TEN MEN STOOD IN A FIELD IN FRANCE is inspired by the true story of ‘The Richmond Sixteen’; conscientious objectors during the First World War, transported to Etaples, France - the location of a notorious training camp. Focussing on Arthur Drum, a Quaker and pacifist, the narrative follows Arthur and nine fellow objectors, who refuse to help the war effort despite constant threat of court martial. Beginning with Arthur writing a coded message home on a field postcard, the group commit various acts of defiance and camaraderie: from speaking in Esperanto, singing Ode to Joy in German to refusing to wear uniform, unload provisions or carry stretchers. At each turn they are punished with increasing severity by Staff Sergeant De Vissier, who withholds rations, keeps them locked in a chain gang and subjects them to beatings and the notorious field punishment number one. Gradually, members of the group acquiesce and undertake acts of alternative service, until the ordeal comes to a head when the remaining conscientious objectors are ordered to bury the war-dead. Individual convictions and the group’s fellowship are tested by the question of whether to continue their resistance to the war, or show compassion to their fellow man.
LUKE 21: 12-19 ‘You will be seized and persecuted… and that will be your opportunity to bear witness. You will be hated universally on account of my name…Your perseverance will win you your lives.’ Going beyond the simple tenet ‘Thy shall not kill’ which drove many of the religiously motivated conscientious objectors. The chosen quote reflects many of the experiences of conscientious objectors in the military, still to this day in countries that rely on National Service – where individuals determine to pay the price for their beliefs, fully knowing full the degree of hatred, vitriol and punishment that this may inspire. Further than this, they conscientious objectors chose to ‘bear witness’, both to the teachings of Christ and the Bible, but also to the horrors of war. The narrative tests the resolve of the men with the various aspects of war and warfare, from wounds, rations and conditions to xenophobic attitudes, notions of empire and moral right. One of the key themes is communication, with the conscientious objectors resorting to the ideals of Esperanto amongst themselves for private discourse, but also offering a means for an end to war, should we choose it.
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