Wist ye not that I must be about my Father’s business?

Luke II, 49.


For some time past it has been on my mind to record the experiences that fell to my lot during the eventful years of 1916 to 1919.  Such records must of necessity be drawn from memory, as all writing materials (with the exception of slate and slate pencil), were denied to me and it was therefore impossible to keep a diary.  Nevertheless, certain documents such as the few letters I was permitted to write or receive and various statements connected with the court-martials, have materially assisted me in recalling many of the incidents that I have set down.  Now that the bitterness arising from a sense of injustice is lost with the softening influence of time and intolerance no longer begets intolerance, I am able to calmly and without vivid colouring and distortion, write of these things with a somewhat more correct sense of perspective.


Moreover, one of my chief objects in writing these records is that any children that might be given to me would know to what a heritage they are called.  It is because I am well aware that conscience can only operate upon knowledge that I place this narrative before them.  I have had ample proof in my own experience that courage is necessary to run counter to popular opinion, yet I claim no merit on that account, for I had a source from which to draw whose magnitude is infinite.


A further reason is that I wish to preserve to myself, in order that their remembrance may be a source of strength in meeting future trials of faith.  The recollection of those fearful times is fraught with physical discomfort and mental suffering, yet rich in spiritual experiences and the sense of the nearness of the Christ of God and his divine approval.


It is perhaps necessary that something be said in order to explain the choice of title: -

Rulers of kingdoms, empires and republics, right down to the present times have endeavoured to force their subject citizens into a worship of the state, especially by inciting what is euphemistically called patriotism.  This trait is especially prevalent in wartime when all are exhorted to give first place, even to the exclusion of the Almighty Creator, in their affections and endeavours, to promote the success of the State, over those who have the effrontery to oppose it.  When Jesus in the first instance pronounced the question, “Whose image and superscription is this?” to the Pharisees and Herodians, the answer they gave was, “Caesar’s” (Luke XX, 24).  This book then is the history of the attempts of the modern representatives of Caesar to impress his seal of ownership upon one who has sworn allegiance to the King of kings.


There is however, a further significance in this title.  It is a personnel question put to you, my reader.  Whose seal of ownership will you allow to be impressed on your character?  Shall it be the superscription of the brass and iron coinage which Caesar uses for his nefarious and God annulling purposes, or shall it be the impress which will mark you as the golden mintage of Jesus which he will use in his kingdom?  When he returns will you say, “We have no king but Caesar”, or “Hail! To the Lords Anointed”?


This book then is an appeal against a lukewarm attitude, for it must always be borne in mind that whosoever will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God.  Jesus said, “The prince of this world cometh, and hath nothing in me” (John XIV, 30).


In concluding this prologue I must express my deep admiration and affectionate appreciation of my wife’s brave and noble conduct during the years of separation, anxiety and hardship.  Always at the rare intervals when communication between us was permitted, sending me words of hope and cheer.  Only once (explained in its place) expressing reproach and resentment.  Its effect upon her, of the treatment that a ‘Christian’ community meted out to me, was the unkindest cut of all.  For in the privation to which she was subjected, I received the cruellest blow of the many, which a persecuting society directed towards me.


Finally, I would express from a full heart, sentiments similar to those associated with the words attributed by Shakespeare to Marcus Brutus, “O ye gods! ye gods! render me worthy of this noble wife.”


H Blake, Nov 20th 1921.

Revised and extended June 9th 1937.


Whose Image and Superscription?

The story of a First World War conscientious objector



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