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Welcome to the Hay Historical Society web-site newsletter No. 7. Included in the newsletter is:
WEB-SITE SEARCH FACILITY. – With the steadily-growing size of the Hay Historical Society web-site a facility has been added to allow searches to be carried out of all pages within the web-site. The search-engine – called Pico Search – can be found on the title page http://users.tpg.com.au/hayhist/
WESLEYAN / METHODIST MINISTERS AT HAY (TO 1901). – A web-page has been recently added with information about the Wesleyan / Methodist ministers at Hay from 1871 (when Hay was regularly visited by Rev. Charles Jones from Deniliquin) until 1901. Twelve ministers are featured, most of whom were appointed to the Hay circuit (the first being Rev. William Weston in 1872). The policy of the Methodist Church was to appoint ministers to circuits for short periods; initial appointments in New South Wales were for one year, with each successive year renewable to a maximum of three years. The constant turn-over of ministers between circuits enabled centralised and disciplinary control over the ministry and is considered a factor in the steady growth of Methodism during the nineteenth century. Biographical details, lists of ministerial appointments and (in most cases) photographs of the ministers are included on the web-page. [Direct link: http://users.tpg.com.au/hayhist/WesMin.html]
Hay during World War I:
Rev. B. Linden Webb and the Hay Methodist Congregation
A cherished and defining historical motif of the Hay community is the large number of military volunteers from the township and surrounding district that served during World War I. The honour board at the Hay War Memorial High School lists a total of 642 men and women who enlisted for service during the 1914-18 war, one of the highest per capita enlistment rates in Australia. Of this number fifteen volunteers were from the small Methodist congregation at Hay. In the early months of the conflict the local recruiting sergeant requested assistance from the clergymen of Hay to encourage and appeal to the young men of their congregations to enlist. The recruiter received support from each of the local clergy, with a single exception. The young Methodist minister, Rev. B. Linden Webb, rejected the request and refused to be an agent of recruitment to the Australian armed forces. Furthermore, in the early months of 1915, Rev. Webb preached a series of sermons in the Hay Methodist church presenting a moral case against the war. Later that year he published his pacifist sermons in a pamphlet called The Religious Significance of the War, which caused a degree of agitation within the broader Methodist Church. Webb remained at Hay until October 1917 when he resigned due to irreconcilable differences with the leadership of the Methodist Church, particularly in regard to the Church's official stance on conscription. Against the background of a virulent and divisive national conscription debate the story of Rev. Webb's two-and-a-half years at Hay involves a dynamic interplay between the minister and his parishioners which, considering the underlying emotive issues, was characterised by a remarkable degree of tolerance and restraint.
Bernard Linden Webb was born at Bathurst on 25 November 1884, the fourth of six children of Edmund and Fanny Webb. The Webbs were "one of the most numerous and devout Methodist families of the region". Linden Webb had planned to become a lawyer, but during his second year at Sydney University "he felt the call to preach" [Linder]. Webb completed a Bachelor of Arts in 1906, after which he attended the Methodist theological training school, Newington College.
During 1908 Webb served as a probationer in the North Sydney circuit. From early 1909 to early 1911 he served at Moss Vale, NSW. In 1911 Bernard Linden Webb and Eleanor Dunbar were married (registered at St. Leonards); the couple had met during Webb's probationary period at North Sydney. Linden Webb took leave of absence in 1911 to travel to England. In 1912 Rev. Webb served at Tighe's Hill in the Hamilton-Wickham circuit (Newcastle region). A bout of ill-health required him to rest from active ministry for part of 1913; during that period Rev. Webb was based at the Central Methodist Mission at 139 Castlereagh Street in Sydney.
Rev. Webb at Hay
In March 1914 the New South Wales Methodist Conference assigned Rev. B. Linden Webb to the Hay circuit to replace Rev. Charles Thomson Lusby (who had been appointed to Albury). Webb arrived with his family at Hay on Thursday, 16 April 1914, and on the following Sunday he preached his first sermons in the township as part of the Methodist Church anniversary celebrations. [Riverine Grazier, 10 March 1914, p. 2; 21 April 1914, p. 2]
The Hay church embraced its new young minister, his charming wife and two-year-old son with considerable enthusiasm. The early months were filled with activity: preparing and preaching sermons, pastoral and hospital visitation, travelling to various preaching stations in the Riverina, marriages and funerals, providing leadership for the local Band of Hope temperance group, and attending and encouraging the Methodist Literary and Debating Society. [Linder]
Linden Webb arrived at Hay four months prior to the outbreak of the First World War. Tensions between European nations escalated into full-scale war in August 1914. The initial response in Australia to the outbreak of hostilities was a surge of patriotic support for Britain. The degree of Australia's emotional ties to 'the mother country' was manifested in the large number of volunteers for military service and supportive rhetoric from many of the nation's political and social leaders. Most of the Protestant churches in Australia, including the Methodists, expressed support for Britain. The Methodist leadership considered the British cause as righteous, a view perhaps exemplified by the words of Rev. Dr. W. H. Fitchett in the wake of the Gallipoli landings: "It is God's cause, and not – in any selfish sense – ours, for which we fight; and we may humbly dare to believe that God is with us" [The Methodist, 19 June 1915, p. 1]. Methodist Church historians Don Wright and Eric Clancy contend that the New South Wales Methodist Church was by that stage incapable of a mature response to the challenges of the Great War and the social and political upheavals of the times.
It had no theology of war and peace and, for the most part, neither clergy nor people had thought deeply about the relation of the Gospel to international affairs. Nor was a church which was only slowly emerging from the intensely individualistic religion of an earlier day well-placed to take so large an intellectual step. All it had was a resolution passed at the 1914 Conference, which committed Methodism both to defend the Empire and to pray that the time would come speedily when 'nations shall learn war no more'. In any case, New South Wales Methodists, like their fellow citizens of all faiths, were imperialists to the core and unlikely to do other than support Britain in its hour of need. [Wright & Clancy p. 130]
There is, nonetheless, some evidence of a more ambivalent attitude held by some members of the Methodist community to Australia's participation in the war. Furthermore the actions of Rev. Webb were soon to provide a catalyst for the expression of oppositional perspectives from within the Methodist clergy and laity. The historian Robert D. Linder considers this mixture of responses as indicative of the nature of Methodism:
The roots of this paradox lies in the historic dynamics of Methodism itself: fervently evangelical in theology, fervently evangelistic in orientation, and fervently committed to self-improvement and moral attainment in ethics. Their evangelical theology assured that some Methodists would take a close look at the war through the lens of Scripture. Their evangelistic orientation meant that most Methodists would see opportunities for winning souls to Christ, even in the midst of war. The commitment to self-improvement and a high moral standard meant that many Methodists would be less concerned lest military life ruin or damage their young men's spiritual well-being. Moreover, Australian Methodists before the war had close ties with their German counterparts, which may have led some to pause before launching into rhetorical tirades against the enemy. A combination of these factors helps explain the seeming ambivalence of many Methodists concerning the war. [Linder]
Australians had very little direct experience of combat in the initial phase of the war during the remaining months of 1914. Federal elections were held in September in Australia, with the new Labor Prime Minister, Andrew Fisher, taking office. On 1 November 1914 the first contingent of 30,000 Australians and New Zealanders departed from Albany in Western Australia for further training abroad. The Australian cruiser HMAS Sydney, on escort duty with the Anzac troops, engaged and succeeded in sinking the German cruiser SMS Emden near the Cocas (Keeling) Islands. A second body of troops sailed in December. By then over 52,000 men had enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force (AIF), with the rush of recruits continuing unabated. These events contributed to an early sense of optimism and enthusiasm in Australia and there was a widespread belief that the war would soon be over. By year's end, however, reports from Europe had dispelled this expectation and it had become apparent that Australian soldiers would be participating in the fighting.
By the time of Rev. Linden Webb's arrival at Hay there is little doubt that he already had firm views about war and strongly believed that State-sponsored violence was contrary to Christian teachings.
Reports of the Boer War (1899-1902) had caused a young Linden Webb to question the use of violence to settle international disputes. By the time he arrived in Hay in 1914, he already had concluded that killing and violence in the name of the state was contrary to the teachings of Jesus Christ. [Linder]
The widespread Australian enthusiasm for the war in the latter part of 1914 "deeply affected the young Methodist clergyman and led him to brood over the situation in Hay".
[Rev. Webb] had rejected the entreaties of the local recruiting sergeant to urge enlistment in the ranks of the AIF. He now asked himself if he could and should do more? [Linder]
In the end Rev. Webb resolved to take a public stand and deliver a series of sermons against war from the pulpit of Hay Methodist church.
The first Sunday of the year 1915 (3 January) was designated by the major Australian church groups as a national day of prayer and intercession in connection with the war. Ministers were encouraged to preach about the war on that day, with the tacit expectation that they would assert the righteousness of the cause and perhaps provide an explication of the role of conflict in the promotion of spiritual regeneration. However, Linden Webb used this opportunity to preach the first of his pacifist sermons, entitled "The War and Christian Ideals". He based his sermon on the Biblical text, John 18:36: "Jesus answered: My kingdom is not of this world, if my kingdom were of this world then would my servants fight, that I should not be delivered to the Jews; but now is my Kingdom not from hence".
In this initial sermon... the true church, he argued, was composed of true Christians who truly followed the true teachings of Jesus... Webb sharply differentiated between those who truly embraced Christ and lived according to his teachings and those who professed Christian faith but lived according to the materialistic standards of the world. [Linder]
Webb declared: "Not the soldier, but the missionary, is the agent by whom Christ's lordship is to be established". Later in the sermon he stated that:
... the sacrifice of men fighting for their country has been compared to the sacrifice of Christ. That is a terrible blasphemy! [Webb, The Religious Significance of the War, pp. 10; 15]
This sermon (as well as the two others in the series) utilised the historical-grammatical method of biblical hermeneutics (the theory and methodology of interpretation of scriptural text). It was a popular method amongst evangelical preachers. The historical-grammatical method is based on the premise that a certain passage has only a single meaning or sense.
A fundamental principle in grammatico-historical exposition is that the words and sentences can have but one significance in one and the same connection. The moment we neglect this principle we drift out upon a sea of uncertainty and conjecture. [Terry, p. 205]
The aim of the historical-grammatical method is to discover the original intended meaning of the passage. The meaning is investigated by utilising a multi-faceted approach, examining grammatical and syntactical aspects, the historical and sociological background, as well as literary and theological viewpoints. Furthermore, the historical-grammatical method allows for the investigation and interpretation of the significance of the chosen text in order to determine its application to present-day circumstances.
On 21 February Rev. Webb presented his second sermon at Hay, "The War as a Problem to Faith", based on the Biblical passage: "And because iniquity shall abound, the love of many shall wax cold / But he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved" (Matthew 24:12-13). He concluded this sermon with words reminiscent of Martin Luther: "We stand with Christ though all the world be against us" [Linder; Webb, The Religious Significance of the War, p. 48].
A month later, on 21 March 1915, Webb delivered the last of his trilogy of sermons, entitled "The War and the Churches". This one was based on 2 Corinthians 10:3-4: "For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh: / (For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds;)". The sermon began:
To put the teaching in a general form we may say first, that Christianity does not aim to assert her authority over men by worldly methods, nor does she depend on such methods to maintain her cause; and, second, that Christianity has weapons which are ultimately effective for bringing all "to the obedience of Christ". Surely, no one who has studied this text in connection with the chapter in which occurs can deny that those two propositions are a faithful representation of its meaning. A further deduction, which we shall presently justify, is that the Christian Church should restrict herself to the use of her own weapons, which are not carnal, but spiritual. [Webb, The Religious Significance of the War, p. 24]
Towards the end of this sermon Rev. Webb said:
It would be a very simple matter for me to stand up and preach the righteousness of war, as so many others are doing, but before God I cannot. Nothing less than the ideal of Christ will do! [Webb, ibid., p. 39]
He concluded the sermon with the question: "It is of very little moment to the Churches if I am wrong; but if I am right, what then?"
The general conclusion of Webb's trilogy of sermons "was that war was immoral and based on selfish materialism, not the Gospel of Jesus Christ".
However, for true believers, God had given a sufficient revelation in Scripture and Jesus Christ, and Christians must be absolutely faithful to the teachings of Christ. In all three sermons, Webb stressed "the moral damage of war'', and emphasized the point that the current conflict was a moral issue which Christians could not ignore: "The war is not keeping with our profession of Christianity; it is the outcome of materialism worldliness, godlessness". [Linder]
By mid-year 1915 Rev. B. Linden Webb published his sermons as a pamphlet entitled The Religious Significance of the War. The pamphlet was printed with the financial assistance of William Cooper, a Quaker anti-war activist, and the Sydney Society of Friends [Linder], and was circulated by the Methodist Book Depot. Webb's pamphlet aroused unfavorable editorial comment in the church newspaper, The Methodist. The editor, Rev. Dr. J. E. Carruthers, had previously described the conflict between Britain and Germany as a "holy war", so his negative response to Webb's views is not surprising. The review of The Religious Significance of the War in June 1915, almost certainly written by Carruthers, severely criticized Webb's Christian pacifism and concluded:
Theories are easily propounded, but unfortunately we are in the midst of great practical realities, and the Empire would be in a sorry plight if it were led by theorists who turn the blind eye to the stern facts that must perforce be dealt with. [The Methodist, 26 June 1915]
Another review in the same issue, written by 'A.F.C.', stated that Webb's writings had an "absence of clear logical perception and reasoning [which] pervades the whole dissertation and vitiates its conclusions!".
Webb's pamphlet and the reviews of it in The Methodist stimulated a large amount of correspondence. The first letter, published on 3 July, was censorious of Webb's viewpoint and concluded with the following remarks:
When the Empire needs every ounce of strength to pull it through, what are these men thinking of when they air their theories to paralyse effort and disparage practical patriotism? ['B.W.', The Methodist, 3 July 1915, p. 6]
A response to the letter by 'B.W.' was published on 17 July. The writer, apparently a Methodist minister but signed with the pseudonym 'Pax', reminded the journal's readers that "there are those who regard the appearance of Mr. Webb's pamphlet as timely in seeking to recall the church to a sense of its duty". The letter continued:
After the war is over there will be a lot of clearing-up work for the church to do, and the power of the church then will depend to a very large extent upon its attitude to the ideals of Jesus Christ during the conduct of the war. And the spectacle that we have to-day is that of Christian teachers moving amongst the war incidents of the Old Testament in order to find texts to justify this terrible conflict... This war is not going to end militarism, the method is wrong – "Satan cannot cast out Satan"; but Christianity as the antidote to evil has never yet failed when it has been fairly put to the test. To-day we are talking about "national honour," and "national prestige," and imagining that these are synonymous with "civilization" and "Christianity;" and Germany is doing the same. But British honour and German culture, which need the protection of dreadnoughts and compulsory military training, may well be submitted to question. ['Pax', The Methodist, 17 July 1915]
The editorial bias of The Methodist can be gauged by a statement appended to this letter:
We publish the above, with an apology to our readers for occupying space with so pitiful if not puerile a plea for pacifism. It was sent in by one of our ministers; otherwise we should not have deemed it worthy of the space it occupies. – Editor.
Spirited debate continued in the correspondence pages of The Methodist for another month. Nine writers were published attacking Webb's pacifist views; five signed their names and four chose pseudonyms or initials. An anonymous writer – 'Spectator' – called for pragmatic moral authority to be applied:
It is because of the danger to our Christian civilisation, and because we do not wish the blood of noble young lives that were dear to us to have been poured out in vain, that we must protest against the words of those who, in the name of the Christian faith, speak in a way calculated to discourage the efforts of the nation against an insolent enemy... We are confronted with circumstances in which we are to be guided, not by the words of Christ in a literal acceptation, but by the spirit of Christian justice and of Christian compassion for the oppressed. ['Spectator', The Methodist, 17 July 1915]
'Spectator' also argued for selective reading of the Bible in a time of war: "The action of Prussia has thrust our civilisation, for the time being, some centuries back, and we must turn for the time to the teaching of the Old Testament..." Other correspondents expressed their views more crudely. 'Briton' responded to 'Pax' in the following terms:
It seems a pity to give such puerile rubbish as you had in your issue of 17th inst., so much prominence. If the writer thinks the Germans are such angelic beings, let him go to their country and live. ['Briton', The Methodist, 31 July 1915, p. 11]
A letter from Mr. J. T. Williams contained a comment directed at 'Pax' which a later correspondent described as a "veiled threat":
What a cunning man not to put his name to his letter! We are just changing superintendents next Conference, and many other circuits will be doing the same. Will some of us be having this pacifist? ['J. T. Williams', The Methodist, 31 July 1915, p. 11]
Only two writers were published who supported Linden Webb's pacifist stance; both were anonymous – the aforementioned 'Pax' and another named 'Goodwill'. A minister from South Grafton, Rev. S. C. Roberts, called for a more temperate debate and was critical of the biblical ineptitude of some of Webb's detractors:
Sir, – Since your "unusual conditions in press correspondence" makes it necessary to be personal on this subject, these protests against Biblical ignorance of "Briton" being foisted upon us as an oracle and the veiled threat of Mr. J. T. Williams, shall begin by stating that I am not an advocate of peace-at-any-price and my patriotism is as true and sincere as anyone's... But I do object to the pillory and abusive terms being applied and a boycott threatened to those who can't see the leading that way. The Synod, not the public press, is the place to discuss a minister's character. ['S. C. Roberts', The Methodist, 14 August 1915, p. 9]
The exchange of correspondence was halted by editorial decree in the issue of 21 August 1915, when it was announced that correspondence "on the subject of the war" would be discontinued in the columns of The Methodist:
So far as we can see, no good will be done by it; on the contrary, a great deal of misunderstanding may arise and no small amount of irritation be caused. Men are entitled to their own points of view; and in ordinary times it is wise to allow considerable liberty in the expression of opinions, however diverse they may be. But these are the days of the censor, on one hand, and of grave national crisis on the other. Liberty is therefore necessarily and wisely abridged, for the time being. Our pacifist brethren must wait for a more convenient season, and those who differ from them must give them credit for sincerity. To continue the discussion in our columns at the present time would create an impression of divided counsels in our church at a time of great stress in national affairs, and would do us harm. Moreover, in the interests of those who write in what we regard as an inopportune and unfortunate strain it is not desirable to print their letters. There is no need for them to run the risk of being gravely misunderstood and of exciting prejudice that may operate against them for years. Our business now is to see the war through. ['The "War" Correspondence', The Methodist, 21 August 1915, p. 9]
Linder has described Webb's pamphlet, The Religious Significance of the War, as "the most tightly argued case for biblical pacifism produced during World War I". He further comments that "the rough war of words concerning Linden Webb's views" published in The Methodist "no doubt increased Webb's sense of discomfort and added to the already high level of stress in his life".
Apart from his sermons in the early months of 1915 there is no evidence that Rev. Webb attempted in any systematic fashion to dissuade men of his church from enlisting in the armed forces [Linder]. In July 1915 the total membership of the Hay Methodist church was 50 full members and 20 junior members (under eighteen years of age). The first of the Hay Methodist community to enlist into the Australian Imperial Force was the 25-year-old ironmonger, William Henry McMahon; he completed his enlistment at Liverpool in Sydney on 20 April 1915. He was the son of James Edward McMahon of Orson Street, who was Junior Circuit Steward of the Hay Methodist Church and Mayor of Hay from 1910 to 1913. On 12 June 1915 Frederick Tapscott, a labourer aged 22 years, completed his enlistment at Liverpool. On 5 August 1915 Frank Alexander Butterworth and John Alfred Eason both enlisted at Cootamundra. Frank Butterworth was a carpenter aged 20 years, the son of William Godfrey Butterworth, proprietor of a local building company, Senior Circuit Steward of the Hay Methodist Church and Mayor of Hay during 1914; John Eason was a 21-year-old coach driver, the son of William and Emma Eason. Soon afterwards the terrible reality of warfare was felt by the Hay Methodist community and in particular by the Junior Circuit Steward, James E. McMahon; his son, William Henry McMahon, was severely wounded on 12 August 1915 during the Battle for Lone Pine at Gallipoli, which resulted a few days later in the amputation of his right arm.
On Friday night [27 August 1915] Mr. J. E. McMahon of Hay, received a wire from the Defence authorities that his son, Mr. William H. McMahon, who enlisted some time back, and left Australia only a few weeks ago for the Front, had been severely wounded. The message stated that Private McMahon had been disembarked at Malta, and that his arm had been amputated. Further news of the unfortunate lad's progress was promised as soon as it came to hand. [Riverine Grazier, 31 August 1915]
When McMahon received the telegram from the army authorities his wife, Ellen, was lying gravely ill in their Orson Street home, suffering from pneumonia. The distress experienced by James McMahon on learning of his son's injuries was compounded by the death of Ellen McMahon during that night. The newspaper report continued:
Early on Saturday Mrs. McMahon, the boy's mother, died from pneumonia, at her home in Orson-street, after a brief illness. A little over a week ago she caught a chill while attending to Mr. McMahon, who was suffering from a severe cold, and she gradually became worse, and complications set in. Mrs. McMahon, who was 54 years of age, was born at Plymouth, England, and came to Australia in 1885. She and Mr. McMahon were married at Melbourne in 1887, and of a family of four two sons survive. The deceased was buried on Saturday evening in the Hay Methodist cemetery, the service being conducted by the Rev. B. L. Webb. Amongst those in attendance were the Mayor and Mr. McMahon's brother aldermen and representatives of the Council's staff. At last night's Council meeting a motion of sympathy with Alderman McMahon was passed. The utmost sympathy is felt throughout the community for the severely stricken husband in his hour of loneliness. His other son, Denis, volunteered for the front only the other day in New Zealand. [Riverine Grazier, 31 August 1915]
Up to that point Rev. Webb had continued his pastorate at Hay "without any overt signs of disapproval" from his parishioners [Linder]. However, the wounding of William Henry McMahon at Lone Pine in August 1915 seemed to signal a shift in the relationship between the minister and some of his parishioners.
At home the events at Gallipoli augmented support for the war. The publication of the first list of casualties hardened attitudes and the evanescent enthusiasms of 1914 were replaced by a grimmer purpose. [Macintyre p. 152]
At a Quarterly Meeting of the Hay Methodist church, held on 17 November 1915, James McMahon submitted his resignation as Junior Circuit Steward for the stated reason that he disagreed with his minister's views on the war. The meeting occurred at a time of "growing casualty lists, which indicated that the war was beginning to take a heavy toll of Hay boys".
As the community mourned its dead and attempts to persuade the remaining young men to answer the call to the colours were stepped up, tempers became frayed and personal relationships increasingly more tense. [Linder]
At the meeting Rev. Webb asked those present if they shared McMahon's viewpoint:
In a candid but friendly discussion, recorded in remarkably full detail in the Quarterly Meeting Minutes, the various church leaders expressed their opinions. Of the ten laymen present – McMahon was not there – W.G. Butterworth, his Senior Circuit Steward, George D. Butterworth, F. Styman and A. McDowell thought Webb's view were, in the words of W.G. Butterworth, "idealistic and impracticable under present conditions and they should not have been expressed from the pulpit". V.L. Roberts, C.W. Naylor and E. Gentle believed that the minister had done the right thing in preaching about the war and sympathized with his ideals, while G.C. Sides, J. Simpson Myers and A.E. Hitchcock expressed a measure of agreement with Webb but were non-committal concerning the appropriateness of his anti-war sermons. At the conclusion of their remarks, Pastor Webb thanked them all for their frankness and for their expressions of personal good will. They then proceeded to transact the business of the Methodist Circuit of Hay. This meeting of church officials in a small country town in November, 1915, was probably a fair picture of how Australian evangelicals in general and Australian Methodists in particular were split over the war. [Linder]
McKernan comments "there was no hint of a censure for Webb" at this meeting "and no one suggested that he be replaced: no bad result for pacifism or for tolerance in a small country town". He adds: "Such a result warns us against assuming a widespread acceptance for the pro-war sentiments of the official church spokesmen". [p. 30]
Methodist ministers were appointed to circuits for short periods; initial appointment in New South Wales was for one year, with each successive year renewable to a maximum of three years. Each appointment was authorised by the Methodist Conference (the annual assembly of clergy and laity). The constant turn-over of ministers between circuits enabled centralised and disciplinary control over the ministry and is considered a factor in the steady growth of Methodism during the nineteenth century.
The itinerancy of the clergy ensured the more even apportionment of ministerial talents among the circuits than would otherwise have been possible and bound the ministers into a rich brotherhood based on broadly-shared experience. [Wright & Clancy p. 39]
In January 1916, in what can be interpreted as a gesture of approval of Webb's pastoral role at Hay, a motion was passed to extend an invitation for Rev. Webb to remain at Hay for a third year. The motion was moved by W. G. Butterworth and seconded by Frederick Styman and it contained a provision that, due to the insecure financial circumstances of the Hay church, Rev. Webb should feel free to seek another pastorate if he so wished [Linder]. Frederick Styman's 18-year-old son, Henry, had enlisted in the AIF on 4 January 1916, the eighth of the Hay Methodists to join up. The next day Rupert Godfrey Butterworth, another of W. G. Butterworth's sons, and the 44-year-old John Thompson Weymouth enlisted at Cootamundra.
Unemployment and inflation were major factors contributing to social tensions in Australia by mid-year 1916. From August to October community discord was further aggravated by the issue of conscription. The new Labor prime minister, William Hughes, had returned from a visit to England convinced that a greater effort and sacrifice was needed to win the war. Australian soldiers were suffering extremely heavy casualties during the Allies' 1916 summer offensive. In late August, in the face of considerable opposition from within his own party, Hughes announced that a referendum would be held to seek a mandate for the introduction of military conscription in Australia in order to boost recruitment numbers. The 'Yes' campaign was firmly supported by Protestant church leaders, as well as a number of Catholic bishops. The prevalent Protestant viewpoint considered the war a moral crusade and an instrument by which Australia would be reformed. The corollary of this perspective was that all citizens should be participants in such reform. The campaign opposing conscription was led by the Catholic Bishop Daniel Mannix (soon to be Archbishop of Melbourne). Mannix argued the 'No' case from a socio-political and class-based perspective, contending that Australia had already done enough to help Britain.
This fundamental disagreement about the nature of the conscription debate arose from the different perceptions about the war held by Catholics and Protestants. Mannix opposed conscription speaking as a private citizen, giving his views on a political question. Protestants supported conscription as clergymen, from their pulpits, giving their people moral advice as they would about questions of sexual morality or gambling. [McKernan p. 37]
In common with other Protestant churches, the leadership of the Methodist Church wholeheartedly endorsed conscription, though Linder points out that resolutions on the issue passed by state Conferences "were not binding on the individual Conscience".
In Methodist practice, such resolutions were regarded as moral advice and did not have the force of ecclesiastical law. The care with which the various conference leaders addressed their constituencies concerning the issues of war and conscription indicates that this was a matter of great sensitivity and implies that there was disagreement among Methodists. [Linder]
Nevertheless the Methodist Church's support for conscription was a source of regret and agitation for Linden Webb and forced him to confront his future within the Church. From early October 1916 he began to correspond with Rev. William Pearson, President of the New South Wales Methodist Conference.
Webb was anxious to learn the church's position on the moral issues involved in conscription. Pearson could see none and, thinking the subject merely political, advised his younger colleague to keep away from it. In any case [Pearson argued] the people preferred to hear about something other than the war when in church. [Wright & Clancy p. 133]
In the end Webb concluded that his position on "the moral implications of Christian doctrine" was incompatible with that of the Methodist Church and sought to resign. In a letter to Pearson dated 18 October 1916 Linden Webb explained his position:
At the beginning of the last year I endeavoured to state my own view in three sermons, which were subsequently published. I tried to show that, however justifiable a war may seem to be from the moral standpoint of our present day civilisation, it can never be justifiable from the moral standpoint of the Christian Gospel.
I believe that in the light of the revelation of Jesus Christ all war (defensive as well as offensive) is a moral evil. This does not mean that we are left impotent in the face of aggression or powerless to protest against wrong: it means that we have at our disposal moral and spiritual forces which are mightier to overthrow evil than all the bullets and bayonets ever made.
The fact that the nation was not sufficiently Christian to avoid war does not seem to me any excuse for the Church to adapt her message to any plane of moral judgment lower than that of the Cross. The failure of the Church to meet the challenge of national expediency and militarism and bear an uncompromising witness against this (and it seems to me) dreadful iniquity of Conscription reveals still further how deep is our difference of view concerning the moral implications of the Gospel.
On advice from Pearson, however, Webb accepted an inactive designation, 'Without Pastoral Charge', for a year or two [Wright & Clancy p. 133].
Rev. Webb informed the Hay congregation of the decision he had made and his impending departure from the township. A farewell social gathering was held on Monday night, 23 October 1916, "when a large number of church members assembled to say farewell to the Rev. B. L. Webb and Mrs. Webb".
A very pleasant evening was spent, marred only by thought of the impending parting. Mr. Gentle occupied the chair. A lengthy and excellent programme of musical and elocutionary items were gone through interspersed with parlor games. Presentations to Mrs. Webb were made by Miss Nancy Winser on behalf of the elocution class, and by Mr. Naylor on behalf of the congregation, the gifts being a handsome bag and a silver teapot.
James E. McMahon, who was again Mayor of Hay, "handed a cheque to Mr. Webb as a parting gift from members and adherent[s] of the church, and in doing so mentioned the personal friendship existing between himself and Mr. Webb, despite differences of opinion on certain subjects". The chairman, Mr. Gentle, "expressed his regret at the approaching departure of Mr. and Mrs. Webb, and referred briefly to their many excellent qualities".
Particular mention was made of the kindness and sympathy shown to those in trouble, and of the deep spiritual tone which had characterised the message from the pulpit. Further appreciative remarks were made by other speakers, including Mrs. Nissen, Mr. McDowell, Mr. Naylor, and Mr. Goodsir. Refreshments were served, and the gathering brought to a conclusion by the singing of "God be with you till we meet again." [Riverine Grazier, 3 November 1916, 2(3)]
Rev. Webb's resignation from the Hay Methodist Circuit was formalised at a Quarterly meeting held on 25 October 1916. The reason for his resignation, as noted in the minutes, was that "his views on the war were not those accepted by the Methodist Church as a whole, and therefore he felt he could not consistently remain a paid agent of the Church". Linder points out that Webb's resignation could in no way be attributed to local factors; "not because of any organized opposition in his congregation or because his salary was in arrears – which, as a matter of fact, it was..."
The 'No' conscription campaign of 1916, led by Bishop Mannix and Frank Tudor (previously Minister for Trade and Customs in Hughes' government), obviously resonated with a significant proportion of the Australian population. The conscription referendum was held on 28 October 1916 and was defeated by a slender margin.
While Protestant leaders had treated conscription as a moral issue and had spoken in unison and in clear, unequivocal terms about the path of higher duty, the people had set this guidance aside, following their own lights, voting in accordance with their material interests and their perceptions of political reality. [McKernan p. 41]
The 1916 national conscription campaign had enormous repercussions in Australia, including a major split within the Labor Party and the consequent realignment of political forces with Hughes and his supporters forming the Nationalist Party of Australia. The public debate revived and exaggerated sectarian and class divisions within Australian society, which were further exacerbated by the second conscription referendum a year later. The conscription campaigns were waged with rancorous partisanship and opponents of conscription were freely accused of treason and disloyalty.
From November 1916 until early 1917 Rev. Bernard Linden Webb was based at the Central Methodist Mission at 139 Castlereagh-street in Sydney. Rev. Webb was recorded as a marriage celebrant at Moss Vale during 1917 to early 1918 in the New South Wales Government Gazette. However, Linder states that during this period at Moss Vale Linden Webb did not work as a minister, but tried to support his family by other means; "he tried his hand at teaching elocution, farming, peddling apples door to door and clothing sales". During this period Prime Minister 'Billy' Hughes made a second attempt to introduce conscription. The referendum was held in December 1917 and, after a bitter and divisive debate, was again rejected.
The Hay Methodist volunteers
The Great War honour board, now located in the Uniting Church in Lachlan Street, lists the fifteen names of the men from the Hay Methodist community who enlisted and served during the 1914-18 war. Of the fifteen names the service records of all but two were located in the online database of the National Archives of Australia. One of the men on the list joined up in New Zealand and the other could not be found on the NAA database. The details below, therefore, relate to the thirteen Hay Methodist volunteers for whom NAA records were located.
Six volunteers from the Hay Methodist community enlisted during 1916. The last to do so was Austral Jacka, who completed his enlistment at Cootamundra on 24 May 1916, well before the 1916 conscription campaign was underway. The details of the 1916 volunteers are below:
The two names on the Hay Methodist honour board for which Australian records were not located are "C. Fayle" and "D. McMahon". The first is almost certainly Cecil Edward Fayle, son of Edward and Martha Fayle, who was born at Hay in 1889. Cecil Fayle died on 21 May 1962 at Hay, aged 73 years. The other was Denis McMahon, son of James and Ellen McMahon and brother of William Henry McMahon, who enlisted in New Zealand in mid-1915.
The proportion of volunteers from the Hay Methodist congregation was high – approximately one-fifth of the total number of parishioners. In comparison the overall enlistments in New South Wales amounted to 8.8 percent of the population. The group from which volunteers could be drawn (males, aged from 18 to 44 years) was just over 23 percent of the Hay and district population. If this proportion applied to the Hay Methodist church-members it can be assumed that virtually all the eligible men from this assembly volunteered for service in the Great War. This can be compared to the Australian national average for enlistments of 38 percent (those who enlisted compared to the total male population aged from 18 to 44 years). Based on these statistics it is probably reasonable to conclude that Rev. Webb's strong pacifist principles exerted little influence on the young men of Hay Methodist congregation in regard to their individual decisions to enlist in the AIF.
The high enlistment rate of the Hay Methodists is consistent with the overall enlistment statistics for Hay and district. There was a total of 642 enlistments (including nine female nurses) from a population of about 3,420 (municipality of Hay and the surrounding Waradgery Shire), a proportion of 18.8 percent of the Hay and district population. This was more than double the average enlistment rate for New South Wales as a whole. If we apply the 23 percent group (males, aged from 18 to 44 years) to these figures, there were 633 males who enlisted from a total of about 800 of the Hay and district population who were within the eligible group, an enlistment rate from the eligible group of 79 percent (compared to the national average of 38 percent).
The enlistment statistics for Hay and district certainly seem to indicate a high level of enthusiasm and allegiance to the Empire. During the Great War enlistment rates were often cited as a measure of a district's loyalty and were a source of community self-esteem.
Country people boasted that rural Australia provided many more recruits than their proportion within the total population demanded, that their patriotism was more intense and that their young men were more robust and more adaptable, that they made better soldiers. [McKernan p. 182]
Recruiters routinely appealed to a potential volunteer's sense of local pride, "as if a strong motive for enlistment were to uphold the honour of the district" [McKernan p. 187]. However, consideration should also be given to the coercive effect on local men of the social structure of country towns and civic events associated with the war, such as patriotic demonstrations and recruitment meetings:
... the pressure to enlist bore more heavily on country people who could not hide behind the anonymity the large numbers in the cities provided. In country towns recruiters appealed to individuals whose private circumstances, employment and marriage status would have been known to some, at least, of the other members of the audience... By treating volunteers as heroes and by elaborately farewelling each contingent of them, the people of the country towns created a climate that would induce other young men to imitate the recruits. [McKernan pp. 182-3]
The Methodist volunteers from Hay suffered their share of casualties and deaths during the conflict. Four were killed in action. Arthur George Adamson, of the 18th Battalion AIF, was killed in France on 28 July 1916, aged 23 years. No doubt Rev. Webb was at hand to provide pastoral support to Adamson's widowed mother and her other children when the news of his death reached Hay. John Alfred Eason was a bombardier in the 14th Field Artillery Brigade and was wounded in action on 7 April 1917. He died the next day at a nearby wound-dressing station. The other two fatalities were brothers, the sons of William and Jane Butterworth. Rupert Godfrey Butterworth, of the 56th Battalion AIF, was killed in action on 26 September 1917 in France. His younger brother, Frank Alexander Butterworth, was a member of the 30th Battalion AIF. Frank had been wounded in France on 20 July 1916 and in May 1917 was promoted to Lieutenant. A month after his brother's death Frank Butterworth joined the Australian Flying Corps. He trained in England before going into action as a scout for the Australian Divisions, engaging enemy aircraft and flying observation and contact patrols in support of the ground troops. Frank Butterworth was killed in action on 16 October 1918, less than a month before the war ended. His obituary was published in The Methodist of 23 November 1918:
Lieut. Frank A. Butterworth, of Hay, had given three years of his life to the service of the A.I.F. For the greater part of this time he was on the battlefield, and proved himself to be a faithful valiant soldier. He earned the respect and affection of his comrades in arms for his courage, brotherliness, and for his honourable and pure manhood. "I tried to live like him," wrote one of his fellow soldiers. "I made him my example." He was originally in the 30th Battalion. For bravery in his battalion he was awarded the Military Medal. He eventually secured transfer to the Flying Corps. As a scout, he went into action, and was killed on 16th October, little more than three weeks from the end. The death of this sunny, brave, capable young soldier cast a gloom over the town of Hay, where everyone knew and loved him. Deepest sympathy is felt with Mr. and Mrs. W. G. Butterworth and their family in this, the second bereavement they have suffered during the war, it being almost a year since their son Rupert made the supreme sacrifice. Soldiers of Christ, well done!
A number of the Hay Methodist volunteers were wounded in battle:
Others suffered injuries and medical conditions while on overseas duty:
There is a poignant postscript to the grief and loss experienced by the Butterworth family at Hay during the Great War. Ronald Stanley Butterworth, the youngest son of William and Jane Butterworth, enlisted in the AIF in Sydney on 27 September 1918 (a year after his brother Rupert was killed). Ronald was a law student, a few months short of his twentieth birthday when he enlisted; he had previously attempted to join up but was rejected on medical grounds. On the form 'Application to Enlist in the Australian Imperial Force' there is a section for the consent of parents or guardians in regard to persons under 21 years. This section on Ronald Butterworth's form was blank, though it seems likely his parents were aware that he had applied to enlist. About three weeks after he enlisted Ronald's brother, Frank Butterworth, was killed on the Western Front. Ronald Butterworth undertook a course of vaccinations and medical checks after his enlistment in preparation for his departure overseas. He was passed fit for embarkation in November 1918, but soon afterwards he was discharged from the Army "at [his] Parents' request". It seems likely that William and Jane Butterworth could not bear the possibility of losing a third son in the war and applied their right to veto Ronald's enlistment. In any case at about the same time hostilities between the warring sides ceased when Germany and her allies capitulated and signed an Armistice on 11 November 1918.
Linden Webb's life post-World War I
Rev. B. Linden Webb was not listed as a marriage celebrant for 1919, but from 1920 to early 1921 he was appointed as the Methodist minister at Muswellbrook, NSW.
After the war, [Webb] applied for reinstatement as a Methodist minister, and was happily accepted back into the fold by the New South Wales Conference. [Linder]
In 1921 Rev. Webb was at Toronto, NSW, where he remained for three years. From 1924 to early 1926 he ministered at Gordon, in suburban Sydney.
Linden and Eleanor Webb had three daughters and one son. For part of the period 1927 to 1935 Rev. Webb served at Norfolk Island. It is probable, also, that he suffered from bouts of poor health during this period. In his obituary Rev. Webb was described as "physically frail, dogged for many years by ill health".
Support for pacifist principles grew strongly within the Methodist church "in the congenial environment of the 1930s".
The proposed establishment of the Methodist Peace Fellowship in 1935, and the designation about the same time of a 'Peace Sunday', gave the movement impetus and ensured that the subject would be kept open to the readers of The Methodist. E.E.V. Collicott provided intellectual stimulus, arguing that the search for peace in the international arena must be firmly based on its pursuit in our personal, commercial and national life. He advised his readers against adherence to such obsolete concepts as national sovereignty, since it prevented the proper working of international machinery. The gentle B.L. Webb, pleased to find that the atmosphere of his beloved church had changed over twenty years, rejoined the discussion, while Revs William Coleman and Brian Heawood also lent support as did layman A.O. Robson. Of course, this was a subject where logical argument, on either side, did not necessarily prevail. [Wright & Clancy p. 181]
In early 1937 a United Christian Peace Movement was formed.
Collicott was its foundation President and the Anglican, Rev. W.G. Coughlan of Kingswood, its Secretary. This provided a broader focus for those many Christians, both lay and clerical, in all churches, who were beginning to find war incompatible with their conscience and who believed that peace was not the mere absence of war but 'a positive condition of society, deliberately and universally based on the essential Christian principles of truth, Justice, Mercy, and Love...' [Wright & Clancy p. 181]
From 1936 to early 1938 Rev. Bernard Linden Webb served at Summer Hill, in suburban Sydney. From 1938 to early 1939 he was appointed to Campbelltown, NSW. During 1939 Rev. Webb was transferred to Kensington, in the eastern suburbs of Sydney. With the outbreak of World War II Rev. Webb felt "that his pacifist principles were not consistent with his work in the church" and resigned from his ministry.
He could easily have continued his work in the ministry, and soft pedalled about his views on war, but he was not that sort of man. [Collicott]
Rev. Webb spent the remainder of the war-years supporting his family by selling fruit and vegetables. [Collicott]
[Webb] continued his efforts for peace and non-violence through such organizations as the Fellowship of Reconciliation, the Peace Pledge Union and the War Resisters' International and joined fellow Methodist ministers Alan Walker and Harold Rowland in their peace witness during World War II. [Linder]
Debate about war and peace within the New South Wales Methodist Church developed a momentum during and immediately after World War II. A 'Christian Peace Conference' was held at the Waverley Church in November 1944, which was the forerunner of later ecumenical conferences.
The advent of the atomic and hydrogen bombs sharpened the concern for peace because of the realization that such weapons, for the first time, gave the human race the power to annihilate itself. The 1949 New South Wales Conference declared that 'War today has become a supreme sin against God and a degradation of man'. It asserted its belief in the possibility of peace and called on all men to support every effort at reconciliation because 'By the seeking of social and economic justice for all men, by generosity of judgements, by casting from personal and national life the evil which makes for war, we believe peace can be secured'. [Wright & Clancy p. 189]
After World War II Rev. Webb "re-entered the ministry, but ill-health supervened, and after a couple of appointments he was compelled to relinquish normal circuit duties, and retire into the ranks of the supernumeraries" (probably at Helensburgh, south of Sydney). [McKernan p. 30]
The peace debate received new impetus in the mid-1960s with the decision to commit Australian troops to Vietnam. Prominent Methodists who actively opposed conscription and Australia's participation in the Vietnam War included Rev. Alan Walker, superintendent of the Central Methodist Mission, and Rev. D. A. Trathan, the headmaster of Newington College who publicly recommended that young men refuse to register for National Service. These ministers and their strong moral stances were directly connected, by a lineage of peace activism, to the pioneering pacifist theology of Linden Webb at Hay during World War I.
Linden Webb's wife, Eleanor, died in 1966. In 1968 Linden Webb's health, described as "never robust", began to fail, "and he removed into his daughter's Convalescent Home [Rima]" at Mosman [Collicott]. Rev. Bernard Linden Webb died of a stroke on 28 June 1968, aged 83 years, at the Rima Private Hospital in Mosman.
The funeral service, which was of a private nature, was conducted by the Rev. R. Gledhill and the Rev. F. R. King, at the Mosman Church on Monday. [The Methodist, 6 July 1968, p. 8]
After Linden Webb's death a tribute by Dr. E. E. V. Collicott was published in The Methodist, from which the following is extracted:
Keenly alive to the changes of outlook that have come with the scientific discoveries of recent years, [Webb] sought and found an expression for religious faith that satisfied both the demands of the spirit and the temper of the age. Thoughtful, tolerant and good humoured he was a pleasant and stimulating companion. He saw that life was a constant becoming, and never became ossified in his views. With a talent for verse-writing he embodied much of his vision in hymns, some of which have appeared in "The Methodist". For all his gentle modesty he was inflexibly firm and courageous in maintaining his convictions. He believed that war is utterly wrong, and was a thorough-going pacifist... Three daughters and a son survive him, and to them we offer our heartfelt sympathy, together with a sort of congratulation on the satisfaction they must feel in the remembrance of a long life loyally devoted to truth and mercy. [The Methodist, 13 July 1968, p. 14]
'A Place in the World – Culture: Imperial Ties and World War One', ABC Online, http://www.abc.net.au/federation/fedstory/ep5/ep5_culture.htm
Census of the Commonwealth of Australia, 1911.
Census of the Commonwealth of Australia, 1921.
Collicott, (Dr.) E. E. V., 'Rev. B. Linden Webb, B.A.: Tribute by Dr. E.E.V. Collicott', The Methodist, 13 July 1968, p. 14.
Hodge, B., The Last Shilling: Australians in the Great War, Hicks Smith & Sons, Sydney, 1974.
Linder, Robert D., 'Galilee Shall at Last Vanquish Corsica: The Rev. B. Linden Webb Challenges the War-Makers, 1915-1917', Church Heritage (Historical Journal of the Uniting Church in Australia), Vol. 11, No. 3, March 2000, pp. 171-183.
Macintyre, Stuart, The Oxford History of Australia: Volume 4, 1901-1942, The Succeeding Age, Oxford University Press, Melbourne, 1986.
McKernan, Michael, The Australian People and the Great War, Nelson, 1980.
National Archives of Australia, 'A Gift to the Nation' (online database), http://www.naa.gov.au/whats-on/online/feature-exhibits/gift.aspx
New South Wales Government Gazette, lists of registered marriage celebrants.
Scott, Ernest, The Official History of Australia in the War of 1914-1918, Volume XI: Australia During the War, Angus and Robertson Ltd., Sydney, 1936.
Terry, Milton S., Biblical hermeneutics: a treatise on the interpretation of the Old and New Testaments, Grand Rapids Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1974.
Webb, B. Linden, The Religious Significance of the War, Christian World, Sydney, 1915.
Wright, Don, & Clancy, Eric G., The Methodists: A History of Methodism in New South Wales, Allen & Unwin, 1993.
Footnote regarding the Statistics used in the article:
The assumptions and methods for estimating enlistment statistics for Hay and district are as follows: the overall estimated population of Hay and district during the war was obtained from the mean of the population data from the 1911 and 1921 Censuses for the municipality of Hay and surrounding Waradgery Shire (comprising 3,615 square miles); the proportion of males aged 18 to 44 years was obtained from age cohort statistics for the county of Waradgery in the 1911 Census; total enlistment numbers were obtained from the Hay War Memorial High School World War I honour board; an assumption was made that the catchment for names collected on the HWMHS honour board roughly equates to the area comprising the municipality of Hay and the Shire of Waradgery.
National and New South Wales enlistment data was obtained from The Official History of Australia in the War of 1914-1918, Volume XI: Australia During the War by Ernest Scott, Angus and Robertson Ltd., Sydney, 1936.
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