A Conscientious Objector in Hackney in 1945

Tony Gibson was a registered conscientious objector during World War two. He worked initially at an ambulance station in London before heading off for agricultural work in South Wales. Tony made his way back to London in March 1945 (about six months before the end of the war):

“Then I got my cards from South Wales and obtained employment as a carpenter in a firm repairing the bomb-blasted houses in Hackney, East London.

Here again pacifist and anarchist contacts stood me in good stead, for the building firm belonged to pacifists, and most of its workers were Conscientious Objectors of one kind or another – Christian pacifists, members of the Socialist Party of Great Britain, anarchists, fringe Trotskyists, and a few deserters from the forces who lived precarious lives without proper identity documents. When inspectors came round, the foreman told these latter characters to make themselves scarce for a while, since they didn’t appear on the firm’s books.

We even had one genuine Fascist, a mild little man who admired Mussolini (who had recently been killed). This fellow had a bad time in arguments with his work-mates, and was threatened with violence to drive him off the job, until a brawny young socialist declared that he would be his protector: ‘A man is entitled to his opinions, however daft'”

Tony Gibson – Burgess Hill School: A Personal Account
Photo of a bomb damaged housing in Ferncliff Road, Dalston courtesy of Hackney Archives

I thought this was a really interesting insight into the various strands of radical thought that were floating around in Hackney during the war. Anarchists are often seen as a chaotic destructive force, but this is a good example of one rebuilding people’s homes after they’d been destroyed by the Luftwaffe. This ties in with the hundreds of anarchist squatters in Hackney who would repair and redecorate derelict houses after the war right up to the 1990s.

Tony Gibson

Tony’s account above is the preamble to a longer piece about his work as a handyman at Burgess Hill Free School in Hampstead which was set up on anarchist-ish principles. This was published in the anarchist journal The Raven in 1987 and can be read on Libcom.

Whilst working as a labourer in Hackney, Gibson was also one of the temporary editorial team of the anarchist newspaper War Commentary, when most of the regular staff were imprisoned in 1945. He went on to some prominence in the field of psychology and remained an anarchist until his death in 2001. Libcom has also republished a Guardian obituary for him with more details of his life.

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