The Bewicke-Copley Brothers, Sprotbrough, Doncaster

The parish church of St Mary the Virgin at Sprotbrough, near Doncaster, is one of those warm, welcoming and perpetually open churches which can tell the visitor a wealth of information about the life of the community.

One striking part of Sprotbrough’s story is found in a beautiful stained glass window in the St. Thomas chapel, designed by the noted artist and sculptor Sir Ninian Comper.

It is dedicated to two brothers-in-law, one of whom,  Redvers Lionel Calverley Bewicke-Copley, is the initial subject of this post.


Redvers Bewicke-Copley2

Redvers Bewicke-Copley

Born in London on 17 Sept. 1890, but brought up at Sprotbrough Hall, Redvers was descended on his mother’s side from Thomas Cromwell, Henry VIII’s Chief Minister. He was educated at Eton College and the Royal Military College, Sandhurst. In 1910 he was gazetted as 2nd Lieutenant, promoted to Lieutenant in 1913 and Captain in July 1915.

Redvers was one of the `Old Contemptibles’, a nickname given to the British Expeditionary Force to France and Flanders in the autumn of 1914, on account of the Kaiser describing Britain as having a `contemptible little army.’

He was wounded 23 Oct. 1914 while helping a wounded comrade & sent home to England on sick leave;

A brother officer wrote: “On 14 Sept, on the first day of the Battle of the Aisne, isolated parties had made their way up to the edge of the wood on the northern slope & had been driven in. Thinking the wood had been made good, I took a machine-gun section up to the edge of it. Here I found D.L., Bewicke-Copley & a Coldstream Sergeant with a bunch of some 25 German prisoners. As soon as I mounted my guns, a heavy fire from snipers started & D.L. & the sergeant were killed, but Copley covered the prisoners with his revolver & ordered them to shout to their friends to cease-fire or to be killed themselves. Copley came in under cover when the sniping diminished. He then said he was not going to leave the prisoners & was going back for them. It seemed certain death & I told him so, but he went out and brought them in quite calmly. I think it was about the most cold-blooded piece of daring I have seen in the war.”

Having spent nearly two years convalescing in Britain, Redvers returned to the front in late 1916. However whilst leading a party repairing trench wiring at Sailly, France, he was shot clean through the head by a sniper within 20 yards of the German line and killed outright on 21st December 1916. He was Buried at Combles.

Sprotbrough war window.jpg

The magnificent war memorial window in St Mary the Virgin, Sprotbrough

Left to right, the panels are  Martin, a Roman soldier who cut his cloak in two, and gave half to a beggar. The next panel shows St Michael with the Devil at his feet, as referred to in the Book of Revelation, chapter 12, v7-9

Then war broke out in heaven. Michael and his angels fought against the dragon, and the dragon and his angels fought back.  But he was not strong enough, and they lost their place in heaven. The great dragon was hurled down—that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him.

The third panel depicts St  George with a dragon at his feet.  The final panel with the figure holding his sword upwards, in a sign of peace, is believed to be Christ

As a footnote, a sword believed to be Redvers’ regimental souvenir, was listed for auction in 2015 with a guide price of £200-400

Redvers Bewicke-Copley sword

 Redvers Bewicke-Copley graveRedvers Bewicke-Copley’s grave at Combles, France

However the story of the Bewicke-Copleys and twentieth century warfare was not to end there. Redvers’ younger brother, Robert Godfrey Wolsley Copley, had also served in the First World War.

NPG x166873; Robert Godfrey Wolseley Bewicke-Copley, 5th Baron Cromwell by Walter Stoneman

Educated at Eton and Trinity College, Cambridge, Robert was commissioned in the King’s Royal Rifle Corps and first saw action out in France and Flanders with the 3rd Battalion in the period May-November 1915. He then departed for the Mediterranean theatre of war, transferred to the Machine Gun Corps in May 1916 and was awarded the Military Cross. He was also mentioned in despatches and received the Italian Al Valore Militare in bronze. He was also wounded. Having then witnessed further active service in Russia 1918-19, he transferred to the Reserve of Officers.

Following the war, he succeeded to the title of Lord Cromwell, and gained the rank of Colonel in the service of the Royal Army Reserve of Officers.

Robert assumed command of ‘D’ Company, 2nd Battalion, King’s Royal Rifle Corps. In 1939 he was recalled to active service army and led the defence of Calais in May 1940.  Robert was wounded in both of his arms and his head. Despite this he remained in command at his barricade and taken as a POW by the Germans. For this action he was awarded the Distinguished Service Order (DSO).

An account of Robert’s bravery on this occasion was left by Airey Neave, whom some might remember was killed by a terrorist car bomb at the Houses of Parliament in 1979.

‘The situation of the 60th was desperate. A death-struggle at the bridges. Barricades of   burned-out lorries and trucks off the Rue Edison and Place Richelieu were manned by the surviving officers and riflemen. Houses in the area had long been devastated by the flames and blown by shellfire into heaps of rubble behind which the defenders fired on the Germans. The mortar bombs came in an endless stream exploding dead on the road-blocks. The 60th, lying without cover in the streets, had little protection from the Stukas. No one who experienced the attack on the morning of the 26th is ever likely to forget it. A hundred aircraft attacked the Citadel and the old town in waves. They dived in threes, with a prolonged scream, dropping one high explosive and three or four incendiaries. They machine-gunned the streets and dropped a few heavy bombs between the 60th H.Q. in the Rue des Marechaux and the docks. The first effects on the defence were paralysing but, as others had experienced with Stukas, the damage was moral rather than physical. Within a few minutes, the riflemen eagerly fired Bren guns and engaged the Stukas, one of which was brought down on the seashore … ’ Neave continues: ‘At the Place Richelieu, Lord Cromwell, firing a Bren gun, was three times wounded that morning. He had already shown all those qualities that add up to real leadership in war. He was hit by bullets in both arms and in the head, the sight of one eye being badly affected. And yet he remained in command when all the men at his barricade, save himself and two riflemen were dead. At 11.30 a.m. he was compelled to fall back to the line of the Rue des Marechaux.’

Robert was repatriated in 1943 due to his injuries and continued to be active in public life, serving as  Lord-Lieutenant of Leicestershire between 1949 and 1966.He was invested as a Knight, Most Venerable Order of the Hospital of St. John of Jerusalem (K.St.J.).

In 2012 Robert’s medals came up for auction and fetched £8,200. However the value of the contribution of two generations of men in the wars of the twentieth century cannot be valued in monetary terms.

Robert Bewicke-Copley Medals.jpg

Robert Bewicke-Copley’s medals, from the 1914-15 star through to the Order of St John of Jerusalem

Once again, familiar themes demonstrate themselves in the instance of the Bewicke-Copley brothers:-

1. The memorialisation of war death in a parish church, as using Christian motifs. This reminds us that the an appreciation of the importance of Christianity in the minds of our ancestors is an essential prerequisite for a fully-rounded understanding of twentieth century warfare.
2. The sense of duty held by most of the ruling class of the time that led to such high casualty rates amongst junior officers such as Redvers.
3. The importance of the Church of England, as the guardian of so much of our shared history, of making that history as accessible as possible as was originally intended, rather than shutting out the visitor with a locked-door / Sundays only policy.
Sprotbrough church
The wonderful St Mary the Virgin, Sprotbrough. Well worth a visit.
The theme of Christianity in twentieth century warfare is explored in detail in my two books:
Fight the Good FightFight the Good Fight2

Ken Tout on Religious Dogma

I’m just doing the proofreading for my second book, Fight the Good Fight: Voices of Faith from the Second World War, to be published in April 2016 by Pen and Sword. I came across this quote from a Normandy Veteran, Ken Tout, whom it was my privilege to meet back in June. He went to war a committed member of the Salvation Army. He returned, still a Christian as he is to this day, but with a changed view of the dogmatism of many sects. It seems even more pertinent a few months on in the light of the Paris attacks and Britain’s decision to extend airstrikes against ISIS / ISIL / DAESH into Syria.


It is a verbatim account of what he told me during a recorded interview.

“Some people found a clear vision of what God might be, or be able to do, but did not want to come back into a particular ordered religious environment.

Once you print a law, lawyers find a way of avoiding it. Once you have a principle, people bend it. Dogma has been there with different churches and becomes sacred, an intellectual prison. You either accept it, to some extent unthinkingly, or not.

There are so many illogical things about religion, it has to be an acceptance. Dogma linked to authority gives you ISIS and jihads. Just like the Crusades of the tenth and eleventh centuries.

We might say Christianity is a better religion than Islam, but those who took part in the Crusades were not Christians. A Christian is someone who believes in Jesus Christ, not those who commit atrocities in the name of Christ.

Dogma is all very well, for example as Roman Catholic if you don’t know a better way of expressing what God is all about. But when you have a dogma, the presence of a priest becomes terrifying. You have to go to Mass once a month or be damned. Will the priest come in time to save my soul? Once you start to challenge all this, you’re at risk as you have to make up your own religion”

This confirms the pattern I have found in many people who went to war from a particularly dogmatic Christian sect. The Christianity did not come back from war the same. Further examples are Eric Lomax (The Railway Man) from a strict Scottish Baptist upbringing and Alec Waldron, a member of the Plymouth Brethren who returned with an incidental faith.


My own father, whose family attended an independent, non-aligned Railway Mission in Colchester, returned with his faith intact and continued to express that faith in his own way, not led by elders, priests or bishops.

Ray Street – We Fought at Kohima

Raymond Street and Robert Street, We Fought at Kohima: A Veteran’s Account (Barnsley: Pen and Sword, 2015)



The Battle of Imphal and Kohima, lasting for two months between April and June of 1944, has, over the years, received far less attention than that other great turning point of the Second World War, the Battle of El Alamein of 1942. However if the latter battle can be said to have finally stemmed and reversed the tide of German advance in the west, then the former was pivotal in the eventual defeat of the Japanese. It halted their advance towards the proposed invasion of India, and recent re-evaluations have led to it being voted Britain’s Greatest Battle by the National Army Museum in 2013. Perhaps finally the 14th Army of General Slim can relinquish the tag of the `Forgotten Army.’

It is therefore of vital importance that first hand accounts of the battle are recorded and preserved for posterity. Over a number of years Robert Street has listened to and recorded his father Raymond’s reminiscences of his early life and his experience of the war. In this updated edition of his recollections, we find a gripping and pacy detailed account of the severity and intensity of the fighting at Imphal and Kohima. Ray’s work involved delivering messages under heavy fire, running between different trenches. Of central importance to the ultimate victory in the battle was the initial siege during which 1,500 men held out against 13,000 previously undefeated Japanese troops.

Every page contains detailed reminiscences of each stage of the battle. Ray also gives thought to the spiritual aspects of warfare:-

I think everyone prayed at some stage. I did. It was all we had left sometimes. Trapped in my trench, I would read a strip of paper with prayers and the words of St. John, `Let not your heart be troubled neither let it be afraid.’ I read it over and over again. This piece  of paper had been given to me in a church canteen in England some eighteen months before, although a the time it seemed more than a hundred years earlier.

Ray recalled with appreciation the work of the 4th Royal West Kents’ battalion padre, Roy Randolph:-

…he was a tremendous spiritual support to those that needed it (there weren’t many that didn’t) when we were at Kohima.

Therefore at the centre of one of the most important battles of the twentieth century, that consistent strain of Christianity can be found.

Of further interest is Ray’s account of his time in the Home Guard in Birmingham during the early part of the war, and his vivid description of the aftermath of a German air raid. The book would have benefitted from an index for the benefit of readers interested in picking out certain aspect of Ray’s experiences, but this does not detract from this very worthwhile and personal account which brings the period to life and offers a unique perspective on Britain’s Greatest Battle.

Book Review – Faith Hope and Rice: Private Cox’s Account of Captivity and the Death Railway

Ellie Taylor, Faith, Hope and Rice: Private Cox’s Account of Captivity and the Death Railway. Pen and Sword Military, 2015

Fred Cox

Faith, Hope and Rice were the three elements which kept together Fred Cox, a young regular soldier in the East Surrey Regiment, during his time as a Far East Prisoner of War (FEPOW). Fred had been brought up in a Catholic children’s home in Surrey, an experience which gave him the basis of faith from which he would later draw on during his years of captivity.

Captured by the Japanese, at the Fall of Singapore in February 1942, Fred spent the next three and a half years being underfed, overworked, disease-ridden and bashed around by his captors. He worked on the notorious Death Railway from which many thousands never returned. Fred was relatively fortunate, in that he was designated a specialist worker by the Japanese due to his previous experience as a driver. Thus he was assigned to a smaller camp and set on less arduous, more technical tasks, and saw his pay trebled, enabling him to buy precious extra food with which to try to maintain some physical strength.

`Sometimes we wondered what it was that had caused us to be at our comparatively small camp, working as `maintenance specialists’, rather than across the river with these poor chaps, or, for that matter, at some of the more northern camps, where we knew conditions were atrocious. Whenever we talked about it, opinion was divided as to whether it was simply down to our good luck or whether some greater power was looking after us. It was very hard to believe that any God who cared could allow so much unnecessary suffering and death to happen, and it seemed to make no sense that some would be spared the worst of it whereas others were not. So there was a strong case for putting it down to luck. But some of the chaps did pray to God for help, just as I did. Mostly I don’t think I stopped to think too much about the likelihood of Him listening, but the act of praying was, in itself, a comfort. After all, who else was there to ask for help? For me, having that bit of faith helped, and I think if I’d let go of it, I might also have let go of hope, and without hope I don’t think many of us would have lasted very long.’

On his release in 1945 he was taken to a hospital in Ceylon to convalesce. There he met Joan, a VAD nurse. Within a month of their return to England, they were married. Over the course of the following year, Fred dealt with what would now be termed Post Traumatic Stress Disorder by telling Joan of his experiences. She would transcribe his thoughts and they would talk over the matters which deeply disturbed Fred.

`Gradually as the months passed, the nightmares lessened and then, eventually, they disappeared completely.’

Ellie Taylor has provided a valuable service to historians by making available this account written in such therapeutic circumstances. Of the many memoirs written by soldiers who suffered three and a half years of captivity under the Japanese, most were undertaken in later life once the long-term effects of that incarceration had been felt and inevitably rely on long-term memory. Cox’s account benefits from the immediacy of being written shortly after his release, as he struggled to come to terms with the horrors of his experience. It was relatively rare for men to speak or write so openly of their experiences in an era when a stiff upper lip was expected, and when the world wished to move on from the horrors of war.

This is a very readable and gripping account of the Fall of Singapore, incarceration at Changi camp, and transportation to, and work on, the infamous Death Railway and a valuable addition to the historiography of the period offering the rare perspective of a recently liberated prisoner.

Southwell Minster (1) The RAF, Katyn Forest Massacre and the Battle of Britain

The main reason for a visit to Southwell Minster today was that Russell Barry had served as Bishop of the diocese between 1941 and 1963. He had been an Army Chaplain in the First World War, and his experiences there are featured in my first book, Fight the Good Fight: Voices of Faith from the First World War. Russell Barry will be the subject of a further post.

However Southwell Minster turned out to be a real gem of a place. It boasts many superb architectural features, including a complete Romanesque Norman nave and a beautifully decorated octagonal Chapter House. The more recent art instillations, especially the Stations of the Cross, are moving and blend well with the overall ambience of the building, and the stained glass windows reflect both Victorian style and more recent work which is modern without being overtly modernist.

There is also much to appreciate in terms of reference to twentieth century warfare. Firstly, there is a carved wooden memorial containing the names of those men from Southwell who were killed in the two wars, flanked by paintings of St Nicholas and St Mary. The centrepiece shows the crucifixion of Christ, positioning his sacrifice with that of the servicemen. It is a living piece of work, as the names of eighteen men were added in 2011, following research by the local Royal British Legion.

Southwell Minster 9

To the north-east corner of the minster there is an Airmen’s Chapel. In there hang the flags of the RAF and the Polish nation.

Southwell Minster 8

The altar in the chapel was made in 1919 by apprentices at RAF Norton using wood recovered from broken propeller blades found on Western Front battlefields. The communion rail was made at RAF Newton in 1984.

Southwell Minster 5

Airmen’s Chapel Altar Table, made from propeller blades brought back from the Western Front

In the chapel there is also a memorial to the Katyn Forest Massacre of 1941, an event I first became aware of during an undergraduate lecture given in 1990 by Professor Colin Holmes as part of the Eastern Europe 1939-1968 module he taught at the University of Sheffield. Around 14,500 Polish prisoners of war were systematically killed by Soviet forces on the orders of Stalin following the invasion of Poland in 1939-40. Many of the bodies were buried in Katyn Forest, and were discovered in 1943 by Nazi forces.  For five decades the Soviet Union denied responsibility for the massacre, blaming the Nazis, until finally admitting guilt in 1990. Half the Polish officer class was wiped out, ensuring that any independent post-war reconstruction of Poland would be rendered more difficult, thus paving the way for the country’s incorporation into the Eastern Bloc until the fall of communism in the early 1990s. This extermination was backed up by the execution of many professionals who would also have helped to build an independent Poland, including 20 university professors, 300 physicians; several hundred lawyers, engineers, and teachers, and more than 100 writers and journalists.

Southwell Minster 4

Katyn Massacre Memorial

The link between the Katyn Massacre and this small Nottinghamshire town came with the arrival of many Polish refugees in the area, some of whom served in the RAF and others who served in the Nottinghamshire coalfields. Behind the memorial tablet there is an urn containing soil from the Katyn Forest.

Nearby hangs a large lace panel commemorating the Battle of Britain. The lace industry has been associated with Nottinghamshire for many centuries, and the piece is one of thirty-eight made by the Nottingham firm of Dobsons and M. Browne and Co between 1942 and 1946. They mainly made mosquito and camouflage netting during the war. However their designers and draughtsmen found their skills underused, so the company came up with the idea of employing them to design the panels.

Southwell Minster 10

The detail of the Battle of Britain lace panel, this one held by the Australian War Memorial

The panel depicts scenes of the bombing of London, and the types of aircraft used in the battle, as well as the badges of the Allied air forces involved and the floral emblems of Great Britain and the Commonwealth. Also included are the names of the firm and the craftsmen from Dobsons and Browne. At the bottom on a scroll are Winston Churchill’s famous words: “Never was so much owed by so many to so few.” Buckingham Palace and St Paul’s Cathedral are depicted, as well as some of the London churches destroyed in the blitz. The edging of the curtain is composed of ripening ears of corn representing the season during which the Battle of Britain took place. Interwoven with these are Tudor roses, thistles, shamrocks, and oak leaves.

Thirty-eight panels were woven before the jacquards were destroyed. King George VI and  Winston Churchill were each presented with one, and others were distributed to various RAF units, and to Westminster Abbey, the City of Nottingham (where the panels were woven), the City of London, and personnel from Dobsons and Browne. As airmen from New Zealand, South Africa, Canada and Australia had been attached to various RAF units, these countries also received a panel.

Today the whereabouts of thirty of those panels are known, therefore Southwell Minster contains yet another very special piece of war related memorabilia.

Bill Frankland MBE – FEPOW and World-famous Immunologist

You must not go on hating people; it does you harm but it does not do them any harm. Also I am a Christian who was taught to love, not hate. That’s how I live my life.

Those are the words of 103-year-old Bill Frankland, who endured three and a half years of hell after being taken prisoner of war by the Japanese in February 1942.

Bill Frankland

Dawn and I had the honour of meeting Bill on two occasions; firstly in 2014 in Liverpool when he was due to attend a conference at Alder Hey Hospital, and secondly in the spring of 2015 in the restaurant of the Royal Society of Medicine, London.


Bill on his wedding day in 1941
Bill on his wedding day in 1941


When Bill was taken prisoner at the fall of Singapore in February 1942, he soon found that the Japanese showed no consideration for the Red Cross on armband of the RAMC.

It made them want to harm you. We were despicable people. We were trying to look after the medical side. They despised us as we’d allowed ourselves to be taken prisoners of war.

Bill had limited access to medicines and his dysentery wing of thirty beds was positioned in the Roberts Barracks, Changi, converted into a hospital with nine hundred beds in all. On one occasion he had to make the awful decision of whether to give the one remaining diphtheria serum to a private who had little chance of survival.

After a year in Changi, Bill was then sent to an internment camp on Blakang Mati Island, then known as Hell Island, now Sentosa. The prisoners were seventy-five percent Australian, with the rest being from the British 18th Division. Conditions worsened and life became a daily struggle to survive. `You could only think of two things, `when will I next see food, and when will the next beating be?’

In the face of this inhumanity, many men still found the strength to continue the observance of their Christian faith.   After eighteen months on Blakang Mati, the prisoners were given half a day a fortnight during which they could hold a church service led by Australian padre.

The reference to `give us this day our daily bread’ was challenging, `When you haven’t seen bread for three and a half years this is difficult.’ During this time communion bread made was fashioned out of rice and the wine from fermented pineapples.


Bill reflects on the many thousands who did not survive the Japanese camps.
Bill reflects on the many thousands who did not survive the Japanese camps.


He finally returned in England in November 1945 and was asked if he wanted to see a psychiatrist to talk through his harrowing experiences. With a typical directness and candour he replied, ‘No, I want to see my wife.’

Bill returned to work and developed an eminent career as an immunologist, continuing to work well past the age of 100.

Bill attends church every Sunday whilst visiting his son in Devon.

Bill Frankland has fought his good fight in many challenging situations. `I’ve been so near death at so many times’, he states. However his uncomplicated Christian faith, his clinical brilliance and his indefatigable mental and physical energy have seen him withstand life’s trials and tribulations.

A fuller account of Bill’s life, based on the two interviews, can be found in my book Fight the Good Fight: Voices of Faith from the Second World War, which can be ordered directly from me at at a cost of £18 including p+p.

Fight the Good Fight2

Up from the Gates: A Story of Divine Dealing at Dunkirk

One of the most intense testimonies I have come across from the Second World War was written by Captain Edgar Beresford-Mash of the Army Dental Corps and first published in 1941.

In it he describes the events surrounding his rescue from DunkirkUp from the Gates


Edgar was a dentist operating a practice in the south-western suburbs of London, and serving as a leading member of the Mission of Hope, a charity set up to assist unmarried mothers and their children.

In addition or some years Edgar had held a commission in the Territorial Army Reserve, and on being called up on 3rd September 1939, `I found it an intense mental and spiritual struggle to adapt myself to a new life, a military life.’

Edgar had a book of daily devotional readings called the Daily Light, and during this period two readings struck him powerfully, and he felt God was speaking to him directly:

Chronicles 20:17, `Ye shall not need to fight in this battle, stand still and see the salvation of the Lord…for the Lord will be with you.’

Genesis 28:15, `Behold I am with thee and will keep thee in all places whither thou goest and will leave thee until I have done that which I have spoken to thee of.’

He embarked for France in April 1940, landing at Le Havre and spent a few weeks in Bethune prior the the German invasion of the Lowlands.  When the attack began a fierce air attack left him temporarily deafened. He moved across to Dixmuide in Belgium, treating hundreds of battle casualties at a Casualty Clearing Station, including a German pilot who had been shot down.

By 29 May 1940 the CCS had moved along the coast to La Panne, operating from a casino. After two days orders were received to evacuate.  They were told to march to Bray Dunes to await evacuation at 4.30pm on 31st May.  Edgar was one of the last men in the rear party.  However the party was broken up by German aerial bombardment. He and his few remaining comrades marched on with little food and water to the Dunkirk Mole.

Avoiding screaming shells, they walked past dead bodies:

Life slipped quickly away, but the full story of the Dunkirk beaches reveals that Life came to Dunkirk as well as Death – spiritual Life.  There were men who were definitely converted where they stood or lay on those beachers. The testimony of not a few of them is that even in that unlikely place and amid all the confusion of warfare they heard the voice of Christ appealing for their personal surrender to Him; they are with us today and bear the testimony gladly.’


Charles Cundall’s official painting of the Dunkirk evacuation

Eventually Edgar climbed aboard a destroyer to return to England.


Desperately trying to hold off aerial bombardment as men try to board the rescue destroyers


The scamble for safety

Another bombardment hit the ship, three bombs scoring a direct hit. A roar of flame spread through the sick bay, burning Edgar’s neck and head. He thought he had been killed, and for one moment he thought that God had failed to keep his promise from September 1939.

Edgar found himself in the flaming water, but then experienced what was, for him, the `utter nearness’ of God.

Events were to take a surprising turn.  Edgar’s full story, illuminated by reminiscences from family members, is told in my book, Fight the Good Fight: Voices of Faith from the Second World War

Fight the Good Fight2




Lieutenant John Lionel Calvert Booth – Yorkshireman, Australian, Journalist, Author and War Hero

After leaving the Norman splendour of Durham Cathedral this lunchtime, we pulled off the A1 to visit the parish church of St. Anne’s at Catterick, North Yorkshire.  The nearby garrison was home to the RAF Regiment until 1994 and the church contains the memorial chapel for the regiment (of which more in another post).  However my attention was drawn by two adjacent plaques in the chancel.

BOOTH_John_Lionel_Calvert1 plaque

Booth sons plaque

I was curious to investigate the story behind this family.  The village hall in Catterick is names the Booth Memorial Hall, even though the family’s direct association with the village had ended before the First World War.

A picture of John Lionel Calvert Booth just before enlistment in the Australian Imperial Forces was found on the Australian War Memorial Site.

John Lionel Calvert Booth

Booth appears to have led a varied, colourful and interesting life.

Having been born in Catterick in 1876, he qualified as a 2nd Lieutenant 1897, his civil employement being a farmer. He was the son of John Bainbridge and Margaret Alice who in 1881 were living at Killerby Hall, Killerby, Yorkshire. He had served 15 years as captain with the Volunteer Battalion of the Yorkshire Regiment.

He also appears to have been the editor of a book called Sporting Rhymes and Pictures in 1898.

Booth book

It was described as being a collection of:-

Poems of fox hunting and gentlemen’s sports. Each page is illustrated with line drawings by the author. Three sections: Ancient (Fur and Feather; A Bear Hunt) and Modern (Transplanted; The Enemy); and Saddle-Room Songs (King o’ Trumps; To Finish the Season)

Booth married in 1905. His two sons were born in 1906 and 1909. During the Boer and the Balkan Wars between Bulgaria and Turkey (1904 and 1909) he served as a war correspondent and artist, representing The Graphic in the latter. In 1909 he was severely wounded at Constantinople. He also contributed to Punch satirical magazine and was author and illustrator of Trouble in the Balkans. Lieutenant Booth enjoyed orchestral music and hunting, and had been a Captain on one of the volunteer battalions of The Yorkshire Regiment. In 1912 he began farming in Australia and later became a Boy Scout troop leader. On September 18, 1914, he was appointed Lieutenant in “G” Company, 12th Battalion.

At the time of his enlistment into the AIF he lived with his wife Margaret Caroline at The Cottage, Serpentine Road, Albany, New South Wales. He embarked from Freemantle on H.M.A.T. A7 Medic on the 2nd November 1914 for the Mediterranean. He was wounded in action near the Dardanelles on the 25th April 1915 and he died of his wounds at sea bound for Malta on Hospital Ship “Mashroba” on the 1st May 1915 and was buried at sea. He was Mentioned in Despatches.

In L.M. Newton’s The Story of the Twelfth (page 52) the author wrote

“Booth’s platoon kept a little to the left of Evans’ party as they advanced and became more separated, Booth himself, with about half of his men, being located somewhere near Courtney’s Post, whilst the others were known to have joined up with Lalor’s party during the morning. It was discovered that he and his party were successful in assisting to beat of a heavy counter-attack during the morning, but details were never obtained from him as he received a severe wound in the head, and afterwards died on the 28th April on the Hospital Ship “Itonus.” He was a man who had seen considerable war service sa an artist-correspondent in the South African War, and afterwards in Bulgaria and Turkey in 1904 and 1909, being on the staff of the London “Graphic.” He has been aptly described by one of his fellow officers as a “happy, genial comrade, full of quiet courage, whose presence brought comfort. His kindly insight into human nature made him the big brother of officers and men.”

His widow then moved to South Africa where in 1920 she was living at 31, Yeo Street, Yeoville, and in 1922, to 97, Muller Street, both in Johannesburg. Their sons, John Calvert and Arthur Frank served in the RAF in the Second World War and were both killed.


Eric Cordingly, Harry Stogden and the Changi Cross

Two of the most moving examples of the ways in which the FEPOW experience affected the inner spiritual lives of the men who had to endure it are those of Army Chaplain Eric Cordingly, and Sgt. Harry Stogden.

Eric Cordingly was a rector from the Cotswolds when the Second World War broke out.  He volunteered as an army chaplain and experienced the Dunkirk retreat before finding himself in Singapore in February 1942, being captured by the Japanese.

Eric Cordingly Changi

Eric Cordingly inside Changi Chapel

Through three and a half years in captivity Eric continued his ministry, creating chapel wherever he was, including by the infamous Thai-Burma Railway. The first of these chapels was in the Changi Barracks and was christened `St George’ after the insignia of the Royal Northumberland Fusiliers of which he was a part.  The building had previously been a mosque used by the Indian army when they were stationed at Changi.  Men set to work creating the fixtures and fittings using what tools and materials they could find and created a beautiful space to worship.

St George

The former mosque which became St George Chapel, drawn by POW Eric Stacy

One particularly charming story was told by Eric in Down to Bedrock:-

`…on a wet afternoon a little bearded Indian arrived on the pillion of a motorcycle.  He came straight to me where I was busy giving a talk in Church.  He introduced himself as the Moslem priest whose mosque we were now using.  He had coem for his prayer books, which fortunately I had saved and kept hidden in my cupboard.  He was overjoyed to receive them, and in `pidgin’ English we introduced each other as `padres’ of religion.  He rather surprised me with his broadminded remark that he was glad that I was using his building, and that it was being used for the worship of God.’

Eric also led the `Theological Faculty’ at the `University’ set up in the camp.  He oversaw the education of around thirty men, with no books or teaching aids to help him.  Regular services were held in the chapel, with a daily morning communion, evening prayers, choir practices and instruction for those wishing to be confirmed as Anglicans.  Communion took place using a concoction of raisins, water and sugar as the wine.

Eric wrote:-

I shall hope to be able to convince the reader of what is at present felt by us all, namely a growing religious life centred around our Church of St George.  No priest could wish for a happier “parish” or sphere of work…We seem somehow to ahve back to fundamentals and simple wholesome worship, and we all feel the need for a real religion and all this in spite of the unpleasantness of Captivity, lack of nourishing food, and the tropical heat.  My own life personally is richer by these experiences…Iam sure this experience is something I shall value forever.’

One of the items made for the chapel was a brass altar cross, the base being fashioned from a Howitzer shell case. Eric drew the design and the cross itself was made by Sgt Harry Stogden of the RAOC.  The cross went with Eric up the line to the Thai-Burma railway, back to Changi and eventually to Eric’s mantelpiece during his subsequent career which saw him rise to the position of Bishop of Thetford.  In 1992 Eric’s family returned to cross to Changi where today it adorns the chapel in the museum as a symbol of hope and reconciliation and to remind visitors of the strength of the human spirit when facing the most adverse conditions.

Changi CrossThe Changi Cross – from Changi to Kanchanaburi to Changi to Gloucestershire to Norfolk and back to Changi!

Tragically the maker of the cross, Harry Stogden, died in 1945 whilst en route back to England.  However his son, Bernard, was able to attend the ceremony to place the cross on the altar at the museum’s chapel, bringing him closer to the father he never knew.


Staff Sergeant Harry Stogden

This story is moving in so many different ways – the tragedy of the lives lost unnecessarily due to starvation and preventable diseases, including that of Harry Stogden, the strength of character and moral purpose shown by Eric Cordingly and many others under the most unimaginable conditions, and the inspiration which both Eric, Harry and those mentioned in the books are able to carry on providing due to the generosity of their families in bringing their remarkable stories to a wider audience.

The last word is from Eric Cordingly, writing two decades after these experiences in Beyond Hatred (ed. Guthrie Moir, Lutterworth Press, 1967):-

`It was the most wonderful time of my life, in spite of the grim and hungry times. For once, and for three and a half years, the thin veneer of civilization, or reticence, had been stripped from men. We were all down to bedrock. One saw people as they really were…the truly remarkable thing was the way the human spirit rose to magnificent heights. After months of sheer degradation, gradually the spirit to care for one another revived, incredible kindness and self-sacrifice was in evidence’

The full story of Eric Cordingly and the Changi Cross is one of twenty case studies in my new book, Fight the Good Fight: Voices of Faith from the Second World War

Fight the Good Fight2


East Yorkshire Exploration #1. North Ferriby and Elloughton

Today we returned to Hull, the city in which I was brought up in to take part in the parkrun in the Eastern part of the city.  After a pleasant run through the snow, we headed west, our first stop being All Saints Church, North Ferriby.

Here there were two points of particular interest in this well-cared for nineteeth century church:

The first was a wooden cross donated to the parish by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission in 1932 commemorating an unknown soldier. I have seen a number of crosses for individuals that were erected on the battlefields during the First World War then subsequently returned to the parish church for display, but none to the general unknown soldier.  A lovely touch, I thought.

Ferriby 2


The second was a marble plaque commemorating Lieutenant Norman Lea Sissons.  According to the book, Hull Pals by David Bilton, Norman had enlisted in the East Riding Yeomanry on the day following the declaration of war.  His commission had been reported in the Hull Daily Mail of 23 November 1914.  He was killed in action at Bethune on September 9th 1916 during the Battle of the Somme.  He had been educated at Rugby School and worked briefly in his father’s firm before the war.  His plaque carried the quote from John 3:16, For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son. Whoever believeth in him shall not perish but have everlasting life.North Ferriby All Saints

Norman Sisson

The Hull Daily Mail of 16 September 1916 recorded his death thus:

Much sympathy will be felt for Mr and Mrs Harold Sissons, North Ferriby, in the news of the death of their son, Lieutenant Norman Lea Sissons, East Yorkshires, who was killed in action in France on Saturday last. Lieutenant Sissons was educated at Rugby and subsequently spent six months in Messers Sissons Bros. of which firm his father is a director.  He would have won distinction in a commercial career, but at the call to arms he promptly offered his services, joining the East Riding Imperial Yeomanry the day after the declaration of war.  Three months later he received his commission and was attached to the East Yorkshire Regiment.  He went out to Egypt with his battalion and subsequently proceeded to France, where he was killed in action last Saturday.  He was 21 years of age.

At the YMCA religious service on Tuesday night at North Ferriby, the vicar referred in sympthetic terms to the loss sustained by Mr Sissons.


The next stop was Elloughton, where the delightfully picturesque church was again open.  I was intrigued by a plaque commemorating an airship disaster involving men from the US Navy in 1921.  What was a US Navy airship doing in East Yorkshire in 1921 and how did the men come to be commemorated in Elloughton, a quiet countryside village?


Elloughton war memorial


Elloughton US Navy

The airship was R38 (USN designation ZR-2) which crashed on 23 August 1921 and the senior officers’ names listed on the memorial are:

Cmdr L H Maxfield (US Navy)
Lt Cmdr E W Coil (US Navy)
Lt Cmdr V N Bieg (US Navy)
Lt C G Little (US Navy)

The R38/ZR-2 was on an evaluation flight from RNAS Howden to RNAS Pulham, Norfolk. Bad weather caused the airship to return. It was seen low over the River Humber and eye-witnesses noted the skin crumple. A large explosion followed as the airship broke up. The crash killed 44 of the 49 on board, including 16 US Navy personnel. Structural failure was found to be the cause and no-one was to blame. At the time, the R38 was one of the largest airships ever built and the disaster claimed more lives than the famous Hindenburg tragedy.

R38 ZR2 airship

The R38/ZR-2 on its maiden flight on 23 June 1921

At the end of the First World War, the US Navy had hoped to add two airships to its arsenal in the form or reparations from the defeated Germans.  However Germany had sabotaged much of its equipment towards the end of the war to stop it falling into allied hands.

Britain had been developing a new class of airship but had cancelled the order when the war ended.  The US Navy took on the contract at the reduced cost of £300,000. Although the original criteria had stated that 100 hours of test flights had to be undertaken, this was reduced to 50 hours by the Air Ministry to speed up the delivery of the contract.

Three test flights were carried out flying from RNAS Howden in June and July of 1921, revealing a range of technical problems. Doubts were expressed by the commander at Howden, Air Commodore E.M. Maitland, as to the efficacy of R38/ZR-2

Following a spell of bad weather, the airship was finally walked out on 23 August and in the early morning took off for her fourth flight, which had an intended destination of RNAS Pulham in Norfolk.  The next day, after a brief speed trial during which a speed of 71.9 mph  was reached, a series of turning trials was started at a speed of 62.7 mph  at an altitude of 2,500 ft  At 17:37, while close offshore near Hull and watched by thousands of spectators, the structure failed amidshps. Eyewitnesses reported seeing creases down the envelope and then both ends drooped. This was followed by a fire in the front section followed by an explosion which broke windows over a large area. The remains fell into the shallow waters of the River Humber. Sixteen of the 17 Americans and 28 of the 32 Britons in the crew were killed. The only American to survive was Rigger Norman C. Walker. 


Three enquiries were held into the disaster.  The first, an RAF enquiry chaired by Air Vice-Marshall Sir John Salmond, criticised the fact that a single authority was responsible for its construction and inspection.  The second, by the Admiralty, absolved themselves from any blame in the initial design of the airship before it had been taken over by the RAF.


A technical Committee of Enquiry, chaired by Mervyn O’Gorman, concluded that no allowance had been made for aerodynamic stresses in design, and that while no loads had been placed on the structure during testing that would not have been met in normal use, the effects of the manoeuvres made had weakened the hull. No blame was attached to anyone, as this was not part of the committee’s remit.

As well as the small memorial in Elloughton Church a larger monument commemorating all those who died was erected in Hull’s Western Cemetery to remember those killed the day an airship spectacularly imploded over the River Humber west of Hull.

R38 memorial

Once again, a random visit to two country churches had revealed two stories of people and events which deserve to be remembered through to this day and beyond.

Onwards to Howden for part two of the day’s discoveries…

Further reading

Tom Jamison, Icarus Over the Humber: The Last Flight of Airship R.38/ZR-2 (University of Hull Press & Lampada Press, 1994)