1938 the PPU opposed legislation for air-raid precautions and in 1939 campaigned against military conscription.

Second World War

Initially, the Peace Pledge Union opposed the Second World War and continued to argue for a negotiated peace with the Nazis.[2] In February 1940, the Daily Mail newspaper called for the PPU to be banned.[16] Following the fall of France, however, the PPU abandoned the call for peace negotiations.[2] PPU members instead concentrated on activities such as supporting British conscientious objectors and supporting the Food Relief Campaign. This latter campaign attempted to supply food, under Red Cross supervision, to civilians in occupied Europe.[2] Throughout the war, Vera Brittain published a newsletter, Letters to Peace Lovers, criticizing the conduct of the war, including the bombing of civilian areas of Germany. This had 2,000 subscribers out of a British population of some 46 million.[17] Following the publication of a poster reading "War will cease when men refuse to fight. What are YOU going to do about it?", six members of the PPU (Alexander Wood, Maurice Rowntree, Stuart Morris, John Barclay, Ronald Smith and Sidney Todd) were prosecuted for encouraging disaffection amongst the troops. They were defended by John Platts-Mills and were convicted but not imprisoned. PPU members were also arrested for holding open-air meetings during the war and selling Peace News in the street.[18] The critical attitude towards the PPU in this period was summarised by George Orwell, writing in the October 1941 issue of Adelphi magazine: "Since pacifists have more freedom of action in countries where traces of democracy survive, pacifism can act more effectively against democracy than for it. Objectively, the pacifist is pro-Nazi."

After the Second World War

Since 1945, the PPU has consistently "condemned the violence, oppression and weapons of all belligerents".[6] In the late 1950s and early 1960s, the PPU lost some members to the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament, even though CND was not a pacifist organisation. Some recovery in the PPU's fortunes took place after 1965, when Myrtle Solomon was general secretary. The PPU organised protests against the US intervention in Vietnam and handed out leaflets to American tourists in Britain stating "not only are Vietnamese being killed, but American men are dying for a cause war cannot achieve".[19] The PPU also opposed the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan and condemned both the Argentinian invasion of the Falklands and the British response.[6] It has also promoted the ideas of pacifist thinkers such as Leo Tolstoy, Mohandas Gandhi, Martin Luther King, and Richard B. Gregg.[6] It played an active role in the Aldermaston peace marches.

The group had a branch in Northern Ireland, the Peace Pledge Union in Northern Ireland; in the 1970s this group campaigned for the withdrawal of the British army from the Six Counties, as well as the disbandment of both Republican and Loyalist paramilitary groups.[20]

The Peace Pledge Union's 21st-century activity has included taking part in British protests against the 2003 Iraq War.[21] In 2005, the PPU released an educational CD-ROM on Martin Luther King's life and work that was adopted by several British schools.[22] In recent years, the PPU has focused on issues including Remembrance Day,[23] peace education,[24] the commemoration of World War One[25] and what they describe as the "militarisation" of British society.[26]

White poppy campaign

A Peace poppy wreath, made of Peace poppies, with a CND symbol inside at a British Remembrance Day event

One of the PPU's more visible activities is the White Poppy appeal, started in 1933 by the Women's Co-operative Guild alongside the Royal British Legion's red poppy appeal.[27] The white poppy commemorated not only British soldiers killed in war, but also civilian victims on all sides, standing as "a pledge to peace that war must not happen again".[28] In 1986, Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher expressed her "deep distaste" for the white poppies,[29] on allegations that they potentially diverted donations from service men, yet this stance gave them increased publicity. In the 2010s, sales of white poppies rose. The PPU reported that around 110,000 white poppies had been bought in 2015, the highest number on record.[26]

Notable members

Members of the PPU have included Vera Brittain, Benjamin Britten, Clifford Curzon, Alex Comfort, Eric Gill, Ben Greene, Laurence Housman, Aldous Huxley, George Lansbury, Kathleen Lonsdale, Reginald Sorensen, George MacLeod, Sybil Morrison, John Middleton Murry, Peter Pears, Max Plowman, Arthur Ponsonby, Bertrand Russell, Siegfried Sassoon, Myrtle Solomon, Donald Soper, Sybil Thorndike, Michael Tippett and Wilfred Wellock.

See also


  1. 1 2 Peace pledge Union website
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 Andrew Rigby, "The Peace Pledge Union: From Peace to War, 1936-1945" in Peter Brock, Thomas Paul Socknat Challenge to Mars:Pacifism from 1918 to 1945. University of Toronto Press, 1999. ISBN 0802043712 (pp.169-185 )
  3. Martin Ceadel, Pacifism in Britain, 1914-1945 : the defining of a faith Oxford : Clarendon Press, 1980. ISBN 0198218826 (p. 321-22)
  4. Martin Ceadel, Semi-Detached Idealists:The British Peace Movement and International Relations, 1854-1945. Oxford University Press, 2000 ISBN 0199241171 (p. 334)
  5. PPU Archives
  6. 1 2 3 4 William Hetherington, "Peace Pledge Union" in The World encyclopedia of peace. Edited by Linus Pauling, Ervin Laszlo, and Jong Youl Yoo. Oxford : Pergamon, 1986. ISBN 0-08-032685-4 (p.243-7).
  7. Juliet Gardiner The Thirties: An Intimate History, Harper Press, 2010, p.501.
  8. 1 2 David C. Lukowitz, "British Pacifists and Appeasement: The Peace Pledge Union", Journal of Contemporary History, Vol. 9, No. 1, January 1974, pp.115-127
  9. "Miss Brittain and others found objectionable Murry's advocacy of a "Pax Germanica" on the European continent" Quoted in Richard A. Rempel, "The Dilemmas of British Pacifists During World War II", The Journal of Modern History, Vol. 50, No. 4, Supplement, December, 1978, pp. D1213-D1229.
  10. Julie V. Gottlieb, Feminine fascism: women in Britain's fascist movement, London: I.B.Tauris, 2003
  11. Frank McDonough, Neville Chamberlain, Appeasement and the British Road to War, Manchester University Press, 1998
  12. Julie V. Gottlieb, Feminine fascism: women in Britain's fascist movement, London: I.B.Tauris, 2003
  13. F. H. Hinsley and C. A. G. Simpkins, British Intelligence in the Second World War (London: HMSO, 1990), p. 37
  14. Peter Brock and Thomas Paul Socknat, Challenge to Mars: essays on pacifism from 1918 to 1945, University of Toronto Press, 1999 (p. 141).
  15. Mark Gilbert, "Pacifist attitudes to Nazi Germany, 1936-45", Journal of Contemporary History, July 1992, Vol. 27, pp.493-511
  16. "In a leading article the Daily Mail urges the Minister for Home Security (Sir John Anderson) to suppress the "near-treasonable work" of the Peace Pledge Union". "Peace Pledge Union National Menace".The Courier-Mail (Brisbane),24 February 1940, (p. 5)
  17. Mark Abrams, The Population of Great Britain, Hughes Press, 2007
  18. Spartacus Schoolnet
  19. "European Groups Grinding Out Protests Against Vietnam War", Spartanburg Herald-Journal, March 9th, 1968, p. 19
  20. "Peace Pledge Union (PPU) in Northern Ireland", Peter Barberis, John McHugh, Mike Tyldesley, Encyclopedia of British and Irish Political Organizations (Continuum International Publishing Group, 2005, ISBN 978-0-8264-5814-8), p. 837
  21. "They will be coming from every part of Britain representing bodies as diverse as the Peace Pledge Union, Britons vs Bush and the Woodcraft Folk. There will be people from dozens of small, newly formed anti-war groups from towns, villages, churches and colleges, many of whom have never been on a protest before." Quoted in Terry Kirby, "Doves on the warpath: a million ordinary Britons prepare to demonstrate for peace" The Independent (UK). 13 February 2003. Retrieved 24 June 2011.
  22. Elizabeth Peirce, Activity Assemblies To Promote Peace:40+ Ideas for Multi-Faith Assemblies For 5-11 Years (Taylor and Francis, 2008, ISBN 0415466822), p. 72
  23. "White Poppies for Peace". Retrieved 2016-04-21.
  24. "Learn Peace". Retrieved 2016-04-21.
  25. "OBJECTING TO WAR". Retrieved 2016-04-21.
  26. 1 2 "PEACE MATTERS". Retrieved 2016-04-21.
  27. White Poppies for Peace
  28. PPU: 100 years of action to peace, 1930-39
  29. Margaret Thatcher Foundation

Further reading

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