Conchie. We sometimes see one flitting past as a minor character in a war story. I don’t recall reading a book about what it’s like to be a conscientious objector before. I’m all for them, and the only thing you might object to is that it was so difficult for them to be allowed to do work that they felt able to undertake, from a conscience point of view.
This is not about shirking duty, or being lazy. Those other jobs needed doing as well. It just seemed as if conscientious objectors needed to be punished first, and permitted to join the war effort in their own way, second.
In Barbara Mitchelhill’s Run Rabbit Run the reality of the ‘conchie’ and his family is brought home to the reader. 11-year-old Lizzie and her younger brother Freddie have recently lost their mother, and their peace-loving father has decided they shall not lose another parent if he can help it, and that they shall not be separated.
So they run away when things get too bad in Rochdale. The children at school call her father names, and his own sister, their aunt makes no secret of her disgust over his ‘cowardice.’ Through contacts they are taken to Whiteway, which is a place for many different kinds of people who want to or need to live outside normal society.
But things go wrong, even in this relative paradise, and they end up on the run, and eventually Lizzie’s father is caught and put in prison. Lizzie and Freddie are lucky in that the people they encounter while they are on their own are mostly nice and kind. Their experiences are a new take on children during the war, simply because of the shame forced on them by their father’s status. And it’s chilling to see quite how easy it was for strangers to work out what he was, and how unsympathetic they were.
Run Rabbit Run is a WWII story with a difference.