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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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):
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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:
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’.
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.
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.
The First World War cast an enormous shadow over the past century. It had a cataclysmic effect on all aspects of society, no one was left untouched by it – homes, families, schools, factories, businesses, and, of course, churches. There are many ways in which the centenary of the Great War is being marked and most churches are spending some time over the current period reflecting on the conflict, its impact and its legacy. Faith and Freedom is establishing a special section of its website to reflect upon the conflict from the point of view of the churches and other faith groups. The website will be developed in a number of different ways. It will contain scholarly and thoughtful articles on the Great War, particularly in relation to churches and their participation in the War. The first three articles to go online are Unitarian Attitudes to the First World War, by Alan Ruston, The Centenary of the First World War and the Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church of Ireland, by David Steers; and ‘Their sister in both senses’. The memoirs of Emma Duffin V.A.D. nurse in the First World War by Trevor Parkhill. Trevor is editor of The First World War Diaries of Emma Duffin, Belfast Voluntary Aid Detachment Nurse (Four Courts Press, Dublin, 2014) and his article gives an intensely moving account of the First World War experiences in hospitals at the front of Belfast-born Unitarian Emma Duffin (a direct descendant of William Drennan, the founder of the United Irishmen and a cousin of Thomas Andrews designer of the Titanic) who volunteered to serve as a nurse and spent three harrowing years tending the wounded.
The second section will contain accounts of commemorations and acts of remembrance made during the current centenary period and readers are very much encouraged to send in reports of their events. The first example is a thoughtful and intensely moving service held at Rosslyn Hill Chapel, Hampstead to mark the centenary of the outbreak of the War. We are also seeking to record the names and details of church members who served in the First World War and we begin with a very full account of the contribution and service, with pictures, of members of the Great Meeting, Hinckley.
We also aim to build up a database of images of First World War memorials. Does your church have a memorial to its members who served in the First World War? If it does then please send a digital picture to go on the website. We are also actively seeking images and details of memorials that were placed in churches that are now closed, which may now be lost or which may have been put in a different location.
We also hope to include material – including photographs, sermons, writings, printed ephemera etc that date from the time of the War which can then be studied on our site.
We might also eventually include complete Rolls of Honour – for individual congregations and denominations. The whereabouts of the Roll of Honour relating to the churches that are now part of the General Assembly of Unitarian and Free Christian Churches has been a matter of some discussion recently. If we had the full list of names we could add it to the site. The Roll of Honour of the Non-Subscribing Presbyterian Church of Ireland also seems to have been begun but not completed. It would be good to see that completed and available online. With the co-operation of readers the site will be built up over time. If you would like to participate please contact the editor at email@example.com To view the website go to: http://www.faithandfreedom.org.uk/GWindex.htm