A Seventh-day Adventist public garden — spotlighted at night, with seating in tranquil surroundings and a three-tier fountain as centerpiece — is now a national British memorial to all those who stand for peace in wartime.
The idea for the garden, which opened in Stanborough Park in Watford, England, on the International Day of Peace on Sept. 21, rose from the recognition that 130 Adventist men, many of them based in the area, went to prison and suffered severely for their non-combatant stance during World War I.
Ian Sweeney, president of the Adventist Church in the United Kingdom and Ireland, told the ceremony in the Stanborough Park Seventh-day Adventist Church that Adventists are citizens of two kingdoms and that the kingdom of God must take priority when those kingdoms clash.
Sweeney first proposed the creation of the Watford Peace Garden between the Stanborough Park church and the Adventist Church’s British Union Conference headquarters where he works.
It was Victor Hulbert, now Trans-European Division communication director, whose research three years ago found that 130 Seventh-day Adventist conscripts refused to bear arms during World War I and at the same time observed the biblical seventh-day Sabbath.
Hulbert emphasized at the ceremony that the garden was created as a memorial to those soldiers’ courageous stance amid ridicule and opposition — as well as to the some 20,000 people in Britain who refused to bear arms or take another’s life during World War I and all those who work for peace today.
“I set out in 2013 to do some research and tell a story of Seventh-day Adventist men who refused to bear arms,” Hulbert said. “That resulted in a documentary film, lectures, and numerous journal articles. I never expected it to result in a beautiful lasting memory like this.”
Watch “A Matter of Conscience,” Victor Hulbert's documentary about Adventists who stood for their beliefs in World War I
After the short church service, a large group of attendees, including children and grandchildren of the World War I soldiers, gathered outside the garden, cameras in hand, as Garth Till cut the white ribbon. Garth was the son of Willie Till, one of 14 Adventists who were imprisoned and severely beaten for their convictions at Military Prison No. 3 in Le Havre, France.
Garth Till, 87, quoted from memory the words of church co-founder Ellen G. White: “The greatest want of the world is the want of men — men who will not be bought or sold; men who in their inmost souls are true and honest; men who do not fear to call sin by its right name; men whose conscience is as true to duty as the needle to the pole; men who will stand for the right though the heavens fall.”
While Till only once, at age 9, heard his father talk about his experiences, he said his father and the other soldiers clearly belonged in that category. Till said he remembers the trauma it caused his father to recount his past.
But “he had no regrets,” he said. “He made the right decision.”
Watch the opening of a memorial garden on the grounds of Stanborough Park in Watford, England, on the International Day of Peace on Sept. 21 (TED).