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Remembered Today:

Vicars did their bit?


toofatfortakeoff
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Ive been building up a theory in my little paranoid head. I was vindicated when I found a folder in the library instructing Vicars in 1918 to inform their parishes that the war was not being fought for the benefit of the money grabbers in HM Govt. but for Freedom. This official was from the 'War Commitee' and had a number of government officials signatures upon it. so what I think is that the Church was the valve through which the Government spoke. After all Vicars didnt lie back then did they....

I suspect that after the War the Church lost a lot of their numbers owing to the Clergymens exhortations of honour glory etc during the War sending lads to their death etc. I know from veterans that some never went to Church again. One of them threw our Vicar into the street during the second world war when he came to condole them over the death of their son.

I have a few 'letters' that the Vicar published ostensibly sent by lads from the front in the Parich Mag, but some of them seem to be pure cr*p and I reckon that with a bit of comparison with letters from other Parish mags might be similar.

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Ive read a little about this.

It seems fairly "accepted" that the church congregations declined and spiritualism grew. People were less impressed with the thought that a God could allow it to happen & greiving wasnt as understood as it os now, so peoples greif & anger turned to mediums more & more to try & contact their lost loved ones.

The church & spiritualism became the proverbial sparring partners with both claiming the opposite to the other & no one really winning - sounds like politics to me!! :rolleyes:

It seemed to build up until the 40's when a famous medium was tried & sentenced to prison under the 1688 (or summat) Witchcraft act!! Led to it being changed & the "Fraudulent Mediums Act" was passed to replace it apprently. WW2 saw another surge in belief in spiritulaism & relative decline ion the established religions but not as sharp as the end of WW1. I suppose it was in direct relation to the casualty figures in WW1 & WW2? Less casualties in 2, so less people trying to reach their loved ones?

I imagine that the people by then had had 3 decades of promises about "a land fit for heroes" that never came about & the church had no answers, so you cant blame the people then for looking for their own answers really! Not surprising that the church suffered as a result of the war(s) & had to turn to the proverbial propoganda / "Spin" (as it is called now).

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Great summing-is it worthy of a book dyou think? The classic alistair Sim in 'London Belongs to Me' (1946) springs to mind. Though I have to say the sptulists and faith healers were in good numbers before WWI began. Do you think that a percentage turned away because of the cant about glory etc?

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One of the lesser reasons there was a decline was due to the conduct of some of the chaplains in the frontline. The c of e discouraged chaplains from going too far forward and whilst man of the chaplains did an exteremely valuable job but some men resented the fact that many chaplains whilst expounding the holy and just cause would not and did not put themselves at risk. Many turned there backs on the church thereafter.

In contrast to this many RC chaplains were admired by all denominations because of their willingness to perform extreme unction in extreme conditions and very much went over with the men. It is unliklely given the prejudice to the RC faith prevalent at the time that the RC Church received any converts because of this.

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It seems fairly "accepted" that the church congregations declined and spiritualism grew.

I'd be very interested in sources that show a sustained decline in church attendance nationally, brought about by the Great War. Numbers were already declining well before the war, partly due to industrialisation and urbanisation, and I've never seen any evidence that shows that there was a substantial acceleration in this until after WW2. I accept that certain individuals and communities might have turned their backs on the Church, but would need to be persuaded that it added up to a national trend with its roots in the War.

Sue

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is it worthy of a book dyou think?

Tough one that mate! Cant really suggest who your audience would be ... :huh:

Cant help but think that peoples established & unwavering faith in the catholic or protestant faiths would have taken a huge dent & I woudnt be surprised if it hasnt really recovered (in % terms of the population) with all thats happened this last century, although someone will no doubt say otherwise if its not an accurate statement.

I know that Spiritualism was probably only about 60 years old when WW1 started, so perhaps the "newness" of it also contributed to its rise? On the one hand the spiritualists at least try to provide "proof" of what they claim via "linking" with spirits etc, whereas the establihed faiths by comparison seem to rely more on "trusting unto ..." whoever they worship. Swings & roundabouts, as with most faiths really, but you can see the attraction to people who were desperate for contact with their loved one. Considering most were buried (if they were lucky) in a foreign field & not allowed to be brought home it would have also allowed people a level of grieving they otherwise wouldnt have been able to achieve.

(BTW, Im no expert in religion, so excuse me if Im mis-quoting!!!)

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I'd be very interested in sources that show a sustained decline in church attendance nationally, brought about by the Great War. Numbers were already declining well before the war, partly due to industrialisation and urbanisation, and I've never seen any evidence that shows that there was a substantial acceleration in this until after WW2. I accept that certain individuals and communities might have turned their backs on the Church, but would need to be persuaded that it added up to a national trend with its roots in the War.

Sue

Hi Sue

The type of books i read are not really about the subject & make no more than a reference to it - usually hidden within a chapter on something else, or something bigger, so im sorry that I cant quote stats etc :( . Despite the diversity, they all seem to be happy with their statements, so its either an accecpted folk lore thing or they all read the same books whilst researching their own!! Shouldnt joke ...

The latest one was Neil Olivers "Not forgotten" which ive just finished reading, who made a reference to the relative growth & decline. John Garth's "Tolkein in the great war" (another recent one) also went on about it. Clarke's "Angel of Mons" is another from memory.

If its important mate, can have a look through the books & work out who's the most "informed"?

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Steve

No, I have no burning need, but I think that attributing the decline of church attendance in Britain to the Great War is too simplistic, and used as a catch-all explanation to fill pages and provide arguments. Some well-researched figures in 'The Death of Christian Britain' by Callum Brown show that there had always been peaks and troughs in church membership/attendance right across the denominations, but any fall during and immediately after the War, for whatever reason, was regained by the mid-twenties.

Anecdotal tales make interesting reading, but this doesn't seem to be an area where much research has been done - I'd just be interested if anyone knows of any other statistical work on the subject.

Sue

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In the course of looking for war memorial plaques inside churches I have picked up a fair amount of information about the history of the church in terms of attendance. In Toronto, many are now converted to other uses, if not demolished. I have visited these structures during architectural history events. Most provided a history to me that told of their decline in attendance since 1900 or so.

I believe a variety of factors led to this decline, and that the war is probably not a key issue. In some cases this decline was tied to the growth of the suburbs and urban decline in the city. The historic churches were built downtown during the Victorian era. As families moved out of the city to the suburbs in a process that grew over the past 100 years, these institutions saw drastic drops in attendance. In some cases neighbourhoods that were attractive in the 1880s (Jarvis St. in Toronto) - became shabby unpopular areas by the 1930s.

I have also looked at accounts written by chaplains and other war diaries. Many chaplains felt they had to really work to attract attendance. Even the famous Canadian chaplain Canon Scott who generally tried to paint his experiences in a positive light, seemed to struggle with a fair amount of men who were not particularly religious. He joked how few people he could pull together for a Mass or other religious event. In fact, Canon Scott used to smoke through his religious lectures, and tell jokes. He admitted that his novel style attracted attention. He also admitted that his attempt to stop card games and gambling was pretty well a hopeless cause. In the famous chapter where he meets with the man about to be "Shot at Dawn" he finds that he had never attended church and had not been baptised.

I can't paint a full picture of the interest of chaplains towards front line work, as I do not know the actions of all. One might consider that some of the chaplains were probably older men who could easily avoid service at home if they really wanted. Some might not even be considered to be fit soldiers if they had applied to serve in the infantry.

A few accounts are retyped below. I realize that the newspaper accounts may have been enhanced for propaganda purposes, but I would hope there is some truth to the accounts.

******************

By. J. F. B. Livesay.

With the Canadian Forces, Oct. 30, 1918.

In their work of caring for the sick and bringing spiritual comfort to our fighting men, the Canadian chaplain service hardly gets the recognition it deserves. Brave men these are. They keep up with the forward dressing stations. In the battle of Cambrai seven chaplains were wounded in one week. When all the medical offices of one dressing station were casualties a chaplain carried on the work single-handed until relieved.

In the battle of Upton Wood, when the stretcher bearers had many losses, the chaplain on duty labored unceasingly, carrying in our casualties from where they would be shot down in the enemy wire amid a storm of machine guns and shelling. After our enforced retirement in front of Cambrai on September 30 the chaplain of a Canadian regiment worked incessantly through shot and shell bringing in the wounded, and for forty hours without rest, made repeated trips to No Man's Land on his errand of mercy. Many a wounded soldier, alive today, owes his life to this gallant padre. When, later, all but four officers of the battalion were casualties, he labored unceasingly to keep up the spirits of the man and carried food and drink to them. Even in the heat of battle men raised a cheer when they saw him coming.

Toronto Star - October 30, 1918

******************

Canadian Chaplains in the War.

From the Military Gazette (Nov. 4, 1919)

There were with the Overseas Military Forces of Canada during the war 426 chaplains, two of whom were killed in action, one died of wounds, one died while serving on a hospital ship, two died of sickness, and twenty-one were wounded.

******************

post-3697-1136318014.jpg

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Anecdotal tales make interesting reading, but this doesn't seem to be an area where much research has been done - I'd just be interested if anyone knows of any other statistical work on the subject.

Sue

Some recommended reading:

'God and the British Soldier - Religion and the British Army in the First and Second World Wars' by Michael Snape (Routledge, 2005) ISBN 0-415-33452-7

'The Cross and the Trenches - Religious Faith and Doubt amongst British and American Great War Soldiers' by Richard Scheitzer (Praeger, 2003) ISBN 0-313-31838-7

'The Death of Christian Britain' by C G Brown (Routledge; 2001)

For Canadian Army Chaplains in the First World War see 'Padres in No Man's Land' by Duff Crerar (McGill-Queens University Press, 1995) ISBN 0-7735-1230-6

Edited by Audax
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I've never found that books about chaplains in the Great War, or soldiers + religion give more than a passing reference, if that, to the situation within churches and the communities at home, and certainly don't include statistical evidence about the sizes of congregations in the immediate post-war period. The 'general decline' in church attendance seems to be widely quoted, but other than references to a few individual parishes, this doesn't seem to be backed up by sources. The work by Callum Brown, in fact, seems to show that the war had little or no effect on an existing decline, but his is the only evidence of this type that I've come across.

Sue

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I think we are talking largely of the decline in cities-when new settlements occured then they would have taken their religion with them-migration is not a real indicator of decline-people have migrated for centuries and taken their religion with them. I still think the pattern changed around this time. The Church also was 'something to do' on a Sunday. In the twenties there were of course new things to do. A factor I excluded was the increasing growth of media such as film gramaphone and radio in the 1920s

And why didn't the Eastern religions suffer the same death in the post war era of the nations that participated. Or did they and if they did how did they recover.

There must have been reports as well of people being angered at home by what was said at the pulpit during the latter phases of the War.

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I cannot help but wonder when the order was issued to clergymen instructing them to inform their congregations “that that the war was not being fought for the benefit of the money grabbers in HM Govt. but for Freedom.” Perhaps, as Sir Douglas Haig’s famous ‘Backs to the Wall’ Order illustrates (April 1918), many did indeed think they were fighting for “the freedom of mankind.” Alternatively, it is probable that those who did not agree found ways to express their views.

While vicars were certainly establishment figures, they were not immune from the killing. Many were family men with relatives fighting and dying on the battlefields - on Lancing College’s War Memorial over thirty of those named were sons of clergymen. And, only one of the Bishop of Exeter’s four sons survived the conflict.

Further, the growth of spiritualism after the war does not necessarily mean that families also stopped attending church. Though, undoubtedly, the presence of so much suffering must assuredly have made many question the very existence of God.

Janet

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'The Church of England and the First World War' by Alan Wilkinson (SCM Press Ltd; 1978) ISBN 0-334-02669-5, has a chaplter entilted 'Death, Bereavement and the Supernatural' which may be of interest as well as much else besides.

The 'Roll of the sons and daughters of the Anglican Clergy throughout the world and of the Naval and Military Chaplains of the same who gave their lives in the Great War 1914-18' by The Reverend Richard Ussher, runs to fifty pages. Average fourty three names each page. Equals approximately 2150 clergy related deaths connected to Anglican Clergy 1914-18 worldwide.

Quae religio terrae nostri non laboris?

With the morn those Angel faces smile,

Which I have loved, and lost a while,

Requiem eternam dona eis Domine et lux perpetua luceat eis

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Guest Simon Bull
While vicars were certainly establishment figures, they were not immune from the killing. Many were family men with relatives fighting and dying on the battlefields - on Lancing College’s War Memorial over thirty of those named were sons of clergymen. And, only one of the Bishop of Exeter’s four sons survived the conflict.

Janet

This is certainly the case. I have done a minimal amount of research on the War Memorial of the next village. From memory I would say that half of that men on it are sons of (then) present or former vicars of the village.

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This is certainly the case. I have done a minimal amount of research on the War Memorial of the next village. From memory I would say that half of that men on it are sons of (then) present or former vicars of the village.

Let us not forget that Captain Gilbert Walter Lyttleton Talbot of the Rifle Brigade, was the son of the Bishop of Winchester. He was killed in action at Hooge on 30th July 1915. His grave is in the dip in the Sanctuary Wood Cemetery.

Gilbert Talbots's brother, The Reverend Neville S Talbot, M.C. was Assistant Chaplain-General, 5th Army.

Talbot House (Everyman's Club) in Poperinghe in Ypres, was named in his memory of Gilbert. Toc H of course; is signaller's jargon for Talbot House.

Neville S Talbot wrote a number of books including 'Religion Behind The Front and After the War' (1918) and 'Thoughts of Religion at the Front'.

The Rt. Rev E S Talbot D.D. sat on the Committee of Enquiry into the Army and Religion; as a joint Convenor with Rev D S Cairns. The findings of the commitee were published in 1919 as 'The Army and Religion; An Enquiry and its Bearing upon the Religious Life of the Nation' (MacMillan; 1919).

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I'd be very interested in sources that show a sustained decline in church attendance nationally, brought about by the Great War. Numbers were already declining well before the war, partly due to industrialisation and urbanisation, and I've never seen any evidence that shows that there was a substantial acceleration in this until after WW2. I accept that certain individuals and communities might have turned their backs on the Church, but would need to be persuaded that it added up to a national trend with its roots in the War.

Sue

My son did some work on church attendance in Birmingham in C20th as part of his degree, and says that absolute peak attendance figures for CofE were well post war - declining from about 1930ish. This is based on Easter communicants, which was the then accepted definition of a "churchgoer". I'll ask him if he can remeber any useful sources, if you like.

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I would be very interested to know what sources your son used to track the number of Easter communicants in Birmingham. The numbers were occasionally reported in local Sussex newspapers and parish magazines, but not on a regular basis.

Many thanks, Janet

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I would be very interested to know what sources your son used to track the number of Easter communicants in Birmingham. The numbers were occasionally reported in local Sussex newspapers and parish magazines, but not on a regular basis.

Many thanks, Janet

I'll ask him when I next see him (he's away from home doing a PGCE now). I know one source was the Diocesan records - though they are a bit like official records, and you can't see all of them. AIUI all incumbents had to make returns of the figures to their archdeacons.

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I'll ask him when I next see him (he's away from home doing a PGCE now). I know one source was the Diocesan records - though they are a bit like official records, and you can't see all of them. AIUI all incumbents had to make returns of the figures to their archdeacons.

'The Churches Survey Their Task' The Report of the Conference at Oxford, On Church, Community and State' (Geo Allen and Unwin.)

No statistics I'm, afraid; but it contains some of themes mentioned earlier in this thread:

Secularization of Modern life

Social Disintegration

The Weakening of Family Ties

The shift of interest in education

Contemporary Attempts to reconstruct Social and Moral Life

The Challenge of the New Faiths

The Impersonal Character of Modern Life

The Changed Relation of Church to Community

All sounds very familiar?

The Conference was held in July 1937.

Published 1937

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