Non-Subscribing Presbyterians and the Great War

On the 102nd anniversary of the beginning of the battle of the Somme in 1916 I thought I should publish on this site my appeal for any information about members of the Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church of Ireland who served in the First World War.

I am currently in the process of compiling a full of Roll of Honour of all the men and women of the denomination who served in the Great War. This will be published at a service held at Downpatrick on Sunday, 18th November at 3.00 pm. To date I have identified over 500 men and women who served in the Great War and the names of over 80 men who gave their lives. Having issued an appeal to all churches for information I have received a great deal of help, however, I am also anxious to hear from any church members who had relatives who served in the First World War and were Non-Subscribers.

The number of people who joined up varies from one congregation to another, generally it would be larger in city or town congregations, but the numbers that have so far come to light in some places are almost certainly not complete. So I would appreciate it especially if church officers could make a check of their records and minute books just to see if there are any additional names which may have been overlooked, particularly in those churches where the numbers are currently low.

Also anyone who had a relative involved in the Great War or knows of anyone who served in the First World War and belonged to the Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church of Ireland can contact me on editor@faithandfreedom.org.uk to let me know their name and service record.

So far these are the numbers that I have for each congregation (with the number of people who were killed in action or died of wounds shown in brackets):

Antrim 1 (0); Ballee 3 (1); Ballycarry 10 (0); Ballyclare 1 (0); Ballyhemlin 5 (0); Ballymoney 5 (0); Banbridge 12 (2); Belfast All Souls’ 31 (3); Belfast Domestic Mission 22 (0); Belfast Mountpottinger 20 (4); Belfast Rosemary Street 43 (6); Belfast York Street 12 (0); Cairncastle 3 (0); Clough 10 (3); Comber 49 (10); Cork 1 (0); Crumlin 1 (0); Downpatrick 35 (3); Dromore 51 (7); Dublin 11 (5); Dunmurry 14 (1); Glenarm 8 (5); Greyabbey 2 (0); Holywood 54 (9); Killinchy 8 (0); Larne 50 (15); Moira 1 (0); Moneyreagh 6 (2); Newry 21 (2); Newtownards 11 (0); Rademon 7 (3); Raloo 2 (0), Ravara 0 (0); Templepatrick 25 (5); Warrenpoint 0 (0).

The photograph at the top of the page (taken by Baird of Belfast) is of Second-Lieutenant Percival Godding. Originally from Wandsworth he was minister of Ballyclare Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church in 1917 and was commissioned in the Royal Irish Rifles in that year. He spent six months in a German prisoner of war camp but returned home safely at the end of the war.

 

 

 

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Three Lives Remembered

At the annual service of harvest thanksgiving at Downpatrick on Sunday, 2nd October we also launched a colour leaflet that commemorates the sacrifice of the three members of the congregation who were killed in the First World War. This has been carefully put together by Mary Stewart, the church secretary, and includes pictures of two of the men as well photographs of the various graveyards and memorials in which they are commemorated.

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Of the three who were killed one – Captain Craig Nelson – was a professional soldier from long before the war. Craig Nelson was the grandson of the minister of the church, the Rev S.C. Nelson, and had joined the Royal Irish Rifles and served in the Boer War before transferring to the Indian Army. He was an officer of the 3rd Brahman regiment and attached to the 69th Punjabis when he was killed on the western front on 25th September 1915.

Rifleman John Hayes had joined the 1st battalion of the Royal Irish Rifles at the start of the war and was killed at the battle of the Somme on 31st October 1916. Sergeant Francis McMurray served with the 7th battalion of the Royal Inniskilling Fusiliers and was killed in France on 9th March 1916.

All three men are recorded on the church war memorial, however, the name only of Captain Nelson is inscribed on the town memorial and it seems very strange that the names of the other two were never added since they were both born and lived in Downpatrick before their war service.

At the harvest service two windows were decorated to commemorate those who served in the First World War with memorabilia being provided by members of the congregation and also including the commemorative certificates issued by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission for the three members who were killed. Most of the men who joined up in the locality would have served in the 36th (Ulster) Division, but in this case of those who died in the congregation one soldier (John Hayes) was with the Ulster Division, one (Craig Nelson) with the 7th (Meerut) Division of the Indian Expeditionary Force and one (Francis McMurray) was with the 16th (Irish) Division.

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John Hayes’s niece Thelma Lowry is a member of the church and she kindly provided the photograph of her uncle for the leaflet and loaned a ceramic poppy which had been part of the notable art installation at the Tower of London in 2014 – Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red.

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After the service with the leaflets: Rev Dr David Steers (minister), Mrs Thelma Lowry and Mrs Lorna Thompson (nieces of Private John Hayes), Miss Mary Stewart (church secretary) and Rev Dr John Nelson visiting preacher at the church harvest.

We don’t have a picture of Sergeant McMurray and would be very pleased to hear from anyone who is related to him or who has a picture of him.

The Downpatrick leaflet will also be uploaded to the Faith and Freedom Great War Project which can be seen here:

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

Copies of the leaflet are available in the church.

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Captain William Haughton Smyth

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

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.

Captain WH Smyth 1916

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.

Captain JS Davidson 1916

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.

Lieut J D Neill 1916

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

 

Some corner of a foreign field

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:

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

 

The detail at the top of this page is from the Cenotaph, Liverpool, designed by Lionel Budden and Herbert Tyson Smith.

Mill Hill Chapel Cenotaph, Leeds

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:

https://velvethummingbee.wordpress.com/2015/06/15/the-only-unitarian-cenotaph/

Neville Kenyon sent a number of photographs depicting the Cenotaph which are now published on the Faith and Freedom Great War Project site:

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

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.

Cenotaph Mill Hill (Photo: Jo James)
Cenotaph Mill Hill (Photo: Jo James)

Jo tells me that the list of names on the Cenotaph is that of those members of Mill Hill who were killed in the First World War. Inside the church a second tablet lists all those who served (although it does not include any of the female members who served in different ways in the war. An interesting account of the war service of Mary Cicely Wicksteed, one of three sisters from the Chapel who saw service in the war, by Ruth Allison, can be seen here: https://pelicanroad.wordpress.com/2015/07/02/mary-cicely-wicksteed-and-jogendra-nath-sen-and-leeds-pals-by-ruth-allison/).

The memorial inside the chapel (Photo: Jo James)
The memorial inside the chapel (Photo: Jo James)

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:

https://pelicanroad.wordpress.com/2014/11/28/pte-jogendra-sen-a-leeds-pal-and-son-of-leeds-2/

The Unitarian Cenotaph Leeds (Photo Jo James)
The Unitarian Cenotaph Leeds (Photo Jo James)

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 Memorial - now situated in Harris Manchester College, Oxford
Willaston School Memorial – now situated in Harris Manchester College, Oxford

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?

Captain Philip Hirsch VC
Captain Philip Hirsch VC

A First World War Roll of Honour

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.

Rev Alfred Turner, minister of Templepatrick, at the front in the uniform of the YMCA
Rev Alfred Turner, minister of Templepatrick, at the front in the uniform of the YMCA

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.

Detail of the Dublin names in the Non-Subscribing Presbyterian January 1916
Detail of the Dublin names in the Non-Subscribing Presbyterian January 1916
Memorial to 2nd Lieut. Frederick E.B. Falkiner MC in Dublin Unitarian Church. Killed serving with the Royal Flying Corps near Ypres August 1917 aged 22. (With thanks to P. Spain for photo)
Memorial to 2nd Lieut. Frederick E.B. Falkiner MC in Dublin Unitarian Church. Killed serving with the Royal Flying Corps near Ypres August 1917 aged 22. (With thanks to P. Spain for photo)

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.

Captain Craig Nelson
Captain Craig Nelson

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

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

Ye that live on mid English pastures green, remember us and think what might have been

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.

 

Cork Peace Park (Photo: Brendan Burke)
Cork Peace Park (Photo: Brendan Burke)

 

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.

 

Memorial window Park Lane (Photo: Lynne Readett)
Memorial window Park Lane (Photo: Lynne Readett)

 

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.

 

Lincoln War Memorial (Photo: Jennifer Young)
Lincoln War Memorial (Photo: Jennifer Young)

 

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 Faith and Freedom Great War Project can be viewed at:
http://www.faithandfreedom.org.uk/GWindex.htm

The only Unitarian Cenotaph?

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.

Cenotaph, Bury Unitarian Church
Cenotaph, Bury Unitarian Church

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 Bury Cenotaph
The Bury Cenotaph

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.

A view from the other side
A view from the other side

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.

Bank Street Presbyterian Chapel Unitarian
Bank Street Presbyterian Chapel Unitarian

There are 23 names from the First World War on the Heywood memorial and five on the Chesham memorial.

Britain Hill Unitarian Church Heywood
Britain Hill Unitarian Church Heywood
Chesham Unitarian Church Bury
Chesham Unitarian Church Bury

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.

The Bury Sunday School medal
The Bury Sunday School medal

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.

War Memorial Ullet Road Church Liverpool
War Memorial Ullet Road Church Liverpool

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?

BuryCenotaph04

Faith and Freedom Great War Project

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.

Emma Duffin

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.

Private Stanley Jennings of Hinckley, of the 15th Battalion Durham Light Infantry. Killed in France 3rd May 1917, aged 29
Private Stanley Jennings of Hinckley, of the 15th Battalion Durham Light Infantry. Killed in France 3rd May 1917, aged 29

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.

Memorial to Lieutenant R.L. Neill, Holywood co. Down.  Killed at the battle fo the Somme
Memorial to Lieutenant R.L. Neill, Holywood co. Down. Killed at the battle fo the Somme

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.

A postcard sent to members of Great George Street Congregational Chapel, Liverpool,  serving at the front. Featuring a picture of the minister and his wife and a written message. P.S.A. stands for Pleasant Sunday Afternoon, a popular form of church entertainment at the time
A postcard sent to members of Great George Street Congregational Chapel, Liverpool serving at the front. Featuring a picture of the minister and his wife and a written message. P.S.A. stands for Pleasant Sunday Afternoon, a popular form of church entertainment at the time

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 editor@faithandfreedom.org.uk To view the website go to: http://www.faithandfreedom.org.uk/GWindex.htm