Corder Catchpool


Corder Catchpool was born in Leicester, UK.  He was educated at Sidcot Friends' School and at Bootham School in York, then apprenticed as an engineer.

During the First World War, Catchpool served voluntarily in the Friends Ambulance Unit (FAU) from 1914 to 1916 and was awarded the Mons Star. However, when conscription was introduced in 1916, he felt he could no longer serve the military machine.

He joined absolutist conscientious objectors in refusing to serve in any capacity that would aid the war.  He resigned from the FAU and was imprisoned. He told the court martial which sentenced him
I have heard a call above the roar of the guns.
In ‘The Absolutist and the Carmelite’, he defined an absolutist as,

A man to whom the sinfulness of war seems so appalling that he must struggle against it, wrestle to deliver a world bound by it; feels that anything less would be to him drifting with the tide – not stemming it.

Catchpool, whose health suffered while in jail, compared his imprisonment with the voluntary withdrawal from the world of a secluded monk or nun.

After his release from prison in 1919, he became involved in relief and reparations in Germany, working with the Friends War Victims Relief Committee in Berlin.

In 1931, the British Friends Service Council appointed him as Quaker Representative to the Quaker Centre (later the Friends International Centre) in Berlin and he moved there with his wife, Gwen, and his four children.

Catchpool believed his tasks should include extending advice and relief to pacifists and to those experiencing persecution and political difficulties.

On 1st April 1933, a few months after the Nazi party came to power in Germany, Germans were ordered to boycott all shops owned by Jews.  Catchpool and his wife, along with other German Quakers, made a point of defying the order and visiting Jewish shops.  Two days later, their house was searched and the family arrested.  Catchpool was interrogated at the Gestapo headquarters, and though he was released 36 hours later, the case against him was not dropped for another year.

Catchpool along with another British Quaker, William Hughes, also visited the families of Jewish prisoners, to try and meet their needs and find ways of helping them emigrate.  They made requests to see particular prisoners and were deeply disturbed by the conditions they found at what were, in fact, the beginnings of concentration camps.  All the time they were walking a fine line. Should they report their findings openly back in Britain and risk not being allowed to continue their visits? Should they maintain a dialogue with high-ranking Nazis, however distasteful that might be?

The Catchpools returned to London on 1936 when their term of service at the Friends International Centre was finished.  Catchpool continued to travel regularly to the continent, acting as an interpreter in peace efforts and also as a relief worker for Germans in Czechoslovakia and Lithuania.

When the war began in 1939, he supported British conscientious objectors and volunteered for hospital duty.  Along with Vera Brittain, fellow member of the secular pacifist organisation, the Peace Pledge Union, he set up the Bombing Restriction Committee in 1942 to call upon both Britain and Germany to cease the mass bombing of cities and consequent killing of civilians.

In 1946, Catchpool returned to Germany as a relief worker.  In 1947, at the invitation of the Friends Relief Service, he and his wife took over the running of the Quaker Rest Home for ex-prisoners of the Nazis at Bad Pyrmont in Germany. During 1950 and 1951, they represented the Friends Service Committee in West Berlin.

Corder Catchpool died in a mountaineering accident in Switzerland in 1952.  Hughes, who wrote his biography, called him the ‘Indomitable Friend’.

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