My Life as a Soldier—in Two Kinds of Warfare
As told by Charles A. Randall
THE 11th hour of the 11th day of November 1918 was the time scheduled for all hostilities of the Great War to cease. By then, as a private in a New Zealand battalion on the Western front near Mons, Belgium, I had seen enough of war to last a lifetime.
Many days had been spent in the trenches amidst the snow and rain. I had survived bullets, shells and poison gas. But many of my friends had not been so fortunate, and it had been painful personally to bury the bloodstained bodies of my comrades. Fear, death and destruction engraved memories that were to oppress me for years and that can easily be recalled today, even at 84 years of age.
Before that war started, the world had a general calmness about it. During that peaceful time, while journeying from my native England to New Zealand, some of my best friends had been seafaring Germans. But the first world war made us enemies. How futile war seemed to me! Surely there must be another way to settle man’s problems. Although having had a strict Protestant upbringing and never having lost respect for the Bible, I came to have little confidence in religion generally. Seeing our army padre march us to the front lines, revolver strapped to his side, and hearing him pray for God’s blessing before sending us out to kill had seemed so hypocritical for a man supposedly representing the “Prince of Peace.”—Isa. 9:6.
During 1917, however, I had come across a radically different approach. Along with 1,700 armed soldiers on our troop ship (the “Waimana”) were seven unarmed young men in civilian clothes. They were there against their will. It was startling to watch them being frog-marched aboard—being carried upside down with both arms and legs held. They refused to put on a military uniform, handle any weapons or even use protective army equipment. These conscientious objectors belonged to a group known as International Bible Students. The young men were forced to travel with us to the front lines and stay with us the two years that we were overseas. Although appreciating their sincerity and integrity, it would be years before I would really understand just why they took the stand that they did.
BACK TO CIVILIAN LIFE
After leaving the army in 1919, it was extremely difficult for me to resume normal everyday life. Sleep was greatly disturbed as visions of war would keep recurring. At times I would jump out of bed and start climbing through the window before realizing where I was. And there was the persistent question: “Why did I survive when so many others died? Surely there must be some purpose for me in life.”
With my health deteriorating, it was not possible to keep up with my work on a soldier-settler farm. So employment was obtained as a fireman and driver on various steam shovels with a railway construction crew. My vacations would be spent with a friend and his family on their farm. During one such stay, his two school-aged lads returned home one afternoon and declared that the “mad Belchers” were coming to the valley the next day. My friend’s wife explained that the Belcher family were religiously minded folk who used to stop by for a chat and would leave a little book to read. I told her that I would meet them at the gate and prevent their coming up the hill to the house.
The next afternoon, when about to fetch in the cows for milking, the youngsters ran up to inform me that the “mad Belchers” had arrived. So out I went, to be confronted by a lad about 16 years of age. After a brief greeting, he said: “My name is Allan Belcher and I have a message for you. It is a message of God’s kingdom and when you hear it, your heart will be glad.” We had a short chat and he left me a booklet entitled “The Final War.” That same evening, I picked up the booklet War or Peace, Which? that had been left at another homestead by the same family. Being interested in military matters, I read the booklet through that night and, on finishing it, exclaimed: “It is the truth!” Here was the message that the solution to man’s problems did not depend on human wars but on intervention by God in a final war against wickedness.—Rev. 16:14, 16.
Soon after this first contact in 1932, I began cycling the 11 miles (18 kilometers) to the Bible study meetings of Jehovah’s Witnesses. Also, it was my pleasure to visit the neighboring farms and tell the people about the kingdom of God, the only government that would bring real peace to the earth.—Ps. 37:11; Dan. 2:44; Matt. 6:9, 10.
A DIFFERENT WAR BEGINS
It did not take me long to realize that being a witness of Jehovah involved warfare too. However, “the weapons of our warfare are not fleshly, but powerful by God for overturning strongly entrenched things. For we are overturning reasonings and every lofty thing raised up against the knowledge of God.” (2 Cor. 10:4, 5) This is spiritual warfare, a fighting against false religious ideas and teachings. It is warfare that saves lives instead of destroying them.
However, one of the first battles was with myself. I was a heavy smoker. But it soon became clear that a person would not be acceptable to God in this unclean state. Commenting on this after a meeting, one young Christian said: “Don’t think I’m a wowser [killjoy], but when you really get to know the truth, you’ll give that away.” I did significantly cut back, but would still occasionally smoke, especially when talking to groups of other young men, just to show them that I was not “a wowser.” However, soon realizing that it was better to take a firm stand, with Jehovah’s help I completely broke this filthy habit.—2 Cor. 7:1.
Just as I had enlisted in the army in 1916, it was my desire to get fully involved in this spiritual warfare. So I started in the full-time preaching work, leaving the home of my friends and heading for Auckland, New Zealand. They thought I, too, was “mad” because of leaving the security and comforts of home with no financial backing. Although there then was little response to any effort to explain to them my feelings about serving God, it was a thrill to discover years later that the wife and one of the sons did in time accept the truth.
I was baptized not long after moving to Auckland and “pioneered” there till 1934 when I boarded a ship for Sydney, Australia, on the way to missionary work in the New Hebrides. When the boat that we were to use in visiting these islands was wrecked, the invitation was extended for me to work in the Bethel home in Sydney, the location from which the Kingdom-preaching work in Australia was being directed. Soon after arriving there, I discovered an interesting fact. Those conscientious objectors on my troop ship had been Jehovah’s Witnesses, although that particular name was not used at that time.
WORLD WAR AGAIN
In 1939, it was back to farming once more when I was invited to oversee a property known as Kingdom Farm. It provided food for the full-time workers at the Bethel home. What a contrast to my previous farming efforts! The knowledge of God’s purposes had made a dramatic change in my physical and emotional well-being. It had been the best “tonic,” and I felt settled in life with a fine work to accomplish.
Soon afterward, World War II broke out. The first world war was to have been the war to end all wars. What a false hope that had proved to be!
This time my position was different. Already being a soldier in an army, I was not going to desert to join some other force. (2 Tim. 2:3) My determination was to stay strictly neutral, remaining “no part of the world” and its military conflicts.—John 15:19; Isa. 2:4.
Before long, Jehovah’s Witnesses were placed under ban in Australia for their neutral stand. Unbeknown to me, soon a warrant was out for my arrest. Although the authorities knew that I was on Kingdom Farm, they never followed through, even though we often were visited by security forces. Finally, however, reason prevailed over religious prejudice and war hysteria, and the ban was lifted in 1943.
I continued at Kingdom Farm until 1950, when an allergic reaction to a local weed put me in a hospital. My skin had turned almost black, and I was covered with an incredibly itchy rash that I later learned had even driven one man to suicide. On recovery, it was back again to the Bethel home, where my service has continued.
METHODS OF WARFARE
Man has continually improved his weapons of war until he now has nuclear armaments that are a threat to the very continuance of life on earth. In our spiritual warfare, there have also been constant improvements through the years.
The use of sound cars—vehicles fitted with amplifying equipment—was an exciting avenue of service in the 1930’s. To attract attention, we played a musical record, and then a recorded message. Later, we used portable gramophones, lugging the heavy machines from door to door and inviting the householder to listen to a short recorded Bible talk. Or we made an appointment to discuss the Bible further and play longer lectures.
Sometimes a group of us would march down the street holding placards bearing such slogans as “Religion Is a Snare and a Racket” and “Serve God and Christ the King.” Also, there were radio broadcasts that brought the message into many homes. All these methods divided the people. Some were opposed, others interested.
Personally studying the Bible with individuals and families and seeing them join me in spiritual warfare has brought great satisfaction. Sometimes, in earlier years, a group of us would travel into rural areas for the weekend, bedding down on some ferns in the bush at night and declaring the “good news” or studying the Bible with the local residents during the day. We would exchange literature for food to sustain us till we returned home. Today, in those same areas there are many congregations of Jehovah’s Witnesses.
The availability of many fine Christian publications and excellent training in handling “the sword of the spirit,” God’s Word, has continually improved the quality of our spiritual warfare. (Eph. 6:17) Results have been exciting too, with growth from a band of 41,000 preachers world wide in 1934 to well over two million today. What a thrill it was to attend the 1958 convention in New York city where over 250,000 of them gathered together!
LIVING AS A SPIRITUAL SOLDIER
The apostle Paul wrote: “No man serving as a soldier involves himself in the commercial businesses of life, in order that he may gain the approval of the one who enrolled him as a soldier.” (2 Tim. 2:4) Personally, a simple life, uncluttered by this world’s materialism, has enabled me to concentrate on the study of God’s Word and service to him. In turn, that has brought great contentment. It has always made me sad to see some others slow down in Jehovah’s service or even give up in their spiritual fight.—2 Tim. 4:10.
What is involved in being a good soldier? Self-discipline, willingness to fight valiantly and to put up with hardships at times, as well as steadfastness in sticking to an assigned duty, no matter how small it may be. (Luke 16:10) Many men have done this for human commanders. But I deem it a wonderful privilege to “fight the fine fight of the faith,” serving the King of kings, Jesus Christ, and his God and Father, Jehovah.—Isa. 55:4; 1 Tim. 6:12; John 20:17; Rev. 19:16.
[Picture of Charles A. Randall on page 5]