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The Christadelphian | November 2014

In the magazine this month:

  • Editorial Would-be disciples
  • Letters to the Editor
  • Sunday morning Comfort in persecution | Hamilton Wilson
  • 100 years ago
  • Studies in Matthew’s Gospel 11 – “That it might be fulfilled …” | John Benson
  • The ministry of reconciliation | Geoff Henstock
  • Archaeology in focus 11 – Horses & riders | James Andrews
  • Reflections on the Great War (2) | Les Shears
  • Bible Companion | John Hingley
  • Enhancing our worship Suggestions for November | John Botten
  • The purpose of the Ecclesia 09 – The Ecclesia as the flock part 2 | Peter Anderton & Paul Tovell
  • Electronic Hymn book
  •  “Until seventy times seven” | Stephen Whitehouse
  • Faith Alive! Seeing the invisible | Paul Dredge
  • Book Review Beginning at Jerusalem by John M. Hellawell | Stephen Whitehouse
  • Signs of the times Russia: strong enough to act? | Roger Long
  • Israel and their Land Parting the land | Roger Long
  • Epilogue  “Examine yourselves … test yourselves” | David Caudery
  • The brotherhood near and far

A sample article from this edition:

Reflections on the Great War (2)

On August 4, 1914, the British government issued an ultimatum to Germany, demanding that their troops leave neutral Belgium. Germany had declared war on France the previous day and had begun the invasion of Belgium as a precursor to the planned encirclement of Paris. Following the rejection of the ultimatum, Britain declared war on Germany at 11 pm.

The war begins

Many greeted this action with enthusiasm, convinced that the war was a just cause and that it would soon be brought to a successful conclusion. However, as Brother John Botten pointed out in his introductory article (August’s issue, page 354), while the Royal Navy was supposedly far superior to any other navy, the British army was far smaller than the vast armies of continental Europe and the British Expeditionary Force which set off for Belgium numbered only around 120,000. If the British were to make more than a token contribution to the land war then the established principle of a volunteer army might have to be overturned. This was even more apparent by the end of August, following the battles of Mons and Le Cateau where the BEF had sustained heavy casualties and, along with the French army, been forced into a long retreat by vastly superior German forces. On September 5 (by which time the Germans had reached the River Marne and were threatening Paris), newly appointed Secretary of War, Lord Kitchener, called for 100,000 volunteers and over the next week some 175,000 enlisted. News of German atrocities committed against Belgian civilians was eagerly seized on by a jingoistic press and helped in this process. Although the German army was forced back from the Marne, much fighting lay ahead in 1914 before the front line was stabilized – roughly along a line running north from Noyon past Arras and around Ypres to the Belgian coast, and east and south to the Swiss frontier. By the end of the year the British, French and Belgians had suffered a combined total of over 1,000,000 killed, wounded or missing, the vast majority of them French. The BEF’s ability to function had been severely compromised; more and more men would be required. There was still no suggestion of any immediate need for conscription, but public opinion was becoming increasingly ‘hawkish’.

Things had not gone well at sea either and elements of the German fleet had bombarded towns along the east coast, notably Hartlepool, Scarborough and Whitby, causing over 700 casualties. One victim of those bombardments was Brother Ripley of Whitby, whose house was practically destroyed by a shell, although he escaped injury.

Objection to military service

How did the brotherhood respond to the outbreak of war and its progress over the first six months? It would be good to be able to report that there was unanimity, but alas, that was not the case. Indeed, there was not even agreement as to whether we should petition government to register our conscientious objection to military service. There are lessons here for us all.

The cabinet had first discussed the necessity of conscription for all males aged 18-40 back in 1875, prompting Brother Robert Roberts to suggest that “a petition to Parliament might not be without advantage”. [1] No lesser figure than William Gladstone agreed to present the petition, only for disagreements within the brotherhood about the timing of the petition to surface and it was abandoned. In 1903, perhaps prompted by the South African War, a petition signed by about forty ecclesias was prepared but not presented. Almost immediately after the declaration of war in 1914 the issue again raised its head within the community. [2] On August 13, 1914, a meeting attended by almost 1,000 persons was held at the Temperance Hall in Birmingham. The following resolutions were passed with “practical unanimity”:

“‘That this meeting records its unshaken conviction that the commandments of Christ forbid the bearing of arms and bloodshedding.’

‘That in the present state of the nation it is not desirable to present a petition praying exemption from the bearing of arms.’

‘That we agree to the form of petition that has been presented and place it on record for possible use hereafter.’”

At the same time it was noted that there was some objection to clause 7, “for reasons which need not now be stated”. [3]

The reasons for delay in registering our position with the government are difficult to fathom. There was obviously a concern that any petition should not appear to be prompted merely by any current conflict, but there does appear to have been a degree of complacency when there was no immediate threat.

Facing a time of trial

If there seemed to be agreement about our objection to military service, there was considerable disagreement about what brothers and sisters could or should do in the event of war. The original wording of clause 7 was:

“That the conscientious objection of your petitioners does not extend to strictly non-combatant branches of National Service, but only to those which involve the bearing of arms or resort to force.”

Apparently, the author of this clause intended it to mean that brothers would have no objection to work of national value in a civil capacity not involving an oath of allegiance, but it is easy to see how the wording could be misconstrued and lead to future problems. The clause was omitted from the petition that was finally presented. Nonetheless, this remained a difficult area. An article entitled, “Our Plain Duty” appeared in the September edition of The Christadelphian. The author was clear that “we may neither bear arms nor use violence”, but he went on to write:

“In free civil life brethren may be found employed about munitions of war, for in this century nearly everything can be, and is, put to military use; therefore to work in a non-combatant capacity under conscription cannot rightly be called an outrage on our faith and practice. There are already some of us who, from good Samaritan motives, are now volunteering medical, and nursing, and other kindred service …”

It may well be that almost anything could be used in the war effort, but it is concerning to read of one meeting welcoming a brother whose work “at Vickers’ gun factory” had brought him to the area. [4] How could such employment be considered appropriate?

It is easy to sit back and criticise those who were volunteering for medical work, as service in the Royal Army Medical Corps did involve taking the oath of allegiance and working under military direction. However, we should try take into account the atmosphere in which this was taking place. The government had been quick to claim that we were fighting in a just cause and pressures came on every side – the press, public opinion and even employers. We can get an idea of the sort of pressures that existed by looking at an extract from an article entitled, “Our Attitude Towards War” published in The Fraternal Visitor in October 1914:

“If ever any war were justifiable, this is one, which, from our point of view, is just … But even so, we, as Brethren in Christ, can take no hand even in this war. Not that we wish others to fight our battles; we do not. Many of us younger brethren feel so convinced of the soundness of our cause that, apart from religious scruples, we desire to take up arms on behalf of our country and in defence of all that we hold dear.” [5]

Even with a clear understanding of our duty towards God, it is evident that this was indeed a most difficult situation and not all were able to resist the instinct alluded to in the article. Thus, Sheffield (Suffolk Street) Ecclesia reported that a brother and two senior members of Sunday School had joined the RAMC, [6] while others went further and enlisted for the duration in fighting units. There are reports of this happening at Newport, Northampton, Kidderminster and York. [7] At York the brother was withdrawn from and this led to three further withdrawals, but, it appears that he had a change of heart and was able to extricate himself from the army and all were eventually restored to fellowship. [8] In other instances there was an expression of sadness and a wish that in the not too distant future they could be welcomed home again. It is difficult to be certain of the fate of all who joined up, but it seems that at least one of those brothers did not survive the conflict. [9]

The weapons of our warfare

It was appropriate that the Editorial section of The Christadelphian in November 1914 commenced with a short piece entitled, “The Weapons of our Warfare”. It began by citing 2 Corinthians 10:3-5:

“Though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh: (for the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds;) casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ.”

It concluded, “If we have faith in Christ we shall eschew carnal weapons and confine ourselves to ‘the sword of the Spirit’ and ‘the whole armour of God.’ If we have not faith we may ‘take the sword and perish with the sword’, as Christ has said”. [10]

Les Shears

[1] The Christadelphian, 1878, page 85.

[2] As Brother John pointed out in his article, Lincoln Ecclesia had already had correspondence with some MPs on the subject.

[3] The Christadelphian, 1914, page 422.

[4] The Christadelphian, 1915, pages 85,86.

[5] The Fraternal Visitor, 1914, page 286. The article itself runs from pages 285-289.

[6] The Fraternal Visitor, 1914, page 346.

[7] The Fraternal Visitor, 1914, page 376; The Christadelphian, 1914, pages 525,565,566.

[8] The Christadelphian, 1915, page 189.

[9] It appears that he died of wounds at a field hospital in Merville, France on July 9, 1917.

[10] The Christadelphian, 1914, page 505.

 

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