WW1 folk art

Do you remember when people had autograph books? When I was in primary school we all had them and took them in at the end of term to get our friends and teachers to sign them. It was also a time to show off any famous autographs we had. I never had any of those but I did have a very old autograph book which was my mum’s. I now think it must have belonged to one of her parents but I think the ‘autographs’ and pictures were all done by local people from Penicuik or nearby Glencorse Barracks. They are much more exotic than ‘By hook or by crook I’ll be last in this book’ or ‘did you ever discover you could write on the cover?’ which was our standard ‘autograph’.

Here are some of the War pictures, many drawn by the same man Alex Orman. Does anyone out there know anything about him?

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In an issue from our church magazine in 1919 there was a letter from the Rector, the Reverend Jenkins. He was priest here from 1914 and he was exhausted.  Throughout the first world war he had been looking after Grangemouth as well as Falkirk and the mission church had opened there with a curate helping out. His parish was huge, the roads were difficult, and the troops deployed at Grangemouth needed pastoral support. He was also overrun with blessing the many marriages which take place in the time of war.

By 1918 he knew he needed extra help and then when the curate at Grangemouth caught Spanish flu, I imagine he was at the end of his tether. Although he had the help of a ‘lady worker’ it just wasn’t enough so he wrote to the Home Mission Board asking for help. He told them his doctor had ordered him to rest for three to four months. However this just cannot happen. He looks for help with the mission churches that need supporting at this busy time. He says he is not even considering that Grangemouth and Falkirk may become important industrial centres after the war.

On top of this there was clearly a real problem of income for him. He wrote a letter to the congregation saying that although his stipend was comparable to similar charges before the war, the value has dropped by 50% during the war and so they are being asked to present money as an Easter offering to the Rector. (In those days the collection for Easter was a key part of the Rector’s income.)

In 1919 things had got very bad indeed for Jenkins and he gave his resignation. In June fourteen members of the congregation presented the Rector with a petition signed by 500 adult communicant members asking him to reconsider his resignation, and offering more help. Rev Jenkins was deeply touched at the gesture, but felt unable to change his mind. He did, however, feel that the petition was the highest compliment the congregation could offer.  By August he and his wife moved near to Rugby to a charge which was considered lighter.

Poor old Jenkins. You can’t help but feel sorry for him. At this time of year we remember those who lost their lives in the war but perhaps we forget those who were left at home to do the caring.

Who cares for the carer? An eternal question.

So this week I’m thinking of all clergy who struggle with parish life. I’m thinking of those with more than one Charge who feel they never give enough time to each one. I’m thinking of those who find it hard to delegate and ask for help. I’m thinking of those who dread the season of Advent and Christmas because they just don’t feel creative. I’m thinking of clergy who never find time to read and the well on which they draw inspiration for preaching has run dry.

Stations of War

A few weeks ago I was watching the television programmes about the commemoration of WW1. For some reason the Stations of the Cross came into my mind and I could see how many themes there were which paralleled what I was watching.
I then started to write my reflections of the war around the theme of the Stations of the Cross – I’ve called them Stations of War.

Tonight we will walk the Stations of War. There will be some stops to listen to a piece of music, and there will be some poetry and prose. I hope they speak to you.

To begin with we will listen to a piece of music by Vaughan Williams called The Lark Ascending. I have always loved this piece and wasn’t aware until recently that it was written in 1914,

‘just as Europe was teetering on the edge of the abyss of the First World War… It evokes a tranquil time when Britain was riding high, having mastered the secrets of the Industrial Revolution, and memories of Queen Victoria’s sixty-four-reign were still fresh. Yet whole countries were now sleep-walking into a conflict that would wipe out a generation.’  

Frank Gardner, Only Remembered, Ed Michael Morpurgo (Jonathan Cape, 2014)


The story goes that as he scribbled notes for the music while on holiday in Margate, someone mistook him for a German spy and he was arrested.

Let’s listen to it now as we think back to an innocent era just before the War to end all Wars began…

MUSIC – The Lark Ascending (Vaughan Williams) 16.08


As we contemplate Jesus standing there, wearing a crown of thorns and the scarlet cloak, the crowd cried out “Crucify him!”
How many young men were condemned to death fighting in a war, not of their own making?
How many teenagers, caught up in the propaganda, caught up in the desire to escape their own poor situations to go off and seek glory?
How many fathers were condemned never to see their wives and children again?
They went, believing it would all be over in a month or so.
They went, while politicians sat in boardrooms and played with their lives.
Your Country Needs You said Kitchener.  God is on our side.
Condemned to death.
Condemned to a miserable existence of suffering and misery.

The General

‘Good morning; good morning!’ the General said
when we met him last week on our way to the line.
Now the soldiers he smiled at are most of ‘em dead,
and we’re cursing his staff for incompetent swine.
‘He’s a cheery old care,’ grunted Harry to Jack
as they slogged up to Arras with rifle and pack.

But he did for them both by his plan of attack.  (Siegfried Sassoon)

We pray for all those condemned to death. For the innocent, the unjustly accused, the unjustly condemned. Pray for all who are condemned.



As we contemplate Jesus led to the Place of the Skull (Golgotha) he is forced to carry his own cross. 

On their backs our soldiers carried all they would need to exist.
Their kit and clothes, their food and drink, their shelter and weapons. 60lbs of solid weight.
It weighed them down and made marching unbearable after a few miles.
Young skinny, underfed men carried their burden on their backs.
Heavy weighted burdens supposed to keep them alive.
‘Pack up your troubles in your old kit-bag’, they sang with stiff upper lip.
‘Smile, boys, that’s the style.’

And the rain and the mud made them heavier still.
Smiling was the last thing on their mind. 


Evening: beneath tall poplar trees
We soldiers eat and smoke and sprawl,
Write letters home, enjoy our ease,
When suddenly comes a ringing call.

‘Fall in!’ A stir, and up we jump,
Fold the love letter, drain the cup,
We toss away the Woodbine stump,
 Snatch at the pack and jerk it up.

 Soon with a roaring song we start,
Clattering along a cobbled road,
The foot beats quickly like the heart,
And shoulders laugh beneath their load.

 Where are we marching? No one knows,
 Why are we marching? No one cares.
For every man follows his nose,
 Towards the gay West where sunset flares.

 An hour’s march: we halt: forward again,
 Wheeling down a small road through trees.
Curses and stumbling: puddled rain
Shines dimly, splashes feet and knees.

 Silence, disquiet: from those trees
 Far off a spirit of evil howls.
‘Down to the Somme’ wail the banshees
 With the long mournful voice of owls…

 Our comrades who at Festubert
And Loos and Ypres lost their lives,
In dawn attacks, in noonday glare,
On dark patrols from sudden knives.

 Like us they carry packs, they march
 In fours, they sling their rifles too,
But long ago they’ve passed the arch
Of death where we must yet pass through.

 Seven miles: we halt awhile, then on!
 I curse beneath my burdening pack
Like Sinbad when with sigh and groan
  He bore the old man on his back.

 A big moon shines across the road,
  Ten miles: we halt: now on again
Drowsily marching; the sharp goad
  Blunts to a dumb and sullen pain.

 A man falls out: we others go
 Ungrudging on, but our quick pace
Full of hope once, grows dull, and slow:
  No talk: nowhere a smiling face…

 We win the fifteenth mile by strength
  ‘Halt!’ the men fall, and where they fall,
Sleep. ‘On!’ the road uncoils its length;
  Hamlets and towns we pass them all.

 False dawn declares night nearly gone:
  We win the twentieth mile by theft.
We’re charmed together, hounded on,
  By the strong beat of left, right, left.

 Pale skies and hunger: drizzled rain:
 The men with stout hearts help the weak,
Add a new rifle to their pain
  Of shoulder, stride on, never speak.

 Now at the top of a rounded hill
  We see brick buildings and church spires.
Nearer they loom and nearer, till
  We know the billet of our desires.

 Here the march ends, somehow we know.
  The step quickens, the rifles rise
To attention: up the hill we go
  Shamming new vigour for French eyes.

 So now most cheerily we step down
  The street, scarcely withholding tears
Of weariness: so stir the town
  With all the triumph of Fusiliers.

 Breakfast to cook, billets to find,
  Scrub up and wash (down comes the rain),
And the dark thought in every mind
  ‘To-night they’ll march us on again.

We pray for all who lived, even now, under the yoke of persecution. For those in prison camps, for those doing hard labour. Pray for all who are weighed down.



As we contemplate Jesus falling under the weight of the cross, we wonder how he can go on.

from For the Fallen

They went with songs to the battle, they were young,
Straight of limb, true of eye, steady and aglow.
They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted,
They fell with their faces to the foe. 

(Robert Laurence Binyon)

 They fell. These young men fell as easily as petals from a summer rose.
They fell on the first day of war and on the last.
They fell in mud, on grass, in No-man’s Land and some never to be found again.

“On your feet!” shouted the sergeant. “On your feet! No stragglers! No malingerers! Soon as I blow my whistle, we’re going over the top. On your feet or it’ll be a Court Martial for anyone who stays.  On your feet or it’s the Firing Squad.”

Slowly they got to their feet, took a drag on a cigarette, a silent prayer.
It would be death either way.

We pray for all who fall. For those who are injured in body, mind and spirit.  Pray for all who suffer.


MUSIC – No Man’s Land (The Green Fields of France), words by Eric Bogle, sung by June Tabor  7.38


As we contemplate Jesus meeting his mother on the road we hear those words “A sword will pierce your soul”.

What of the mothers left behind?  Mothers who said goodbye to their babies, their brave young babies, some barely men?
Mothers who wrote with news of home and waited in dread and fear for the telegram or the knock at the door.
Mothers who poured over newspapers and every small letter from sons who couldn’t tell the horrors they saw.
Mothers who wanted to hold and protect their young from all that would endanger them, but had to let them go.
Wives and mothers bringing up babies on their own, forced to work to provide for them, fearing the worst.

I Didn’t Raise My Boy to Be a Soldier (song)

Ten million soldiers to the war have gone,
who may never return again.
Ten million mothers’ hearts must break
for the ones who died in vain.
Head bowed down in sorrow
in her lonely years,
I heard a mother murmur thru’ her tears:


I didn’t raise my boy to be a soldier,
I brought him up to be my pride and joy.
Who dares to place a musket on his shoulder,
to shoot some other mother’s darling boy?
Let nations arbitrate their future troubles,
it’s time to lay the sword and gun away.
There’d be no war today,
if mothers all would say,
‘I didn’t raise my body to be a soldier.’


What victory can cheer a mother’s heart,
when she looks at her blighted home?
What victory can bring her back
all she cared to call her own?
Let each mother answer
in the years to be,
Remember that my boy belongs to me!

(Lyrics by Alfred Bryan; music by Al Piantadosi)

We pray for all women who wait. For all children suffering from hardship and neglect. For all the tears shed.  Pray for all who weep.



As we contemplate Simon, a passer-by who had come in from the country, forced to help carry Jesus’ cross we see a man sharing the load of another. 

And what of those acts of heroism? Of brothers in arms sacrificing their own lives for their comrades.
The orderlies who ran out to carry back the wounded from where they fell.  Who risked their own lives to care for others, to help carry their load.
They watched out for one another, those men in the muddy trenches, passed cigarettes around, told stories to keep away the bogeyman.
They joined up as pals and died as pals.
¾ million signed up as Pals Regiments, loyal to one another.
Whole streets, villages, towns lost all their men because of this.
Nobody ever encouraged Pals Regiments again.

From All Quiet on the Western Front

I am fighting a crazy, confused battle.  I want to get out of my hollow in the ground and I keep on slipping back in; I say to myself, ‘You’ve got to, it’s to do with your mates, not some stupid order,’ and straight after that: ‘So what?  I’ve only got one life to lose.’


Suddenly a surprising warmth comes over me.  Those voices, those few soft words, those footsteps in the trench behind me tear me with a jolt away from the terrible feeling of isolation that goes with the fear of death, to which I nearly succumbed.  Those voices mean more than my life, more than mothering and fear, they are the strongest and most protective thing that there is: they are the voices of my pals.


I’m no longer a shivering scrap of humanity alone in the dark – I belong to them and they to me, we all share the same fear and the same life, and we are bound to each other in a strong and simple way.  I want to press my face into them, those voices, those few words that saved me, and which will be my support.

(Erich Maria Remarque)

 We pray for all people of good will who help others. For those who give their time, their riches, their strength in the service of the poor.  Pray for all who care.



As we contemplate Veronica, stepping out from the crowd, rushing forward to wipe the face of Jesus we give thanks for the imprint left on her cloth and in her heart. 

There were many Veronicas in that war. Women who left the security they knew to go and work in field hospitals and tend the wounded. 38,000 Voluntary Aid Detachments (VADs), semi-trained nurses, left comfortable family homes to tend to the wounded and dying.
Empowered in this new and horrible world, they faced sights they had never dreamt of.
Gangrene, infection, missing limbs, night terrors, and death became their daily lives.
Shell shock (‘no heart for the fight’) left them with dreams too horrible to bear. Nightmares that no amount of hand-holding would cure.
No more the social whirl, no more the simple life – death and destruction, the smell of rotting flesh and putrid blood, the coughing that never stopped. That was the life of service for others.
Writing letters at the side of a man who’d lost his sight, holding hands long into the night.

From Not So Quiet (a novel)

Cleaning an ambulance is the foulest and most disgusting job it is possible to imagine.  We are unanimous on that point. Even yet we hardened old-timers cannot imagine it without ‘catting’ on exceptionally bad mornings.  We do not mind cleaning the engines, doing repairs and keeping the outsides presentable – it is dealing with the insides we hate.


The stench that comes out as we open the doors each morning nearly knocks us down.  Pools of stale vomit from the poor wretches we have carried the night before, corners the sitters have turned into temporary lavatories for all purposes, blood and mud and vermin and the stale stench of stinking trench feet and gangrenous wounds.  Poor souls, they cannot help it.  No one blames them.  Half the time they are unconscious of what they are doing, wracked with pain and jolted about on the rough roads, for, try as we may – and the cases all agree that women drivers are ten times more thoughtful than the men drivers – we cannot altogether evade the snow-covered stones and potholes.


How we dread the morning clean-out of the insides of our cars, we gently-bred, educated women they insist on so rigidly for this work that apparently cannot be done by women incapable of speaking English with a public-school accent!


‘Our ambulance women take entire control of their cars, doing all running repairs and all cleaning.’


This appeared in a signed article by one of our head officials in London, forwarded to me by Mother last week. It was entitled ‘Our Splendid Women’. I wondered then how many people comfortably reading it over the breakfast table realized what that ‘all cleaning’ entailed.  None, I should imagine; much less the writer of the muck.  Certainly we ourselves had no idea before we got there.


I wonder afresh as I don my overalls and rubber boots. I wonder what to expect this morning, remembering that poor wretched soul I carried on my last trek to Number Thirteen, who will be buried by one of us today.


I am nearly sick on the spot at the sight greeting me, but I have no time for squeamishness. I have Commandant’s bus in addition to my own to get through.


The snow is coming down pretty heavily now, the waterproof sheet over my bonnet is full, and the red cross over the front of the driving seat totally obscured by a white pall.  Blue-nosed, blue-overalled drivers in knee-high waterproof boots are diligently carrying buckets of water and getting out cloths in readiness for the great attack.  The smell of disinfectant is everywhere.  No one speaks much.  It is a wretched morning and the less one talks the sooner one will be out of these whirling flakes. 

(Helen Zenna Smith, Not so Quiet, in Only Remembered, ibid (page 59-60)

We pray for those disfigured by war and those who care for them. For friendly faces and a caring touch in the face of adversity.  Pray for all who nurse.

MUSIC – Tallis, Salvator Mundi  3.59


As we contemplate Jesus in those narrow streets teeming with people, stumble and fall a second time we wonder if he can go on.

from Armistice Day 1918 – Robert Graves

But the boys who were killed in the trenches,
  Who fought with no rage and no rant,
We left them stretched out on their pallets of mud
  Low down with the worm and the ant.


Stretched out on their pallets of mud. They fell and they lay face down in the mud.
Deep in the dugouts, they lay still trying not to whimper with pain.
Old lags, young fresh recruits lying while whizzbangs flew overhead.
Too tired to get up again, too weary of the horror they’d never imagined when they signed up that glorious day.
They fell and they lay with the rats and the worms.
No glory now, lads. No glory now.

We pray for those who fell, innocent of any crime. For those who still lie there, row upon row, some known and many known to God alone.  Pray for all who fall.



As we contemplate the women beating their breasts and mourning over Jesus, we marvel at his words: ‘Don’t cry for me, cry for yourselves and your children.’

The women cried and cried, they wept until rivers ran with their tears.
They cried for their lost ones, for the brief but intense relationships, for what might have been.
A million men were missing from their lives, men these women never had a chance to meet 


When I was a child,
there were always lots of
They were everywhere.


Some were real aunties –
Mum’s umpteen sisters,
Dad’s umpteen sisters.
There was no end of them.


Auntie Flo, Auntie Betty,
Auntie Edie, Auntie Marjorie,
Auntie Bertha, Auntie Jessie…
the list is endless.


I won’t go on,
except for Auntie Violet,
my favourite auntie,
killed on a bus in the Blitz.


It seemed quite natural,
didn’t give it a thought.
That was the way the world was –
lots of old ladies everywhere.


There were called spinsters.
Some were rather quaint.
And looked down upon.
A few were slightly mad.


Then, one day,
when I was grown up,
it dawned on me –


First World War


A million men were missing.
Why hadn’t I thought of it before?
Then men these women never met,
never even had the chance to meet.


All dead


These ladies were always kind,
gentle and loving to me.
Not sour, bitter and resentful,
as they had every right to be.


A million missing men.
A million aunties.

(Raymond Briggs, ibid (page 240-241)

 We pray for those women who lost their loves, their hopes, their dreams, their futures. For children left without fathers.  Pray for all who were left behind.



As we contemplate Jesus lying in the dusty road under the cross, we imagine the humility and the insults he bore.


from Robert Graves – It’s a Queer Time

You’re charging madly at them yelling ‘Fag!’
When somehow something gives and your feet drag.
You fall and strike your head; yet feel no pain
And find…you’re digging tunnels through the hay
In the Big Barn, ’cause it’s a rainy day.
Oh springy hay, and lovely beams to climb!
You’re back in the old sailor suit again.
         It’s a queer time.

In Belgium there’s a Peace Pool, man-made from a bomb crater.  The water is still, the reeds blow in the breeze, frogs croak and it seems so peaceful indeed.
Until you remember that this is where they fell, fell to the sound of silence as the bomb took away their hearing.

Day and night the shells fell.
Dugouts crumbled. Digging became a way of life.
Digging friends out, some suffocated, some smashed to pulp.
The noise of the shells grew into a great crescendo.
In a flash of time they threw themselves down into the mud and cringed at the bottom of the crater.
Red-hot jagged pieces of iron fell around them.

A second or two later they’d laugh, roar with laughter.
Laugh because this time your name wasn’t on it.

We pray for those who suffer humiliation from others. For all who fall daily because of disability and disease. Pray for all who live with pain.

MUSIC – O Sacred Head Now Wounded (Passion Chorale) – J S Bach    3.03


As we contemplate the soldiers taking his garments and casting lots for them, we imagine what it was like to be so vulnerable and helpless.

For some, their army uniform was the first suit they’d had.  How proud they were, marching through their home towns with crowds cheering.
Proud of wearing this badge of honour, to be a soldier fighting for King and Country.
In time those clothes became something much less glamourous, stained and filthy, burned by shrapnel, seams crawling with lice, socks rotting in boots.
A far cry from that seamless garment worn by Christ.

But as death approached and they lay in a field hospital, clothes torn away, sometimes taking flesh with it, the result was the same.
Vulnerability without that badge of honour, going out of this world as they came in. Naked as a newborn babe. 

From Testament of Youth

I had arrived at the cottage that morning to find [Roland’s] mother and sister standing in helpless distress in the midst of his returned kit, which was lying, just opened, all over the floor.  The garments sent back included the outfit he had been wearing when he was hit.  I wondered, and I wonder still, why it was thought necessary to return such relics – the tunic torn back and front by the bullet, a khaki vest dark and stiff with blood, and a pair of blood-stained breeches slit open at the top by someone obviously in a violent hurry.  Those gruesome rags made me realize, as I had never realized before, all that France really meant.  Eighteen months afterwards the smell of Etaples village, though fainter and more diffused, brought back to me the memory of those poor remnants of patriotism.


‘Everything,’ I wrote later to [my brother] Edward, ‘was damp and worn and simply caked in mud.  And I was glad that neither you nor Victor nor anyone who may some day go to the front was there to see.  If you had been, you would have been overwhelmed by the horror of war without its glory.  For though he had only won the things when living, the smell of those clothes was the smell of graveyards and the Dead.  The mud of France which cover them was not ordinary mud; it had not the usual clean pure smell of earth, but it was as though it was saturated with dead bodies – dead that had been dead a long, long time… There was his cap, bent in and shapeless out of recognition – the soft cap he wore rakishly on the back of his head – with the badge thickly coated with mud.  He must have fallen on top of it, or perhaps one of those people who fetched him in trampled on it.’

Vera Brittain

We pray for those who have nothing, whose possessions are few. For all who do not appreciate what they have.  Pray for all who live in poverty.



As we contemplate Jesus being offered a draught of wine mixed with gall, we hear those words ‘Father, forgive them: they do not know what it is they are doing.’

They practiced with bayonets fixed to rifles running at sandbags. ‘Imagine it’s the Hun,’ they were told.
But when the whistle blew to go over the top, would they be able to look a man in the eye and kill him?
The tot of rum gave them courage but it soon wore off.
What happens when they were faced with someone else’s son, brother, father?

Father forgive them: they do not know what it is they are doing.

Dulce et Decorum Est

Bent double, like old beggars under sacks,
knock-kneed, coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge,
till on the haunting flares we turned our backs
and towards our distant rest began to trudge.
Men marched asleep.  Many had lost their boots
but limped on, blood-shod.  All went lame; all blind;
drunk with fatigue; deaf even to the hoots
of tired, outstripped Five-Nines that dropped behind.


Gas! Gas! Quick, boys! – An ecstasy of fumbling,
fitting the clumsy helmets just in time;
but someone still was yelling out and stumbling,
and flound’ring like a man in fire or lime…
Dim, through the misty panes and thick green light,
as under a green sea, I saw him drowning.


In all my dreams, before my helpless sight,
he plunges at me, guttering, choking, drowning.


If in some smothering dreams you too could pace
behind the wagon that we flung him in,
and watch the white eyes writhing in his face,
his hanging face, like a devil’s sick of sin;
if you could hear, at every jolt, the blood
come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs,
obscene as cancer, bitter as the cud
of vile, incurable sore on innocent tongues, –
my friend, you would not tell with such high zest
to children ardent for some desperate glory,
the old Lie: Dulce et decorum est
Pro patria mori.  

Wilfred Owen

 We pray for all victims of war, for men, women and children. For the innocent casualties and for the work of the Red Cross.  Pray for all who are tortured.



As we contemplate darkness over all the world we hear Jesus cry out ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ Then he bowed his head and yielded up his spirit.

Poison gas killed 200,000 men. It was a horrible, horrible death.  1 million killed or injured in the Battle of the Somme.
‘The artillery will have killed most of them,’ they were told. ‘You’ll be able to just stroll over and finish them off.’
And they lay dying in No Man’s Land waiting for a friend to finish them off.
‘Call me a coward, if you like, but I just couldn’t shoot a friend even if he was dying,’ said Robbie.
Some of them lay screaming for days.

Asleep  (Wilfred Owen)

Under his helmet, up against his pack,
After so many days of work and waking,
Sleep took him by the brow and laid him back.


There, in the happy no-time of his sleeping,
Death took him by the heart. There heaved a quaking
Of the aborted life within him leaping,
Then chest and sleepy arms once more fell slack.


And soon the slow, stray blood came creeping
From the intruding lead, like ants on track.


Whether his deeper sleep lie shaded by the shaking
Of great wings, and the thoughts that hung the stars,
High-pillowed on calm pillows of God’s making,
Above these clouds, these rains, these sleets of lead,
And these winds’ scimitars,
—Or whether yet his thin and sodden head
Confuses more and more with the low mould,
His hair being one with the grey grass
Of finished fields, and wire-scrags rusty-old,
Who knows? Who hopes? Who troubles? Let it pass!
He sleeps. He sleeps less tremulous, less cold,
Than we who wake, and waking say Alas! 

We pray for those who lost their lives. For young and old, for those who watched helpless, for those who died alone.  Pray for all who died.


MUSIC – Flowers of the Forest (Royal Scots Dragoon Guards) 2.55


As we contemplate a good man named Joseph of Arimathea taking Jesus’ body down from the cross and lay him in his mother’s arms, we think of all those who care for the dead. 

It was the job of the Royal Army Medical Corps to tend the sick and the dead.  To carry them on stretchers to hospital or to grave.
More than 9 million died on both sides in World War 1.
But there were no mothers to hold them at the end.
Far away, across the sea, a knock at the door and a telegram handed over.
‘I deeply regret to inform you… It is my painful duty to inform you…’
The women wept alone, arms empty wrapped around themselves.
Wept for the waste of youth.

Anthem for Doomed Youth

What passing-bells for these who die as cattle?
Only the monstrous anger of the guns.
Only the stuttering rifles’ rapid rattle
Can patter out their hasty orisons.
No mockeries now for them; no prayers nor bells;
Nor any voice of mourning save the choirs,
The shrill, demented choirs of wailing shells;
And bugles calling for them from sad shires.


What candles may be held to speed them all?
Not in the hands of boys but in their eyes
Shall shine the holy glimmer of goodbyes.
The pallor of girls’ brows shall be their pall;
Their flowers the tenderness of patient minds,
And each slow dusk a drawing-down of blinds. 

Wilfred Owen

We pray with Mary our Mother, as she holds her son in her arms, for all who were denied that comfort. For women who wept alone, for all women who lose a child.  Pray for all who mourn.



As we contemplate Joseph and Nicodemus taking Jesus’ body, wrapping it in winding-cloths and spices and laying him in the tomb, we think of all who lie buried in a foreign field.

Some were buried where they fell, in the battlefield.
Some in graves close by.  375,000 War Horses too were given a grave of sorts.
Row upon row of white headstones or white crosses, silent witnesses to the horror of war.
They lie in France, Belgium, Italy far from home.
Some named, some ‘known to God alone’.
Some have no grave, just names on a memorial.
54,896 names engraved on the Menin Gate at Ypres of Commonwealth soldiers who died but their bodies were never found.
Tens of thousands more in other cemeteries nearby.

“Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam (To the greater glory of God) – Here are recorded names of officers and men who fell in Ypres Salient, but to whom the fortune of war denied the known and honoured burial given to their comrades in death”.

Every evening at 2000 hours a bugler sounds the Last Post.

He whom this scroll commemorates was numbered among those who,
at the call of King and Country, left all that was dear to them,
endured hardness, faced danger, and finally passed out of the sight of men
by the path of duty and self-sacrifice,
giving up their own lives that others might live in freedom.
Let those who come after see to it
that his name be not forgotten.

(Rudyard Kipling)

We pray for those who fell, for those deprived of a grave. For those who mourn and grieve, that they may receive the grace and the strength to bear it. Pray for peace.


MUSIC – Lacrymosa (Do Not Stand At My Grave) – Howard Goodall, Eternal Light (A Requiem)  3.04


Remember, Lord, those whose stories were unspoken and untold…

 Remember, Lord, those whose minds were darkened and disturbed by memories of war…

 Remember, Lord, those who suffered in silence, and those whose bodies were disfigured by injury and pain…

 Father of all, remember your holy promise, and look with love on all your people, living and departed. On this day we especially ask that you would hold for ever all who suffered during the First World War, those who returned scarred by warfare, those who waited anxiously at home, and those who returned wounded, and disillusioned; those who mourned, and those communities that were diminished and suffered loss. Remember too those who acted with kindly compassion, those who bravely risked their own lives for their comrades, and those who in the aftermath of war, worked tirelessly for a more peaceful world. And as you remember them, remember us, O Lord; grant us peace in our time and a longing for the day when people of every language, race, and nation will be brought into the unity of Christ’s kingdom. This we ask in the name of the same Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Our Father…

Lighten our darkness, Lord, we pray;
and in your mercy defend us from all perils and dangers of this night;
for the love of your only Son,
our Saviour Jesus Christ.  Amen.

May God the Holy Trinity
guard and defend you on every side,
strengthen you to face times of difficulty,
and keep you rooted in faith and hope;
and the blessing of God almighty,
the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit
be with you and all whom you love and all whom you have lost,
this night and always.  Amen.

Remembrance Sunday at Christ Church Falkirk

remembrancesunday2This is my sermon from today. We each had a small card with the name of one of the WW1 names from our War Memorial on it. The whole congregation read out the names they had, and I did the ones from WW2. At communion they brought the cards up and then took them to the Requiem Altar where the wreath was and laid it down with a candle on top.

On the 11th of November 1918 Private Arthur Wrench of the Seaforth Highlanders wrote in his diary:

I think it is quite hopeless to describe what today means to us. We who will return to tell people what war really is surely hope that 11 am this day will be of great significance to generations to come. Surely this is the last war that will ever be between civilised nations.” If only it had been the last war. Sadly not.

We have come here today to remember all those who have fallen in wars present and past.  Some of you will have a personal memory of losing a member of your own family or friend, but for many of us it will be an inherited memory, passed on from one generation to the next.

It is 95 years since the Armistice was signed at the end of the First World War. Since then there have been many more wars.
In Germany, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, the Middle East, and still it goes on.

But let us go back to that First World War for a moment. The war to end all wars. You were each given a name when you came in. The name of someone from Christ Church who died in the WW1 and we’ll come back to them in a moment.

You’ll know that we have been clearing out the St Andrew’s Chapel downstairs and sorting out all the archive material.
One of the things we found were a series of church magazines bound in book form dating back to 1915. In the past few weeks I’ve enjoyed looking through them and noticed that this first volume covered the war years, missing out 1914.

There are short fictional stories about soldiers seeing angels, and women waiting for sons.

There are articles about work parties knitting socks, gloves and mufflers… until the wool ran out. The Mothers’ Meeting sent eggs to Wallside Military Hospital (at Camelon). The collections for prisoners of war in Germany. The volunteers who worked in the War Hospital Supply Depot in South Broomage Road, Larbert, where they rolled bandages and made sphagnum moss dressings.

And then there is the memorial itself. In one issue in 1916 an article said:

It is most natural that in these sad days of bereavement and loss, lit up as they are with daily deeds of splendid courage and heroism, numbers of parents and friends of those who fall in battle should desire some memorial to commemorate the glorious sacrifices made by our men.

Already all over the country war shrines, calvaries, and wayside crosses, mural tablets, and other kinds of memorials have been dedicated in honour of the men who have laid down their lives. 

But the war is not yet at an end, and in many congregations there is a disinclination to do anything in this direction until peace is declared. We imagine this is the view taken by the majority of our congregation at Falkirk, and it is quite a sensible line of action, considering the character of our flock and the needs of the Church in this district.

It requires some hard thinking to determine what would be the best thing to commemorate the share that Christ Church has had in this war.

Our roll of honour compares very favourably indeed with that of other congregations, and a considerable number of our men have now paid the supreme sacrifice.

The Bishop of Lewes recently expressed the hope that war memorials, of which there would be a large number before long, would be united memorials and not single ones.

Rich and poor, he said, had all done well.

They had all given their sons their best; rich and poor had fallen side by side, and as in the Church they knew no difference between rich and poor, let their memorials be united ones. 

Then their churches would have memorials worthy of the great sacrifices that had been made, and would become what they had been in the past – records of our history going back hundreds and hundreds of years.

No sane person would quarrel with sentiments of that kind.

The relatives and friends of several who have already fallen could not possibly afford to spend much money on memorials.

None of us who are left with hearth and home which those men, by their willing sacrifice, have died to preserve, would feel that anything mean or shabby could represent our gratitude for their services to King and country, and moreover we ought to aim at doing something which we think would perpetuate what they themselves, had they lived, would have been most eager to accomplish. From what we know of many of those whose names are now inscribed in the golden roll of honour, we fancy the idea of advancing the Kingdom of God in the world would be the best memorial they could have. ..

In fact, we learned at Doors Open Day that Christ Church had the first War Memorial in Falkirk.  And it had never occurred to me when I’ve seen lists drawn up like this in many churches across the land, in beautiful calligraphy, that they were listed together so that there should be no difference between rich and poor. No glorious marble plaques for the rich. No unmarked graves for the poor.

But what of the people? What of those men of Falkirk and around, these names we read out each year?  I’ve always wondered what their stories were and now because of the magazines I can tell you a little about some of them.

Arthur Kennard is our first. As a Lieutenant Colonel he left for France on 9 September 1915. At the battle of September 25th he was soon rendered hors de combat, having been gassed and wounded in the thigh with shrapnel. He was said to be making satisfactory progress but later he died.

Then Sergeant Alexander Smith, Laurieston, who was home wounded after the battle of September 25th, was reported back again at the front and keeping quite fit. However, he was tragically killed in action not long before the armistice was signed in 1918. His passing away, like that of his brother Thomas the year before, brings home to us the nature and extent of the sacrifice of this war.  Both of them were fine sportsmen, who played the game always. Both were very articulate as to what they would do to forward the Church’s life and work if spared to come through this war. As soldiers they were regarded as splendidly heroic, and it was their Christian manliness that made them so attractive to all who knew them.

Private Archibald McNab, Cameron Highlanders, was also killed in the great rush on September 25th.  He had written some weeks before giving thanks that his four children were baptised (the youngest of whom was born quite recently).

Dr and Mrs Duncan Fraser received official information of the death of their youngest son, Sergeant Donald Fraser, 5th Lochiel Cameron Highlanders, who also was killed on Sept 25th. Sergeant Fraser (popularly known as Reggie) enlisted at the beginning of the war, was wounded on June 30th, and rejoined his regiment six weeks later. He was educated at Blair Lodge, Edinburgh, for the legal profession. An all-round sportsman and genial companion, with a promising career, he will be much missed in this district where he was immensely popular.

Private John Mackinlay is reported as wounded and missing since Sept 25th. His name on the list must mean that he is presumed dead.

Company Sergeant J Dougall, DCM, Canadian Regiment
and Sergeant Thomas Smith are seen on leave in 1915, both looking in the best of health. 
Later it is reported that J Dougall is wounded in France.  In 1916 we hear that he has been missing for some weeks, then months.

In 1916 on 30 September,  Private Jack Bishop, 1st Battallion Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders, from West Carron, died in the Balkans aged 19 years.

Private George Fargie, 2nd Royal Scots, goes missing in 1916 for some weeks. The following year he is reported killed in action.

Staff Sergeant J F Whincop, ASC, died of malaria in the Balkans in 1917. Mr Whincop. a devout member of the congregation, was in every respect one of those splendid types of men who during this war have paid the great sacrifice for us. To his widow and little daughter we offer our deepest sympathy.

Thomas Smith, Charles Barron and John McCulloch are all killed in action in France.

Private Arthur MacLachlan, Canadian Regiment, and Lance-Corporal Charles Napier, A&S Highlanders, are also reported dead.

William Mills, RNR (an old choir boy), falls in action in 1917.

 Captain  Henry Ison, a man whom all at Christ Church deservedly respect, is reported to be on the high seas  in 1916 bravely facing all dangers. Then the following year the magazine tells us he was torpedoed at sea. Captain Ison was essentially fearless and patriotic as a man, and a very staunch churchman. Throughout this community and beyond he was loved and respected. On the high seas he acquitted himself with great distinction, and it is gratifying to learn that a posthumous honour from the Admiralty is to be conferred upon him.

 And an unnamed young man, one of our Church lads from Polmont Institution – a Lance-Corporal – was killed in action on 21 March. He belonged to Aberdeen which is probably why he was not on our list, was confirmed at Polmont, and left the Institution with a very good character.

In 1918 Private Alex Baird (10 Pleasance), goes missing. Later it is reported that it was only a few months since he was home on leave and looking in the best of health. He was taken prisoner in March, and wrote a cheerful letter to his parents, mentioning that he was wounded in the thigh and that he was being well treated in the German hospital. The War Office intimation of his death states that he passed away a few days after writing that letter, and it is presumed that he died of blood-poisoning. To his father and mother and relatives we offer our deepest sympathy. Death is a necessary end, but “The fittest place when man can die is where he dies for man.”

Sergeant William Laird, 7th Battalion Argyll & Sutherland Highlanders, was killed in action in 1918, the son of Mrs Laird, 1 Silver Row, Falkirk. One of his officers, writing to his mother, expressed the deep regret of all the company in losing such a cheery and gallant soldier who was so much beloved by all the men.

Private Thomas Black, Scots Guards, whose wife resided at Thornbridge, Laurieston, was killed in action in France on 11 October 1918. Aged 29, Private Black, who was a moulder in Laurieston Foundry, enlisted in 1914, and was gassed in France in the early part of 1915. Thereafter he was sent home to work at munitions, and returned to Laurieston Foundry where he continued to work at his trade until in April this year he was called up a second time for service. He proceeded to France on 24 August 1918. He leaves a widow and child.

Mrs Finnie, 33 Kerse Lane, Falkirk, received intimation that her husband, Private David Finnie, A&SH, died from pneumonia at No 50 General hospital, Salonica, on 9 October. Private Finnie, who was 37 years of age, served in the South African War, for which he held two medals with bars for the various engagements in which he took part during the period of two years and nine months when he was in South Africa. When the present war commenced, at which time he was a carter with the late John Gardner, builder, Falkirk, he enlisted in his old regiment on 23 August 1914. In May 1915 he proceeded to France and after eleven months’ service there he was drafted to Salonica where he had since been serving – a period of three years. It was a great joy and relief to him when he heard that his five children had been baptised at Christ Church.

Of the other twelve men I know nothing.  But we can rest assured that they were known to God. Rich and poor, they were known.  They died somewhere in a field, in a trench, in a hospital. They may have died alone.

But they are never forgotten.

Here in Christ Church their names are read aloud each Remembrance Sunday.  Here they are remembered and prayed for.  Here we listen to their stories.

They shall grow not old as we that are left grow old.
Age shall not wear them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning,

we will remember them.

We will remember them.

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.

Books read

“Are you going away somewhere nice?” my little flock ask when they hear I’m having the week off after Easter.  “Yes, my bed and my reclining chair,” I reply. I mean, who has the energy after Holy Week to even pack a bag, let alone go on a journey that involves concentration of any kind? The post-Easter break is for gentle housework to restore the rectory to the kind of place where you fling open the door and say “Come in!” rather than hastily kicking piles of pew sheets, damp towels, some stations of the cross and a few pounds of nails out of the way.

It is a week of gentle housework which has to be done in stages because there is so much, a week for reading trashy novels that don’t require much in the way of brain cells, of catching up on all those programmes that have been recorded and are taking up all the space on your thingummy, and restocking the fridge and cupboards with food that make meals rather than snacks. It is a week of buying belated birthday cards for all the people you’ve missed in the past few weeks. It is a week of replacing guillotines, glorious staplers, and overheating laminators back to their rightful places in the study. (I’ve still got a way to go on that front.)

But what did you read, Ruth, I hear you cry? Well thank you for asking. I read My Dear, I Wanted To Tell You by Louisa Young. This was bought last year I think when every magazine and book programme seemed to be raving about it. And I do like a WW1 story. ‘Birdsong for the new millennium’ it said on the back. Not quite, I’d say, but it was a nice and gentle read. There was a bit of  Upstairs Downstairs about it – you know, poor boy taken under the wing of wealthy bohemian family and falls in love with the daughter.  Then there is the war stuff when he signs up and quickly rises through the ranks. Well, he is the hero after all.  Alongside their story is the story of another couple but I think I missed the importance of them at the beginning and got a bit fed up with their whining.  But all in all, it was a good read, heartwarming story, and not quite the ‘masterpiece’ I’d been led to believe. 3 stars.

Next was Girl Reading by Katie Ward. Now this one was delicious. It was recommended by the TV Book Club 2012 and it worked for me. Really it is a series of short stories, and I am not a huge fan of the short story. They always leave me wanting more. But in this case, there was a link between the stories in that they were all telling the story of a girl in a painting who is reading. The first painting is The Annunciation by Simone Martini in 1333 and then is followed by six other portraits, six artists, six women reading.  (The pic opposite is the second girl – in Pieter Janssens Elinga’s Woman Reading, 1668.)  It is incredibly clever and unlike anything I’ve ever read. It is almost meditative in style because there is no speech, as such, but any speech is written in with the text, if that makes sense. The book could do with prints of the paintings and photos in the cover as I had to go and look them up, but then some of them are in the imagination of the author so I stopped worrying about the picture and just immersed myself in the scene she sets. The last chapter is set in the future and is just as evocative as the others. If you love art, you’ll love this book. I have often stood in an art gallery and wondered about the story behind the painting. If you have too, then this is a book that will thrill you to bits.  I read it almost too quickly so it will stay on the shelf to be re-read in the future, more slowly and savouring every word. 5 stars.

Finally I read The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins because everyone seems to be talking about it. It is fantasy, a genre I’m not terribly familiar with, but I couldn’t put it down. Is it written for teenage girls? Who cares? It is a great story and would make a wonderful book group book because of the themes therein: loyalty, sacrifice, friendship, love, and martyrdom. Again it is set in the future, where young people from each sector are selected annually to fight to the death. I know this has already been made into a movie and can see that it would work really well visually. Knowing that it is the first part of a trilogy still surprised me at the end because so much was left unsaid, so I’m going to have to read the other two now.  Highly recommended for young people and adults alike. 4.5 stars.


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.

Book review

I have just finished reading The First Casualty by Ben Elton. I haven’t read any of his books before and I must confess that when i started I didn’t think it was particularly well written. But that seemed to change as it went on – or maybe I just got used to it. The only reason I had bought it is that I am interested in the First World War, that being it’s subject.

However, it turned out to be a good read from a novel’s point of view and a good commentary on the horror of war.