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The Christadelphian | August 2014

In the magazine this month:

  • Editorial Prayer
  • CMPA Annual Report 2013
  • Letters to the Editor
  • Sunday morning Hands | Trevor A. Pritchard
  • Studies in Matthew’s Gospel 08 – “On this rock I will build my church” | John Benson
  • Archaeology in focus 08 – “Place of trumpeting” | James Andrews
  • 100 years on Reflections on the Great War | John Botten
  • Bible Companion | John Hingley
  • The purpose of the Ecclesia 06 – The Ecclesia as the bride of Christ part 2 | Peter Anderton & Paul Tovell
  • Enhancing our worship Suggestions for August | John Botten
  • Jamaica Easter Youth Camp A perfect weekend! | Shawn & Marnie Snobelen
  • 100 years ago
  • Book Review Job Study Guide by John Roberts | Andrew Bramhill
  • Faith Alive! Practical prayer in the Psalms | Amy Parkin
  • Signs of the times Nearer the exit? | Roger Long
  • Israel and their Land Trouble in Gaza | Roger Long
  • Epilogue “Anguish … until Christ is formed in you” | David Caudery
  • The brotherhood near and far

A sample article from this edition:

100 years on

Reflections on the Great War

THE First World War was one of the most important events of the twentieth century, shattering the international settlement of the previous century and leading almost inevitably to the Second World War.

The War brought serious challenges to the Christadelphian community, challenges reflected in the pages of The Christadelphian and Fraternal Visitor magazines. In this brief series, these will be considered from time to time.

“A bolt from the blue”

“The murder of the Archduke Francis Ferdinand and his Consort on June 28th, at Sarajevo, has proved to be the match the dropping of which has converted Europe into a ‘lake of fire’. It has come like a bolt from the blue …” (“Signs of the Times” – September 1914, The Christadelphian, page 451)

When the first news was received of the murder by Gavrilo Princip of Franz Ferdinand and his wife, it was not front page news. The Times newspaper reported it on page 7 very much as just another assassination in a Europe accustomed to periodic murders of kings and politicians. After all Tsar Alexander II of Russia had been killed by a bomb thrown by a Polish student in March 1881; the Austrian Emperor Franz Joseph’s wife, Elizabeth, had been stabbed to death boarding a lakeside steamer in Geneva by an anarchist in 1898 and the Russian Prime Minister Stolypin assassinated in a Kiev theatre in 1911, to name but a few. The main comment in the newspapers was about the extraordinary ill fortune of the House of Hapsburg: Franz Joseph’s brother Maximilian had died in an ill-fated attempt to become emperor of Mexico in 1867, his son Rudolf committed suicide at Mayerling in 1889, his wife had been murdered and now his nephew and heir and his wife had been shot dead in Sarajevo in yet another episode in the troubled history of the Balkans.

It is doubtful if many of the British public had ever heard of Sarajevo before and many people, including politicians, saw it as an unfortunate episode which might raise temperatures in a troubled area which had experienced two wars within the previous three years. However, those wars had been prevented from spreading by the intervention of the great powers, Austria-Hungary, Germany, Britain, France and Russia, and expectations in the initial days after the murders were that this new mini-crisis could also be resolved. No one in those first days and weeks thought that it would lead to a world war. Other crises involving the Powers had come and gone without leading to conflagration, so why should this one be any different?

Militarism and alliances

Of course, the Powers were all armed to the teeth and had been for some years; in January 1914 The Christadelphian noted the huge rise in the number of Dreadnought battleships across the Powers – up from 1 in 1905 to 125 in 1912 and 150 in 1913. The “Signs of the Times” column noted the “steady drift towards Armageddon” and that the nations were “angrier than ever”. But it also noted the general concern that money devoted to growing armies and navies was being wasted at a time of great social need. In those early months of 1914 there was no great sense of urgency, even amongst eagle-eyed surveyors of the world stage in the Christadelphian Office. Indeed an interesting observation from the Daily Chronicle quoted in February 1914’s magazine was that, “Never has Europe been more militarist or less warlike”. This comment reflected the widespread feeling that the very level of military preparedness made war less likely. The two great alliances, of Austria-Hungary and Germany on one hand and Britain, France and Russia on the other, seemed to cancel one another out and peace of a sort had prevailed ever since 1871 – a period of just over forty years. Whilst there were signs of troubled times ahead, in the spring of 1914 there was little awareness of the imminence of the disaster about to unfold or the millions of lives it would consume. People had become lulled into a false sense of security.

Watching world events

The Christadelphian magazines of those early months have a recognisable mixture of exposition, exhortation and other articles of general interest. There was much concern for the fledgling Jewish settlements in Palestine, then still under Turkish rule; Brother Frank Jannaway sent regular reports of his travels there and in neighbouring Bible lands. There was great concern for Jews being persistently mistreated in Russia, comments on events and matters of interest in other churches and the regular reports of ecclesial activities. Until September, after the war had started, the lecture titles recorded were a cross-section of issues, with few if any indicating an imminent world crisis.

So there is an interesting mix of news. In February 1914 aeroplanes were seen over Jerusalem for the first time; in March it was reported that the European Unity League was advocating an alliance of the states of Europe on an economic basis and that suggestions had been made that Jerusalem should be declared a neutral city. In April there was a report of some Suffragettes setting up their own women-only church; in May the visit of the King and Queen to Paris to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the Entente Cordiale alliance with France; in June an article bewailed the failure of clergymen in the established Church to uphold the authority of the scriptures, especially with regard to miracles.

The magazine reports were not entirely ignorant of the threats posed by the Powers’ large armies and navies. In April the “Signs of the Times” reported that there were rumours that some of the Powers might consider that a “preventative” war would be better than allowing their enemies to grow stronger and stronger; it also listed the huge armies of the time – Russia 1,700,000 men, Germany 870,000, France 714,000, Austria 360,000 and Italy 290,000. Relying on its navy, Britain mustered a mere 256,000. In June a letter raised the question of whether it would be wise to send a fresh petition to the British Parliament again to request exemption if conscription was introduced: the rather cautious response was that the time was not right for such an action, although the Lincoln Ecclesia had petitioned on the subject in 1913 and received responses from senior politicians including Asquith, Lloyd George and Winston Churchill.

The July “Signs of the Times”, probably written before the news of the assassination in Sarajevo broke, covered a diverse range of events – the crisis in Ireland over Home Rule; the Suffragette campaign which included planting a bomb behind the Coronation Chair in Westminster Abbey; oil exploration in Southern Persia; a suggestion from an Admiral Scott that air power and submarines would eventually make warships obsolete; references to a revolution in Albania and to collisions at sea. Even in August, the assassination only made an appearance as the third item in “Signs of the Times”, although the publication of the magazine at the beginning of the month and early requirements for copy may account for this.

The crisis everyone in Britain feared concerned Ireland, which was then entirely within the United Kingdom. A Home Rule Bill passed through the House of Commons in June 1914, but the Protestant northern counties of Ulster had been preparing for some years to resist if any attempt were made to force them into a united independent Ireland. Ulster Defence Volunteers openly marched and prepared to fight, with large numbers of guns being smuggled into the country. British Army officers stationed at the Curragh threatened to resign rather than be ordered to take action against the Protestant counties. Had the war not intervened, a civil war in Ireland would almost certainly have broken out.

The low priority given to the assassination in Sarajevo reflected the initial lack of alarm amongst the leaders of the Great Powers. The German Foreign Minister went off on July 5th on his honeymoon; the Kaiser set out the next day for his usual twenty-day summer cruise to Scandinavia; other leaders looked forward to time on holiday away from the troubles of the world. The British public planned whatever time they could get at the seaside or other holiday destinations, looking forward to August Bank Holiday, then on the first Monday in August.

A rapid escalation

All things continued much as before until July 24, when Austria-Hungary’s fierce ultimatum to Serbia, who it blamed for the assassination, set in train a rapid escalation. The Austrians had first secured the support of the Germans for this move, which made the involvement of Russia and France more likely. Within a week the mobilisation of the rival armies of Europe, unable to stand and watch their allies attacked or threatened, had brought Austria-Hungary and Germany into war with Russia and France. The invasion of Belgium as part of the German plan to defeat France quickly brought Britain into the war on August 4 and the last summer of the old order was overwhelmed by the earthquake which was the Great War.

There are lessons in all this for us. We too live in days when we have become accustomed to living with crises in different parts of the world. They form a constant backdrop to our lives. Scarcely a day goes by without a fresh report of trouble in the Middle East, whilst the Great Powers of our day posture and threaten much as they did a hundred years ago. So it is easy to be lulled into a false sense of security and to push beyond the horizon our expectation of the Second Coming and the final crises of this world which will precede it. The Lord warned us that his return would come suddenly “as a thief in the night”. In 1914, the world which then was disintegrated in the space of little more than a month from the assassination of Franz Ferdinand, serving as a warning of how quickly things change in God’s purpose. The lesson is clear and uncompromising:

“Watch therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming … therefore you also must be ready; for the Son of man is coming at an hour you do not expect … Lest he come suddenly and find you asleep.” (Matthew 24:42,44; Mark 13:36)

John Botten

 

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