Speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them.
Acts XX, 30.
The location of the prison chapel has already been described, but there are one or two further items connected with the edifice to mention. Notable among these is the fact that the watching warders were not skied along the middle line of the congregation, as at Wormwood Scrubs, but each occupied a throne turned sideways, and elevated on its own dais of about a foot high, and set at regular intervals down the aisles on either side of the chapel. Also the pews were not the backless benches of the above-mentioned place, but were of the pitch-pine, portable variety with back rests, which one associates with Sunday schools and mission halls. The congregation moreover, were not set in close juxtaposition, but occupied positions along the pews spaced about six feet apart. While this arrangement did not disturb one’s sensibility quite so much, by obtruding the presence of the warders so acutely and painfully upon one, it lacked the possibility of holding a conversation with one’s neighbour during a hymn or chant. This was done by singing to the current tune, a query or a piece of information, and receiving back a reply in like manner.
But the present chapter is not intended as much to be a treatise on the edifice, as on matters arising out of the character and ministrations of the Chaplain. I first made acquaintance with this gentleman, who was a short, thickset man, when I entered the establishment. He was good-natured, affable, and friendly, in fact quite a sympathetic and companionable person. But as an Englishman, he was a swash-buckling, aggressive, imperialistic, race-proud, and jingoistic fire-eater. One might describe him as a fiercely patriotic Englishman first, and a Christian afterwards, were it not that one knows such a combination to be an impossibility. For to be what is popularly understood as a patriotic Englishman, is to rule out the possibility of being a Christian! How he managed to reconcile his bombastic imperialistic sentiments, with the self-abasing ethics of Jesus I do not pretend to know, but I am perfectly well assured that he saw no incongruity in the dualism.
Of course one has to recognise that in his office of chaplain of a government prison, he was up against an impossible task, that of endeavouring to serve two masters. For as a Christian minister he should have been under obligation to serve God and His Anointed. But as a paid official of a government institution he was a servant of the temporal power, two hostile rivals for sovereign power. Therefore, as he relied on the government for the payment of his stipend, he was of necessity, unable to proclaim the teaching of Jesus, where that conflicted with the interests of governmental power. I therefore came to the conclusion that it is impossible for a true Christian to accept from the government the paid post of prison chaplain.
It was the Chaplain’s custom to announce the war news of the week at the close of the Sunday morning service. To do this, he left the pulpit and lectern and came to the communion rail. The customary prison regulation is that prisoners are not to receive news of public events. That the Chaplain made this departure in the case of war news, seems to suggest that he regarded the war as a kind of holy crusade, which was serving the cause of God in the establishment of the Kingdom of Heaven upon earth. Had he not grasped the truth spoken by Jesus, “My kingdom is not of this world?”
In this connection it is significant to note that it is actually on record that in October 1914, the chaplain of the German Kaiser made the statement, “The Kingdom of God in German hands must now assert itself against all that is base and evil. As heralds of God’s will, we shall take up our work of peace after the war, until all lands are filled with his glory.” Is this not a remarkable demonstration in the unreliability of Christian teachers who have tied their hands by becoming bound to State interests?
It will be recalled that I entered Wandsworth Prison during the latter half of December 1916. At the commencement of that month, Mr. Asquith had resigned as premier of the government and Lloyd George had been called upon to form the Second Coalition Government. This fact was announced on my first attendance at the chapel in the following manner, but the reader must first picture the six COs in their second division uniform, occupying one widely-spaced row right across the body of the chapel and isolated from the other prisoners by an empty row before and behind. Then visualise the enthusiastic patriot at the communion-rail speaking in the following strain and as near as I remember the actual wording, “Mr. Asquith has resigned, and Mr. Lloyd George has formed a new ministry, so that we have got a government now, you know! A GOVERNMENT and those individuals who have such tender consciences that they cannot wear the King’s uniform, which is the only honourable uniform in the world …” At this point, Philip Millwood who occupied a seat in the middle of the line, rose swiftly to his feet and in a clear voice uttered the challenge, “What about the uniform of Jesus Christ?” And calmly sat down again.
The effect was almost indescribable. The COs faces (excepting Millwood who sat calm and indifferent as though nothing had happened) were lit with delighted smiles. The astonished Chaplain seemed to have lost the power of speech, arising from the sheer audacity of it and the other prisoners were so completely overcome by amazement, that they quite forgot their required behaviour, in their curiosity to get a glimpse of the audacious prisoner who had dared to challenge a prison official. At the same time the warders hurriedly sprang to their feet with a fusillade of miscellaneous sharp commands, “Sit down, shut up, be quiet, keep your eyes front.” When order was once more restored and the Chaplain had recovered from his ‘electrification’, he remarked, “I see no reason why a Christian should not wear the King’s uniform and I hope I am as good a Christian as anybody.” The sequel as far as Millwood was concerned was three days No. 1 Punishment Diet, i.e. solitary confinement with bread and water. But he took it all as a matter of course and it did not deter him from future activities of an outrageous nature.
In fact there was another nefarious exploit from Millwood a few weeks later. This was also on a Sunday morning and occurred after chapel while we were awaiting dinner. It will be remembered that our cells were on the top landing of Hall B and they faced towards the same exercise yard as the cells on one side of Hall C. Soldiers from the detention barracks, who did not attend the chapel with the civilian prisoners, occupied Hall C at this time. I would suppose they had their own service conducted by the Assistant Chaplain, the Church Army man. Therefore they were not briefed on the war news, so Millwood enlightened them by shouting it across the exercise yard, while standing on a stool at his window. The soldiers eager to hear, all pressed their ears to their windows. While this was going on we heard an officer coming along the landing in a state of high dudgeon and opening Millwood’s spy-hole shouted, “Get down from that window.” But Millwood took no notice and continued with the news. To which we heard the officer bawl out, “Yes and there’ll be some more news before the Governor tomorrow” and stalked off in a great rage.
As a result of his interview with the Governor on the Monday morning, he was debarred from attending chapel for four weeks. When the Chaplain next came to visit me, I could not refrain from pulling his leg over it. I asked him if Millwood’s punishment cast an aspersion on his ministry. When he asked me what I meant, I explained that if a man was guilty of a misdemeanour, the remedy was surely more spiritual exhortation and religious exercises, not less. As I have previously mentioned, he was a companionable sort and therefore quick to laugh over it.
By his disparagements and misrepresentations of COs, both in his sermons and in the news bulletin, the Chaplain was constantly falling foul of one or other of us. At various times he referred to us as the scum of the earth, worms, white livered cowards, traitors, pro-German etc. When he next visited our cells after one of his more virulent tirades, one CO bluntly told him that he took a mean and cowardly advantage of his position in the pulpit. This charge seemed to have registered and for a few Sundays he refrained from his insults. But his invincible jingoism eventually returned and he continued to fight for his country, from the shelter of his pulpit.
Whose Image and Superscription?
The story of a First World War conscientious objector