Here’s a post about another Leeds conscientious objector who became one of the Richmond 16. With thanks to Gary Perkins, author of Bible Student Conscientious Objectors in World War 1
As a young man, Charles Herbert Senior admired the writings of American Bible teacher, Charles Taze Russell. Since 1877, Russell had anticipated that 1914 would be a time of great distress. As Christians, Bible Students expected to be unpopular and could be identified by ‘cross and crown’ lapel badges they wore, which reminded them that one had to bear adversity before experiencing glory.
Senior became an early member of the Leeds Ecclesia of the International Bible Student Association, and toured the British Isles between 1914-16 as a member of the 20 person team presenting the Photo-Drama of Creation in all major towns and cities. The Photo-Drama commenced operation in June 1914 and was strong in its condemnation of war, particularly the role of religion in supporting it.
Like most Bible Students of conscription age, Senior anticipated a time when “They will hand you over to local courts … for a witness to them and the nations.” (Matthew 10: 17, 18) This appeared to be the case when Senior applied for exemption as a conscientious objector in March 1916. Here, Senior was told that if everybody in England was of his opinion “the Germans would have no difficulty in overcoming us.” He replied explaining that “if everybody was of my opinion there would be no war at all.” The comment was met by rapturous applause from the public gallery which consisted of several well-known members of the Society of Friends in Leeds and members of the local IBSA Ecclesia. Despite this, his Tribunal granted exemption from combatant services only (i.e. he was expected to join the Non-Combatant Corps).
Arrested by the Police to appear before a Magistrate charged with “having failed to respond to the notice calling them to join the colours,” Senior was subsequently handed over to the military authorities and taken to Priestley Hall where he refused to sign enlistment papers and undergo medical examination. As he saw it, he had not willingly been put into the army, so he felt no compulsion to follow commands or orders as if he accepted the authority of those in charge.
Transported to Richmond Castle, it soon became apparent that Senior, four fellow IBSA members and a hard core of CO’s from other organisations were not prepared to become the soldiers the Tribunals had intended. Military drills were not adhered to and uniforms identifying these men as soldiers were discarded.
Eventually orders were given for the transfer of the Richmond 16 to France where, under Military Law, insubordination or mutiny on active service were considered serious offences and thereby liable for capital punishment. On 6 June 1916 on the Quayside at Boulogne, a Sergeant asked the men if they were prepared to unload Army supplies. Senior was the first to be asked and refused saying that “my Christian principles will not allow me to do any work for this war.” He later explained:
To me there was no difference in principle in unloading shells … and putting that shell into a gun to be fired for the killing of men. It was all part of the same process.
The other men also refused orders, which led to a Field General Court Martial under the serious charge of ‘refusing to obey a superior officer in the face of the enemy.’ Ultimately this resulted in the infamous ‘death sentence’ episode of 24 June 1916, which was referred to in Rowland Jackson’s letter sent to the Watch Tower:
Loving Christian Greeting to all the dear ones in Christ Jesus! We were “read out” on Saturday last, and the verdict you will be anxious to hear is now public: “Sentenced to suffer death by being shot, but commuted to 10 years’ Penal Servitude.” We are still peaceful in the knowledge of our Heavenly Father’s loving care, and are not too greatly concerned, for have we not agreed to be faithful to the Lord, come what may?
After the Great War, Senior became a Pilgrim or Travelling Overseer for the IBSA and proved an inspiration to thousands of Jehovah’s Witnesses (as the IBSA was named from 1931) throughout his life.
Although sought after by many young females, Senior remained single, seeking first kingdom interests as he saw it, while he patiently awaited his upward calling. His favourite illustration says much about his disposition and involves a young child given a piece of paper and pencil by his father. The child would attempt to draw a picture which invariably went wrong, causing the child to return apologetically to the father who was only too pleased to provide a new sheet for the child to make a fresh start. When Senior died in 1977, with his vision of a heavenly kingdom still burning bright within him, many believe he went to meet his Father and was given both a new canvass and a crown.
- The Yorkshire Evening Post, 13/03/1916, p.5
- Senior’s personal recollections
- The Watch Tower, 01/09/1916, p.269 [R5953]
- TNA WO 363 ‘Burnt’ record for Senior
- The Pearce Register of British World War One Conscientious Objectors