Service Civil International
A blog around workcamps in the mid-1950's
by Philipp Rodriguez (Oct 5, 2012)
From time to time, the SCI Archives website features memories of former workcamp volunteers. Over the past year, Greg Wilkinson, now aged 75, has been working on a blog called 'Lifework Drafts' which includes two years on SCI work-camps in the mid-50s, when he refused military service in Britain. In 1962, Greg returned to SCI and a newly-independent Algeria, before turning to journalism. His workcamp blogs are part of a wider of a wider exploration. Here, we ask what moved him to write these very personal accounts.
What do you write about in your 'Lifework drafts'?
I'm trying to revalue work at the heart of human life, my own for a start. In the mid-50s, I found myself employed as a long-term volunteer with SCI in workcamps around Britain, Europe, Algeria and Lebanon. That time was important to me, and no doubt to others who may have seen things very differently.
Why the SCI?
Because IVS, the UK branch, had agreed to provide alternative service in workcamps to young men - only young men were conscripted then - who were recognised as 'conscientious objectors.' I was lucky enough to be offered a more constructive outlet with SCI than I might have in preserving British colonies or defending Germany.
Your first camps in Algeria were before the country became independent. What significance did that have for you?
I had family in British colonies at the time, but this was my first experience of colonial oppression in close-up. Later, I saw another side of the picture when I returned to a newly independent Algeria, after leaving university in 1962. There was an SCI reconstruction project near Tlemcen, over-ambitious but worth revisiting in future blogs.
Later you worked as a foreign correspondent, but your blogs are not in that style.
My stories are not objective accounts. I kept no diaries and could not begin to document projects objectively. I'm fishing for my own experience, what moved and informed my life. At the time or in retrospectL with half a century gone, I have the benefits and failings of hindsight. I am aware of how fragile memories and life can be.
What comes next in your 'Lifework drafts'?
I have paused my blogging for a few months while I work out what to do with some bits of other people's lives that touched on mine. But next in line are Switzerland and Lebanon.
For more 'Lifework drafts' go to http://workfree.blogspot.co.uk. For Greg's account of his time on the long-running Mannheim workcamp in Germany (1955) see our www.service-civil-international.org/wilkinson-greg