‘Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red’. Poppy dedicated at Downpatrick


An important part of the remembrance service at Downpatrick NSP Church on Remembrance Day, Sunday, 12th November 2017 was the dedication of a new memorial to Rifleman John Hayes of the 1st Battalion Royal Irish Rifles who was a member of the congregation who was killed in the First World War at the Battle of the Somme on 31st October 1916 at the age of just 24. The memorial contains a ceramic poppy from the Tower of London. The Tower was the location for ‘Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red’ an impressive special installation produced at the start of 2014 which contained 888,246 hand-made ceramic poppies, one for every man or woman from Britain and the Commonwealth who died in military service in the Great War.


Poppies at the Tower of London, 7th November 2014 (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

The poppies were designed by Paul Cummins and each one was individually hand made by a large team of volunteers so that no two flowers are the same. The poppies gradually encircled the Tower, creating a spectacular visual display and a moving location for personal reflection. The scale of the installation, containing so many individual poppies, was intended to bring home the magnitude of the event commemorated and over five million people travelled from all over the world to see the display. It was an impressive creation which continues to have a profound effect. All the poppies were sold to members of the public in memory of those who died, raising millions of pounds for service charities and extending the practical effect of the memorial all over the country which is how the poppy came to Downpatrick. Thelma Lowry, church member and a niece of John Hayes, bought one of the poppies and presented it to the church on behalf of her family in memory of her uncle.


Memorial, First Presbyterian (Non-Subscribing) Church, Downpatrick

The church has a war memorial from the First World War containing the names of the 32 members of the congregation who served in the First World War as well as the three members who made the supreme sacrifice – Craig Nelson, Francis McMurray and John Hayes.


Cover of the church’s leaflet about the three members who lost their lives in the First World War. For more details see:


At the service Jack Steers played the Last Post on the trumpet and Laura Neill played ‘Abide with Me’ on the bagpipes following the dedication. This new memorial is a family memorial but of a church member who was killed during the Battle of the Somme over one hundred years ago. As such it ties the church into a remarkable act of remembrance that began at the Tower of London but which has travelled around the world taking poppies from the installation back to the cities, towns and villages which were once the homes of those who were killed in the Great War.

A special site now records the locations to which the poppies have travelled:



Memorial plaque


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.


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.


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:


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


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.


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.


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


Siegfried Wedgwood Herford (1891-1916)

In my previous post on Platt Chapel (https://velvethummingbee.wordpress.com/2016/05/20/platt-chapel-rusholme/)  I asked what happened to the ancient silver communion plate that belonged to the chapel and included a silver porringer dated to 1641. Both Len Smith and Ann Peart tell me that they think this was deposited in the Treasury at York Minster, which is very encouraging to know.


Len also tells me that his record of the clapper falling from the bell cote as the bell was rung for worship one night happened in his presence. In those days the chapel was used as a placement for students and it was during his time as a student at the Unitarian College that the old bell finally lost its clapper, narrowly missing the heads of those arriving for worship.


The bell, without its clapper, still hangs above the chapel, so far as I know. It is not clear what happened to the many memorials that were situated in the chapel, including Worsley family hatchments. Part of the chapel was separated to form what was known as the Worsley Chapel and here some of that family had been buried. This was later screened off and must still be there, possibly still with memorials but certainly complete with tombs.


Another piece of information which I received from Len is entirely new to me. Edwin Swindells’ history of 1959 mentions the unveiling of a memorial to a chapel member who was killed in the First World War in 1919. The memorial took the form of a stained glass window and he records it as follows:


In 1919, the memorial window to the late Lieut. Siegfried Herford, only son of Professor and Mrs. C. H. Herford, who was killed in the war, was placed in the chapel by some of his friends.


Len Smith has sent me a picture of this very fine window, taken when it was still in the chapel but which, he tells me, is now at the Eskdale Outward Bound Centre:

Memorial window in Platt Chapel (Photo: Len Smith)
Memorial window in Platt Chapel (Photo: Len Smith)


The window includes the inscription:‘I will lift up mine eyes unto the hills, from whence cometh my help’, Psalm 121:1


The Herford family were very prominent Unitarians in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. A number of them were ministers and many of them were educationalists or academics of very great achievement.


“Professor and Mrs. C. H. Herford” were Charles Harold Herford (who has an entry in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography) and his wife Marie (née Betge). C.H. Herford was a highly respected literary scholar and in the course of his distinguished academic career was professor of English Literature at Manchester University from 1901 to 1921. In this time he might have been expected to attend Cross Street Chapel where his family had many connections and his maternal grandfather (John Gooch Robberds) had been minister. However, they seem to have had a connection with Platt Chapel and following the death of their only son in France in January 1916 a memorial window was erected in Platt Chapel in his memory.


Edwin Swindells describes Siegfried Herford as Lieutenant but this seems to be a mistake. Although he was a member of the Manchester University Officer Training Corps from 1909 to 1913 and  applied for a commission at the outbreak of war eventually he enlisted in  the 24th Battalion Royal Fusiliers (Sportsmen’s Battalion) in February 1915 and was sent to France soon after where he was killed at Bethune on 28th January 1916.


Much of this detail comes from the Manchester University Roll of Honour (http://www.ww1.manchester.ac.uk/roll-of-honour/) where he features and which also notes that he graduated from Manchester in 1912 with a first class BSc before going on to complete a thesis for his MSc which was never awarded following the onset of the war. This is a very useful site, although not free of error, it mentions the memorial window as being “believed to have been rescued from a chapel in Didsbury that was demolished,” but it does have some good detail about his German background (which is claimed on some websites as being the reason for him not being commissioned) – he had a German mother and spent part of his education in Germany. It may have been here that he developed his love of mountains and climbing which was an area in which he came to excel in his short life.


He was a very notable person in climbing circles and despite being killed at the age of just 24 has a degree of fame in those circles that has lasted to this day. The short biography of him on the site of the Mountain Heritage Trust describes him as being “widely credited with being the first rock-climber in the ‘modern’ twentieth century idiom (he is celebrated for the ascent of the first ever ‘Hard Very Severe’ rock climb: Scafell’s Central Buttress)” and any internet search throws up dramatic photographs of him perched on the top of ledges or ridges or in the company of such luminaries as George Mallory. He has been the subject of films and a full length biography by Keith Treacher (Siegfried Herford: An Edwardian Rock-Climber) was published in 2000.


He was buried in the Brown’s Road Military Cemetery, Festubert, Pas de Calais, France (http://www.everymanremembered.org/profiles/soldier/188954/) but was included on the University of Manchester War Memorial in the main quadrangle, the bronze Fell and Rock Climbing Club memorial to those of its members killed in the First World War and situated on the summit of Great Gable in the Lake District, and some of his friends paid for the stained glass window depicting him climbing which was unveiled in Platt Chapel in 1919 and later moved to the Eskdale Outward Bound Centre.


How it came to be moved from Platt Chapel is detailed in a short article by Muriel Files in the 1974 (No 64 Volume XXII No II) issue of ‘The Fell and Rock Journal’:


The existence of the window came to the notice of the committee after Siegfried Herford’s sister, Mrs. Braunholtz, wrote to the Secretary about her anxiety as to its future because she had heard that Platt (Unitarian) Chapel in Manchester, where the window is situated, was threatened with demolition…In fact, there proved to be no immediate threat to the window although the chapel is indeed no longer needed by the Unitarian Church and the Trustees are seeking a suitable purchaser.


At the time the intention seemed to be to move the window to UCM, although this clearly never happened. Muriel Files goes on to say something more about the window:


The window was given in memory of Siegfried Herford by C. E. Montague of the Guardian, known to some mountaineers for his essay ‘In Hanging Garden Gully’, surely one of the most entertaining climbing tales ever written. Of the figure representing her brother Mrs. Braunholtz writes: ‘It was based on a photograph taken by a fellow climber and is a very good likeness of my brother, even to the shock of fair hair described by Geoffrey Winthrop Young. The window makes his face look a little more bony than it actually did—after all he was only 24 and still had a boyish look’.


We will add the photograph of the memorial window in Platt Chapel depicting Siegfried Herford to the Faith and Freedom Great War Project (http://www.faithandfreedom.org.uk/GWindex.htm).

(Top photograph on this page, Scafell Pike, Wikimedia Commons)

Willaston School “a public school education on modern lines”

The edition of Christian Life published to celebrate the centenary of the Trinity Act never fails to provide something of interest. Leafing through its pages the other day looking for something else I chanced upon the half page or so celebrating Willaston School. As with everything else in the whole issue it gives a celebratory account of the institution in question. I notice that the regular Sunday services were conducted by the headmaster or the Unitarian minister in Nantwich and that religious teaching in the school consisted of “instruction in the Bible, and in the history of liberal thought and religion”. The fees were £63 per annum although bursaries were available for the sons of ministers. It paints a positive picture of music, the classics, cricket etc. with every boy cultivating his own allotment in the twenty-four acres of grounds and “a resident staff of university men”.  It provided “a public school education on modern lines”. For those who could afford it, it was a golden age, the last days of the old order before everything was changed utterly by the First World War.


One of the things the recently published book Willaston School Nantwich edited by Andrew Lamberton and published by Willaston and District History Group brings out is how heavily militarised the school became after the war started. There is nothing unusual in that but nearly every boy and member of staff became a member of the Army Cadet Corps and many of them were to be killed at the front in a matter of years, a great many of them decorated for bravery as I have already noticed in the previous post. At least one founding pupil took a different view though. Although I have mentioned him in the forthcoming review of the book that will appear in the 2016 issue of the Transactions of the Unitarian Historical Society I didn’t mention him in the previous post. William Mellor joined the school in 1900 and went on to Exeter College, Oxford. He was a prefect and a captain of cricket and football. He ended up as editor of the Daily Herald and the Tribune. He got his radical socialism from his father, the Rev Stanley Mellor, and was a conscientious objector in the First World War. His career was not without significance in the development of the Labour party.


But one other short passage from the Willaston book stuck in my mind. In the chapter on 1914-1924 short passages illustrating the activities of the Cadets are given, taken from the school magazine, including this one on page 45:

In April 1918, “We have only had one lecture this term; that was a most interesting one from Captain Kitchen, (Old Willastonian) Assistant Instructor at the Command Gas School Aldershot. Besides the description of the uses of gas, various specimens of gas masks displayed, practical demonstrations were given of tear-gas and smoke bombs.”


This must have been R.T. Kitchen who was at the school from 1903 to 1908. The first use of gas by British troops came at the battle of Loos in 1915. It was not a success, the wind blew the gas back into the British trenches. Later in the war the allies also utilised mustard gas. A grim job indeed to be assistant instructor at the Gas Command School.


HMC: England: Cheshire: Willaston School, Nantwich: "505"
Willaston School Football XI 1908. With thanks to Andrew Lamberton

In one of the many images in the Willaston School Nantwich book there is a picture of the Football XI in 1908 (page 60). There they sit, the first eleven, a confident looking W. Mellor (captain) seated in the centre. To his left is Norman Ebbutt who served in the RNVS throughout the First World War, and who later became The Times correspondent in Berlin until he was expelled by Goebbels. To William Mellor’s right is a young R.T. Kitchen.


Founder Philip Barker and a view of the school from the 'Christian Life' 1913
Founder Philip Barker and a view of the school from the ‘Christian Life’ 1913

Willaston School Nantwich

Willaston School Nantwich. Later St Joseph’s and Elim Bible College, Andrew Lamberton (ed.), Willaston and District History Group, Chester, 2015. ISBN 978-0-949001-56-6. £11.95.


The cover of the book
The cover of the book


The Willaston District History Group are to be congratulated on publishing this fascinating, well-illustrated book.


Willaston School was a relatively short-lived minor public school established under the provisions of the will of Philip Barker, a prominent member of the Unitarian Chapel in Nantwich. On his death in 1898, with no close living relatives, he left his house and estate to be turned into a school for boys of Unitarian families. He may also have intended to provide a service to the sons of Unitarian ministers and also hoped to create a feeder school for Manchester College, Oxford where pupils could go to train for the Unitarian ministry. In this last aim they don’t appear to have been successful, only three ex-pupils went into the Unitarian ministry.


Philip Barker, the founder of the school
Philip Barker, the founder of the school


Most of my knowledge of this school previously came from the writings of the late Rev John McLachlan and seeing the war memorial that he had moved to Harris Manchester College after the closure of the school. Founded right at the start of the twentieth century the school seemed to flourish in the decade before the First World War when so many ex-pupils joined up, many lost their lives and a large cohort of their number were decorated for gallantry – including a VC, three MCs, two Albert Medals, one DFC, a DSM and three further mentions in despatches. The VC was awarded posthumously to Philip Hirsch of Leeds. Later Sir Sydney Jones of Liverpool opened a memorial chapel in the school to those who had lost their lives in the war, and a new swimming pool was given in his memory by Philip Hirsch’s parents.


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


WIllaston School Nantwich is an impressive account of the life of a unique Unitarian educational institution from a vanished age. Based largely on the record of writings by four former pupils, including John McLachlan, the book gives a very full account of all aspects of school life including academic matters, sports, music, drama, excursions, clubs and societies and much more. The book includes a list of all the students and accounts of the lives of those who were killed in the First World War. What makes the book even more interesting is the tremendous selection of photographs taken from a collection of 230 glass lantern slides held at Harris Manchester College which really do give a very full picture of life in the school. The school was only operational from 1900 to 1937 but is clearly well remembered in the locality. After closure it became a Roman Catholic ‘Industrial School’ and later still became an Elim Bible College. But this book is mainly about its Unitarian era and is well worth reading.

It can be obtained from the Willaston District History Group via their website: http://www.willastonweb.co.uk/


Poppies at St George’s Hall, Liverpool

In 2014 the installation ‘Blood Swept Lands and Seas of Red’ was in place at the Tower of London. It seemed to capture the popular imagination in a powerful way. Created by artist Paul Cummins and designed by Tom Piper 888,246 ceramic poppies cascaded out of the Tower of London to progressively fill the moat. Each poppy represented a British military fatality in the First World War.


The story of the poppies at the Tower of London can be seen here:



It is interesting how art and remembrance could combine so effectively in people’s minds and the poppies from the installation have continued to be used in different ways around the country since, part of the installation moving to St George’s Hall in Liverpool in November.




I was fortunate to be able to see the ‘Weeping Windows’ installation in Liverpool shortly before it ended on 17th January 2016.




Several thousand poppies poured from a high vantage point in the Hall on to the ground below. As such a significant building St George’s Hall made a magnificent backdrop for the poppies and over 300,000 visitors are estimated to have travelled to see it in place.




As the notice at the installation made clear this was a particularly appropriate venue for such a display. The plateau outside St George’s Hall became the rallying point for the men who formed the Liverpool Pals under the direction of Lord Derby in the First World War. In March 1915 Lord Kitchener inspected nine battalions of Liverpool Pals formed up outside the Hall, local men who had volunteered to serve together. In the years after the First World War the memorial for the dead of the city was placed outside the Hall and near here the installation was placed.




Altogether a moving and impressive display.

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:



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:


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


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:


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: