From Police Officer to Christian Minister
IN February 1942, I was in prison in Adelaide, South Australia, for refusing to bear arms during World War II. The barber, who was about to shave me, recognized me from when I had appeared in courtrooms as an officer of the South Australian police force. “What are you doing here?” he asked in surprise. He knew that previously I had frequently served in court as a witness against criminals. So I explained to him my Christian beliefs.
The magistrate, who had heard my case a few days before, also knew me well. He too listened carefully as I explained why my Christian conscience would not allow me to take up arms. After thanking me for what he considered a clear explanation, he sentenced me to a month in prison.
Now, my fellow inmates were people whom not long before I had photographed and fingerprinted. However, I was able to give a witness about my beliefs to many guards and prisoners who asked about Christian neutrality.
The following year I was brought before the court again, and this time I was sentenced to six months’ hard labor. I was sent to Yatala, where inmates were serving life sentences for murder. But again I had many opportunities to talk to others about the hope of God’s Kingdom and the permanent peace it will bring to this war-torn world.
Before appearing in court on each occasion, I was taken to an army barracks. The first time there, I was ridiculed and abused by a Lieutenant Laphorn because of my refusal to take the oath of military allegiance. But when I appeared before him the third time, he said: “You know, I thought you were a coward. But I have watched the way you take your medicine. You gave up a good career and have proved your faith by coming back for more.”
When I was to be sentenced to prison for the third time, petitions were filed for me to be tried as a conscientious objector. The magistrate was forced to grant my petition, since I had resigned from the police force in 1940 over a matter of conscience. However, showing his bias, he said: “I want it to go on record that I believe it is dangerous to have such a fanatic as you loose in the community.”
I was born in 1908 in Gawler, not far from Adelaide, South Australia. When I was about six, Sarah Marchant, a dear friend of my mother, taught me that hell is man’s common grave and not a place of fiery torment. She was an International Bible Student, as Jehovah’s Witnesses were then known.
In time, as I grew up, I asked our Baptist minister how Jesus Christ differs from God, and he could not give me a satisfactory answer. So I lost interest in the churches, though I enjoyed listening to Sarah Marchant when we met occasionally.
In 1924, I began working in Adelaide as a clerk for the South Australian police commissioner, Brigadier General Sir Raymond Leane. Then, in 1927, Mr. Leane made application to parliament for me to be appointed as a junior fingerprint expert and crime photographer for the state police force.
Learning Bible Truths
Three years after getting married in 1928, while on vacation with my in-laws in Gawler, I picked up the book entitled Creation, published in 1927 by the Watch Tower Bible and Tract Society. It had been left with my in-laws by Sarah Marchant. The book explained that man is a soul and does not possess a separate, invisible soul. This made sense. But I wanted to see it for myself in the Bible. So I searched out the family King James Version and read Genesis 2:7: “And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.”
This stirred me deeply, so I read on and on. I could not put the book Creation down. ‘This is surely the truth,’ I said to myself. Now I wanted more Watch Tower Society books to read. The only other one the family had was entitled Life. So I read that one right through too.
A few days later, we returned to Adelaide and moved into another house. That very day we received a surprise visit from Sarah Marchant. My mother-in-law had told her of my interest, and she called to see how we were settling into our new home and to assess what spiritual help I needed. The next morning our new next-door neighbor called to me over the fence: “I believe you are interested in the writings of Judge Rutherford [then president of the Watch Tower Society].”
“How do you know that?” I asked.
“Oh, a little bird told me,” he answered.
Obviously, Sarah had informed him. That man, James Irvine, was the only Witness at that time living in the northern suburbs of Adelaide. He was a pioneer, or full-time minister of Jehovah’s Witnesses, and he began a regular home Bible study with me.
Progress in Bible Truth
When I returned to work in the police department, I was fired up with the good things I had learned. So whenever I had opportunity, I began to tell my workmates about my newfound faith. However, I was disappointed when my enthusiasm met with ridicule.
Quite unexpectedly my own wife began to oppose my taking such an interest in the Bible. But with Jehovah’s help, I was able to weather her opposition. In 1935, I dedicated my life to Jehovah and was baptized. In those days there was only one congregation in Adelaide, and only about 60 attended the weekly Bible study using The Watchtower.
One day, Harold Jones, the presiding overseer of the congregation, told me: “We have a job for you. We need someone to look after our territory records.” The job was perfect for me, since in my police work, I would drive all over Adelaide. I knew the city thoroughly and was thus able to prepare well the territory maps we used in our preaching.
In April 1938, Joseph Rutherford, the Watch Tower Society’s president, visited Australia and gave a talk in Sydney that was attended by over 12,000, even though there were then only 1,300 Witnesses in all Australia. In Adelaide about 20 of us were unable to make the 1,100-mile [1,800 km] journey to Sydney. So we rented the old Tivoli Theater and had a landline hookup installed to carry Rutherford’s talk from Sydney. We arranged radio advertising, and, as a result, about 600 came to hear the talk in Adelaide!
How I Lost My Police Job
In 1939, World War II began, and the neutrality of Jehovah’s Witnesses came under close scrutiny by various authorities. On one occasion, two reporters from the newspaper Truth came to the Kingdom Hall and in a hostile manner tried to push their way in. I simply prevented them from doing so, since they seemed to be up to no good. The next morning a headline in the paper read: “S[outh] A[ustralian] Policeman Doorkeeper at J.W. Kingdom Hall.”
As a result of that incident, I was ostracized by my workmates. My immediate superior, a staunch Catholic activist, fed the police commissioner, Raymond Leane, false information about me. Then suddenly, in August 1940, I was brought before Mr. Leane, the same man for whom I had started working 16 years earlier. The charge? That I would not obey all his orders.
“Would you shoot someone if I ordered you to do so?” he asked.
“That is a hypothetical situation,” I replied. “But, no, I certainly would not shoot anybody.”
For two hours he tried to show me how foolish I was to belong to an organization that was on the official blacklist and that was about to be banned in Australia. He concluded: “And after all I’ve done for you, giving you such a good career.”
“That I appreciate,” I responded. “And I have tried to show my appreciation by hard work. But I cannot put you above my worship of Jehovah God.”
“You had better either leave Jehovah’s Witnesses or resign,” the commissioner responded.
So I resigned immediately. In August 1940 a headline in the newspaper Truth read: “Rutherford Policeman Resigns.” I now had to inform my wife and find other employment. Happily, I obtained work at a local printery where the Australian edition of Consolation (now Awake!) was produced.
Serving Under Ban
I enjoyed working at my new trade until January 1941, when a nationwide ban was placed on Jehovah’s Witnesses. All printing of our literature in the country ceased, at least as far as the authorities knew. Actually, underground printeries were set up—all in the Sydney area—and we never missed receiving an issue of The Watchtower during the ban!
Shortly after our work was banned, I served the two jail terms described at the outset. Finally, in June 1943, the High Court of Australia ruled that the ban was in violation of the Constitution, so the government returned all the property that had been seized from the Watch Tower Society.
In retrospect, it is hard to believe that during those years, homes (including mine) were raided by police officers. Yet, despite the opposition, we continued our house-to-house preaching with the use of our Bibles only. Many times the police followed us. Plainclothes policemen even attended our meetings held in private homes. Once, when introducing a representative from the Sydney branch office, I noted: “Among us are two members of the South Australian police force. Please welcome them!” They were surprised and embarrassed but stayed and enjoyed the meeting, saying afterward that they could only file a favorable report.
In April 1945 we organized a convention at the town hall in a suburb of Adelaide. On Sunday, April 29, the widely advertised public talk “The Meek Shall Inherit the Earth” was scheduled. But trouble began to brew early in the morning. As convention overseer, I went to the local police station to warn of impending trouble. However, my visit and complaint were all but ignored.
As time came for the public talk to begin, a mob formed. Some moved inside as soon as the talk began. Several burly members of the mob surged forward, trying to wreck the sound equipment. Then stones began to come through the windows. Radio stations were informed of the trouble, and they quickly broadcast that a riot was in progress. Thousands of curiosity seekers gathered outside.
Sadly, we were forced to discontinue the meeting. But when it came time to leave the hall, the police opened up a path for us, and the whole crowd became silent. All could see the foolishness of those opposing us because out came ordinary people, including elderly men and women as well as young children. The religious bigotry was condemned in “Letters to the Editor” in the days that followed.
Yet, for years afterward, Jehovah’s Witnesses were not permitted to use town hall facilities in South Australia. Once, in the mid-1950’s, I talked to the caretaker of the Norwood town hall in a suburb of Adelaide about the use of their hall for our district convention.
“You are banned for life from using town halls,” he said.
“You are behind the times,” I replied.
Then I pulled from my bag the brochure about the 1953 New York Yankee Stadium international convention. “Look what is going on with Jehovah’s Witnesses in other places—over 165,000 at one meeting!” I noted.
He took the brochure, carefully studied it, and after a while said: “Yes, it does look like things have changed.” From then on the use of such facilities opened up for us throughout South Australia.
In 1984, after a long illness, my wife died. Before her death, however, she began to reflect a love for Bible truth and for Jehovah God. This was due largely to the kindness shown her by loving Witnesses over the years. Then, in December 1985, I married Thea, who has served Jehovah for many years.
For about 60 years now, I have been serving Jehovah contentedly. Because of always trusting in Jehovah, sticking close to his organization, and never compromising under pressure, I can look back on a life of many privileges and blessings. And I continue to try hard to keep my eyes fixed firmly on the prize of the upward call. (Philippians 3:14)—As told by Hubert E. Clift.
[Picture on page 23]
Serving as a minister