Richmond Castle has been standing since shortly after William the Conqueror invaded England in 1066.
Throughout its long history, the fortress in North Yorkshire has held a lot of prisoners. Surprisingly, it was still being used for this purpose as recently as 100 years ago, during World War I.
Conscientious objectors — people who refused to take part in the war on moral or religious grounds — were held in the castle’s tiny cells.
And while they were there, they scratched messages of protest and pictures into its walls. A kind of World War I graffiti.
Since then, the castle walls have been crumbling away, threatening to erase those historical marks.
But now the structure is going to be saved, thanks to a grant of half a million dollars just approved to preserve the site.
The identities of many of the graffiti artists remain unknown, but according to Leyland, some of the drawings were made by a group who came to be known as the “Richmond Sixteen.”
Imprisoned in the castle for refusing to take part in the war effort, the group was then forcibly sent to France to carry out non-combat roles on the front.
When they continued to resist, they were sentenced to death by firing squad. But “in a dramatic scene, their sentences were reduced to 10 years of hard labor,” said Leyland.
“But they were willing to go all the way and face the ultimate deterrent. They would rather be killed than kill.”
The worship of conscientious objectors is often done for the same reasons as soldier worship, and by the same people. The only difference is when it happens.
Often, the celebration of conscientious objectors is a feel-good act countries use to claim “moral superiority”. But at the time people question whether a government is behaving morally and need support, those who ask for it are either abandoned or called “cowards”. Too many feel “I was only following orders” is only inexcusable when they give the inexcusable orders.
Joe Glenton’s time as a prisoner of conscience was not as long as the Richmond Sixteen, but is still significant.
If the walls of that place could tell all the stories trapped within, you could probably listen forever.