Remembering Watford's Conscientious Objectors during World War One

Remembering Watford's Conscientious Objectors during World War One

Photo from France, 1917. Willie Till is bottom right.

The court martial record for one of the 16 Conscientious Objectors sent to France.

Victor Hulbert reflecting on life in 1914 during filming of 'A Matter of Conscience'.

Victor Hulbert demonstrating manacles during his morning demonstration with Stanborough Park members on 26 July 2014.

Descendants of WW1 Conscientious Objectors who were imprisoned with hard labour in France: Left to right: Victor Hulbert - great nephew of Willie Till, Sheila Burgess, daughter of W Coppock, and Phillip Anderson, son-in-law of Jimmy McGeachey.

First published in News
Last updated
by

As the nation reflects on the 100th anniversary of the start of World War I, more than 500 members of Stanborough Park Seventh-day Adventist Church in Watford took a sombre look back at the history of one of the more disturbing episodes of the great conflict.

Victor Hulbert, great-nephew of a WW1 non-combatant and Stanborough College student Willie Till, led a service that shared the story of 16 young men from Stanborough Park who were conscripted into the 3rd Eastern Non Combatant Corps at Bedford Barracks on 23 May 1916.

Victor said: "Despite the pressures of Lord Kitchener’s propaganda machine, and the white feathers handed out to young men who refused to fight, he was among 16 at the college who were conscripted into the Army but refused to bear arms. 

"As Seventh-day Adventists they believed that human life was sacred."  

The 16 soon found themselves in France.  Their adventures, along with an exploration of the ethics behind their actions is explored in a TV documentary Victor is working on, "A matter of Conscience".

The army was a harsh environment - whether on the front line in the trenches - or further back where the group eventually end up court martialled, beaten, manacled and half-starved in a military prison.  

The court martial came due to a new, young commander in late 1917 who stated that he would not tolerate their "Sabbath nonsense".  As Seventh-day Adventists, they regarded Friday sunset until Saturday sunset as sacred time. Up until then, an accommodation had been made for them as they were a hardworking troop.

Willie’s son Garth, now 85, explained: "Prison had to be worse than the trenches simply to discourage deserters."

Worse was an understatement, according records that Victor discovered in newspapers, church journals and in talking directory with children of these young Conscientious Objectors.

Victor had heard that some Adventists had spent World War One in Dartmoor prison.  He had no idea that they were among 10,000 Conscientious Objectors who had a very different kind of war.

He certainly had no idea how much they were willing to suffer for their beliefs. 

Victor went on: "Were they right not to fight?  That is kind of an open question, but whether you agree with Willie or not, you have to admire their courage. These guys were just as brave as those soldiers who faced the enemy in the trenches."

Among the 500 strong audience at the church on Saturday were descendants of the 16 Stanborough objectors.

Phillip Anderson, son-in-law of one of them, Jimmy McGeachey, was moved by the presentation but stated, "It is a story that needs to be told."  

The daughter of another Conscientious Objector, Alfred Bird, added: "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."

'A matter of Conscience' will be released shortly on www.hopetv.org.uk.  In the meantime Victor has compiled significant research about the era on a dedicated web-page, http://adventist.org.uk/ww1.

A recording of the special service can be viewed here.

Comments (2)

Please log in to enable comment sorting

3:57pm Fri 1 Aug 14

Paul Gadd says...

RIP 'conshies'

Shame all troops on all sides didn't follow their lead........and let the royal cousins fight it out themselves in a field somewhere
RIP 'conshies' Shame all troops on all sides didn't follow their lead........and let the royal cousins fight it out themselves in a field somewhere Paul Gadd
  • Score: 4

9:14pm Fri 1 Aug 14

garston tony says...

In the build up to the 100th anniversary the focus has understandably been on those that fought on the front line, but its been interesting to hear about some of the stories that are less well known. Its interesting that they were punished despite being willing to fight but for wanting to observe their Sabbath.

I wonder if conscription was still around now how many people would have refused to fight in Afghanistan and Iraq, i think proportionally speaking a higher amount seeing how strong public objection was/is to those conflicts.
In the build up to the 100th anniversary the focus has understandably been on those that fought on the front line, but its been interesting to hear about some of the stories that are less well known. Its interesting that they were punished despite being willing to fight but for wanting to observe their Sabbath. I wonder if conscription was still around now how many people would have refused to fight in Afghanistan and Iraq, i think proportionally speaking a higher amount seeing how strong public objection was/is to those conflicts. garston tony
  • Score: 5

Comments are closed on this article.

Send us your news, pictures and videos

Most read stories

Local Info

Enter your postcode, town or place name

About cookies

We want you to enjoy your visit to our website. That's why we use cookies to enhance your experience. By staying on our website you agree to our use of cookies. Find out more about the cookies we use.

I agree