John Broom was commissioned by the Bible Society to undertake research on the First World War and the importance of the Bible in war. He is currently researching for a PhD on ‘Connections between the Second World War and Christian culture in Britain’.
Fight the good fight is not an explicitly evangelical book. It is an account of men and women from across the spectrum of Christendom, described as ‘Voices of faith from the First World War’.
There are six sections, each with an introduction: Christian Britain in1914; Chaplains and an Army Scripture Reader; Women in War; Christians from other nations; Conscientious objection; and Families in War.
In all, there are 23 cameos of outstanding individuals and families, including John Reith (founder of the BBC), Harry Wisbey (Scripture Reader), Edith Cavell, Martin Niemoller (German U-Boat commander) and one of America’s most decorated soldiers, Alvin York.
We sometimes refer to the UK as being post-Christian. Yet, we have little understanding of what the UK was like when it was supposedly ‘Christian’ and how this influenced the national psyche. Fight the good fight affords insight into how it was possible for the ‘Christian’ nations of Europe to descend into the carnage of World War One.
The author carefully avoids polarising the reader into the rights and wrongs of whether Christians should engage in war. A real-life case is given of how two firm Quaker friends were taken in opposite directions by their beliefs. One had a distinguished military career while the other refused to fight.
In the section ‘Families in war’, Broom describes the Chavasse and Brocklesby families. He brings together the complex choices involving faith, conscience and perceived duty. Noel Chavasse’s decisions led to the awarding of the Victoria Cross — twice. This is contrasted with Bert Brocklesby, whose graffiti can still be seen on his cell walls in Richmond Castle. He survived a death sentence following his conscientious objection to enlisting.
John Broom concludes: ‘It is my hope that this book has stimulated thought and appreciation … of those who served enthusiastically and survived, those who served reluctantly and survived, those who absolutely refused to serve, the women who served in the ways open to them in 1914, and those who saw their families torn apart by war.
‘At the very heart of all their experience of war was their Christian faith. In an age that often seeks to deride religious faith, it is perhaps worth taking time to reflect on the achievements of a generation that did not so lightly dismiss Britain and Europe’s Christian heritage’ (p.207).