The Warrington Academy

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On a recent visit to Warrington I realised that I had been in the town many times but had never knowingly seen the famous Academy, or what remains of it. Famously the Academy was physically moved on rollers to preserve it after road widening in the early 1980s. I hadn’t realised, however, that this careful and no doubt expensive feat of engineering had not prevented it being demolished and rebuilt with hardly any original features in the 1990s.

 

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Two plaques still stand on either side of the entrance of what is left of the Academy. One commemorates the Academy, and another which is difficult, if not impossible, to read, was deciphered for me by Luke who tells me it recalls Arthur Bennett. The wording of the plaque is recorded on the Open Plaques site (http://openplaques.org/)  as being:

A poet who had dreams and to his dreams gave life. Arthur Bennett 1862-1931 Honorary Freeman and Alderman of the Borough of Warrington Mayor 1925-1927 A founder and president of the Warrington Society, the members of which erected this tablet in recognition of his services to the town he loved.

Clearly very proud of his Warrington heritage Arthur Bennett’s poem on eighteenth-century prison reformer, humanitarian and Warrington citizen ‘John Howard’ concludes with a stanza on his friendship with Dr John Aikin, son of one the founding tutors of the Academy and brother of Anna Laetitia Barbauld:

Then to “the Doctor’s, whom he loved so well,
Past the still halls with Memory’s laurels wreathed,
The sacred “seats where Science loved to dwell
Where liberty her ardent spirit breathed”.
The day’s work tested, he would journey home
To take his simple cup of tea and creep
Up the quaint old stairs in the familiar gloom,
Content to catch four fleeting hours of sleep.

I am sure Anna Laetitia’s poems relating to the Academy are better known today, one of her earliest poems discussed its educational role:

 

The Muses here have fixed their sacred seats.

Mark where its simple front yon mansion rears,

The nursery of men for future years!

Here callow chiefs and embryo statesmen lie,

And unfledged poets short excursions try….

Here Nature opens all her secret springs,

And heaven-born Science plumes her eagle-wings.

 

The Open Plaques site also tells me there is a plaque for Joseph Priestley in Warrington which I didn’t realise. He was perhaps the most eminent of all the staff of the Warrington Academy and another subject that inspired Anna Laetitia to poetry, writing to tease Priestley after she found a mouse caught in a trap which was destined to be a part of his experiments on air. She wrote:

 

O hear a pensive prisoner’s prayer,

For liberty that sighs;

And never let thine heart be shut

Against the wretch’s cries!

 

For here forlorn and sad I sit,

Within the wiry grate;

And tremble at the approaching morn,

Which brings impending fate.

 

If e’er thy breast with freedom glowed,

And spurned a tyrant’s chain,

Let not thy strong oppressive force

A free-born mouse detain!

 

The cheerful light, the vital air,

Are blessings widely given;

Let Nature’s commoners enjoy

The common gifts of Heaven.

 

One of the things you notice when you visit Warrington is that even if the original building of the Academy has not been preserved its story is still valued in the town. An advertising hoarding promoting the town outside the Golden Square shopping centre makes use of the image of the first Academy:

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I am not sure what the date 1775 is meant to commemorate. It may be an error for the date of foundation in 1757.

The most notable feature of the modern Academy building is a large statue of Oliver Cromwell. This was put up in 1899 although I am not sure if this was the original site.

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What One Woman Did

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In my first post on Croft Chapel I mentioned Ellen Yates whose determination to open a new chapel after Risley Chapel was taken from the congregation eventually resulted in the opening of Croft Unitarian Chapel in September 1839.

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From G.E.Evans’s Vestiges of Protestant Dissent

One of the sources Ian Sellers used in his 1978 article was What One Woman Did: The Origin and Early History of Croft Unitarian Chapel. This was published in 1938 and consisted of a short article by Rev George Eyre Evans, originally published in the Inquirer on 21st July 1938, together with a few short paragraphs added by the Rev A. Cobden Smith who had been minister of Leigh.

Thanks to the kindness of Rev Andrew and Margaret Hill I have been sent a scan of this short work which highlights the work done by Ellen Yates née Urmston. She was born in Warrington in 1778 and went into domestic service at the age of nine in the home of the Rev John Aspinal, minister at Risley from 1779 and former minister at Walmsley. She remained in his service until her marriage to “farmer Yates” with whom she had ten children, six of whom outlived her.

According to G.E. Evans “Farmer Yates and Ellen his wife opened their house for divine worship on Sundays, and for nigh twelve months” the Rev E.R. Dimmock of Warrington conducted worship along with supply preachers.

This account includes a quotation from something written by the Rev Henry Fogg, sometime minister of Ormskirk and a supply preacher at Croft. (Strangely enough I have a picture of the Rev Henry Fogg but I have never seen an image of the now long vanished chapel at Ormskirk.) He gives a vivid picture of the services in her farmhouse when “in the singing of the last hymn she put the kettle on to boil for tea. We made a collection in one of her best saucers.”

As was mentioned previously she managed to collect the not insignificant sum of £500 towards the new chapel by walking to churches all over the north west on fund raising expeditions. Frequently she didn’t get home until very late at night and “On one occasion, after spending a busy and successful Saturday in Manchester, she missed her last conveyance home, but rather than not be in her accustomed place in the Sunday meeting in her own house, she resolutely determined to walk the whole distance – about eighteen miles – and reached home about two o’clock in the morning.”

Ellen Yates died in September 1850 and was buried in the chapel grave yard. Her grave and that of her husband is quite prominent. A. Cobden Smith also mentions that there was a marble tablet to her memory in the Chapel, presumably this is now long gone, but her grave can still be seen:

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The grave of Ellen and Samuel Yates (Photo: Jack Steers)

 

Some more thoughts on Croft

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Both The Unitarian Heritage and Ian Sellers’ article The Risley Case suggest that Croft Unitarian Chapel closed in 1959. This seems clear. However, the story does not end there. Neville Kenyon has been in touch and has sent this interesting cutting from the Manchester Evening News dated 23rd October 1964. It shows that the very active local branch of the Unitarian Young People’s League had gone into the Chapel to try and restore it and clean it up following vandalism. They organised working parties and went to the trouble of staying locally as they tried to fix the place up. It’s clear from the cutting that they hoped to see the Chapel open once again, especially since the area was earmarked for development as part of the new town. Although they must have done a lot of work and the cutting seems quite optimistic Neville doesn’t think the Chapel was ever able to open again. We know that the next step was demolition unfortunately.

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Manchester Evening News 23rd October 1964

The original Chapel from which the Unitarians were expelled in the 1830s was demolished because of the construction of the M62 motorway, although, Ian Sellers says, this “was, not, strictly speaking, necessary.” Dr Sellers suggests this was done “with an eye to the future, but a lack of interest in the past”. However, in this sense it eventually proved a successful move – the new Presbyterian/URC Chapel built in the mid-1970s was right in the middle of new housing and able to grow because of that. The old graveyard still survives and was still used by the Unitarian congregation even after their new Chapel was built. Ian Sellers mentions a number of burials recorded in the Risley register of people described as “was a Unitarian” or “was a Socinian”.

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But thinking again of the grave of the Rev Peter Holt at Croft it should really be a place of Unitarian pilgrimage. His son, the Rev Raymond V. Holt, was enormously influential, I have known many ministers who had him as a tutor and count him as an important figure in their development. Among other things he was the author of The Unitarian Contribution to Social Progress. His other son, the Rev Felix Holt, the minister at Ballymoney for over 40 years, was also a scholar but rather less well-known. As a side line to his ministry he taught classical languages to local boys in county Antrim. The late Rev Alick Cromie, a very senior and gracious minister in the Presbyterian Church, who died just a few years ago at an advanced age, told me that he had taught him Latin when he was a boy. As a joke one day he and the other scholars decided to lead a donkey up the steps into the vestibule of the Non-Subscribing manse. Apparently a donkey can be lead upstairs relatively easily but they do not like going down. The boys ran away and left their tutor to deal with the surprising presence of a large donkey in his house as best he could. Mr Holt’s response to this problem was not recorded.

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Unitarian Chapel Croft

It’s many years since I last visited the graveyard of the Unitarian Chapel at Croft. The Chapel was demolished long ago and the graveyard is not easy to find but I was encouraged to re-visit it by the purchase of a rare post card of the Chapel on eBay.

That invaluable book, The Unitarian Heritage, doesn’t have a picture of the Chapel but it does carry all the main points of its history:

Croft, Lady Lane. Lancashire. 1839. Originated at Risley in 1707 from which Unitarians were expelled (Chapel there demolished 1971 – in path of M62 motorway). Closed 1959 and demolished, though graveyard survives, neatly maintained by Warrington Corporation.

But there is a rather more poignant tale to its story, well-told by the late Rev Dr Ian Sellers in the Transactions of the Unitarian Historical Society of 1978. He outlines the history of the Risley Chapel, seized through the courts by the Presbyterian Church in England who expelled the Unitarian congregation (or most of them), and who kept it until the M62 brought about its destruction in the early 1970s.

In 1839 the dispossessed Unitarians had built a new chapel at Croft, a remote rural area near Warrington. Much of the energy for the creation of the congregation came from the labours of one woman – Ellen Yates – a woman who organised a public demonstration against the loss of the Chapel in the village square at Risley. In the autumn of 1838 she opened her house for worship and in the company of her husband travelled the north-west on foot raising money for the new Chapel. She raised £500 in the end which was used to secure the plot, establish an endowment for the preachers, and build the Chapel, with most of the labour provided by the members. All was ready by September 1839 and on 27th of that month opening services were held with the special preachers being Rev James Martineau and Rev John Hamilton Thom.

It’s hard to date the old post card, although sometime at the start of the twentieth century would be a very reasonable guess. Most of the graves date from the nineteenth century and many of them can be seen and compared on both photographs.

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The Chapel c.1910

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The site in 2016

The Chapel was demolished in 1959 and Ian Sellers states that the site of the Chapel was sold for building. A major difference with the old photograph is that the site is now surrounded with modern housing but it may be that the Chapel site itself was either not sold or only part of it was disposed of. There is quite a large secluded area at the back of the graveyard which must have been part of the Chapel and the old photograph appears to show the Chapel very near to the graves.

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The back of the site

The graves themselves are worth looking at. They include two with inscriptions for soldiers killed in the First World War. One is for Rifleman Harold Houghton, who died from wounds received at the battle of Neuve Chappelle, 24th March 1915 aged 24. The other commemorates Corporal William Whittle of the 1st Battalion the Royal Fusiliers who died on 14th June 1918 in Aubergue Hospital aged 29.

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Whittle family grave

I remembered from my first visit the grave of the Rev Peter Holt. Most of the graves are in very good condition although this one seems to be starting to split which is a shame. Peter Holt was the first full-time minister at Croft, from 1880 to 1889, also serving as minister at Leigh (1889-1894) and Astley (1889-1927). He was the father to two other ministers – the Rev Raymond V. Holt, distinguished scholar, tutor at Manchester College, Oxford and principal of the Unitarian College, Manchester, and the Rev Felix Holt minister of Ballymoney in county Antrim.

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Grave of the Rev Peter Holt

At the time of closure the graveyard was transferred to the care of the local council. Originally in Lancashire it is now located in Cheshire. As Ian Sellers says of it (and the graveyard of Risley itself which also still survives) it is somewhere that “only the most insensitive would find unworthy of remembrance”.

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Treasure Hunt and Afternoon Tea, Lakeside Inn, Ballydugan

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In July Downpatrick, Ballee and Clough churches held an excellent, hugely successful afternoon tea at the Lakeside Inn, Ballydugan. Blessed with wonderful weather everyone there, young and old, had a wonderfully relaxing and enjoyable afternoon.

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Tea in the marquee

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Preparing the cakes

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Afternoon tea

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The servers enjoy their tea

 

Towards the end of the month Downpatrick also had another excellent Treasure Hunt based at the Lakeside Inn. There was great support for the event with around 140 people taking part and following the fiendish clues around the countryside and coming back to the Lakeside for a hog roast with entertainment as well as games for the children. The weather was great but the marquee provided a comfortable spot for people to relax in. It was another great night and also raised over £1,000 for church funds.

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Setting off

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Queuing for the hog roast

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Enjoying the hog roast

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Inside the marquee

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Announcing the winners

 

Grand Floral Bazaar Mossley 1911

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An incredibly useful and interesting resource for the study of congregational histories is the Edwardian ‘Souvenir of Bazaar’. These are often overlooked and are certainly under-appreciated. Their ephemeral nature means that their survival rate is not good and they are seldom found in library catalogues yet they invariably contain a great deal of information that gives us insight into the social and recreational life of a congregation at a time that was something of a high watermark for nonconformity and frequently also contain historical information that simply might otherwise be unavailable.

So few people know, I suspect, that the souvenir issued by the Templepatrick congregation a few years before the First World War contained a history of the congregation written by the great historian Alexander Gordon. One of my own congregations at Downpatrick issued a brochure at a similar date that contained history, pictures, biographies, poems by the minister and much more, it is a treasure trove of historical material, and very rare.

I picked up this ‘Souvenir of Bazaar’ on eBay for the princely sum of £4.99 which is more than I like to pay but really can’t complain about the price. It is the Souvenir for the Grand Floral Bazaar held by Mossley Christian Church (Unitarian) from 16th to 18th November 1911.

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The cover does not inspire confidence, parts of it are very faded and there is evidence of a rusty staple peeping through. But despite that the forty page booklet is in excellent condition, it is beautifully illustrated and is replete with valuable information and images.

The colour images (nine in all) are still bright and attractive although one soon realises that they are stock images provided by the printers. The start of the ‘Retrospect’ is illustrated by what appears to be a watercolour of Windsor Castle but this detailed and well written twenty-page history of the congregation provided by the minister, the Rev H. Fisher Short, also contains a photograph of “th’owd garrett” where the congregation first met, the chapel interior and exterior, and all eight of the ministers from 1859 including the Rev Fisher Short:

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It is a fascinating and unusual history rooted as it is in the ministry of Joseph Barker who founded the ‘Christian Brethren’ after being expelled from the Methodist New Connection. He and his followers would have no other name than ‘Christian Church’ for their Chapel at Mossley and this has remained their official name ever since.

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Fisher Short was a member of a significant dynasty of Unitarian ministers in the 20th century who held a number of effective ministries himself in the north of England. This short history is testimony to his own scholarship and ability. I don’t think that any other history of the Mossley congregation has ever been published but this account of the first seventy years is very valuable indeed carrying much detail and analysis of the congregation’s development and the work done by its ministers in the local community.

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The Floral Bazaar ran over three days and aimed to raise £1,000 for the renovation of the buildings. An impressive list of patrons was assembled including many Unitarian worthies and local leaders headed by Lord Ashton of Hyde. A congregational committee of thirty-six carried out the local arrangements.

Each day had an opening ceremony with two dignitaries taking part, one acting as the chairman of the proceedings and the other as the opener. The ‘Openers’ were Charles Hawksley, Esq., C.E. (President of the B&FUA), Sir W.B. Bowring, Bart., and Francis Neilson, Esq. M.P. The ‘Chairmen’ were Lt. Col. J.W. Pollitt, V.D., J.P., J. Hall Brooks, Esq., and Rev H. Enfield Dowson, B.A. (President of the National Conference). A photograph of each gentleman is also included in the book.

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There were six stalls, namely Congregational, Sewing Society, Flower, Young Ladies’, Young Men’s and Children’s. In addition there was a Refreshment Stall, a Tea Room and a ‘Café Chantant’. One wonders quite why such a selection of opportunities for tea was thought necessary but there must have been plenty of demand. The Mossley String Band had a full programme of music on each day. Entertainments included competitions, bran tub, a weighing machine, ‘houp la’ and a shooting range, although it would be hard to keep away from DeMeglio’s nightly performances in the primary department. A member of the Magic Circle and a ‘Humorous Speciality Entertainer’ Mr DeMeglio mixed Monologues, Banjo Solos, Conjuring and Ventriloquism with ‘Papergraphy, Chapeaugraphy and Smoke Pictures’. Chapeaugraphy is probably not as exciting as it sounds and is defined as “the art of taking a ring-shaped piece of felt to manipulate it to look like various types of hats”. But still it must have been a good show.

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But for anyone with an interest in history a little book like this pays dividends and offers many avenues for further research.

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Captain William Haughton Smyth

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A meeting at Banbridge Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church gave me the chance to see the memorial to Captain William Haughton Smyth who was one of the soldiers killed on the first day of the battle of the Somme and mentioned in the previous post, and also see the work being done at Banbridge by the congregation and the Rev Norman Hutton to preserve his memory and that of others who served.

The memorial to him was erected by members of the congregation. Manager of the Dunbar Memorial School and director of the family firm of Wm Smyth & Co, Captain Smyth was an established member of his local community when he was killed on 1st July 1916 at the age of 37. He was also treasurer of his congregation which is surely one of the reasons they wanted to put up a memorial to him.

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Memorial to Captain W. Haughton Smyth

 

But Captain Smyth was one of two members of the Banbridge congregation killed in the Great War, the other being Private A. Dougan who was killed earlier in the year on 14th March 1916. In total 17 members of the congregation served in the war although it was only a couple of years ago that the church dedicated a memorial to them all in the church which is situated just below the memorial to William Haughton Smyth.

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Banbridge Congregational Memorial

 

This year the congregation has produced an informative leaflet about Captain Smyth which details his service and the part he played in the Great War. The full leaflet will soon be uploaded to the Faith and Freedom Great War Project as will all the other material posted here along with a great deal of new material which has also been sent in.

The previous post can be read here:

https://velvethummingbee.wordpress.com/2016/07/03/the-first-day-of-the-battle-of-the-somme/

The  Faith and Freedom Great War Project can be seen here:

http://www.faithandfreedom.org.uk/GWindex.htm

Part of the Banbridge leaflet 

The first day of the battle of the Somme

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The centenary of the battle of the Somme gives us an opportunity to reflect on its impact in the context of our churches and our denomination.

The battle of the Somme began at 7.30 am on 1st July 1916. The German lines were subjected to a sustained bombardment for days in advance.

Lieut. Col. G. Bull the Commanding officer of the 12th Battalion Royal Irish Rifles described it like this:

The bombardment, which had lasted seven days without ceasing reached its climax at 6-25 a.m. on the morning of the 1st July, and from 6-25 a.m. until 7-30 a.m. the German trenches were treated to a perfect hurricane of shells.

But although this was intended to destroy the enemy and break up their lines it did not have that effect and meant that thousands of troops, when they went over the top, stood little chance.

Private William Roberts of the 18th Durham Light Infantry kept his own diary, and of the day the battle of the Somme began recorded:

Opened a violent bombardment on the German lines. 7am a village blown up by our mine and 7.30am advance started. We were the 4th Battalion to go over, which we did about an hour later.

The short but terrible rush through the fierce curtain fire with men falling on all sides I shall never forget. High explosive shells fell all round us. The sights I saw are too terrible to write about and men almost blown to pieces were lying side by side.

Unable to proceed further, the order to retire was given and I thanked God that I came through the terrible ordeal unhurt.

I went to work in our front line at night but had to come away as it was almost blown to pieces.

There again I saw dead and wounded lying side by side. Some were moaning and others had so far lost their reason that they were laughing and singing.

Of the members of our three churches of Downpatrick, Ballee and Clough at least seven were killed in the First World War from amongst the many who joined up. Three of them were killed in 1916 two of them at the battle of the Somme – including a member of Downpatrick, Rifleman John Hayes of the First Battalion of the Royal Irish Rifles, who was killed on 31st October 1916, and Rifleman Robert Kirkpatrick, a member of Clough, and of the 13th Battalion Royal Irish Rifles who was killed on 1st July, 1916, the first day of the battle of the Somme. Both young men are commemorated on the Thiepval Memorial, the memorial to the 72,195 British and South African soldiers who were killed at the battle of the Somme and have no known grave.

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Memorial, Clough NSP Church

Without doubt the battle of the Somme was one of the most bloody in the history of the British army. There were 57,470 casualties on the first day alone and 19,240 soldiers were killed on that day.

One of those killed on the first day was a member of Clough but a glance at the Non-Subscribing Presbyterian magazine for August 1916 shows four obituaries all relating to members of the denomination who were serving in France and who were killed on the first day of the battle of the Somme.

These were:

Captain W. Haughton Smyth of the 13th Royal Irish Rifles, a member of Banbridge, who was killed on 1st July.

Captain J.S. Davidson, a director of the Sirocco Works in Belfast, one of the largest engineering works in Ireland and a business set up in 1881 by his father to produce machinery for the tea industry. A member of a prominent Non-Subscribing family connected with Holywood who was killed at the start of the battle.

Lieutenant J. Dermot Neill, from Holywood, who had been commissioned into the 13th Royal Irish Rifles and subsequently transferred to the Machine Gun Corps who was killed on 1st July.

Private Joseph Harper, from Templepatrick, a member of the 11th Battalion the Royal Irish Rifles [according to the published obituary and the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, although the Templepatrick church memorial has 18th Battalion] who was also killed on the first day of the Somme.

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Captain W. Haughton Smyth

And these are only the ones who have published obituaries in the Non-Subscribing Presbyterian magazine, there will have been many more. This just shows the enormous impact of the battle of the Somme on the whole country, on big towns and cities, and rural hamlets and villages, on industries and agriculture and communities and streets and families.

In the whole of the War there are only 16 obituaries in the magazine. Of these 16 obituaries 14 are of officers and most include a photograph of the deceased. Of this total of 16 obituaries four of them appear in the August 1916 issue, being of soldiers killed on the first day of the battle of the Somme. Generally the only people to have written obituaries in the magazine were officers so Private Harper was an exception. But if you look at the memorial in Templepatrick church you see on the list of those who were killed in the war right next to Joseph Harper the name of Private James Harper of the 12th Battalion Royal Irish Rifles [the Commonwealth War Graves Commission gives 15th Battalion – another difference with the memorial], presumably Joseph’s brother, who was also killed on the first day of the Somme.

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War Memorial Old Presbyterian Church, Templepatrick

In the Non-Subscribing Presbyterian magazine there are also three additional brief notices, one of them is for one of the sons of the Rev Alexander Gordon, one is a mention of a death in a Rademon ‘News of the Churches’ report. But the third of these three brief notices is one of another soldier killed on 1st July 1916 listed as Private John White, Royal Irish Rifles (Holywood Volunteers) a member of Holywood. Another member of the 13th Battalion he was 24 years old and is buried in the Suzanne Military Cemetery nearby.

Private John White NSP

So out of a total of only 19 obituary notices in the magazine five of them – more than a quarter – relate to soldiers killed on the first day of the battle of the Somme alone, and these will by no means be the full list of those killed at that battle.

A record of the all engagements were kept by the battalion commanders throughout the war. The first day of the battle of the Somme is recorded as a day of confusion and slaughter. The death of Captain W. Haughton Smyth is noted in the report of the day by Colonel William Savage as:

No 9 Platoon came on under the command of Capt W.H. SMYTH, who was killed almost immediately. They were the carrying platoon and some of them reached the first line with material, which after dumping there or carrying to second line was not required, as all the time was spent consolidating, holding the line & helping the fighting platoons.

Captain J.S. Davidson’s participation in the battle of the Somme is similarly recounted in the war diary of 13th Battalion Royal Irish Rifles. William Savage, the Colonel commanding the battalion records that:

Very little, almost no information, was sent in, this was due in the first place to most of the officers becoming casualties, and the difficulty of getting men across the fire swept zone of NO MANS LAND.

Signalling wires had previously been laid out by the Signalling Officer of the 17th but all attempts by the signallers to take a line forward were useless. I had 10 signallers killed and wounded. I append a list of the officer casualties by Companies 2/Lieut Fullerton of D Coy is the only officer who went over who has come back unwounded & has very little information to give about his Company.

He goes on to say that Captain Davidson and his company were sent out at 8.06 am. Eventually news came back that they had got so far but could not possibly advance any further and asked for reinforcements and additional ammunition. But it was impossible to get men or supplies out to them. Later at 12.40 pm they heard back from Captain Davidson:

A message from Capt Davidson 108th M.G.C. arrived “I am holding the end of a communication trench in A line with a few bombers & a Lewis Gun. We cannot hold much longer. We are being pressed on all sides and ammunition almost finished.”

But the situation continued to be confused, reinforcements could not be got out to him and the Germans were counter-attacking. At 3.20 pm a rifleman found his way back:

and reported that Capt Davidson had been wounded in the knee & while he & another man were carrying him out, he was shot dead between them.

The obituary of J.S Davidson in the Non-Subscribing Presbyterian recorded that

with the outbreak of war he felt that his country had need of him, and gave up peaceful pursuits for military practice. As in business, so likewise in his military duties, he gave of his best. Taking nothing for granted, but making himself familiar with every detail of his duty, his work was characterised by extreme conscientiousness and thoroughness.

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Captain J.S. Davidson

But all the obituaries of those killed on the first day of the Somme express their patriotic motives and the sense of the rightness of the call that led the men to join up. Of Captain William Haughton Smyth the Rev J. Glynn Davies of Banbridge said he

had lost his life in a sacred cause, but he has lost it only to find it nobler and brighter than ever before. His body lies in the cold earth, but that which is greater than all matter, that which cannot be crushed or shattered by German explosive shell or pierced by German steel remains – the soul has gone to its God who gave it.

But sentiments like this must have been expressed all across the country as they coped with the terrible slaughter of so many young men. Of Lieutenant J. Dermot Neill, who is commemorated by a memorial along with his brother on the wall of our Holywood church, as well as on the memorial at Queen’s University, the unsigned obituary says:

Lieutenant Neill was one of those brave Ulstermen who, not on any rash impulse, but after cool deliberation of all the sacrifices and dangers involved, freely and cheerfully offered his services to his country.

He goes on to quote the minister:

Lieutenant Neill’s response to the call of duty – a call which, from the world’s point of view, had little promise to offer – but, on the other hand, much of danger, of privation, of hardship, and to face suffering and death. But he nobly gave his services to his King and country, and for that noble ideal that is sending Britons to war upon war, that in the peace which shall follow their glorious self-sacrifice, the nations of the earth, both great and small, may be free to follow the pursuit of industry and peace.

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Lieutenant J. Dermot Neill

The obituary of Private Joseph Harper is very poignant and is written by someone who knew that his brother was serving somewhere near him yet who did not know that his brother had been killed on the same day:

Joseph was nineteen years of age, and enlisted into the Army eight months ago. Comrades have written home to say that they saw him fall: that he fell in a great charge, when the 11th battalion earned for itself undying fame, and when many another brave boy gave all that he had to give for his King and Country. He fell as a brave boy would fall, with his face to the foe. An uneventful life had been his. He came out of a small cottage on the roadside in our parish, and had been mainly concerned with the duties that belong to the work on a farm. But he had a great heart in him, and when he left his home to go France, he left with a happy smile on his face, and with a spirit of hope and cheer and fearlessness in his heart. He has answered the roll-call in a better world than this. He was a member of our church, and occupied his place on our Roll of Honour. We express our deep sympathy with his widowed mother, his brothers (one of whom is fighting not far from where Joseph fell) and his sisters in their great loss.

But both Joseph and James were serving with the Royal Irish Rifles in different battalions and in fact both were killed on 1st July 1916 and the names of both are preserved on the Thiepval memorial.

But just this small sample from within our own household of faith is a reminder of the terrible impact of the battle of the Somme on so many people. So many families were left bereaved with fathers, sons, and brothers killed in the battle.

Everyone will perhaps have their own loved ones who they might remember as having served in the First World War, perhaps at the Somme. My own grandfather served throughout the First World War and was there present at the Somme. But we all have our own memories and ways of remembering.

In what I have said here I have looked briefly at a few men from our household of faith. There is much more that could have been said. I could talk about the impact at home on families, of the economic results of the war and of the effect on society that resonated across the last hundred years. But at the heart of any act of marking this terrible event of one hundred years ago should be remembrance, and today we make our small act of remembrance.

Do you remember that hour of din before the attack–
And the anger, the blind compassion that seized and shook you then
As you peered at the doomed and haggard faces of your men?
Do you remember the stretcher-cases lurching back
With dying eyes and lolling heads–those ashen-grey
Masks of the lads who once were keen and kind and gay?

Have you forgotten yet?…
Look up, and swear by the green of the spring that you’ll never forget.

(from ‘Aftermath’, Siegfried Sassoon)

From an address given at a joint service of Ballee, Downpatrick and Clough churches at

Ballee Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church on Sunday, 3rd July 2016

 

Telling Tales by Sheila McMillan

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Sheila McMillan’s new book Telling Tales was officially launched at a reception in Waterstone’s, Lisburn on 30th June. It is good to see a large retailer like that supporting local authors and it was encouraging to see such a lot of people there for the occasion.

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As the wife, daughter, granddaughter and great niece of ministers Sheila is well placed to write about life inside the manse. But this is no pious collection of platitudes and improving tales as one suspects that many ministerial or ministerial family memoirs must be. Sheila writes well and entertainingly. As one of the speakers said at the launch she can handle humour which is a rare skill and the book is full of good stories told with great humour. What makes them funnier is that they are all true (although in some cases the names have been changed to protect the guilty) and they have an honesty and directness which appeals.

 

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Some of the people Sheila has known are truly remarkable. Her pen portrait of Elizabeth Law Barbour Andrews (who considered her names unsuitable and preferred to be known as Elba), the orphaned daughter of Thomas Andrews who designed the Titanic, and who bustled into Sheila’s life with some force is one that stays in the mind.

Some of the tales told will make you laugh out loud but Sheila also has some very moving stories. If you want to know what it felt like to be a mother anxious about a son who had disappeared for 24 hours in Belfast at the height of the Troubles then her story ‘A Nightmare in the Northern Ireland Eighties’ does that.

The benefits of coming from a clerical household are enormous. Having to ascertain from an elderly patient with a neurological complaint whether he was unable or unwilling to speak the answer comes when he remembers her clergyman grandfather who shut down the only pub in his village. In ‘A “Religious Experience”’ Sheila recounts a trip to Japan to take part in an IARF inter-faith conference and to experience the Shinto religion first hand. This is insightful and witty and tells you more about such encounters in a few pages than most earnest official reports of such gatherings ever do.

But it is a good read and one that can be recommended. All proceeds go to the Northern Ireland Branch of the Multiple Sclerosis Society.

 

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Children’s Day Services: Ballee, Downpatrick and Clough

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The Children’s Day services held in June each ear are always important occasions for all three of our churches. They bring to the front the tremendous work done by the children and young people and the Sunday School teachers in the churches throughout the whole year. All the work prepared for the denominational Sunday School Exhibition held at the start of June is displayed in our churches and the prizes won by the children at the exhibition are distributed along with prizes for attendance. Between the three congregations the Sunday Schools won an astonishing 34 prizes, a considerable achievement. On top of that the children lead the worship with songs, readings, prayers and often dramatic pieces which have been carefully written and prepared. Each of the Sunday Schools also work at fundraising for an appropriate charity over the year which is an expression of their awareness of the needs and concerns of wider society.

 

Below I will post some pictures of the occasions held on 19th and 26th June.

 

Ballee

High points this year included Ballee winning the Millennium Cup for the Most Original Entry (for the sculpture featuring the fish) and the presentation to Joy McBride of a cheque for all the money they have raised for Mainstay DRP.

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Downpatrick

There was some great work on display in Downpatrick and as well as music and readings the service included a presentation to Mary Stewart, the church secretary, by Laura Neill on behalf of the Sunday School. Mary has recently been awarded the British Empire Medal in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List for services to the Downpatrick community and it was good to be able to congratulate her as a congregation.

 

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Clough

The Sunday School excelled itself in both the denominational Sunday School Exhibition (winning an astonishing total of 18 prizes) and the first class service they led at Clough. Kayla Ramsey presented a cheque for £280 raised for charity by the children.

 

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