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.