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Leslie Gordon Harris: October 1916 – 31 December 2012

Leslie Gordon Harris, Christian pacifist and Second World War conscientious objector, died at West Middlesex Hospital in December, aged 96.

Born at 155 Hither Green Lane, Lewisham, in 1916, he was brought up in the Congregational Church, and in 1935 responded to the reverend Dick Sheppard’s invitation to declare that ‘I renounce war and will never support or sanction another’, joining the Peace Pledge Union. 

Having left Colfe’s Grammar School in 1932, Leslie started working at Barclay’s bank in 1935 after a brief spell working for stockbrokers in the City. He married Barbara Freeman – a shorthand typist at Barclay’s – in 1942 and they had two daughters, Jane and Pauline, and lived in Isleworth.

As a young man, Leslie sold copies of Peace News outside Lewisham station when the paper started up in 1936, and read it continuously throughout his life right up until his death. After hearing of Donald Soper, Leslie joined his congregation at the Kingsway Hall West London Mission in early 1939, becoming inspired by his Christian pacifist preaching. He attended Sunday morning meetings there during the Second World War, often passing smouldering embers of firebombs from the previous night.

Leslie registered as a conscientious objector during the Second World War and six months after his tribunal was conscripted to the civil defence in September 1940. Leslie worked full-time for the civil ambulance service, working 24-hour shifts from 8am-8am all the way through the war, and continued working for the civil ambulance service for a year after the war before returning to Barclay’s in 1946.

In his evidence to the tribunal, he stated: ‘I am a Conscientious Objector to War, because it is contrary to the Spirit and Teaching of Christianity. As a Christian Pacifist I must therefore refuse to be a party to War and disassociate myself from War organisation so far as I am able and free to do so, whilst co-operating with my fellow men in ways of peace.”

During his training for the ambulance service, Leslie got to know a number of Quakers who, like him, were conscientious objectors to war. In the early 1990s, Leslie started attending the local Quaker meetings to try and find his former civil defence colleagues, and eventually in 2010 became a fully-fledged member, stating that he had finally found his spiritual home. He is survived by his two daughters and six granddaughters.