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.



Bob Wroughton


Whilst driving through the Northamptonshire countryside early in 2015, making our way from the maginificent Saxon churches of Brixworth and Earls Barton, we happened upon the village of Creaton and found the church.  Happily it was an open one.

Creaton Church

Creaton Church, Northamptonshire

My eyes were immediately drawn by a beautiful marble war memorial tablet on the wall which bore the words of Rupert Brooke’s The Soldier in a shield at the top, `If I should die, think only this of me; that there is some corner of a foreign field that is forever England.’  We had seen the same words a fortnight ago on the magnificent public war memorial in Clifton Park, Rotherham.


 Bob Wroughton’s Marble Plaque, paid for by his sisters

A bronze plaque commemorating the death of the same man, the wonderfully named Musgrave Cazanove Wroughton (known affectionately as `Bob’) was found further along the wall. The plaque had been given by Bob’s parents, whilst the tablet had been donated by his sisters.  It was one of the thousands of personal and parish memorials one finds lovingly placed in churches up and down the country, a painful story behind each one.

Bob Wroughton2

Bob’s Bronze Plaque, paid for by his parents

On this occasion, the story behind the double memorial was readily accessible.

At the age of 15, Bob had become the world’s first Boy Scout.

Musgrave Cazenove Wroughton came from a well-to-do Northamptonshire family. His father was master of the Pytchley Hunt and they lived in a mansion in the country.

A close family friend was Sir Robert Baden-Powell, hero of the Siege of Mafeking during the Boer War, and when ‘BP’ came up with the idea of organising a camp for boys to teach them the principles of leadership and teamwork, he immediately turned to ‘Bob’ Wroughton to join him in his venture.

The camp was held on Brownsea Island in Poole Harbour, Dorset, in August 1907 – and became an historic event. For it was that beginning that the World Wide Boy Scout Movement was to emerge. The centenary camp for the global movement was also held on Brownsea.

After the Camp, Baden Powell heaped praise on Bob’s leadership : “…he was a great help to me & quite set the example to other Patrol Leaders,” he wrote in a remarkable letter to Bob’s mother, which formed part of the archive and in which he also asked her for Bob’s suggestions as to how the whole Scouting movement could be established.

Bob had a glittering career ahead of him.  He was from a landed, moneyed family, receiving high praise from a national hero and probably destined for great things

Bob had been educated at Harrow, and on leaving school he received a commission in the Northampton Yeomanry.  When he was 20 years old, in 1912, Bob Wroughton accompanied Baden-Powell as his ADC on a world tour in connection with the Boy Scouts‘ movement.  With Noel van Raalte and others he sailed on the SS Arcadian to the USA.

After Christ Church College, having served four years with the Northamptonshire Yeomanry, Bob transferred to (Special Reserve) 12th Lancers in 1913 and accompanied his Regiment to the front in August 1914.  He saw action at Mons, the Marne and the Aisne.  He was mentioned in Sir John French’s Despatch of 14 January 1913 for gallant and distinguished service in the field.

While out on patrol on the Ypres salient in Belgium in October – just eight weeks after the war began – he was shot by a German sniper, and on the 30th of that month, he died from his injuries. He was 23 years old.

His Major wrote of him that he was an “excellent soldier and can turn his hand to anything”.

A distraught Baden Powell wrote to his parents soon after the event: “I have felt as nearly as possible like a second father to him, and to read the little testimonies to Bob’s character after all the hopes that I had formed of him, is the greatest possible comfort. I am so glad that he had made his mark already before he died.”

His parents also received letters from some of Bob’s men. His Sergeant Major, sending a photograph of his makeshift grave, said: “He was such a brave young officer and loved by the whole of his Troop & Squadron. Sgt Stone & I carried him to a place of cover, his last words to me were ‘never mind me Sgt Major, look after yourself’.”

A private named Haselin, who was also a servant at the Wroughton household, wrote, sending his ‘dog-tag’ and mentioned how he was protected by Bob on the day he was wounded: “I have his horses with me, he told me yesterday to look after the horses and not go into the trenches so was not in the thick of it, but I wish I had been with him all the same…”

Bob Wroughton

An interesting and thought-provoking story that I am glad to have come across courtesy of a drive through the countryside and a thankfully open church.

John Broom is the author of Fight the Good Fight: Voices of Faith from the First World War  and Fight the Good Fight: Voices of Faith from the Second World War, both available online, or directly from the author personally signed and inscribed for just £18 each including p+p or £30 for the pair. A lovely gift for someone, or just to treat yourself. Email

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Winston Churchill and Christianity

John Broom, author of Fight the Good Fight: Voices of Faith from the First World War and Fight the Good Fight: Voices of Faith from the Second World War, examines below Winston Churchill’s complex relationship with the Christian faith.

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Historians have argued for many years about the nature, if any, of Winston Churchill’s religious belief, with Paul Reid’s recent biography The Last Lion: Winston Spencer Churchill: Defender of the Realm, 1940-1965, arguing that he was an atheist, or at most an agnostic.  Whilst it would be reasonable to say that he was not an active Christian, there is much in Churchill’s actions and speeches which indicated that the pre-eminent Briton of the twentieth century had a deep appreciation of, and respect for the traditions of the Church of England.


When a young man reporting on the Boer War (1899-1902) Churchill admitted to praying often during the heat of battle, but he thought at this point it was an unreasonable thing to do. He said:

The practice [of prayer] was comforting and the reasoning led nowhere. I therefore acted in accordance with my feelings without troubling to square such conduct with the conclusions of thought.

Later he described his outlook as a generalised `Religion of Healthy-Mindedness’:

If you tried your best to live an honourable life and did your duty and were faithful to friends and not unkind to the weak and poor, it did not matter much what you believed or disbelieved.

However as Churchill was a man of deep contradictions, the Tory, turned Liberal, turned Tory, turned outcast, turned leader of a National Government, turned Tory, it is not surprising that there is plenty of evidence to suggest the importance of Christianity in Churchill’s actions.

In 1932, eight years before his accession to the Premiership he wrote an essay `Moses: The Leader of a People’ in which he had moved towards a more literal interpretation of the Bible.

We reject, however, with scorn all those learned and laboured myths that Moses was but a legendary figure upon whom the priesthood and the people hung their essential social, moral, and religious ordinances. We believe that the most scientific view, the most up-to-date and rationalistic conception, will find its fullest satisfaction in taking the Bible story literally, and in identifying one of the greatest of human beings with the most decisive leap forward ever discernible in the human story. We remain unmoved by the tomes of Professor Gradgrind and Dr. Dryasdust. We may be sure that all these things happened just as they are set out according to Holy Writ. We may believe that they happened to people not so very different from ourselves, and that the impressions those people received were faithfully recorded and have been transmitted across the centuries with far more accuracy thanmany of the telegraphed accounts we read of the goings-on of today. In the words of a forgotten work of Mr. Gladstone, we rest with assurance upon ‘The impregnable rock of Holy Scripture.

Many Centuries were to pass before the God that spake in the Burning Bush was to manifest Himself in a new revelation, which nevertheless was the oldest of all the inspirations of the Hebrew people—as the God not only of Israel, but of all mankind who wished to serve Him; a God not only of justice, but of mercy; a God not only of self-preservation and survival, but of pity, self-sacrifice, and ineffable love.

In his first speech to the Commons as Prime Minister on 13 May 1940, Churchill offered `blood, toil, tears, and sweat and announced the policy `to wage war, by sea, land and air, with all our might and with all the strength that God can give us.’

On May 19 1940 he gave his major radio address, Be Ye Men of Valour. He closed  with the words, `As the Will of God is in Heaven, even so let it be.’

Later, in his `Dunkirk’ speech to the House on 4 June, Churchill’s final sentence stated that the New World could rescue and liberate the Old `in God’s good time.’  This theme continued into his famous  `Finest Hour’ speech to the House of Commons on 18 June 1940. `Upon this battle depends the survival of Christian civilisation’.

In his speech on 11 September 1940 at the start of the Blitz, he said, `It is with devout but sure confidence that I say: Let God defend the right’

In the `Put Your Confidence in Us’ radio talk dated 9 February 1941, the Churchill’s closing lines appealed to President Roosevelt of the USA in religious terminology, `Give us your faith and your blessing, and, under Providence, all will be well.’

On a personal note, this particular speech impressed my father, a very devout Christian.  He wrote to his mother:

Thanks so much for writing in detail Corry’s extract from Churchill’s speech on the Bible. He certainly knows divine truth. I didn’t hear Geoffrey King’s broadcast. We tuned in at 9pm for the news (at Franklands) & heard Churchill’s speech. We thought it awfully good..

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Churchill and Roosevelt singing Onward Christian Soldiers, 1941

In August 1941 he met with President Roosevelt  on the battleship Prince of Wales. Churchill had organised a Christian service and chosen the hymns to be sung. He wrote about the event later:

On Sunday morning, August 10, Mr. Roosevelt came aboard H.M.S. Prince of Wales and, with his Staff officers and several hundred representatives of all ranks of the United States Navy and Marines, attended Divine Service on the quarterdeck. This service was felt by us all to be a deeply moving expression of the unity of faith of our two peoples, and none who took part in it will forget the spectacle presented that sunlit morning on the crowded quarterdeck – the symbolism of the Union Jack and the Stars and Stripes draped side by side on the pulpit; the American and British chaplains sharing in the reading of the prayers; the highest naval, military, and air officers of Britain and the United States grouped in one body behind the President and me; the close-packed ranks of British and American sailors, completely intermingled, sharing the same books and joining fervently together in the prayers and hymns familiar to both. I chose the hymns myself – “For Those in Peril on the Sea” and “Onward, Christian Soldiers.” We ended with “O God, Our Help in Ages Past,” which Macaulay reminds us the Ironsides had chanted as they bore John Hampden’s body to the grave. Every word seemed to stir the heart. It was a great hour to live. Nearly half those who sang were soon to die.

A clip of the meeting, including Churchill lustily singing Onward Christian Soldiers, can be seen here:-

On 24 August 1941 Churchill spoke about the hymn, O God Our Help in Ages Past `in which the brief, precarious span of human life is contrasted with the immutability of Him to whom a thousand ages are but as yesterday’.
8 May 1945, VE Day, Churchill addressed the House of Commons and ended with, `this House do now attend at the Church of St. Margaret’s, Westminster, to give humble and reverential thanks to Almighty God for our deliverance from the threat of German domination,’

Churchill wrote that the Commons, `did not feel inclined for debate or business, but desired to offer thanks to Almighty God, to the Great Power which seems to shape and design the fortunes of nations and the destiny of man….’

In 1949  he delivered a speech at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Boston, The 20th century – Its Promise and Its Realization

Here I speak not only to those who enjoy the blessings and consolation of revealed religion but also to those who face the mysteries of human destiny alone. The flame of Christian ethics is still our highest guide. To guard and cherish it is our first interest, both spiritually and materially. The fulfilment of Spiritual duty in our daily life is vital to our survival. Only by bringing it into perfect application can we hope to solve for ourselves the problems of this world and not of this world alone.

United we stand secure. Let us then move forward together in discharge of our mission and our duty, fearing God and nothing else.’

The week of the publishing of this post sees the 50th anniversary of Churchill’s death on 24 January 1965.  His funeral, sometimes seen as symoblic of the passing of the era of Britain as a global power, was laced with Christian overtones planned by Churchill himself. He promised some `lively hymns’ and the worldwide audience of 350 million heard  The Battle Hymn of the Republic, a reference to his Anglo-American parentage, while his  personal and political courage were recalled by Who Would True Valour See and Fight The Good Fight With All Thy Might.  The coffin was carried out of St Paul’s Cathedral to, O God, Our Help in Ages Past.

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Churchill’s funeral, St. Paul’s Cathedral

It is not the task of an historian to look into the soul of people of previous times.  Nor is it their task to judge their religious beliefs in a binary `Yes/No’ construct. I prefer the idea of a spectrum model, whereby the depth of faith shown by an individual can vary across time and place, and have different modes of expression.  Whatever Churchill’s personal relationship with God was is no concern of mine.  However what cannot be in doubt is the existence of a positive relationship between Winston Churchill and the Christian faith, expressed through his speeches and writings during a time in which he had to draw on the innermost depths of his soul, and of the soul of the British people.  To me, as an historian of war and religion, it is hugely significant that he chose to frame the struggle in such Biblical terms in what has for too long been seen an era of secularisation.

Perhaps the last word comes, not surprisingly, from the great man himself. When described as a pillar of the church, he interjected, `No, no, not a pillar, but a buttress, supporting it from the outside’.

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