Today 1926 is chiefly remembered for being the year of the ‘General Strike’ which saw workers and Trade Unions across Great Britain fail in their fight for better working conditions as middle class volunteers united to maintain essential services. However there was another unifying event in 1926 which the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) played a key part in – The Great Peace Pilgrimage.
As part of WILPF’s campaign for universal disarmament sections from across the world undertook various activities in 1926 to spread this message to as many people as possible – however it was the British section that made the most spectacular demonstration for disarmament. In January 1926 WILPF set up a joint council to plan a nationwide ‘peace pilgrimage’ under the slogan of ‘Law not War’. The council consisted of 28 women’s and peace organisations that were united in their aim for a World Disarmament Conference to be held and for the British government to sign the Optional Clause of the International Court of Justice (which would accept jurisdiction in disputes of a legal nature).
In May, the same month as the General Strike, the Peace Pilgrimage set out along seven different routes from all corners of the country with the same end destination – London. During the journey a thousand meetings were held in towns and villages which the pilgrimage passed through, further spreading the message of peace. On June 18 the first contingent entered London and the next day the whole pilgrimage converged on four rallying points around Hyde Park before each set out in a procession for the final mass demonstration. An eye witness remembered events and their description reveals women of all walks of life took part in the pilgrimage:
“Here were women of the Guild House in blue cassocks and white collars, bearing their banners aloft; behind them walked members of the League of Nations Union, with bannerettes representing various countries of the world… there was a group of miners wives. At the head of each procession rode a woman in a Madonna blue cloak on a white horse.”
The pilgrimage ended with a pageant in Hyde Park and from twenty two platforms speakers from all political parties supported the aims of the demonstration. The whole of Great Britain was united in the call for peace, special peace services were held in hundreds of churches and the press gave the pilgrimage significant coverage and commented favourably on it. However despite the significant support for peace demonstrated by the Pilgrimage it took six years for a World Disarmament Conference to be held.