Before the outbreak of the war many prominent Baptists were committed to peace and at the first European Baptist Congress in Berlin in 1908 an entire session was devoted to International Peace. This was the start of further Anglo-German meetings between Baptists on the theme of peace, but when the war started the majority of Baptists quickly supported the conflict seeing it as a “just war”. Some Baptists did oppose the war and some joined the Christian anti-war group the Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR), although Edwin Foley a Minister failed in his attempt to form a Baptist chapter. Seventy-three Baptists gave their religion as grounds for applying to the Pelham Committee, a not insignificant number of the total of those with religious objections to conscription who were referred. [1]. Women from all organisations were particularly active in the anti-war movement and Muriel Lester a Baptist and FOR member frequently spoke out against the war at Speaker's Corner in Hyde Park. In April 1917, carrying a large black cross, she led religious protesters in an anti-war march in the East End of London, until the march was broken up by counter demonstrators. [2]

Pro-war Baptists who campaigned for the better treatment of conscientious objectors

Some prominent Baptists who were pro-war were concerned about the treatment of conscientious objectors and campaigned for the Military Service Tribunals to modify their behaviour towards them, and to have those in military detention and prison released. In June 1916 the Rev. Frederick Brotherton Meyer, the minister of Christ Church, Westminster Bridge Road, visited France with his friend, the Sydenham Quaker socialist and journalist Hubert Peet. With the permission of the Government, they inspected the living conditions of members of the Non-Combatant Corps, and were particularly concerned about those in military detention. When they visited, those imprisoned included the 34 conscientious objectors who were soon to be sentenced to death (commuted to 10yrs hard labour). The Military did not show the Rev. Meyer the worst of its punishment cells, known as the "cattle pens" and limited the visitors' ability to speak to its prisoners, but the visit ensured that both the Military and imprisoned COs, knew that their interests were being watched over [3]. In his letter to the Times 8 June 1916, the Rev. Meyer, while appearing anxious not to cause offence, supported the call to get imprisoned COs out of the hands of the Military and into civilian prisons. [4]


Lewisham Baptists were no exception in their support for the war, many of their members enlisted, and some of their ministers became army chaplains. What seems remarkable, however, is that the largest single group of religious absolutists in Lewisham were 5 Baptists, when it is suggested that only 15 Baptists nationally were imprisoned. [5] They were the brothers Archibald, Cyril and Herbert Henry Miles from Lower Sydenham who attended Perry Rise Baptist Church and the brothers Cecil Raymond and Sydney William, Rose from Forest Hill who told the Lewisham Military Service Tribunal that they were “Calvinistic Baptists”. Another Miles brother Walter Edwin was also an absolutist, but it is not known if he was a Baptist in 1916.

Perry Rise Baptist Church was a dynamic church, founded in 1899 at “The Elms”. Its congregation had almost doubled in size by 1915 and had built a new hall and church, but there is no hint in its published 50 year history that its minister was particularly anti war. [6] Nevertheless, in the Dulwich No-Conscription Fellowship leaflet What are Conscientious Objectors? July 1917 the Miles brothers, alone of the 35 absolutists listed, give it, their Church, as their 'Society', [7] and Herbert Miles, reported as being a cousin from Lee, told the Lewisham tribunal that he had been able to find two Baptist ministers living reasonably locally who agreed with him in conscientiously objecting. Cecil and Sydney Rose were also members of the NCF, but unlike the Miles brothers they were also members of the Independent Labour Party and gave it as their 'Society' in the Dulwich NCF leaflet. They were also closely linked to Edward Harby a militant socialist who having been in disagreement with his father went to live with them after the war. While imprisoned it would appear from Society of Friends' records that Archibald became a member of the IBSA and Cyril is shown as a Quaker attender, but no detailed records have been found about the life or religious or political beliefs of Lewisham's Baptist COs after the war.

Clark, Archibald Edward Miles, Archibald Miles, Cyril Miles, Herbert Henry
Miles, Henry Havelock Rose, Cecil Raymond Rose, Sydney William

1. John Rae, Conscience and Politics: The British Government and the Conscientious Objector to Military Service 1916-1919, London OUP 1970. Table Appendix C.
2. John W. Graham, Conscription and Conscience: A History 1916-1919, Augustus M. Kelly, Publishers N.Y. 1969 Reprint page 123.
3. Paul R. Dekar, Muriel Lester 1883 - 1968 Baptist Saint?
4. The Times Digital Archive, Friday June 9 1916.
5. Paul R. Dekar, Twentieth-Century British Baptist Conscientious Objectors,
6. Fifty Years “Perry Rise Baptist Church 1899-1949 16 pages, illustrated.
7. Dulwich N-C.F What are Conscientious Objectors? July 1917 in the Cumbria Archive Centre ref:D/Mar/4/97.

Web Pages
Paul R. Dekar, Twentieth-Century British Baptist Conscientious Objectors, The Baptist Quarterly 35.1, January 1993 pp.35-44
Jonathan Barr, The First World War and Baptist Churches The Baptist Times, 5 August 2014,

Ann O'Brien, Volunteer at Lewisham Local History and Archives Centre, April 2015, Revised October 2015

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