BEING interested in all aspects of both history and the arts, I am intrigued by any project attempting to combine the two, and this is due to happen next month in the George Street Quarter of St Helens.

Verity Standen is a composer, performer, and musical director based in Bristol.

She explores the human voice, and for her latest work she needs men of any age. There are no words to learn and no experience is necessary. Perhaps you have never sung in public before and would like a challenge?

St Helens is one of only three sites that she has chosen, the others being Richmond Castle in North Yorkshire, and Newhaven in East Sussex. Each of these sites has a particular connection to the story of conscientious objection. During the First World War, scores of men who refused to fight were court-martialled, imprisoned and ostracised.

More than 100 years later, this remains a sensitive subject, especially around the locations where these men were tried and incarcerated.

Refrain will fill each site with male voices, arranged by Verity into rich sound worlds for audiences to explore. The piece will be developed with, and performed by, a volunteer choir of male singers. Eight performances will take place over three days in each location, including a dawn performance.

The St Helens school teacher was Ernest Everett, although what part of town he both lived and taught is currently unknown. When the Conscription Military Service Act became law in 1916, he was arrested and appeared before a tribunal in Liverpool, as a conscientious objector. He was a member of the Union of Democratic Control, which campaigned to raise awareness of the atrocities committed by Belgium in the Congo and was suspicious of the motives of the great powers in starting a war.

His claim for absolute exemption from service on the grounds of conscience was rejected by both local and appeal tribunals. Everett refused to take non-combative service in the forces on the grounds that his conscience would not permit him to support actions in which another human was killed, though he was sent off to army camps in Warrington and then Abergele. As a result, he was court-martialled and sentenced to two years’ hard labour in a camp on Dartmoor, the first conscientious objector (CO) to be given such a sentence. There was a public outcry and in the end, he served a few months’ hard labour before finding himself back with the army to deal with. He would be court-martialled again, as many were.

There is no record of him after the war, living or working in St Helens. He just seems to have vanished.

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