The Leeds family whose pacifism spans four generations

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A Leeds Quaker discovered his family’s commitment to pacifism has spanned four generations after finding out that two of his relatives refused to fight in World War One.

Robert Keeble, who spent Armistice Day handing out white poppies to symbolise peace outside the Quaker Meeting House on Woodhouse Lane, researched his family tree and found that two of his great-grandfathers were imprisoned as conscientious objectors during the conflict. Both morally objected to taking other men’s lives and were harshly treated while in jail during a period when public sympathy for pacifists was low.

Robert, 53, also wears a traditional red poppy in memory of his paternal great-grandfather, Walter Keeble, who was killed in the trenches just three months after arriving in France.

Robert’s story forms part of the exhibition Courage, Conscience and Creativity at Leeds City Museum, which explores the role played by the local Quaker movement in the world wars. Many volunteered as stretcher bearers and on ambulance trains to avoid taking up arms. Known for their humanity, the Quaker units also treated injured German prisoners.

The Quakers handed out over 1,000 of the white poppies to students and passers-by in Woodhouse. The alternative symbol was introduced in the 1930s by the Peace Pledge Union and funds raised go towards peace education work.

“We must never forget the ‘lost generation’ from the war of 1914-18, but I wear a white peace poppy because I believe in supporting a culture of peace on Remembrance Day and feel that it is important to remember all the victims of wars, civilians as well as ‘armed forces’ – and our enemies as well as our allies,” said Robert, of Woodhouse.

The exhibition at Leeds City Museum runs until December 4.