The Faith and Freedom Great War project continues to expand and now contains around 75 separate items. One recent addition is the video made in 2014 by John Featherstone with input from Peter and Kath Faulkner, the then minister, the Rev Patrick Timperley, and members of the Old Meeting, Mansfield as a tribute to the memory of the war dead of their congregation in the First World War.
Some twenty-two chapel members are listed on the war memorial as having given their lives in the First World War. As other churches have done in this time of the centenary of the Great War the current congregation have researched the lives and circumstances of the men who were killed and tracked down the last resting place of each one of them. The Mansfield folk have also gone one step further and visited the grave of each soldier wherever that was possible. In 2014 a group of Mansfield members travelled to each grave or memorial of a chapel member and placed a poppy there while speaking the words:
We place this cross in thanks and in memory of….a brave son of Mansfield, whose name lives on, and is recorded on the wall of the chapel he attended.
The whole project was also recorded and can be seen on a beautifully put together video. As is so often the case with such research it is deeply poignant. Many of the soldiers were very young, their ages are given on the video along with their address and pre-war occupation – miners, colliery men, a pork butcher’s assistant, a hosiery hand, a farm labourer, and so on. Where there was no known grave the group from Mansfield visited the memorial – such as those at Thiepval and the Menin Gate – which bears the name of those killed in those battles and they placed their poppy there. They visited all the soldiers’ graves and memorials in France and Belgium. One soldier was killed in Iraq and his grave lies in the Baghdad North Gate War Cemetery, he was remembered by a poppy being placed on the Iraq Roll of Honour in the head office of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission in Maidenhead.
In carrying out this act of remembrance they followed in the footsteps of others from the chapel who had gone before. One mother whose young son was killed at Ypres visited the battle site with a party of bereaved mothers in 1920. She returned with a stone from the ruins of Ypres which was incorporated into the wall of the chapel as a memorial.
The circumstances of all the soldiers who were killed were traced, with the exception of one who proved elusive yet is still remembered, as the video says. The grave that is closest to home is in Nottingham Road Cemetery, Mansfield. Here was buried Ernest Davenport a private in the Notts and Derby regiment. Aged just 20 when he died, before the war he had worked in an iron foundry. He had been wounded in the Easter Rising in Dublin and had died of his wounds on 28th May 1916. It was at his grave, near the anniversary of the outbreak of the war one hundred years before, that the chapel members as a whole gathered for an act of remembrance of all those killed.
The video can be viewed here:
The Faith and Freedom Great War Project can be visited here:
Back in June I asked the question on this blog whether the Cenotaph outside the modern Bury Unitarian Church which commemorated members of the three congregations of Chesham, Heywood and Bank Street, Bury, was the only Unitarian Cenotaph:
Neville wondered if this was a unique memorial in Unitarian church circles and I did suspect that he might be right. However, we can now be sure that it is not unique. The Rev Jo James has sent me some pictures of the Cenotaph at Mill Hill Chapel, Leeds which stands very prominently in front of his grand gothic church in the city centre. All these pictures will also appear online on the Faith and Freedom Great War Project.
The names on the Cenotaph are listed in order of rank and include their regiment as well as three additional names from the Second World War. Of the names listed Jo points out particularly the names of Lupton, who lost four members of one family, and Hirsch who lost two members in the two world wars. Jo also mentions that the name listed as Private Sen J. Nath is believed to be the only non-white combatant from Yorkshire to die in the First World War, J.N. Sen was a member of the Mill Hill Chapel Choir and may also have been a member of the Brahmo Samaj. More on Private Sen can be read on Dave Stowe’s interesting blog:
The inscription at the foot of the Cenotaph comes from the book of Lamentations – Is it nothing to you, all ye that pass by? It seems an appropriate quotation when one considers the loss of so many young men such as the four members of the Lupton family. The families of all those men listed on the plaque must have reflected on that passage very often, Is it nothing to you, all ye that pass by? behold, and see if there be any sorrow like unto my sorrow.
I didn’t know there was a Cenotaph outside Mill Hill Chapel but I had seen one of the names listed on the memorial before. Captain D.P. Hirsch of the Yorkshire Regiment is listed as having been awarded the Victoria Cross. He must have belonged to a fairly staunch Unitarian family because he was educated at Willaston School and his name also appears on that school’s war memorial, an object which was rescued from the school when it closed by the Rev H.J. McLachlan and placed in Harris Manchester College where it can still be seen today:
Willaston School only operated from 1900 to 1937 but was a successful small public school that had been set up specifically to educate the children of Unitarian families.
Captain Hirsch’s citation for the VC reads:
For most conspicuous bravery and devotion to duty in attack. Having arrived at the first objective, Captain Hirsch, although twice wounded, returned over fire-swept slopes to satisfy himself that the defensive flank was being established. Machine gun fire was so intense that it was necessary for him to be continuously up and down the line encouraging his men to dig and hold the position.
He continued to encourage his men by standing on the parapet and steadying them in the face of machine gun fire and counter-attack until he was killed. His conduct throughout was a magnificent example of the greatest devotion to duty.
A brief search online shows that David Philip Hirsch’s letters are now preserved in Leeds University. He was only 20 years old when he was killed. He was a star pupil at Willaston School and became the head boy before winning a scholarship to Worcester College, Oxford. After the war his parents paid for a new swimming pool to be built in the school in his memory. It would be interesting to know if the swimming pool (and the memorial chapel) are still preserved on the site of the former school.
This leads on to another question (or questions) – how many Unitarians were awarded the VC in the First World War? Indeed how many Unitarians have been awarded the VC since it was instituted in 1856?
Another resource that will be added to the Faith and Freedom Great War Project in the near future is the Roll of Honour of the Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church of Ireland – or at least as much of this that was printed in the Non-Subscribing Presbyterian magazine at the time.
Not surprisingly that magazine carries a great deal of information about the impact of the war on the denomination. The war brings about much comment and theological reflection from ministers and lay people but the extent of the impact only gradually comes to be realised as more and more members take up arms. The magazine decided to compile a Roll of Honour and in December 1914, four or so months after the outbreak, this was printed for the first time. Already it contained 141 names, all of them obviously volunteers, and representing 24 congregations. The list includes two who have been wounded and already the first loss – a member of the Dromore congregation – David Prentice who was lost in action on HMS Monmouth in a naval engagement off the coast of Chile. HMS Monmouth was an armoured cruiser that was built in 1901 and used mostly around Chinese waters. At the start of the First World War it was sent to the West Indies fleet and was part of the battle of Coronel, here it was sunk by the Germans with the loss of all hands.
In the next year the Roll of Honour was reprinted in March 1915, when it had been expanded to include 27 congregations. In January 1916 the list is updated when 360 names (including some women involved in nursing and other war work in some congregations) were listed in 29 congregations (out of a notional total of about 35). To this denominational list an additional three names were added in February. For the denomination as a whole of these 363 names eleven were listed as killed, missing or lost.
Having kept this Roll of Honour up until February 1916, strangely, it is not updated in the pages of the magazine again. At one point mention is made of an intention to publish on card the full Roll of Honour for the congregations but it is not clear if this was ever done. Why the Roll was never updated is hard to tell. The editor, the Rev Alfred Turner, was now working in France with the YMCA but the responsibility for providing this information lay with the individual congregations. Having begun keeping the record it seems strange that it stops.
A result of the Roll never being completed is that we do not know the exact numbers of those who served in the First World War. But both the total number on the Roll of Honour and the number of those killed in the war are likely to be far greater than the numbers published between 1914 and 1916. There are, for instance, 16 obituaries of men killed in action (in two cases died of war wounds) in the magazine. Of these only three died before the publication of the January 1916 list and they do appear on the Roll of Honour but of the other thirteen only seven are listed and six are not, possibly because they had not joined up until after that date. The number of fatal casualties is likely to be much higher and a perusal of each church’s war memorial would give the true figure. If we look at the example of the Dublin congregation, for instance, on the January 1916 list there are eleven names included as having joined the armed forces. Yet the war memorial in the Church lists only those who were killed (all of them in 1917 and 1918) and of the five names preserved there three do not appear on the January 1916 list. To take another example in the case of Clough there are seven names on the published Roll of Honour, and no fatalities. However, on the Roll of Honour in the Church there are ten names, three of whom were killed in the war.
But taking the denomination as a whole the Roll of Honour plus the additional obituaries makes a total of 24 killed in the First World War noted in the magazine in this way although clearly this cannot be the final total.
Of the 16 obituaries in the magazine 14 are of officers and most include a photograph of the deceased. Four obituaries appear in the August 1916 issue, all of them of soldiers apparently killed on the first day of the battle of the Somme. Whether an obituary appeared or not seemed to be entirely due to chance but was very unlikely for those who weren’t commissioned. There are in addition three brief notices, one of them of one of the sons of the Rev Alexander Gordon, and one mention of a death in a Rademon ‘News of the Churches’ report. This would make a total of 28 names of men killed in the war mentioned in the magazine, again certainly not the final total.
But a careful comparison of all the church memorials plus the obituaries found in the magazine plus the names on the Roll of Honour would at least give us a working total for those from the Non-Subscribing Presbyterian churches in Ireland who served and lost their lives in the First World War.
Although so many of those who died did not receive an obituary in the magazine some of the obituaries in the Non-Subscribing Presbyterian are quite informative. Most of the casualties were people who joined up at the start of the war but some had been career soldiers. One such was Captain Craig Nelson of Downpatrick who was killed in action on 26th September 1915. He was an officer in the 3rd Brahman regiment, part of the Indian army and a grandson of Rev S.C. Nelson, minister of Downpatrick. His father was Dr Edwin Field Nelson, the fifth son of Samuel Craig Nelson, a senior surgeon in the locality who had himself attained the rank of Surgeon-Major in the local Militia and continued as medical officer for soldiers in the Downpatrick district during the war up to his death in May 1916. But his son, Craig Nelson, was killed the year before, his other two sons both serving officers in the navy or the army. Craig Nelson was a career officer who had been commissioned into the Royal Irish Rifles and served throughout the South African war. He subsequently transferred to the Indian Army and served first in Egypt and then on the Western Front.
The Downpatrick minister, Rev M.S. Dunbar, said of him:
We cannot help our feelings being moved when we think of the thousands of our countrymen who have fallen in this titanic struggle, but our feelings are still more acute when we suddenly learn of the fate of one who we knew, with whom we conversed not so long ago, and who, when we bade him good-bye, was in perfect health and the best of spirits. The War, with all its dread consequences, comes home to us as it never did before. Captain Nelson was brought up amongst us, and when on furlough from India, was always pleased to join in our service here, and to recall his associations with the church and the people connected with it.
The Faith and Freedom Great War Project can be seen here:
The Faith and Freedom Great War project continues to expand and we hope to see added to the site in the near future a number of new articles, including Alan Ruston’s piece for the Transactions of the Unitarian Historical Society (1993), ‘Killed Fighting in the First World War’; and a moving sermon by Andrew Hill who recounts his father’s experiences during the First World War as a ministerial student who was assigned to “Non Combatant service only on conscientious grounds”.
We have also received a good number of images of war memorials from many different places. Brendan Burke has sent a whole sequence of pictures of the memorial in the South Mall in Cork. Of course it is not related directly to the Unitarian (or any church) in Cork but unveiled in 1925 it is a rare example of such a public memorial in the Irish Republic. It shows a soldier of the Royal Munster Fusiliers with the names of the war dead (which almost certainly includes some members of the Princes Street congregation) on a plinth underneath.
We’ve a good number of images of war memorials too from churches in Northern Ireland, many of them designed by Rosamund Praeger, the famous sculptor who was also a member of the Holywood NSP congregation.
Lynne Readett has sent some fascinating material from Park Lane Chapel, Ashton in Makerfield. Here the memorial takes two forms – the first a stained glass window listing the names of those who were killed in the war. This was beautifully restored and rededicated at a service to mark the outbreak of the First World War in August 2014. The congregation also built an extension to their school house as a further memorial in 1925.
The window contains a list of the Chapel’s fallen as well as the legend ‘Freedom and Justice’ and the quotation ‘Ye that live on mid English pastures green, remember us and think what might have been’. This was a commonly used verse on memorials all over England at the time but I don’t know the source, does anyone know where it comes from?
Lynne has supplied the site with photographs and accounts of special services held both there and at Cairo Street, Warrington, together with details of those who were killed in the war who belonged to Cairo Street. Susan Naylor has also supplied details of the members of Park Lane who died in the First World War.
Jennifer Young has sent a picture of the war memorial at Lincoln Unitarian Chapel. I have only visited this Chapel once, some years ago when it was refurbished under the ministry of the Rev Paul Travis but I have to confess that I don’t remember seeing this memorial. It seems rather verbose, it carries the names of no individuals and is quite unlike any other memorial that I am aware of. It is interesting to compare it with the Park Lane memorial window. If like so many church war memorials it dates from the early 1920s then I would guess it is the work of the minister at the time the Rev J. Lionel Tayler.
But it is very pleasing to record that a wide variety of material is being sent in for the Project and more is very much welcomed, including anything that forms part of the church experience of the Great War.
The Great War Project begun by Faith and Freedom is attracting a lot of positive interest and more material is being added, almost on a daily basis. Within the memorial section there soon will be added some pictures of the Cenotaph at Bury Unitarian Church which have been sent in by Neville Kenyon, many of which are reproduced here.
Neville suggests that this is the only Unitarian Cenotaph and I suspect that he must be right. Of course, Cenotaph means, literally, ‘empty tomb’ and in amongst the many old and quite extensive graveyards that exist around the country there must be a few tombs that fall into that category for one reason or another. But by Cenotaph we generally mean a freestanding public monument inspired by the Cenotaph in Whitehall, and repeated in many cities, towns and villages.
The idea for Cenotaphs came from the experience of the First World War when so many soldiers had no known grave. In such a situation there was a need for a focus of remembrance, something that could symbolise the sacrifice and loss that was felt by so many people. To this end the Whitehall Cenotaph and all those that came after it fulfilled a very special role in national consciousness. And how different such monuments are when we compare them with other memorials that were erected following wars such as the Arc de Triomphe or the Brandenburg Gate, to name just two. Unlike them there is no overt military symbolism in the Cenotaph. It is much more restrained, much more dignified.
In 1924 the author H.V. Morton described his feelings as he stood near the Cenotaph on an ordinary morning:
I look up at the Cenotaph. A parcels delivery boy riding a tricycle van takes off his worn cap. An omnibus goes by. The men lift their hats. Men passing with papers and documents under their arms, attache and despatch cases in their hands – all the business of life – bare their heads as they hurry by. Six years have made no difference here. The Cenotaph – that mass of national emotion frozen in stone – is holy to this generation. Although I have seen it so many times on that day once a year when it comes alive to an accompaniment of pomp as simple and as beautiful as church ritual, I think that I like it best just standing here in a grey morning, with its feet in flowers and ordinary folk going by, remembering.
The Bury Cenotaph is very public and very similar to the memorials that are more often municipal, regimental or governmental in origin. It commemorates the members of three congregations who served in the First World War, with the names of those who served in the Second World War being added later. These were three long-established local congregations, who amalgamated into one with a bold new meeting house in 1974.
The Cenotaph is situated in front of the church in the centre of what was the graveyard but which is now a public space. This space was originally called Library Gardens but has recently been renamed by the council with what seems a much more satisfying designation of Church Gardens. Neville tells me that on Remembrance Sunday the congregation meets at 11.00 am at the Cenotaph for the one minute silence, the Last Post is played, before the congregation goes into the church for a service of remembrance, the names of those inscribed on the memorial being read.
There is a plaque to commemorate each of the three congregations represented by the modern congregation – Chesham, Heywood and Bank Street, Bury. The Bank Street plaque – beneath the title ‘Bank Street Presbyterian Chapel Unitarian’ – has the longest list of names (I counted 40 names from the First World War) but it is by far the most weathered.
There are 23 names from the First World War on the Heywood memorial and five on the Chesham memorial.
In my possession I have a medal struck to commemorate the centenary of the Bank Street Sunday School in 1905. The medal is inscribed ‘In Remembrance from Cuthbert C. Grundy’ and it must have been given to all the Sunday School scholars at the time. It is sad to think that so many of the children who received this medal in 1905 will be amongst the long list of volunteers whose names were inscribed on the Cenotaph just a few years later.
Is it the only Unitarian Cenotaph? If you know of any other please let me know and, best of all, send a picture. The only place that I know that comes near is Ullet Road Church in Liverpool which has a memorial set in its own large and well-kept grounds. But although it is a First World War Memorial that performs the same role as a Cenotaph the design is different to that of Bury, although not dissimilar to ones found in many places around the UK.
But it would be nice to hear if anywhere else possesses a memorial in any way similar to that of Bury. Or maybe Bury is unique?
The First World War cast an enormous shadow over the past century. It had a cataclysmic effect on all aspects of society, no one was left untouched by it – homes, families, schools, factories, businesses, and, of course, churches. There are many ways in which the centenary of the Great War is being marked and most churches are spending some time over the current period reflecting on the conflict, its impact and its legacy. Faith and Freedom is establishing a special section of its website to reflect upon the conflict from the point of view of the churches and other faith groups. The website will be developed in a number of different ways. It will contain scholarly and thoughtful articles on the Great War, particularly in relation to churches and their participation in the War. The first three articles to go online are Unitarian Attitudes to the First World War, by Alan Ruston, The Centenary of the First World War and the Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church of Ireland, by David Steers; and ‘Their sister in both senses’. The memoirs of Emma Duffin V.A.D. nurse in the First World War by Trevor Parkhill. Trevor is editor of The First World War Diaries of Emma Duffin, Belfast Voluntary Aid Detachment Nurse (Four Courts Press, Dublin, 2014) and his article gives an intensely moving account of the First World War experiences in hospitals at the front of Belfast-born Unitarian Emma Duffin (a direct descendant of William Drennan, the founder of the United Irishmen and a cousin of Thomas Andrews designer of the Titanic) who volunteered to serve as a nurse and spent three harrowing years tending the wounded.
The second section will contain accounts of commemorations and acts of remembrance made during the current centenary period and readers are very much encouraged to send in reports of their events. The first example is a thoughtful and intensely moving service held at Rosslyn Hill Chapel, Hampstead to mark the centenary of the outbreak of the War. We are also seeking to record the names and details of church members who served in the First World War and we begin with a very full account of the contribution and service, with pictures, of members of the Great Meeting, Hinckley.
We also aim to build up a database of images of First World War memorials. Does your church have a memorial to its members who served in the First World War? If it does then please send a digital picture to go on the website. We are also actively seeking images and details of memorials that were placed in churches that are now closed, which may now be lost or which may have been put in a different location.
We also hope to include material – including photographs, sermons, writings, printed ephemera etc that date from the time of the War which can then be studied on our site.
We might also eventually include complete Rolls of Honour – for individual congregations and denominations. The whereabouts of the Roll of Honour relating to the churches that are now part of the General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches has been a matter of some discussion recently. If we had the full list of names we could add it to the site. The Roll of Honour of the Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church of Ireland also seems to have been begun but not completed. It would be good to see that completed and available online. With the co-operation of readers the site will be built up over time. If you would like to participate please contact the editor at firstname.lastname@example.org To view the website go to: http://www.faithandfreedom.org.uk/GWindex.htm