International Bible Students Association (Jehovah's Witnesses)

The first branch of the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society outside the United States of America opened in Forest Gate in 1900. Eleven years later the society took out a mortgage on a property in Lancaster Gate with a meeting hall seating almost 1,200 and in the same year, 1911, more than three hundred newspapers in Britain carried the co-founder of the Zion Watch Tower Tract Society, Charles Taze Russell’s sermons. In June 1914, the International Bible Students Association (IBSA) was registered under the Companies Acts as an unlimited company to promote and protect the interests of the society later to be known as Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Members of the IBSA were opposed to military service in the First World War, but had not adopted the later policy of strict neutrality held by Jehovah's Witnesses, that led to the "almost universal hostility directed against them" by Britain's Second World War tribunals. [1] Although their congregations had expanded rapidly, as yet the association was not well known and each applicant for exemption was treated on an individual basis by Military Service Tribunals around the country. Witness history states that nationally, five of their members who appealed were granted exemption, 154 were assigned to work of national importance, 23 to a non-combatant corps and 82 were handed over to the military. Among the latter group were 8 Witnesses sent to France along with 33 other COs with the intention of executing them if they continued refusing to obey orders. [2]

IBSA in Deptford and Lewisham

In Depford and Lewisham four Jehovah’s Witnesses are to be found on the Pearce Register of British Conscientious Objectors and two more reports of IBSA members appearing before tribunals have been found in the local press. Their experience as conscientious objectors during the war is known in the case of those on the Pearce Register and it mirrors the experience of Witnesses nationally. One, Frederick Gooding, enlisted in the Non-Combatant Corps, one Joseph Lardent, was sent on work of national importance and two, Edward Durston and Henry Richards, were handed over to the military, court martialled and imprisoned before accepting the provision of the Home Office Scheme. Conscientious objectors who were imprisoned were not allowed to vote for five years after the ending of the war, but this was no punishment for IBSA COs, since Bible Student theology showed no political bias and consequently they never voted anyway.

Durston, Edward Frederick Gooding Lardent, Joseph Charles Richards, Henry Burnleigh

1. John Rae, Conscience and Politics: The British Government and the Conscientious Objector to Military Service 1916-1919, London OUP 1970, p. 75
2. Year Book of Jehovah’s Witnesses 1973

Year Book of Jehovah’s Witnesses 1973

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Gary Perkins, for the sake of the Kingdom

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

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