'Nora Blake: young Stamford pacifist'
Following the World War One exhibition at Stamford Arts Centre in November 2018, the Society was contacted by Paul Markwell regarding his mother Nora Blake. As a thirteen-year-old schoolgirl in Stamford, Nora wrote the winning essay in a national competition for children of ex-servicemen. Her achievement was reported in The Stamford and Rutland News on Tuesday May 8, 1934, and the essay was reproduced in full in the next issue of the newspaper.
Stamford St George’s School Girl’s Prize Essay 1934
Nora Blake (aged 13)
War! The very word makes me shiver. Although the Great War ended before I was born, I know enough about it to realise that all countries concerned are still suffering from its results. We are all paying the penalty. No country can spend four years in destruction, blowing millions of pounds in the air in the form of shells, without suffering from chaos. The whole of the industrialised world was disorganised, and as a consequence many soldiers who survived from the war without serious consequences came back only to find it impossible to secure employment. Also thousands of families mourn the loss of loved ones, and thousands more have the care of those who were disabled, the blind, the crippled, the insane. Truly war levies a terrible toll.
Without dwelling unduly on the horrors of war, or its far-reaching ill effects on the community, I think that all will agree that the great task of this generation is to arrange international affairs so that another war is avoided. Politicians during the war, I understand, talked a lot about it being a war to end war and since 1918 the League of Nations has had a meeting in Geneva with this end in view. Disarmament Conferences have been held and there has been much talk between nations. But, while every country agrees that war should end, the nations have not been able to form any plans to satisfy all. Every conference has closed without achieving any tangible result and this is a very disappointing state of affairs. After sixteen years of conferences we find that the nations mistrust each other and are afraid to put down armaments.
Suspicion is the order of the day and we find nations arranging to spend more money on defence services. All are seeking security but will a competition in armaments give security? Let us consider this question. This makes us think about the next war. I think that there will be as much difference in the next war and the Great War as there was between that and the Napoleonic Wars. I think death will come from the air in the form of gas and poison bombs. Attacks will take us by surprise and the result will be that large cities, with all their inhabitants, will be wiped out in a few hours. It seems very possible to spend all out lives in defence and yet be unsafe.
What is the alternative? Just this. All lovers of peace must continue to work for gradual disarmament, even if their cause seems hopeless. All education should have this end view. Public demonstrations of a warlike nature should be avoided. Children should not be taken to torchlight tattoos and boys should not be encouraged to play with toy soldiers.
An international army, having all the armaments of the world, should keep peace in the same way that the police force keeps civil peace. It is very rarely that a policeman has to fight but the knowledge that he is there, backed by the powers of justice, is generally sufficient to keep us safe from robbery and violence and I think that is the ideal for all peace lovers, for the world to be policed.
Now, no idea was ever realised easily. Rome was not built in a day and all the countries of the world will not become suddenly reasonable. But if all people who believe, as I do, will work and pray for “The Day”, it will come. It may not be in our time. But good citizens are always content to work for a future generation.
In our school we have a book on citizenship which has on the cover a figure of the head of Jesus. It has two faces. So, in school, we learn the history of the past. We find that great progress has been made and that the world is much better to live in than it was in the middle ages. When we compare conditions with what they are today, we should be optimistic for the future. Shades of the great reformers of all times encourage us to carry on with the good work and not to doubt the ultimate result.
It also seems to me that all nations are waiting for someone to take the lead. They are like children. I frequently hear children say “I will if you will” but no one wants to that the initiative. I believe that if France would only begin, Germany would be glad to follow and vice versa. I wish one country would have the courage to tell the world “We will disarm by 1950”. If the country could be my own, I should be very proud. I for one would be willing to take the risk. If I am to have a sticky finish, I should like to know that my country has done the right thing.
If the world persists in arming, a future war is inevitable. It may not be in my time, but as a good citizen, that is no consolation.
I am aware that all I have said is idealistic, but nevertheless, all good peace-loving people must work for peace on these lines, looking with the eye of faith for the glorious dawn of the day when “Swords shall be turned into plough-shares and spears into pruning hooks”
Nora Blake was third of the four children of Frank and Vida Blake, with an elder brother John, sister, Olive and a younger brother, Ken. They were all born and brought up in Stamford. Nora left school at 15 and went to work at Martin-Markham Ltd where she met her future husband, Len Markwell. In later life she was known as "Jill". Len and Jill moved to Ryhall in 1956 where they lived for over 50 years. Jill Markwell continued to write for pleasure, often poems that she would send to friends. She was always very proud of the medal that she won in the national competition when she was 13. Jill sadly passed away in May 2009.
The Winning Medal