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The Christadelphian | December 2015

In the magazine this month:

  • Editorial Sharing God’s experiences
  • Genesis Foundations “And God said …” | Andrew Bramhill (on behalf of the Committee of the CMPA)
  • Letters to the Editor
  • Sunday Morning “If we confess our sins …” | Gerald Hayes
  • The law of jealousy (1) | Rachel Madden
  • Archaeology in focus Leather water skin | James Andrews
  • Reflections on the Great War (4) 1915: The realities of war | Les Shears
  • Towards better Bible study (2) Why is Bible study complicated? | Greg Palmer
  • 100 years ago
  • Baptism stories |  Edward Carr
  • An A-Z of discipleship ‘F’ for Fellowship | Amy Parkin
  • Book Review For Better, For Worse | Stephen Hill
  • CALS Bible Campaign Sale & Urmston | Tom Griffiths
  • Faith Alive! Moses’ three signs | David Simpson
  • Signs of the times God rules in the kingdom of men | Tony Bradshaw
  • Israel and their Land They shall dwell safely | Philip & Judith White
  • Epilogue What is truth? | David Caudery
  • The brotherhood near and far

A sample article from this edition:

Reflections on the Great War (4)

1915: The realities of war

With the development of a stalemate on the Western Front, it became increasingly clear that the conflict would not be over quickly.

The atmosphere in the United Kingdom may have been optimistic in 1914 with the initial expectation that the war would be over by Christmas, but, of course, it was not and the realities of war began to have an increasing impact.


1915 was a year of stalemate and stagnation at the front and the effort to break through on a new front at Gallipoli had been a costly failure. In January the Germans had launched their first Zeppelin air raid on Eastern England, causing twenty casualties, [1] and in February they declared that all vessels sailing to or from Britain were to be considered legitimate targets for their U-boats. The British retaliated by declaring a naval blockade of Germany, causing a wave of protest from neutral countries, including the USA. On May 7 the liner Lusitania, bound for England from New York, was sunk without warning by U-20 off the coast of Ireland with the loss of 1198 lives, including 291 women, 94 children, 128 Americans and Brother F. Skelton. [2]

The previous month, during the Second Battle of Ypres, the Germans had been the first to use poison gas, causing panic in Allied lines and many casualties. Many of the wounded had been taken to Essex Farm dressing station, where a Canadian doctor, John McCrae, was moved to pen the words of the poem, “In Flanders Fields”. In September the British also used poison gas in the battle of Loos, although some of that gas blew back on their own men. Total British casualties in that battle were over 61,000, including John Kipling, son of Rudyard, killed on his first day of action. Later, Rudyard wrote the poem, “Common Form”:

“If any question why we died,
Tell them, because our fathers lied.”

The previous month the Germans had arrested the British nurse Edith Cavell in Brussels; she was executed in October for assisting British and French soldiers to escape. Her final words were that patriotism was not enough and that, “I must have no hatred or bitterness towards anyone”. Nonetheless, as was recorded in The Christadelphian, “There was an immediate wave of indignation and recruiting received an added impetus”. [3] There was no Christmas truce on the Western Front in 1915, as there had been a year earlier.


At home the air raids continued; food prices were controlled, but were going up and so were taxes. The Defence of the Realm Act was progressively strengthened during the war, ostensibly to protect national security, and further restrictions had been placed on daily life almost since hostilities began, imposing lighting restrictions, trading hours, press reporting and a host of other things. There were also restrictions on what could be said or written about the war. [4] In May the Government agreed to intern all enemy aliens who were of military age. A British brother [5] was among some 4,000 who had been interned already in Germany. At Ruhleben he was pleased to be with men “who think upon religion and read their Bibles”. [6] Further news in March suggested that “the accommodation and catering does not err on the side of comfort or luxury”. [7] By August, “Space [was] now allowed for games and he has played in several cricket matches”, but, “He has now been eight months in prison or camp and unfortunately there appears to be no prospect of immediate release”. [8] The experience was no better for those German brothers in Britain: mention has previously been made of Brother W. Heinke of Manchester, who was variously imprisoned / interned on more than one occasion. [9] So was Brother Paul Robling, who learned the Truth from Brother Heinke while interned on the Isle of Man. [10] In the autumn Brother Pfaar, of Finsbury Park (Suffolk Street) was interned, despite the pleading of his ecclesia, leaving his wife and family to cope for themselves. [11]

A National Register

In the same month as they agreed to intern enemy aliens the Government became embroiled in another issue. The Commander-in-Chief of the British army had told the war correspondent of The Times that the British failure in an attack at Neuve Chapelle in March was because of a shortage of shells. The blame was placed on the Minister for War, Kitchener, and developed into a full scale ‘scandal’. Of course, it wasn’t only shells that were in short supply, men were, too. Although voluntary recruitment had been running at about 100,000 a month in the spring of 1915, it could not be maintained and in July a National Registration Act was passed. The Christadelphian reported this in August:

“There is to be a National Register of all men and women and boys and girls between the ages of 15 and 65, excepting only His Majesty’s naval and military forces. The Prime Minister says that this is in no sense a prelude to conscription. The information sought is (for males) in each case: Age last birthday; Nationality if not British; Single, married or widower; Children dependent, under 15 and over 15; Other dependents, not employees; Profession or occupation – full details; Name, Business and Address of Employer (if an employee); Whether employed for or under any government department; Whether skilled in any work than that upon which he is at present employed, and if so what; Whether able and willing to undertake such work. Wilful refusal or neglect to fill in the Form, or for giving false information, is punishable by a fine of £5.

While giving all due credence to the Prime Minister’s disclaimer concerning Conscription, we know, of course, what has rendered National Registration necessary.” [12]

The editor was right to be sceptical about the promises of a politician!

Differences of opinion within the brotherhood concerning what it was and what it was not permissible for a brother in Christ to do in response to the war remained. In the previous article in this series, Brother John Botten referred to the petition for exemption from compulsory military service which had been presented to Parliament in February, 1915. [13] Despite the differences then, when the Registration Act was passed, the editor of The Christadelphian drew attention to that petition:

“With regard to the suggested National Registration and the question whether we are willing to perform any work other than that at which we are at present employed, let all remember that if they are asked to do that which, from religious conviction, they deem unlawful or inexpedient, they are at liberty to say, ‘I am unable to perform any such duty.’ When personally approached by the authorities, an attitude of courtesy should be maintained, and objections stated in ‘meekness and fear’ (1 Peter 3:8,15). Let all brethren and sisters also bear in mind that their chief source of safety in these times of peril will lie in circumspection, prayer and gratitude to God for the deliverance He has so far accorded.

In the ‘Present distress’, when the apostolic injunction to ‘Fear God and honour the King’ (1 Peter 2:17) is brought closely home to every one of us, brethren are hereby reminded that the petition asking for exemption from military service signed on behalf of 150 ecclesias in Great Britain, was presented to Parliament by a member of the House of Commons in February last, and that in the event of compulsory military service coming under consideration, the requisite parliamentary procedure will be followed with the object of pressing the claims of the brethren for the desired relief.

Copies of the above named Petition may be obtained on application to the secretary of any of the London ecclesias or to the editor.” [14]


The mood in the country was becoming increasingly patriotic and more intolerant. The August edition of The Christadelphian included a report of a lecture given by Professor Ridgeway on racial and national security. It makes uncomfortable reading:

“‘Who are the pacifists?’ asked the Professor. First, the Quakers, with whom peace is a fundamental tenet; this canker of Quakerism has tainted other bodies. A nation composed entirely of Quakers and other pacifist sects could not exist; they are mere parasites … The pacifist element, though responsible for the war, is not taking anything like its proper share in national defence. They clamour against universal service because by it they would be forced to take their share of danger, and could no longer sit at home making money out of khaki, chocolate and jam …” [15]

While Quakers such as Rowntree and Cadbury may have been the particular target of his invective, there is a clear relevance to Christadelphians as being another “tainted”, “pacifist” sect.

As the manpower crisis deepened, so the Government stepped up its approach to recruitment. On October 16 the Derby Scheme was introduced, whereby men aged 18-40 could continue to enlist voluntarily or attest, with an obligation to come in when called. The War Office notified the public that voluntary enlistment would soon cease.

In November an article entitled “Our Young Men and the Crisis” appeared in the Fraternal Visitor:

“The United Kingdom is faced with the serious need of recruits to make good the wastage of war and to ensure victory. We are at a crisis in the nation’s history. The voluntary system has been tried, and may be found insufficient. Lord Derby, as the head of the recruiting department, has caused a letter to be sent to all men who are capable of military service asking why they do not enlist at once. Our young men are solicited by recruiting sergeants, and jeered at by their companions, or by the people in the streets. Every endeavour is being made to render life unbearable for the young man who does not enlist …” [16]

The following month a letter from Brother A. Andrew pointed out:

“Several statements have recently appeared in the Press (Church Times for November 19 and 26, The Star, etc.) to the effect that, ‘with the prospect of compulsory service’, there has been a large addition to Christadelphianism of men of military age, and it was suggested that, in view of our conscientious objection to military service, if conscription should be adopted, many who wish to shirk military service may join our body, or may represent themselves to be Christadelphians, for the purpose of shirking service … The article which appears in the Church Times is appended: ‘Among the tenets of the Christadelphians the doctrine that in no circumstances they should bear arms appears to be one. It is, therefore, not without significance that with the prospect of compulsory service there has been a large and steady accession of new recruits to Christadelphianism consisting of men of military age. The fact is beyond dispute, and we may suppose that, when the occasion arises, the plea of a conscientious objection to war will be urged by the Christadelphian neophytes. It is to be hoped that the authorities will ignore such scruples, whether genuine or not. This war is not one of aggression, but of defence, and no man can claim protection for himself and his family if he is not prepared to raise a hand in the cause of our common safety. His conscientious scruples have no weight nor value when to act upon them would endanger the lives of a man’s fellow citizens. If the Christadelphian plea is recognized, it will be found that large numbers of the men who have been prevented from emigrating and others who, like them, desire to escape military service will take advantage of the easy terms on which admission to this convenient sect can be obtained. The recruiting authorities in Birmingham, where, we believe, Christadelphianism is strongest, should keep a watch on the conversions and the converts.’” [17]

There follows a copy of a letter which appeared in The Star on November 25 referring to the above article (written by a brother):

“… Your contemporary’s statement that with the prospect of compulsory service there has been a large and steady accession of new recruits to Christadelphianism, consisting of men of military age, is an absolute falsehood.”

Support for the war by the established churches had been clear from the outbreak of hostilities, although the belligerence of individual clergymen varied greatly.

The situation in Britain as 1915 drew to a close was becoming increasingly difficult, especially for those who sought to stand aside from the rest in obedience to the dictates of their conscience and things were to get a lot worse as compulsory military service was about to be introduced.

Les Shears

[1] In October, the heaviest Zeppelin raid of the year caused 199 casualties.

[2] The Christadelphian, 1915, page 284; and 2015, page 257.

[3] The Christadelphian, 1915, pages 555, 556.

[4] The Christadelphian, 1915, page 28; and 2015, page 118.

[5] T. H. Turner.

[6] Fraternal Visitor, 1915, page 12.

[7] Fraternal Visitor, 1915, page 67.

[8] Ibid., page 252.

[9] The Christadelphian, 2015, page 118.

[10] The Christadelphian, 1915, pages 40, 282, 377.

[11] Fraternal Visitor, 1915, page 314.

[12] The Christadelphian, 1915, page 367.

[13] The Christadelphian, 2015, page 121.

[14] The Christadelphian, 1915, page 363.

[15] The Christadelphian, 1915, page 372.

[16] Fraternal Visitor, 1915, pages 328-330.

[17] Fraternal Visitor, 1915, pages 368, 369.


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