During a visit to the enormous antiques site at the former RAF Hemswell in Lincolnshire, I came across the thought-provoking and relentlessly pro-Belgian. King Albert’s Book.
Produced by the Daily Telegraph in 1914 to raise money for Belgian refugees forced from their homes by the advancing Imperial German Armies, it contains hundreds of dedications, poems, pieces of music, drawings and cartoons donated by the `great and the good’ of the time; politicians, church leaders, musicians, artists and men and women of letters. It struck me as being the First World War equivalent of the charity songs and celebrity-driven events such as Children in Need which we see in the C21th. The book offers a vision of hope of plucky little nations standing up to larger aggressors, hopes that were to be sorely dashed over the rest of the century.
Of particular interest in relation to the study of Christianity and twentieth century warfare were the contributions made by the church leaders of the day. William Booth, founder of the Salvation Army, wrote a few lines which focused on God’s mercy and righteousness, and the love of one’s people.
The Prebendary of St. Paul’s Cathedral was one of many contributors who mentioned Belgium’s status as a small nation being overrun by a larger one, with allusion to the Biblical story of David and Goliath.
Randall Davidson, Archbishop of Canterbury, referred to the `high-handed wrong’ done to Belgium.
Various portraits of a classical style were included, but perhaps the most poignant piece of propaganda was this cartoon of a Belgian refugee child, drawn by Charles Dana Gibson, the American illustrator.
Wessex man of letters Thomas Hardy wrote a special poem bemoaning the fate of Belgium, commenting on the silencing of the carillon bells of the picturesque towns in the nation.
Of extra interest was the fact that the book had been awarded to a young scholar at Norwich High School for Boys in the winter of 1914.
Donald H. Sharpen was the son of a Cromer veterinarian, aged 12 when he was given the book in recognition of his Good Conduct. A search on ancestry.co.uk revealed that Donald died in 1993, aged 91. If anyone can provide further information about Mr Sharpen, I would be pleased to hear from them at firstname.lastname@example.org
So all in all, £2 well spent with a wealth of political, religious and artistic propaganda, and a personal story behind the owner which merits further investigation…
If you would like to explore more about the links between Christianity and warfare, there are 20 case studies of individuals from various denominations who experienced the two world wars from a wide range of perspectives. Email email@example.com for further details on how to get a signed copy. £20 inc P+P for one book, £35 for two.