King Albert’s Book, 1914: The Good Conduct Prize of Donald Sharpen

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 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


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 for further details on how to get a signed copy. £20 inc P+P for one book, £35 for two.


Rev. John Short: From London to Australia and then the Death Railway

John Harold Short was the uncle and godfather that retired Anglican vicar Helen Wheeler would never know. He would know her for all to brief a period between 1939 and 1941, before being posted to Malaya and his eventual demise on the death railway aged just 35. John’s story is one of persistence and a never-say-die attitude to fulfil his calling to be an Anglican priest. That calling would see him return to England after nearly fourteen years in Australia to enrol as an army chaplain and see his duty through to death.

Born in Wood Green, now a suburb of London, but in 1908 a settlement on the north-eastern edge of the metropolis, John struggled academically at school, being the only one of his six siblings not to pass the 11 plus examination, and in 1925, aged 17, he set sail from England to make his mark in Australia. His passage paid for by the Bush Brotherhood, the organisation which had supported Fred Sams, the WW1 Fighting Parson. Eventually he decided on becoming an Anglican minister.

John Short

Rev John Harold Short, courtesy of Helen Wheeler

A series of precious letters survive in family hands, detailing John’s struggles to pass the examination needed to become ordained. They also speak of his experiences out in the New South Wales bushland, ministering to flocks hundreds of miles apart. These form the basis of the account of his life in the bestselling book Fight the Good Fight: Voices of Faith from the Second World War.

John displayed a sense of humour in some of his letters:

Initiation of the freshers is next Friday night and we have mapped out quite a good programme for them. We start at midnight by removing them violently from their beds and after leading them round the quad a few times and through a few fences during which they are blindfolded, they are taken to the common room and subjected to all sorts of things. They are baptised with water, soot and flour and made to kiss the goat.

However John still struggled with the academic demands of his course, even apologising in one letter to his sister for

bad spelling, bad grammar, bad writing, bad language etc etc etc etc etc.

Following disappointment in one set of examinations, John took a trip to Sydney, being astounded by the enormity of the bridge. He spent a day at the test match, one of the infamous `Bodyline’ series which nearly caused a rupture in diplomatic relations between England and Australia.

John was what was termed a very High Anglican, displaying his dislike of any form of worship which deviated from the highly ceremonial practice of his youth in Wood Green. He expressed disquiet at the quality of one service, `as the churchmanship was appalling. I can stand Mass without vestments or candles, but celebrating from the north end with ordinary crumbly bread & no reverence…I cannot stand.’

Eventually in October 1935 John was ordained a deacon, but still had to wait a year before being able to be a fully-qualified priest

I am longing for the time now when I shall be a priest and be able to carry out all the priestly duties specifically that of saying Mass. There are times too, when I have been sorry I was not in the position to hear Confessions. People have poured out their inmost secrets to get them off their minds and have told me because for some reason or another they have not wanted to go to the Archdeacon…

But after only two years as an ordained minister, and with war in Europe threatening, John took the decision to bring his time in Australia to a close, and on 25 May 1939, set sail on the P&O liner SS Strathnaver, returning to England in the summer of that year.

By August John had been granted a licence by Cosmo Lang, the Archbishop of Canterbury, to act as a priest in that archdiocese, and on 22 April 1940 he was appointed assistant curate at All Saints Church, Fulham, on a salary of £250 pa.

On 23 July 1940, perhaps stirred by the British Army’s reverses at Dunkirk and the Battle of Britain which raged over southern England during that summer, John took the fateful step of joining the Royal Army Chaplains’ Department. Appointed as a 4th class chaplain, equivalent to the rank of captain, as were most new recruits to the department, John was attached to the Royal Leicestershire Regiment.

He was sent out to the Far East in 1941, and was part of the general surrender of British Forces in Singapore on 15th February 1942. He was taken to Changi camp, the same place which initially housed Dr Bill Frankland, Stanley Warren and Rev Eric Cordingly .

A number of chapels were established in the camp. John was in charge of the Chapel of St Barbara, Patron Saint of the Gunners. Later he was moved to the River Valley Road Camp, then on to the Thai-Burma `Death Railway’.

With the onset of the monsoon weather in October 1943, cholera joined with malaria, jaundice and tropical ulcers to kill many hundreds of men. The railway was officially completed on 17 October 1943. Eight days later John was dead. Today his body lies in Kanchanaburi war cemetery. It reads:


John Short’s spiritual journey had taken him from London to New South Wales, back to London and thence to Thailand.

His determination to fulfil his calling and his duty led him across the globe three times; as a young man in search of a mission in life, as an ordained priest returning to his home country in its hour of need, and finally as an army chaplain to meet the needs of men in combat. He was a man of vigour, joy, courage and devotion to others, whose work touched the lives of many across the globe.

A full account of John’s life can be found in my book, Fight the Good Fight: Voices of Faith from the Second World War available for the discounted rate of £16 plus £4 p+p as a signed and personally dedicated version. Email to secure your copy.

Fight the Good Fight2



William Glynne Charles Gladstone MP

 It is not the length of existence that counts, but what is achieved during that existence, however short.

William Charles Glynne Gladstone, 1885-1915

 Just yards away from the imposing tomb of his grandfather, the four-times Prime Minister William Ewart Gladstone, a marble plaque sits on the wall opposite the pulpit in St. Deniol’s Church at Hawarden, Flintshire.  It is dedicated to William Glynne Charles Gladstone, himself a Liberal MP from 1911 to 1915, and Lord Lieutenant of Flintshire. I had the pleasure of staying at the Gladstone library in 2015, researching the life of W.G.C. Gladstone, and paid another visit at Easter 1916 whilst in the area.

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Memorial plaque to W.G.C. Gladstone (c) Dawn Broom 2016

Whilst it is relatively unusual for sitting MPs to have served in the Armed Forces in recent Parliaments, Dan Jarvis and Johnny Mercer being two notable exceptions, in January 1915 184 out of 690 sitting MPs were on active service. In line with the overall casualty rate of around 10%, 17 were never to return to their constituencies alive. William Glynne Charles Gladstone was one of these men.

Much of what we know about William Gladstone jr comes from a book written by his uncle, Herbert Gladstone, in 1918, available online here.

Born on 14 July 1885, William was the only son of William Ewart Gladstone’s eldest son, William Henry, who died of a brain tumour when William jr. was five years old. His mother Gertrude, to whom he wrote regular letters while he was serving in France, was the youngest daughter of the 12th Lord Blantyre. He inherited his grandfather’s devout Christian faith and sense of public duty. Herbert wrote of William’s quiet Christianity after his death:

When he was nine he asked for a Bible. His mother, thinking it best for a beginning,  gave him a New Testament. Will was not at all satisfied, so the Bible was given to him. The Bible was in singular degree the foundation of his character. He read it regularly, marking the passages which struck him. It was his constant companion. No one, not even his mother, knew what it was to him throughout his life. It is rare, indeed, to find a boy who in complete privacy reads and studies the Bible. The Psalms had a special hold on him, and in scarcely less degree Job, Proverbs, Isaiah, some of the shorter Epistles and the Revelation.

All the leading passages on purity, peace, rectitude, fortitude, self-sacrifice, quietness, justice, mercy, faithfulness, personal conduct and duty to God, are marked….He re-read carefully, pencilling out his own marks if a passage did not seem to convey a sufficient lesson.

The Bible is the key to his character…moral truths and a never-wavering belief in God held him from the first, and guided him from day-to-day.

WGC Gladstone child.png

William Glynne Charles Gladstone, with his grandfather Prime Minister.

Educated at Eton and at New College, Oxford, William developed his debating skills as president of the Oxford Union, and gained a second class honours in History. In 1906 he took over the management of the family estate at Hawarden, Flintshire. However before committing himself to becoming the fourth generation of his family to serve as an MP, he decided that he needed a wider experience of the world, and visited Ireland, India, Japan and the USA.

Returning to the UK in 1911, William was successful in a by-election at Kilmarnock Burghs. He was described as

The death of the sitting Liberal MP caused a by-election in the Kilmarnock Burghs in September 1911, for which Gladstone was asked to stand. He was elected with an unexpectedly large majority. One Scottish observer praised his abilities as a speaker, noting that:

He has a ready wit, a caustic humour, and, like his great namesake, deep, silent convictions that make him, on occasion, blaze into righteous indignation.

In 1912 he spoke in support of the Home Rule for Ireland Bill, a cause to which his grandfather had been committed.

When war broke out in 1914, he used his position as Lord Lieutenant of Flintshire to campaign for recruits for the armed services. Despite admitting to his uncle that ‘far from having the least inclination for military service, I dread it and dislike it intensely’, he led by example and enlisted himself.

WGC Gladstone Uniform

Second Lieutenant W.G.C. Gladstone, Royal Welsh Fusiliers

Although he initially considered joining as a private, as he did not consider himself a natural soldier, he was persuaded to seek a commission, and became a 2nd Lieutenant in the Royal Welsh Fusiliers. After completing his training in Wrexham, William left for France for the front on 15th March 1915.

He wrote back home to his mother of his first experience of trench life:

WGC Gladstone letter March 28 Part 1.jpg



WGC Gladstone letter March 28 Part 2.jpg

On 11th April he moved up to the front line near Laventle. He began to write a letter to his mother, describing the `whistle of stray bullets’ above the trenches and being awoken at 4am for the stand to, ready for a dawn attack.

Tragically these were the final words William wrote. Two days later one of those snipers’ bullets entered his head. Having lain wounded, but apparently painless, for two hours, his life slipped away.

The unfinished letter was returned to his mother.

Having initially been buried in France, special permission was granted by King George V for his body to be brought back to the United Kingdom. Nine days after his death, his body was disinterred and re-buried in the churchyard of St Deniol’s at Hawarden, Wales. The village came to a standstill as thousands came out to pay their respects.

WGC Gladstone funeral (2)

W.G.C. Gladstones Funeral

William Gladstone’s case prompted Fabian Ware to set up the Imperial War Graves Commission, realising the impossibility of repatriated all of the growing number of war dead, that all should be equal in death and be buried near to where they fell in the publicly managed war cemeteries which evoke such emotions today.

Herbert Gladstone’s book concludes:

WGC Gladstone last words (2)

I am led to reflect that we live in a generation of a political class which does not always appear to have the same commitment to public service as shown by William Glynne Charles Gladstone and dozens of his colleagues. Furthermore, for many that commitment to the service of others was to a large degree fuelled by a Christian faith. Two notable members of the generation which saw action in the First World War, Winston Churchill about whose relationship with Christianity I have blogged here and Clement Attlee, would marshal that sense of Christendom as Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister twenty years later. Once again, to fully appreciate the culture of the generation which went to war in 1914, and the succeeding generation which fought a reprise from 1939 onwards, an acknowledgement of the pervasiveness of Christianity needs to be made.

If you would like to find out more about the different ways in which Christianity could be interpreted across the political and faith spectrum, you may be interested in my book, Fight the Good Fight: Voices of Faith from the First World War. It contains a foreword by the aforementioned Dan Jarvis MP, Labour’s spokesman on war commemoration. For a signed copy priced at £16 plus £4 p+p please email me at


Fight the Good Fight

Private Reginald West, and the unusual Dead Man’s Penny

Whilst approaching the parish church of Emberton, Buckinghamshire, my eye was caught by a very unusual sight; that of a `Dead Man’s Penny’ used as a grave memorial.

Reginald West death penny.jpg

The bronze plaques, about 5 inches in diameter, were issued at the end of the war to the relatives of those who had made the ultimate sacrifice. In all over 1.3 million were cast, and issued right up to the 1930s as men continued to die of wounds caused by their war service.

To my knowledge, and that of the very well-informed lady who was on duty at the church, this was the only example of the medal being used as a grave memento. However subsequent feedback on social media has revealed examples in Alton, Anglesey and Stirling. I would been keen to know of others. Unfortunately some have been stolen, an act akin to  the decapitation of the memorial of Pte George Jackson, about which I have previously posted.

Private Reginald West had enlisted at Northampton, his occupation being recorded as a farm labourer, and was killed on 12th May 1917 whilst serving with the 8th Battalion, King’s Own (Royal Lancaster Regiment).

His body was never recovered and he is commemorated on the Arras Memorial, as well as the village memorial in nearby Clifton Baynes. This plot is said to be the family grave, although no other inscription could be found.

If you would like to find out more about the links between warfare and religion in the twentieth century, you may be interested in my books:

Fight the Good Fight: Voices of Faith from the First World War

Fight the Good Fight: Voices of Faith from the Second World War

Fight the Good FightFight the Good Fight2

Hugh Dormer, SOE Agent, Irish Guardsman and Catholic Martyr

`He who would save his life must lose it. That I think is one of the great truths of the world’

Hugh Dormer

Captain Hugh Dormer 1919-1944

So wrote Hugh Dormer, in his posthumously published diaries. Dormer was one of the most intense, devout and engaging characters I came across in the research for my book, Fight the Good Fight: Voices of Faith from the Second World War. Using his diaries, his SOE Personnel File, which had remained top secret until 2006, and eye-witness accounts, the short yet brilliant life of this remarkable young man can be told.

Fight the Good Fight2


Hugh was born into a prominent Catholic family, one of whose members had served as an MP during the turbulent reigns of Edward VI, Mary I and Elizabeth I, and had appeared on a list of those who favoured the accession of Mary, Queen of Scots to the English throne.

After an education at Ampleforth College, North Yorkshire, Hugh went up to Christ Church College, Oxford, to read History and was commissioned into the Irish Guards in November 1939. However three years on home front duties left Hugh feeling increasingly frustrated, and he was invited for interview with the (F) French section of the recently formed Special Operations Executive (SOE) and recruited in December 1942.

Hugh took part in dangerous and gripping operations deep in German-held French territory, aiming to destroy an oil refinery and a canal and escaping via a secret network via Paris and into neutral Spain.

During preparations for one of these raids, Hugh spoke of, `how much better it was to die young and voluntarily for a cause that was worth the martyrdom’, demonstrating the influence his Catholic roots and upbringing had had on him. He continued

As always when faced with death, cold and premeditated, I feel a strong sense of exhilaration and goodness, and remember always the last words of Nurse Cavell the night before she faced a German firing squad: `As I stand now before God and eternity, I realize that patriotism is not enough. I must have no hatred or bitterness towards anyone.’ For it has always seemed that the conception of these expeditions embodies fully the Elizabethan qualities of daring and resource, and that same combination of love of adventure and love of one’s country, which I have come lately to appreciate so well.

After these raids, for which he was later awarded the DSO, Hugh rejoined his Irish Guards battalion, to prepare for the Normandy campaign. Walking in the North Yorkshire countryside near Ampleforth with his friend, Julian Stonor, a Benedictine monk who was serving as chaplain to the regiment, they articulated their own personal sense of what the war meant:

One morning Julian and I walked down the valley to Rievaulx [Abbey], whose ruined arches framed the blue sky, sleeping eternally in that quiet place. On my last night we drove over together to Ampleforth and dined in the silence of the monks’ refectory and listened to the plain chant of Vespers and later to the carefree laughter of boys. I realized then better than ever how much I was fighting for.


This was in contrast to the Nazis, who were not just as the enemies of the British state, but`destroyers of everything European and Christian and embody the very forces of evil.’ Turning again to the notion of the war as being religiously inspired, he wrote, `God knows we in this country are far from perfect, but this war is far more of a Crusade than the Crusades themselves ever were…

Hugh’s diary began to take an increasingly fatalistic tone by March 1944:

…there are worse things than death, would men only realize it; and if ever a man, faced with the bitter and deliberate alternatives, chooses safety above honour he will regret that decision to his dying day and be powerless to make it again. He who would save his life must lose it.  That I think is one of the great truths of the world…

…to die for God and one’s country and one’s fellow men would be the greatest blessing of all.  Those who fall in battle, and are thereby privileged with the opportunity to make that supreme act of self-sacrifice, are the truly fortunate and those who return to the humdrum world have the hardest part to bear

Before he left for Normandy, Hugh sent his diaries to his mother, with the message:

…my final journey will have begun. God knows no man ever set out more happily or gladly before…God grant me the courage not to let the guardsmen down…I ask only that He do with my life as He wills – if I should be privileged to give it on the field of battle, then indeed would the cup be full. There are times when I feel the tide of happiness so mounting in my soul as though the flood-gates might burst and the frail body and its bonds break asunder. My soul is exhilarated like a bird that would sing for ever till its lungs burst. 

No man ever went out to meet his fate more joyfully than I

That fate was to meet him on 1st August 1944 in a field in northern France…

Hugh Dormer graveDormer grave

Hugh Dormer’s story is one of twenty individuals who experienced the varied aspects of the Second World War in Fight the Good Fight: Voices of Faith from the Second World War. A personally signed and dedicated copy would make a lovely gift, and can be obtained at a cost of £18 including p+p by contacting me at



Restoring the memory of Private George Wallace Jackson, Sherwood Foresters

Whilst touring north Nottinghamshire in February 2016 I was shocked and saddened to come across this memorial headstone in the churchyard of St John the Evangelist, Carlton-in-Lindrick.

George Jackson

 One of the most poignant sights I have seen in years of research. The memorial to Private George Jackson, Sherwood Foresters.

Of the many hundreds of memorials I have come across, this was the first example of a statue on the grave of an individual, rather than for a community monument.

The inscription read:

“To the glorious memory of Pte George Wallace Jackson, 2/5 Sherwood Foresters, who fell in action in France, March 21st 1918, aged 22 years.

‘Greater Love Hath No Man Than This: That A Man Lay Down His Life For His Friends.’

This memorial was erected by his sorrowing mother.”

A further inscription marked the death of that mother, Charlotte Padley (formerly Jackson) in 1926.

I wondered if how the monument came to be that, hoping it was nature rather than vandalism. George Jackson’s mother had sought to come to terms with her loss through the use of the quotation from John 15:13, seen on so many memorials.

I decided that I could not leave this situation as it was and that further research was in order.

A search of the newspaper archives revealed this moving report from the Worksop Guardian of 1st August 1919:

After many months of suspense, the news has reached Mrs Charlotte W. Padley, Carlton that her son, Pte George Wallace Jackson, 2nd / 5th Bn. Sherwood Foresters, reported missing since March 21st 1918, was killed on that date. Pte Jackson, who was 22 years of age, was a well-conducted youth and respected by all who knew him.

Before enlisting, he was employed by the Worksop Co-operative society, where he went as soon a he left school, his brother and sister also being employed by the same society.

Pte Jackson was a son any mother might be proud of, and he leaves behind a memory which will long be cherished.

The Army Council forward a message of sympathy from the King and Queen, and his mother has also the sympathy of all who knew her gallant son in her bereavement.

George’s body was never recovered and he is one of nearly 35,000 names on the Arrass Memorial.

His mother, Charlotte, would have received the £24 12s 6d owing to George in back pay and war gratuity. I wonder if this money, a sum of around £1200 at 2016 values, was used to pay for the memorial?

George Jackson effects

The page from the Army’s Register of Soldiers’ Personal Effects relating to George Jackson (c)

So we have managed to find some further details about George Jackson, but what of the distressing state of his memorial? I emailed the vicar of the church who passed my contact on to Maurice Stokes, a parishioner who is investigating the possibility of restoration. To date (27th February 2016) a request has been made for an authentic copy of the complete uniform of the Sherwood Foresters. In addition an appeal is to be launched to trace any living relatives of George Jackson.

Mr Stokes has also gathered an estimate for the cost of the repair of the memorial, valued at £1000 to £1500.

Therefore, using the reach of social media, I am putting out an appeal to trace any relatives of George Jackson.

George had four surviving siblings plus a half brother.

His siblings were:

Evelyn Georgina Jackson (1888-1945)
Bazell Jackson (1891-1914)
Mildred Jackson (1895-?)
George Jackson (1896-1918)

Evelyn married George Betts in 1909 a they had five surviving children. These people were the nieces and nephews of Private George Jackson.

Joseph Norman Betts (1913-1995)
John Charles Betts (1915-1991)
Irene Betts (1917-1998)
Charlotte Betts (1920-2013)

They all seemed to have retained a connection to North Nottinghamshire and Lincolnshire.

So the appeal at the moment is threefold:-

  1. To find further information on Private George Jackson, and to see if family members can provide a photograph and any knowledge as to where his campaign medals and `death penny’ might be.
  2. To find any further examples of gravestone / memorials like this one to get as an authentic reproduction as possible.
  3. To raise the funds for a proper restoration so that the memory of Private Jackson can be restored and full respect given to the sacrifice he gave, emblematic of that of hundreds of thousands of other young shop assistants, factory workers, clerks, postmen, teachers and people from all walks of life across the land.


Therefore if anyone can help with any of these three objectives, please contact me at

Donations towards the restoration can be made by clicking here

Update March 2016 –





Many thanks

Update May 2016

I have received communication from members of George Jackson’s family who were able to provide the following information:

George Wallace Jackson’s father, George Jackson, had been killed in a mining accident in 1898 whilst working at Wath Main Colliery in South Yorkshire. He was 30 years old and was run over by a wagon on an inclined plane.

It has been possible to find a picture of Charlotte, the widow of George Jackson sr and the mother of Private George Wallace Jackson. It was Charlotte who paid to have the vandalised memorial erected.

Charlotte Jackson Padley.jpg

In addition, a photograph is in existence of a young man in the uniform of the Notts and Derbyshire Regiment (Sherwood Foresters) to which both George Wallace Jackson and his half-brother, Cyril Padley, belonged. At this stage it is not known which of these it is. Cyril died in 1976, aged 77, in Retford, Nottinghamshire. Therefore the next stage is to contact the regional press to see if the photograph can be identified.

In addition I was given details of other family members which I shall be following up to see if they can shed any further light on the mystery.

Charlotte Jackson's son (2).jpg


The search continues…

Update August 2016

Due to enquiries made by family members with whom I have been in contact, a photograph of George Wallace Jackson himself has come to light. It looks as if it was taken in his mid-teens, probably at the time he started work with the Worksop Co-operative Society. My impression on seeing it was of the innocence and hope of youth, and a further example of the promise that was destroyed during the war. I now feel the pieces of the jigsaw are coming together.

George Wallace Jackson


John Broom is the author of Fight the Good Fight: Voices of Faith from the First World War, published by Pen and Sword.

Fight the Good Fight


Brothers Without Arms – Laurence Cadbury and Corder Catchpool

Two fascinating characters featured in my new book, Fight the Good Fight: Voices of Faith from the First World War, were friends in two senses of the word. Firstly, the two men shared a mutual regard for each others’ capabilities. Secondly they were both from a Society of Friends, or Quaker, background. Using previously unpublished sources from the Cadbury Archive at the University of Birmingham, I have delved deeper into their war careers as part of the examination of the many different ways Christian faith was modulated in the war.

Laurence Cadbury

Laurence Cadbury, in FAU uniform

One of the principle tenets of Quakerism is the philosophy of non-violence. Faced with the call for volunteers for the army in 1914, many Quakers refused to have any part in the war effort. However for some, including Laurence Cadbury and Corder Catchpool, this was an unsatisfactory position.

Corder Catchpool

Corder Catchpool and his wife, Gwen

Therefore in August 1914, the idea of a Friends’ Ambulance Unit was mooted in The Friend magazine, the idea being that young men of military age could render some service to their fellow humans in the war zones. Both Laurence and Corder answered this call, and by November 1914, were engaged in ambulance and relief work for the Belgian army, whose own medical services had been overstretched.

FAU 1914

An FAU Ambulance taking a break from service in 1914

Whilst Laurence Cadbury spent many period wrestling with his conscience, thinking that he should take a more combative role in the war and join the armed services like his brother, Bertie, Corder Catchpool’s journey of faith and morality took him in the opposite direction.

Membership of the FAU had been voluntary, but following the introduction of conscription in 1916, the government started to jail those whose conscience meant they found themselves unable to take up arms. Some in the FAU considered suspending their activities and returning home in solidarity with those imprisoned for their beliefs. Corder was one of those men. Whilst Laurence considered him `a thoroughly genuine old man’, he also wrote of others with `over-manured consciences…untroubled by doubts and perplexities…content to subordinate everything to…one master purpose.’

For Laurence, the good name of the FAU was being tarnished with a growing association of `Conchies’.  However for Corder, the introduction of men into the FAU whose presence there had been directed by a military tribunal went against the voluntary principle of the organisation. He returned to England to argue the case for conscience:

`Conscience does not primarily object and refuse, but commands. It commands loyalty to the voice of God and the heart…..I too am enlisted, not merely for three years of the duration of the war, under a Captain who also calls for adventure and sacrifice in his name, whose commands to me are unmistakeable…I cannot undertake `alternative service’ under the Conscription Act for this would imply a bargain with militarism which I believe to be utterly wrong.’

Despite being a recipient of the Mons Star, reserved for those who had served in the early campaigns of the war, the final few years of Corder Catchpool’s war would see imprisonment and hard labour, whilst Laurence Cadbury continued to evaluate his position on a regular basis, before going on to become the recipient of multiple awards for his long years of service on the Western Front.


Despite the provision of a conscience clause in the Military Service Act of 1916, Conscientious Objectors were ridiculed and sometimes brutalised for their stance.

Find out more about the war careers of these two men, and two dozen other riveting characters by clicking here:-

Fight the Good Fight




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.

The Chavasse family of Liverpool

The Chavasse family left a notable mark on public life in the city of Liverpool and beyond in the first half of the twentieth century. Their contribution to the war effort was remarkable and one of their number, Captain Noel Chavasse, has gone down in history as the only man to win two Victoria Crosses during the First World War.

Noel Chavasse

Noel Chavasse VC

Francis Chavasse was the second bishop of the newly created see of Liverpool, and decided that the city needed a cathedral to reflect the increased status it had gained during the nineteenth century. Today that cathedral stands as a testament to his vision, and to the importance of the Christian faith in that distinctive city.

His four sons; Noel, Christopher, Bernard and Aidan, all had splendid war records.

Christopher served as an army chaplain, being awarded the Military Cross for outstanding and consistent devotion to duty. In particular, his work in bringing in wounded men from the battlefield gave a lie to the post-war myth that Anglican chaplains were content to preach to their men only from the safety of backward positions. In later years he served as Bishop of Rochester.

Bernard served as a doctor in the 1st King’s Liverpool Regiment and, like Christopher, was awarded the Military Cross for persistently bringing in wounded men from the battlefield whilst under heavy fire. After the war he became an eminent ophthalmic surgeon.

Aidan was killed in 1917 and never found, despite Bernard leading a party to try and locate him. His name is one of the 55,000 missing inscribed on the Menin Gate in Ypres.

Noel, along with his twin brother Christopher, had represented Britain in the 1908 Olympic Games in the 440 yards dash. He had gone on, fuelled by earnest Christian endeavour, to work with underprivileged boys in Liverpool, teaching them proficiency in various sports and running Bible classes. He trained as a surgeon, and on the outbreak of war volunteered for service with the RAMC.

The action which won him his first VC occurred at the Battle of Guillemont in 1916, where he advanced as far as twenty-five yards from the German line to rescue the wounded. He carried around men to safety, some on his back, at a distance of some 500 yards, an act of heroism commemorated in Liverpool’s Victoria Cross memorial, situated outside the house where the Chavasse family had grown up.

Noel Chavasse Memorial

VC Memorial, Abercromby Square, Livepool

At the Battle of Passchendale in 1917, he performed similar heroics to win a unique second VC, the citation reading:-

His Majesty the KING has been graciously pleased to approve of the award of a Bar to the Victoria Cross to Capt. Noel Godfrey Chavasse, V.C., M.C., late R.A.M.C., attd. L’pool R.

For most conspicuous bravery and devotion to duty when in action.

Though severely wounded early in the action whilst carrying a wounded soldier to the Dressing Station, Capt. Chavasse refused to leave his post, and for two days not only continued to perform his duties, but in addition went out repeatedly under heavy fire to search for and attend to the wounded who were lying out.

During these searches, although practically without food during this period, worn with fatigue and faint with his wound, he assisted to carry in a number of badly wounded men, over heavy and difficult ground.

By his extraordinary energy and inspiring example, he was instrumental in rescuing many wounded who would have otherwise undoubtedly succumbed under the bad weather conditions.

This devoted and gallant officer subsequently died of his wounds.

Today his resting place is a poignant reminder of this most brave of Christian men from the most notable of families. As well as the two VCs, it contains the words from John 15:13, Greater Love Hath No Man Than This, That A Man Lay Down His Life For His Friends.


Detail from Noel Chavasse’s grave at Brandhoek New Cemetery No. 2

The story of the Chavasse family is told in greater detail in my new book, Fight the Good Fight: Voices of Faith from the First World War. In addition it features the stories of twenty-two other Christian individuals and families, and offers an insight into the many ways in which Christianity permeated British and other societies in that time. It contains a foreword by the respected MP, Dan Jarvis, himself a former army major and Labour’s spokesman on First World War commemorations.

This is the link to the publisher’s website. Alternatively I can sign a copy and post it directly to you.

Fight the Good Fight

Lewis Valentine – Baptist, Welsh Patriot and RAMC Stretcher Bearer

In 1936, Lewis Valentine, one of the founding members of the Welsh Nationalist Party, Plaid Cymru, was imprisoned in Wormwood Scrubs for his part in an arson attack on an RAF bombing base which had been established at Penyberth in Wales. This action had it roots in his experience of the First World War.

Lewis Valentine

Lewis Valentine (left) with Saunders Lewis and D.J. Williams. All three were imprisoned for arson in 1936

Born into a strongly Baptist family at Llanddulas, Lewis had been training to be a minister before the war. Although a pacifist by inclination, he enlisted in the Welsh Students Company of the Royal Army Medical Corps, known colloquially as `God’s Own’ due to the high number of Christians it contained.

He kept a diary of his experiences as a stretcher bearer on the Western Front; firstly in English and then in the Welsh language. He developed a strong distaste for war, and a dislike of the upper and middle class English army officers he saw conducting it. He saw the suffering in international, rather than national terms, writing:

Give the courage born of faith in thee to all who are left desolate by this war. Especially do we pray for the mothers of Europe. They have loved much. Help us to destroy this order of things which makes this great suffering possible. Forgive us our sins against humanity and against thee. Amen.

He was critical of army chaplains, considering they cared more about their status than the kingdom of God. However, when one of the chaplains was killed in action, Lewis gave communion to the men in his unit. However his initial pacifist sympathies became confirmed by what he saw in the war.

Lewis was left dumb and blind for three months after being buried by a shell explosion in No Man’s Land, and was evacuated to Ireland.  There he saw the growing political and nationalist turmoil following the failure of the 1916 Easter Rising, and resolved to campaign for in independent Wales in the same way that the members of Sinn Fein he had met were campaigning for an Irish Free State.

He returned to Wales to become a preacher and in 1929 became the first ever person to stand for Parliament on a Welsh Nationalist platform. During the Second World War he campaigned for Welsh neutrality.

More information on the three driving passions in the life of Lewis Valentine – the commitment to spreading the word of God, the cause of advancing Welsh identity, and the promotion of pacifism, can be found in my new book, Fight the Good Fight: Voices of Faith from the First World War.

Containing a foreword by Labour’s spokesman on the First World War Commemoration, Dan Jarvis OBE, and featuring twenty-two other Christians who experienced the war, it can be ordered via the Pen and Sword website, or a personalised signed copy can be ordered directly from me by emailing

Fight the Good Fight