Is cigarette-smoking (on the part of a woman) to be thought of as a sin?

From The Sign (magazine of the Anglican Church) December 1915

Q.  Is cigarette-smoking (on the part of a woman) to be thought of as a sin?

A.  We think the matter should be treated on the same level are other recreations.

flappers smoking

If there is excessive indulgence then sin begins. The excessive cigarette-smoking in our Army is very “natural” just now, but our hospital authorities say it is already doing real harm. Practically, we would add that if a person has not acquired the habit of smoking he or she might consider whether it is well to begin. A woman with experience says that “if a girl comes up to town she is far more likely to keep in the right set if she has not to go into her club’s smoking-rooms”. Surely it is a pity, for various reasons, when young women and young mothers smoke – especially as they only smoke cigarettes. All things are lawful, but all are not expedient.

We will remember them


Ten years ago I visited the war graves in Belgium with a group of other theological students. It was a trip that has stayed with me since and which I shall never forget. The organisers were Toc-H and we stayed in a house in Poperinge, the first resting place for soldiers behind the trenches. It was a week of stories.

We heard of Tubby Clayton, the Chaplain, and why the sign above the house (Abandon Rank All Ye Who Enter Here) was so important. We heard of the people of Poperinge and how they kept the story alive during WW2 and looked after the contents of the house.  We sat in the hop loft which had become a chapel with a carpenter’s bench for an altar and banners embroidered by the men.

We visited Hill 69 and walked silently through the trenches. Even the schoolchildren were quiet that day. We looked at sepia photographs of death, giving thanks that red blood doesn’t show in sepia.  I remember horses dying in trees. A horse up a tree? It defied logic.

We visited war graves, row upon row of white crosses, name upon name engraved.  Some with no names – Known to God Alone.  And the German cemetery, solemn in the shade that day, and we wondered at the Jewish names who fought for Germany in WW1 but how things would change.  We stood at the Menin Gate while the last post was played and we wept.

We visited the Pool of Peace, once a bomb crater and now a place of harmony and birdsong. Did we see frogs too or have I imagined that? We went round the most amazing museum with sounds and smells and drama.

And at the end of each day we gathered to pray and to talk and learn from one another. I remember wondering about the women, for our days had been filled with masculine images. What of those women who waited at home, who had to take on difficult jobs because there were no men to do them? The mothers, the wives and girlfriends, and the children. What were their stories? How were their lives affected when their men didn’t come home?

I have no war stories to tell. My grandfathers were too young for WW1 and too old for WW2. I don’t know of any other relatives who fought or died. But although these stories are not part of my history, I now feel that I have dipped my toe in the war narrative and will tell the stories that I have learned to all who will listen.

Life is beautiful

Film night last night and we watched Life is Beautiful, recommended by D & K, and it was a resounding success. I suspect that when the lights were put on there were a few moistened eyes to be seen but that was fine. It was one of the most enjoyed films we have ever watched. And it was in Italian with subtitles!

When I watched it first a few weeks ago I must confess that I was not so keen on the beginning. Roberto Benigni who plays the lead role of Guido is a clown. His humour is very visual, almost clown-like and I am not usually amused by that. He also directed and co-wrote it. But as the film moves on your stomach starts to churn as you laugh. It’s not as if the beginning of the film is funny and the end is sad – it is much more subtle than that.

If you don’t know the story, briefly it is this…
Guido is in love with Dora. Guido is a poor man who wants to open a book shop and Dora is a teacher from a wealthy background about to be married to a pillar of the community. Guido does everything he can to attract her attention and eventually wins her over.

Move on a few years and Guido and Dora have a son Joshua and are very happy. But Guido is Jewish and this is the beginning of war. When Joshua asks why they are being treated differently his father turns it into a game.

Guido and Joshua are eventually piled into a train to be taken to a concentration camp. Dora, who is not Jewish, pleads to be taken with them. At the camp they are separated but Guido finds ways of letting her know they are ok. Guido turns the whole camp experience into a game for little Joshua and the winner gets a tank (his favourite toy).

I won’t spoil the end because you really must watch it. It is a film where the human spirit can triumph over the most horrific adversity. It was also Pope John Paul II’s favourite movie, if that helps. If it hinders, just ignore that last sentence.

War time stories

Picked up B this morning to bring her to church. B is in a nursing home since her husband died earlier this year and as she was once a nurse herself is keeping them all organised. I asked her if she had ever driven and she said, “No, my husband once tried but that way led divorce.”

I commented that a few women I knew of her age had learned to drive during the war. “Oh no,” she said, “I got to ride in the back of ambulances. The worst time was during the Clydebank blitz. I got to sit up the front then with my tin hat on!”

It occurred to me again that these little old ladies that sit in church Sunday after Sunday (and at weekdays too) who look so sweet and innocent have very scarey stories to tell. Recently I took my mum for an appointment at the new Royal Infirmary in Edinburgh. Along one corridor there are magnificent texts carved into large pieces of wood and they contain memories which nurses and doctors have of the old Royal Infirmary at Lauriston Place. They speak of draughty corridors, and ghostly presences, and camaraderie in the nurses’ home. They are a wonderful way of incorporating the old building with the new.

We must listen to these stories before they are forgotten. Perhaps we should have a project at church (or wider?) to get these war-time memories written down and maybe use them for Remembrance Sunday. They have far more to say than I ever could. Any volunteers?