|Birth: ||Sep. 2, 1880|
Greater London, England
|Death: ||Oct. 31, 1937|
Greater London, England
Reverend Hugh "Dick" Sheppard was one of the leaders of the burgeoning English pacifist movement during the 1930s. He was also the pioneer of Christian radio broadcasting.
He was educated at Marlborough College and then (1901-4) Trinity Hall, Cambridge. He worked with the poor from Oxford House, Bethnal Green, and then for a year as secretary to Cosmo Lang, then Bishop of Stepney. He studied for the ministry at Cuddesdon College, and was ordained priest in 1908. Returning to work with the poor at Oxford House, he suffered in 1910 the first of what would prove to be recurrent breakdowns due to overwork.
With the onset of war, Sheppard spent some months as chaplain to a military hospital in France. Within a week of arriving, he noted that "War is awful. More awful than I supposed possible". One of the doctors described how Dick "would identify himself with every dying man...sit there, just because he had promised the dying man that he would, just because he thought it might somehow comfort the poor fellow, who was long past any comfort really... "
Supported by Lang, he took the fashionable and high-profile living at St Martin-in-the-Fields, turning the church into an accessible social centre for all those in need. He married Alison Lennox, who had nursed him during his breakdowns, in 1915.
In 1924, the British Broadcasting Corporation approached Rev Sheppard, requesting that he be their first ever radio chaplain. Sheppard saw the potential of the new medium for spreading the Gospel and soon sermon from St Martins-in-the-Fields were being broadcast throughout the nation. A charismatic speaker he was soon famous as the "Radio Parson."
Meanwhile, Dick's direct experience of war had not been without effect. In 1937 he mentioned that he had become a pacifist eighteen years before, that is in 1919, although he left no overt record at that time. He had, however, allowed his pulpit to be used for sermons critical of the war, and had prayed for conscientious objectors, something unheard of at that time.
On Armistice Day in 1923 Dick organised a mass meeting in Trafalgar Square as a National Call to Righteousness, which, although without official sanction, was broadcast. In 1925 he famously wrote to The Times in protest against a Victory Ball in the Albert Hall planned for the evening of Armistice Day: "A fancy dress ball on a vast scale as a tribute to the Great Deliverance which followed on the unspeakable agony of 1914-1918 seems to me not so much irreligious as indecent". Such a stir was created that the Ball was postponed for a day and Dick was asked in its stead to lead a simple service, In Memory, at the Hall, in the presence of the King, the Prime Minister and other national figures. Later he scribbled on his own copy of the programme, "Of course Pacifism must be written into this".
Ill-health having necessitated Dick's resignation from St Martin's in 1926, he turned to completing a book on what he felt was wrong with the Church of England. Amongst many other points, "The Impatience of a Parson" (1927) argued that the Church should be "obliged to outlaw all war and to demand from its members that they should refuse to kill their brethren". The controversial nature of the best-selling book, together with his radio fame, led to writing columns in popular newspapers. On the recommendation of the Prime Minister, the King had already made him a Companion of Honour.
In 1929 Dick acknowledged in a letter to the writer Laurence Housman, "I am now a pacifist. I do not think a Christian can take part in any work of killing, or do anything he cannot believe that Christ would have done". Shortly afterwards, he was made Dean of Canterbury, where Cosmo Lang had just been appointed Archbishop. From this time on, Dick showed himself more and more as an active pacifist. On the night before Armistice Day 1931 he spoke at a No More War Movement meeting in the Albert Hall, along with the new Leader of the Labour Party, George Lansbury.
As the international situation worsened, with the coming to power of Adolf Hitler, Dick heard of a sermon preached on Armistice Sunday that year in Riverside Church, New York, by Harry Emerson Fosdick, a Free Church minister who, like Dick, had served as a military chaplain in the First World War. Dr Fosdick ended by pledging to "do the best I can to settle my account with the Unknown Soldier".
"I renounce war. I renounce war because of what it does to our own men...I renounce war because of what it compels us to do to our enemies...I renounce war for its consequences, for the lies it lives on and propagates, for the undying hatreds it arouses, for the dictatorships it puts in place of democracy, for the starvation that stalks after it. I renounce war and never again, directly or indirectly, will I sanction or support another." This text so moved Dick that, after much thought and consultation, he decided to use it as the basis for yet one more letter to the Press. In this letter, which the Times refused to publish, but which did appear in the (then Manchester) Guardian and other papers on 16 October 1934, Dick wrote of "the almost universally acknowledged lunacy of the manner in which nations are pursuing peace...It seems essential to discover whether or not it be true, as we are told, that the majority of thoughtful men in this country are convinced that war of any kind or for any cause, is not only a denial of Christianity, but a crime against humanity which is not to be permitted by civilised people". He invited those who would be willing to join a public demonstration renouncing war, in the terms of the last sentence quoted from Dr Fosdick's sermon, to send him a postcard.
For the first few days there was nothing. Then the local postmaster rang to inquire whether someone would be at home to receive sacks full of postcards. In a few weeks there were thirty thousand replies, and still they came. Dick called his demonstration in the Albert Hall on 14 July 1935, which inaugurated the Sheppard Peace Movement. In September Dick published "We Say "NO" - The Plain Man's Guide to Pacifism". In May 1936, with the help of other notable figures such as George Lansbury and Donald Soper, the organisation became The Peace Pledge Union. The fuller story of it is told in a companion information sheet, but it should be emphasised here that, although Dick never made a speech or wrote an article without mentioning his own strongly Christian motivation, the PPU was to be open to "men and women of very divergent philosophic, religious and political opinions".
In the meantime, Dick had accepted his final Church appointment, as a Canon of St Paul's Cathedral, London, in the autumn of 1934. He devoted all his spare time to the pacifist movement, and traveled the country speaking at meetings organised by the thousand local PPU groups springing up. He contemplated resigning his canonry to work full-time for peace, being ever more critical of "the attempts made at the Church Assembly to reconcile the teaching of Christ with the practice of war". In April 1937 he led a deputation in torchlit procession to hand in a statement of pacifist conviction by clergy and laity at Lambeth Palace, home of the Archbishop of Canterbury, Cosmo Lang. That demonstration led to the Anglican Pacifist Fellowship, still the main witness for pacifism within the Church of England. The APF counted amongst its founding members Sheppard, the famous writer Vera Brittain and George Lansbury. Today it is a diverse organisation spread across the world and actively working for peace and demilitarisation.
On 23 October, after a hectic campaign, Dick had been elected by the students of Glasgow University as their Rector (an honorary post), in preference to Winston Churchill and other notables of the time. "This definitely puts pacifism on the map", said Dick; "I'm almost weeping with happiness".
A week later, on 31 October, Sheppard was found dead at his desk, having finally succumbed to perennial illness, in this case, an asthma attack. The news made the headlines the next day, queues formed to pass his coffin as he lay in his beloved St Martin's and crowds lined the streets to watch the funeral procession from there to St Paul's. Afterwards he was buried in the comparative quietness of Canterbury, where a memorial window shows him with St Martin. There is also a Dick Sheppard Chapel in the crypt of St Martin's.
Some information in this article is courtesy of the PPU.
City of Canterbury
Created by: D. L.
Record added: Mar 28, 2008
Find A Grave Memorial# 25593894