WWI and the Adventist Church

Comments on WWI

How has the documentary, these pages, or the live presentations affected you?  Were members of your family involved in World War 1?  Do you have a story to tell?  We would love to hear from you.  Submit your comment below and read a selection of comments that we have already received.

Note: All comments will be moderated. While all comments will be responded to, the editor reserves the right to only publish a representative sample of comments received.

Your Comments:

"I have just viewed A Matter of Conscience. Although I had read your earlier articles, and heard some of the stories, this presentation has impressed me deeply. Thank you for the work you put into making the story available. It would be good for all our youth to view it." [Jan Pearce. Grantham]

"Oh to have the courage and fortitude these guys had when in such a situation. Being called on to witness sometimes is so easy, but at other times ... we seem unable. Lord give us whatever it takes to stand firm for You." [Eliot Bolst - via Adventist Review]

"Sadly, war seems to bring out either the best or the worst in people. These young men were certainly honest and brave in individually honouring their convictions in the face of severe abuse. It would have been much easier to cave in. The day can't come soon enough when all of this is forgotten forever!" [Dan Burrington - via Adventist Review]

"Congratulations on your documentary. It was superb! Having lived in the States for a few years now and seeing how celebrated military service seems to be within the Church here, I've been thinking more about the history of our pacifist stand. The film answered a lot of question and, I hope, stimulates some debate about this question." [Mark C. Maryland, USA]

I just thought I'd add a few more words to the additional information you are receiving about the story of the Adventist conscientious objectors during WW1.

At that time both my grandfathers, John Benefield and Gilmour Dando, were Methodists. Because of that church’s teachings they too were conscientious objectors and so grandfather Dando was incarcerated in Dartmoor Prison. Whilst he was there he became acquainted with another prisoner who was a SDA. They were not allowed to speak to each other, I gather, but both 'happened' to clean the others cell. As a result my grandfather was able to leave 'notes' of chalky stone written on the brick walls in this man's cell. This arrangement enabled grandfather to ask questions about the Sabbath, which his friend was free to answer in the same way, in my grandfathers cell. As a result grandfather became convicted of the Sabbath and, once the war was over, both my grandparents became Seventh day Adventist.

John Benefield had a different story. He was a baker and so he was exempt from armed service, as his skills were needed at home but every few months he had to go before a tribunal, in order to re-establish his status. This took place in a court house 13 miles from his home in Bournemouth. As losses mounted the Tribunal became more strict, constantly looking for any loop hole they could use to dispatch even essential workers to the army. My grandfather attended 13 of these tribunals during the course of the war, leaving his wife and 6 children at home to pray for a good result. Had the decision gone against him he would have been taken from the court straight into the army with no chance to say goodbye to his family. On the last occasion, as he was walking back home, he met my grandmother, who had walked 6 miles to meet him. He asked her why she was there, given she did not know the results of the Tribunal. Grandmother told him that she had been praying about the court case and God had told her grandfather would be freed and so, with no idea how long it would be before he was released, she decided to go and meet him.

It is good for us to remember the work of these pioneers, now long gone, who contributed so much of their lives and finances to the church not only in Britain but in many cases in the various mission fields too. [Elizabeth Yap, Australia]

"Deeply moving and very well presented, it gave me a greater insight into the meaning of courage, love and man's inhumanity to man." [Richard S]  

"I enjoyed your superb documentary “A Matter of Conscience”. This is a very relevant topic, well researched and excellently produced. Well done!" [Andre Brink. Associate Communication director, General Conference of Seventh-day Adventists]

"A very moving and thought provoking account. We are all fortunate, in one way or another, to have lived through times that have not been as extreme and demanding of sacrifice as they were during those years of war and deprivation. Does each of us have more or less character instilled in these less demanding times? Who can tell until tested by similar events." [Mervyn H]

"Great respect is due to Victor Hulbert and his team for this excellent documentary, recovering stories that deserve to be known, of young men whose courage deserves to be honoured." [David Trim, General Conference office of archives and statistics, USA]

"Congratulations on bringing this incredible story to public attention!" [Elaine D]

"Thank you for this inspiring story. My mother, Dora Whiting (later Keough) was a little girl in Plymouth when the young SDA conscientious objectors were in the Dartmoor Prison." [Gillian G]

"Certainly a story worth telling for so many reasons, thanks for sharing! An excellent production. I think it will have a significant impact with regards to those facing such issues today." [Penny B]

"Thank you so much for the sermon on Sabbath. Was fascinating. I think it is a brilliant idea investigate what Adventists were doing as we hear all the talks about the 100 years this year... Thank you, was just amazing. All I can think of is the hymn, how shall I stand on that great day." [Johannie FG]

"Thank you and Praise the Lord, for sharing the history of our church's position on bearing arms. For sharing the experience of those who denied self, took up the cross, and followed Jesus. The youth in our church need to hear about these heroes of faith and others like them. THANK YOU for your courage to lift them up as heroes. THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU." [Patrick Jones]

From Australia:

"My father (Charles Henry Tew) was first in Wormwood Scrubbs then on to Dartmoor. He was only 15 in 1914 so he may not have been involved until toward the end of the war and the witness of the group in France may by then have had some effect. At Dartmoor he was involved in vegetable growing, but everything was done in a most difficult way possible. They did not have wheelbarrows, two men had to carry boxes with handles each end. One person worked out that each cabbage they grew was worth 2/6d in view of the amount of man-hours involved.

At Dartmoor he was involved in vegetable growing, but everything was done in a most difficult way possible

However my father stated that in Dartmoor there were about as many Socialist (of many different brands) and there were Christians (of many different faiths). He claimed that some of those socialist who were in Dartmoor were in government during WWII and that had its effect on how we were treated before the tribunals.

Another point is that during the second war the tribunals were looking for evidence that people were really genuine.

I remember one poor fellow (while I was waiting for my own hearing) who was at a Methodist boarding school, and they would not support him, he was so nervous that he could not see the very helpful questions that were being put to him. His father obviously did not agree fully with him, and tried to avoid testimony on the basis that his son was away from home. He had already volunteered and been accepted by the Friends Ambulance Brigade. Finally the bench asked the father, “In your opinion is he genuine in his beliefs” and the father answered “Yes” and that closed the case and he was directed to serve with the Friends.

I remember a Jehovah’s Witness who was told they did not feel he was saying his own convictions but just spouting his father’s views. He was given three months and then would come back for a second hearing at which time he would either convince them of his own beliefs or go into the army.

The average length of time for a tribunal hearing was about 20 minutes. However for Adventists the average length of time was 5 minutes because every Sabbath we demonstrated that we were willing to be different because of our beliefs. I heard of cases where someone was asked what the Sabbath School memory verse was that week."

[Norman Tew]

Comments from special service at Stanborough Park church, 25 July 2014, commemorating the 16 young men from the church conscripted in May 1916.

"Your prayer for the descendants of those young men who long ago had the courage to test their moral fibre was quite emotional. In today’s world it is a hard-to-understand story. Evidenced in parts of the world today, the futility of war is a lesson still to be learned." [R.C.]

Evidenced in parts of the world today, the futility of war is a lesson still to be learned

"Very interesting and stimulating sermon this morning, thank you Victor. Very salutary hearing about those brave men. [It is] important for people to know about these trying and demanding times Adventists had in the past." [A.P.]

"When you listen to the documentaries online about the reasons behind wars, everyone should be a non-combatant." [Joan]

"Found your sermon so interesting. Watched on livestream. I knew a few of these men and never knew their history. Thank you." [R.S.]

"Thank you for your presentation and your research into this, it has certainly helped to explain where we as Seventh-day Adventists stand on this." [Pastor Mary Barrett]  

From a presentation in Chatham, 18 July 2014.

"I wanted to thank you for your sermon in Chatham on Sabbath. It truly spoke to my heart and I feel It was truly a confirmation from God to keep fighting for the oppressed!"

From Presentations at Camp Meeting.

"Did not get the opportunity at camp to say how inspired I was from your presentation about the world war 1 heroes. It was one of the best messages I've heard at camp." Pastor Richard Daly 

"Those Adventists of yesteryear certainly showed remarkable moral courage in remaining resolute where their religious convictions were concerned. God grant that we, in our time, would show a similar valour and fortitude as they displayed in their time. Indeed, they were heroes... Thanks for bringing their sterling example to the fore for our encouragement and inspiration." Pastor Humphrey Walters.

John F. Kennedy stated, "Mankind must put an end to war, or war will put an end to mankind.... War will exist until that distant day when the conscientious objector enjoys the same reputation and prestige that the warrior does today.

"I recently chose to leave the army after less than my 3 years term. I came to the conclusion that it was wrong for me to kill people. I could not continue. God has blessed me in making that difficult choice. Your presentation has confirmed my decision." [An Adventist soldier. Name withheld]

"I have just watched your presentation that you gave at the SEC Camp Meeting, concerning the persecution given to the young Adventist men who were conscripted in WW1. What an inspiration they proved to be - and it was thrilling to hear you sharing the stand they took." [Pastor Bruce Price - retired, Australia]

Pastor Price went on to share experiences of WW2. His family farm was on the edge of an Army recruitment camp. Adventist servicemen were conscripted into the army medical corp, given Sabbath Privileges and did not have to bear arms. They would often come to his family farm for Friday evening worship. He recounts:

"I shall never forget one Friday evening, when our family was Opening Sabbath, - singing around the old pump organ and there was a knock on the door. My father opened it to find a large group of our Adventist soldiers there. They told him that they had a new and difficult superior who decided he would not allow them to have Sabbath free. They told him they would not work on Sabbath - so he decided to put them in the Camp prison. However, when they were sent there it was found that the prison was overflowing with servicemen who were drunk and there was no room for the Adventists. In desperation they were then told they could have the night off, - so they decided to open the Sabbath with us.

That night there were words of hymns long sung in years gone by that suddenly took new significance. It left a deep impression on my young mind of fellow believers who were prepared to stand for truth and their principles."

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