1954 - Saidie Patterson: ‘Bury the hatchet or bury the dead’

By Andrew Stallybrass

29/03/2021
Saidie Patterson

 

When Saidie Patterson, a trades union organizer from Northern Ireland, spoke at the conference centre at Caux in 1954, she was keen to point out that Moral Re-Armament (now Initiatives of Change) had not weakened her fighting spirit. ‘I thought this was something that made you soft, and I kicked against it for a long, long time. But believe me, friends, I have found that it is much harder to love a person than to hate them.’

Saidie became her family’s breadwinner at the age of 14, caring for her seven siblings and her invalid stepfather after her mother died in childbirth because they couldn’t afford to pay the doctor. She went to work in a linen mill and, in 1940, led a strike calling for full union membership for its women employees. Two years after her speech at Caux, she became the first woman to chair the Northern Ireland Labour Party.

I have found that it is much harder to love a person than to hate them.

She told her audience at Caux that she had direct contact with some 90,000 women through the trade union and labour movement. Then she described an experience she had just had at the conference. ‘A person said something to me the other day which I resented very much. You know the way the British have a habit sometimes of saying the right thing, but at the wrong moment! He was lucky he didn’t get a clip on the ear!’ After some time alone, she had apologised for her reaction because after she left Caux, she would be meeting people in the British cabinet. ‘If I couldn’t say I was sorry here, well, I couldn’t go back to have the answer for those people.’

On another occasion she’d found herself sounding off during tea at the conference centre, about the behaviour of Americans in Northern Ireland during the war. ‘I’m criticizing the Americans again and I discovered that the four ladies that I was having tea with were all Americans! Then they started telling me that all their grandparents had come from Ireland. So they were just exported from Ireland! I never forgot that lesson.’

 

Saidie Patterson plants a memorial Peace Cross for her great-nephewin Belfast in 1979. Photograph from the Bleakley Collection.
Saidie Patterson planting a memorial Peace Cross for
her great-nephew, Belfast 1979 (photo: Bleakley Collection)

 

Saidie had spoken recently at a Labour Party conference where she’d been shocked by the hatred expressed for Germany and the Germans. She had told about how she had been invited to go to Germany with Moral Re-Armament in 1950. ‘I didn't want to go. My own home was wrecked. A nephew was killed on his 21st birthday and I had terrific resentment in my heart, but my friends said resentment’s not going to build a new Germany. When I was in Germany, I met many women in positions like myself. One had been in a concentration camp for her trade union convictions and her two sons were killed by the British. I told that story at the conference and I told them, you need more than a gun in your hand. You need an idea.’

If I couldn’t say I was sorry here, well, I couldn’t go back to have the answer for those people.

In 1973, after retiring from union work, Saidie became the chair of Women Together, working to cure the divisions between Protestants and Catholics in her country. ‘There’s no such thing as “orange” or “green” tears (the colours of the two communities); we all weep together,’ she said. ‘We must decide which we prefer, to bury the hatchet or bury the dead.’

The year before her speech at Caux, Saidie had been decorated by Queen Elizabeth for her work. The Queen asked her how things were going for the women. Saidie replied, ‘Well, ma’am, once our women were just pairs of hands. Now ma’am, they are royal souls like yourself!’

 

Discover the BBC News article on Saidie earning a Blue Plaque in 2018 and watch the Belfast Live video on Saidie.

 

 

__________________________________________________________________________

 

This story is part of our series 75 Years of Stories about individuals who found new direction and inspiration through Caux, one for each year from 1946 to 2021. If you know a story appropriate for this series, please do pass on your ideas by email to John Bond or Yara Zhgeib. If you would like to know more about the early years of Initiatives of Change and the conference centre in Caux please click here and visit the platform For A New World.

 

 

Featured Story
Off
Event Categories
75 stories 75th anniversary

related stories

Patrick Colquhoun

1961 - Patrick Colquhoun: ‘That week changed my life’

‘Papers about Moral Re-Armament (now Initiatives of Change) sent to me by a friend over the previous three years invariably ended in the bin,’ wrote Patrick Colquhoun. But his first visit at the confe...

Marcel Grandy and Archbishop Makarios

1960 - Cyprus: 'Hope never dies'

There are few problems in the world that have not found some echo in the conferences and encounters in Caux since 1946. In 1960 Cyprus gained its independence, after several years of sometimes violent...

Lennart Segerstrale

1959 – Lennart Segerstråle: ‘Art must be dangerous to evil’

In 1959, a vast fresco was unveiled on the wall of the dining room of the Caux Palace. Its creator, the Finnish artist Lennart Segerstråle, chose the universal image of water to represent his vision o...

Caux school 4

1958 - Angela Elliott: At school in Caux

Angela Cook (later Elliott) arrived in Caux in 1958, aged four. She was one of some 40 children who lived in Caux at different times between 1955 and 1965, attending a small chalet school just up the ...

Jessie Bond 1945

1957 - Jessie Bond: 'I saw his greatness'

Jessie Bond was struggling to cope with four children and her husband’s frequent outbursts. She was seriously thinking of leaving him when they went to Switzerland to spend the summer in Caux. A time ...

Freedom scene square

1955 - Freedom: 'Do you think you could write a play?'

‘We were catapulted into history,’ said Manasseh Moerane, one of the writers of Freedom. The play was seen by 30,000 people all over Europe and demand was so great that they decided to make a film. Fr...

Zeller family black and white

1956 – The Zellers: A family invested in Caux

‘We had the great joy of deciding to sell our house and give the money to Caux,’ Anneli Zeller told the conference on the 29 July 1956. ‘The man we sold it to was so impressed that he gave 10,000 Swis...

Mohamed Masmouti

1953 – Mohamed Masmoudi: 'Stop cursing the French!'

In 1953, Mohamed Masmoudi, a young Tunisian nationalist living a semi-clandestine existence, came to Caux, more or less smuggled across the border into Switzerland. At Caux, he lost his hatred of the ...

Maurice Mercier 1951

1951 - Maurice Mercier: 'Not one cry of hatred'

‘He would have looked at home serving behind a bar down the street,’ the Swiss Jean-Jacques Odier wrote of his first meeting with Maurice Mercier in the offices of France’s Force Ouvrière textile work...

Maclean wedding Caux 1958 square

1952 - Elsbeth and Adam McLean: A Caux wedding

When Elsbeth Spoerry from Switzerland helped to clean up the derelict Caux Palace for the first conference in 1946, she could hardly have guessed that, six years later, she would get married there to ...

Yukaki Shoma young

1950 - Yukika Sohma: 'Japan can become reborn'

The Japanese flag was flying outside the conference centre as 64 Japanese arrived in Caux in 1950. It was a moving moment as back in Japan, still under American occupation, displaying the flag was for...

Max Bladeck

1949 - Max Bladeck: Beyond class war

Max Bladeck joined the Communist Party as a young German coal miner in the 1920s. He remained loyal during the Hitler years when tens of thousands of communists were imprisoned or lost their lives. By...

Paul Misraki

1948 - Paul Misraki: Soundtrack for a new Germany

Germany was in ruins. Europe was in ruins. Millions had been killed; millions more wounded and displaced. There were also ruins of the mind, deep collective trauma in desperate need of healing. In the...

Peter Petersen

1947 - Peter Petersen: ‘All our defences crumbled’

‘At that time, even a dog would have refused a bit of bread from the hand of a German,’ remembered Peter Petersen, one of 150 Germans who the Allies allowed to come to Caux in 1947. They were some of ...