We do not know how many conscientious objectors there were in Great Britain when World War I broke out. But there were some. One earnest Adventist, when called to take up his gun, stated that he could not fight.
"Cannot fight!" said the officer. "What do you mean by that?" The soldier explained his position in a few brief words.
"But it means death to refuse service in the face of the enemy!" said the commanding officer.
"I expected that it would," said the reservist.
"But you will be shot," said the officer. "I can do nothing else than order you shot."
"Yes," said the young man, "I know that is your military duty. I expected as much when I came. But as I see Christ as my example, I cannot bear arms."
The officer hesitated for a moment while the battle was raging. Then he made arrangements for the young brother to serve as a noncombatant, according to his religious conscience. We are only narrating what happened. Of course, not everything he did was according to our stand as a Movement.
After one year or more, the young man was sent back for reassignment. Being assigned to drive the ammunition trucks, once more his conscience brought him into difficulty when he stated to his commanding officer that he could not do that.
"Can’t drive the ammunition to the front! What do you mean?"
The soldier again explained his convictions.
"But you will be court-martialed at once."
"Yes," he replied, "but I cannot do that kind of work."
Only after he had shown unflinching courage to stand for his conviction and take the consequences was he given an alternative duty. (Condensed from the book Providences of the Great War.)
Another young man told his experience as follows:
"I was alone among some 900 desperate men on the docks, with armed guards on every hand. During the morning the governor appeared on his rounds and sent for me.
"‘You are to work with this party till 6 p.m.,’ he said, ‘with none of this Sabbath nonsense we had from you last week.’
"‘Pardon me, sir,’ I said, ‘but I must follow my convictions, though I have no desire to be troublesome.’
"Sternly the officer barked out, ‘Look here! If these men see you refusing to work at sunset and they mutiny, you will be held responsible, and you will be liable to be shot. . . . You’ll be taught not to mutiny today. Back to work.’"
In the midst of his desperate struggle, when that soldier began to falter inwardly, he felt encouraged at the thought that he was not going through those trials alone. He knew that eleven other Adventist brethren were in the same furnace of affliction. Constant prayer was his main source of strength.
When the black and lonely Friday was coming to a close, he said to a senior guard, "I’m sorry, but I can work no longer today." Instantly several guards grabbed him and dragged him behind some sacks of oats out of sight of the other prisoners, where they mistreated him. Then they chained him and thrust him into a small cell.
"An officer came to me," he continued, "and said in a somewhat conciliatory tone:
"‘Your companions have all come to their senses and are quietly working now. I’m sorry you are so misguided as to bring this punishment on yourself. Why not change your mind, and give up this impracticable Sabbath idea, as your friends have done?’
"‘I cannot be untrue to my beliefs, even if the others have been,’ I replied.
"As the guard’s steps died away, I began to think in the silence of the solitude: surely all my companions could not have failed. Yet I ought to have heard them, I thought, had they been in the adjoining cells. After a few minutes, I whistled softly two bars of the hymn, ‘The Lord is my light, my joy, and my song.’ No answer. Gloom began to settle on me. But I whistled the bars again, and a little louder. Suddenly came the next bar from the adjoining cell. The song of the angels could hardly have been sweeter to the shepherds than was that whistled hymn which told me my companions had by God’s grace endured another Sabbath test, and were all still rejoicing in Jesus." (Condensed from the book Seventh-day Adventists in Time of War.)
Other brethren who also got a very grueling treatment in prison told their experiences as follows:
Since they refused to work on the Sabbath, they were driven like wild beasts to the cells amid much cursing and the cracking of whips. There they were immediately handcuffed and, as the manacles were too small, they consequently tore the flesh on the backs of their hands. And then the sergeants made sport of them and punched all over their bodies.
Those young men were also subjected to what was called "number one field punishment" or "shot drill." This torment consisted in having heavy weights placed upon their backs and chests, with which they were made to run from place to place for one hour.
One of those soldiers was declared to be the ringleader and was handled with so much cruelty and violence that he collapsed and foamed at the mouth. He did not die, as it was feared he would, but he was ill for some time.
Friday morning, they were all lined up before the sergeant major, who asked what they had decided concerning the Sabbath which was before them. As they said that it was their duty to obey God rather than men, keeping the Lord’s day holy, they were sent back to their cells quietly. The punishment they received was solitary confinement with bread and water only, together with one hour’s shot drill daily, for seven days.
The next Sabbath, as those Adventist soldiers refused to break the law of God, they received the same type of punishment as before, which was extended for two weeks. It seemed to them that it was only a matter of time and they would all die in prison. They prayed to the Lord continually that He would give them strength to bear the test.
On a Friday, at the end of the fourteen-day period, a prison official was sent to talk to them separately. He said to each one that all others had given in, "so you might just as well do the same." This was the severest test that came upon them at a time when they were physically very weak through starvation and exhaustion. But God inspired each one of them with sufficient valor to reply: "Even if I am alone, I will continue obeying God rather than men. I will keep also His holy Sabbath." Then one or two of the group began to whistle a hymn, and soon they were all whistling, assuring one another that they were all loyal to God. In answer to prayer, their strength was renewed day by day. (Condensed and adapted from the book Seventh-day Adventists in Time of War.)