Walkeringham’s Sunday School Prayer List

John Broom is the author of Fight the Good Fight: Voices of Faith from the First World War, published by Pen and Sword in 2015.


Fight the Good Fight


Whilst revisiting the secluded but welcoming St. Mary Magdalene Church at Walkeringham, North Nottinghamshire on a crisp winter day in February 2016, I came across a new addition to the war commemoration memorabilia in the church.

St Mary Magdalene, Walkeringham.jpg

St Mary Magdalene, Walkeringham (c) John Broom

Whilst restoring the First World War Roll of Honour for display during the years of centenary commemorations, a beautiful hand made prayer board had been discovered lodged behind the frame. On it, each member of the Sunday School had been asked to nominate a male relative on active service, and to state which service that relative was in.

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Walkeringham’s Roll of Honour

The churchwarden had asked for comments as to whether the prayer board should be placed back where it was found, behind the Roll of Honour, or to be separately mounted for display. For me the answer is not in question. This prayer board provides a further connection to the people of a hundred years ago, and demonstrates the bonds between children and men on active service being strengthened by the Christian faith. However perhaps you may have a view you may wish to put forward? The contact details can be found here:-


Walkeringham Sunday School Prayer Board.jpg

Children’s Corner Prayer Board (c) John Broom

Bonds between children and those in uniform in an educational context have been explored in an excellent new book by Dr Barry Blades, Roll of Honour: Schooling and the Great War (Pen and Sword, 2015). However this is the first example I have seen in the hundreds of churches I have visited of such a prayer board for Sunday School Scholars.

Sadly four of the men being prayed for did not return home safely from the war. The small Nottinghamshire village sustained a death list of 26 men, with 4 more being found by subsequent research on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission website.


I thought it appropriate to transcribe the names on the board

Margaret Parkrin Sapper G. Valentine Royal Engineers
Thomas Hill Pte. John H. Hill King’s Liverpool Rgt.
Roland Dawson L/C W. Dawson Sherwood Rangers
Alice Spray Pte. F.H. Parke Leicester Rgt
Gladys Greaves Corp. G.S. Garrard Royal Engineers
Albert Willerton Pte. J.W. Willerton East Surrey Rgt
John Spencer Lockwood Pte. J. Lockwood A.S.C.
Vera Willerton Corp. J.T. Mackfall Royal Engineers
Charles Spencer Pte. H. Spencer Lincolns
Edith Daniels Pte. H. Lobley Sherwood Foresters
Ethel West Pte. F. West Lancashire Fusiliers
Eric Taylor Pte. W.T. Adams R.A.M.C.
Alice Horberry Pte. T. Horberry Derbyshire Yeomanry
May Walker Pte. George Walker Fourth Leicester
Myrintha Cave Sgt. Arthur Shaw Sherwood Foresters
Sarah & Nellie Spencer Driver A. Anderson King’s Liverpool Reg
Leslie Pikett Pte. Charles Otter Royal Field Auxiliary
Hilda Spencer Pte. W. Davison & Pte. W, Clark Notts & Derby & 8th Lincoln Reg
Philip Robinson Pte. Edward Stamp
Albert E., Charlotte & Mabel Lockwood Pte. J. Lockwood Mechanical Transport
Geoffrey Farnsworth Robert Pinck & George Playford Training Reserve & Royal Flying Corp.
Tom Lancaster Corp. J.G. Lancaster Army Vet Corp.

Thomas Horberry, Henry Lobley, Charles Otter and Harry Spencer were the men who did not return.

Perhaps you, the reader, know of further examples? If so I would love to know.

(Dr. Stephen Parker, author of Faith on the Home Front: Aspects of Church Life and Popular Religion in Birmingham, 1939-1945 (Peter Lang, 2005), has responded by saying he has come across many examples of prayers for Sunday School scholars in Birmingham parish magazines during his research. There was a regular special service in one city centre church for this purpose.)


As a further point of interest in the church, there are two separate war memorials containing exactly the same names; one made of wood and one of bronze. Again, this is very rare in my experience. I wonder why two such memorials are there? Perhaps a benefactor provided the funds for the bronze one as they thought it would be more robust than the wooden one?

Walkeringham Wooden War Memorial

Wooden War Memorial, St. Mary Magdalene, Walkeringham (c) John Broom

Walkeringham Bronze War Memorial

Bronze War Memorial, (c) John Broom


Edith Gell’s The Happy Warrior

The Hon Mrs Edith Gell’s pocket-sized book, The Happy Warrior, sold an amazing 400,000 copies between 1914 and 1918.

Edith Gell (1123x1280)

Hon. Mrs Edith Gell

Subtitled Daily Thoughts for all who are serving their country (whether on land, or sea, or in the air), it was a collection of daily Bible quotes based on weekly war-related themes such as:

The Summons,The Raising of the Standard, The Parting, A Righteous War, On the March, Champions of the Air

The Happy Warrior

Pocket-sized The Happy Warrior

Each week would have supporting quotes from hymns, poems or works of literature.

The Foreword was written by Lord Roberts, the Former Commander-in-Chief of the Forces, just five days before his death at the age of 82.  He wrote:

Active service and camp life give little time for reflection, but it is just when leading the life of a soldier at the front in time of war that the stimulating effect of noble thoughts and high ideals is most needed.  The Happy Warrior is designed to give all who champion our country’s honour and the cause of truth, justice and liberty, whether on land, on sea, or in the air – inspiring thoughts for each day, which may also be a bond of union with the dear ones left at hoe – whether in the mother country or in the Greater Britain beyond the seas – a golden link between husbands and wives, parents and sons, mothers, sisters and lovers, seperated perhaps by thousands of mile, but each day thining the same thought, praying the same prayer, by the help of The Happy Warrior

We are fighting for high ideals, and even amidst all the horrors of war and its temptations to retaliation and excess, these ideals must not be lost sigh og, or war becomes a degenerating instead of a puryfying influence. I think it will be a great help to many men to commit to memory the brief daily sentences in this little book, and think of them constantly during the day; for the sustaining power of a noble thought or a good resolution is of great value.

Lord Roberts

Lord Roberts

Edith Gell lived at Hopton Hall, Derbyshre, and as well as the production of this book, she was active in organising groups knitting soldiers’ comforts, recruitment for the army, exhorting women to remain chaste when their men were away at war and co-ordinating an intercessionary chain of prayer.  Her story is one of twenty-three case studies from the First World War recounted in my new book, Fight the Good Fight: Voices of Faith from the First World War. The book also features a foreword by prominent Labour MP Dan Jarvis, their spokesman on War Commemoration.


Fight the Good Fight

Louise Thuliez – French Great War Heroine

Louise Thuliez is one of twenty-three case studies included in my book, Fight the Good Fight: Voices of Faith from the First World War, published by Pen and Sword in October 2015.


Fight the Good Fight

Louise Thuliez was born on 12 December 1881 in a small village in the Nord department of France, close to the border with Belgium She was brought up in Mauberge and recalls receiving a very patriotic education at a time when the memory of the Franco-Prussian war was still fresh in the public consciousness. Indeed the map of France in a Geography textbook showed the provinces of Alsace and Lorraine, taken during that war, as coloured in black. Her brother was a priest

Having qualified as teacher, holding a post in Lille, in July 1914 she was on hoilday in Saint-Waast-la-Vallee in Northern France, close to her birthplace.

She was not accepted to work in local Red Cross Hospital. Her brother told her that God would have a task marked out for her in the war, and that should would be given a chance to serve.

Early on 24 August most of the British wounded were taken by ambulance to the rear, except six men for whom there was not room. It was expected that an ambulance would return for them but none arrived. At this time, due to the near evacuation of the village, there was a shortage of food. Louise gained permission from the mayor to break open a locked and deserted bakery to make some bread, challenging some of her own countrymen when she insisted that the first priority was to feed the British troops.

Once the village was under occupation, Louise and her friend Henriette hung a makeshift Red Cross flag from a window to indicate that wounded troops were in the house. However, apart from an occasional desultory check, no effort was made by the German authorities to remove the men into captivity. A new house was found by a local nobleman, Prince Reginald de Croy, one situated in a remote part of the countryside. The six men were given civilian clothing and when they reached the `safe house’, they found an English soldier who had already been hiding there for two months. A decision was made to attempt to get all seven men back to the front. En route they met up with other, larger, collections of fugitives until eventually the group number around forty.


Louise Thuliez

Louise Thuliez outside her prison cell at Siegburg


Louise travelled to Brussels to make arrangements and then came back into France to escort a Captain Preston and  a Lieutenant Bushell into Brussels, carrying long batons of bread in order to look like local civilians. False passports were provided for them in Mons and eventually they reached Brussels and then onto Holland and England and active service again.

Her duty done two these two men, Louise did not consider that this was the end of the matter in helping fugitive British and French soldiers. Many more were still hiding out in the nearby Forest of Mormal area and many of the people involved in the escape plans were priests, due to their connections within the communities. One bonus for Louise was that on establishing her headquarters at the house of a Canon Flament, she had the happiness of hearing Mass every day and described it like having a private chaplain. By 1915 Louise was in contact with Edith Cavell, and would frequently deposit soldiers at her Brussels nursing home for Edith to send them on the next stage of their journey. These journeys to Brussels were undertaken at night, walking close to hedgerows so the men could throw themselves into a ditch to hide.

In time the serving soldiers were joined by local French youths who wished to escape from German control and join their country’s army. Again, the strength of the Catholic church in this part of France was put to good use, as Monsieur l’Abbe Lothigier had organised a group of these youths who wanted to leave. As Louise could not attract too much attention by visiting his presbytery too often, she suggested that he come to her to hear her confessions, as this method meant they discuss the details of the operation without being overheard.

As the numbers of men seeking to escape increased at the same time as German surveillance became stricter, Louise was obliged to undertake more journeys all the way to Brussels. On these occasion she would hand the men over to the care of Edith Cavell at her nursing-home on 149 Rue de la Culture, and sometime to a small café-hotel in the Rue Haute.

However on 31 July 1915 whilst meeting at the Brussels home of architect Phillipe Baucq, himself later executed at the same time as Edith Cavell, Louise was arrested during a German raid. She was taken to the prison of St Gilles in the city and locked in a cell whilst a search of Baucq’s house revealed a huge amount of incriminating evidence against them and many others involved with the work of helping allied soldiers across the Dutch border. From this evidence further arrests, including that of Edith Cavell, were made in the following week.

Louise’s trial began on 7 October 1915 at the Senate building, co-accused with thirty-four others. When asked why she had performed her actions, she answered, `Because I am a French-woman’. She was accused of high treason, with the prosecutor demanding the death sentence for her and seven others, including Phillipe Baucq and Edith Cavell. Court proceedings were conducted in German, with translations being made for the prisoners and no access to their defence counsels being permitted.  On hearing the demand of the death sentence by the court, she remarked that, `For every cross is given the corresponding strength to bear it.’

On 11 October the prisoners were assembled in the central hall of St Gilles prison. After five names, the word `todestraffe’ was read out, meaning death penalty. Those five names were Phillipe Baucq, Louise Thuliez, Edith Cavell, Louis Severin and Jeanne de Belville. Louise later described feeling a great calm and relief at that moment due to her Catholic faith and her belief in the afterlife. She thought of those dear to her who had died, including her parents, and that she would soon be meeting them again. The Countess de Belleville told Louise that she considered the death sentence for them God’s judgement, whereas the latter thought it a sacrifice for their country which would balance out their other human imperfections.

The five were then returned to their individual cells, but Louise and the countess were allowed to join together in one cell. They were joined by the prison chaplain, a Father Leyendecker who suggested they submit an expression of regret for their actions and a formal appeal for mercy but at this point they were not of a mind to do so. The next morning, 12 October, they were reading their prayer books in their cell when Louise felt an overwhelming rush of anguish on behalf of Edith Cavell. She had already been executed that morning. Unbeknown to Louise, the orders for her own execution were for the morning of 13 October.

Louise continued to receive Holy Communion and have confessionals whilst awaiting the death penalty. On 17 October she asked the prison chaplain if he would tell her in the evening if she were to be shot in the morning, which he agreed to do. Finally on 27 October she was informed that a reprieve had been granted after the intervention of the Marquis de Villobar, the Spanish ambassador in Brussels, who had gained an intercession from his king, Alphonse XIII. Further appeals had been made directly to Kaiser Wilhelm II by Pope Benedict XV and indirectly from President Woodrow Wilson of the then neutral USA.

Louise was then transferred not to Siegburg in Germany, her ultimate destination, but back to Cambrai in northern France, where her prison conditions were considerably worse than those in Brussels. There she was accused of the `crimes’ she had committed on the French side of the border, but despite being found guilty, word came through the Kaiser’s clemency had been extended to these cases too. By the end of January 1916 Louise arrived in the prison at Siegburg to begin nearly three years of monotonous incarceration. Medical care was inadequate and many of the female prisoners died, one in Louise’s arms as she comforted her, and another whose husband had also died in prison the previous week leaving behind a four-year-old orphaned boy. As in the prisoner of war camp inhabited by Joe Garvey, typhus spread and trenches were dug to bury the victims near the exercise yard.

Louise copied down the inscription that she saw when entering the German prison, one which to her was a distortion of the true meaning of Christianity:

You are now a prisoner. Your barred window, your bolted door the colour of your cloths, all bear witness that you have forfeited your liberty. God did not wish you to continue to defy Him by sinning against His laws and the law of men. He had brought you here so that you ay expiate the crimes of your life.

So, incline yourself under the all-powerful hand of God, incline yourself under the iron laws of this house. If you will not obey of your own will, your will shall be broken and bent. But if you receive humbly the punishment that is inflicted on you the fruit of your submission will be a chastened heart and a peace conscience. God has willed it so.

For Louise, the repentant sinner was always pardoned by God, and for society to withhold this pardon was a crime.

She undertook small acts of private protest, including sewing buttons on military uniforms deliberately loose, so they would fall off at the first hint of pressure. Religious neutrality was not permitted in the prison, so each Sunday all prisoners attended either a Catholic or Protestant service. As in St Gilles, each worshipper was kept in an isolated stall whereby only the top of the heads of the others were visible above the partitions. This amused Louise and reminded her of a picture she had seen of St Francis of Assisi speaking to the fishes. However the services were held in German, and despite requested for a French or Belgian priest, Louise was unable to make confession or hear the words of consolation and hope which she craved. However patriotic sentiment was shown each 14 July when threads of red, white and blue material were worn on their uniforms. She also wrote a letter of protest to the German Minister for Home Affairs against political prisoners like herself being forced to undertake munitions work.

In 1919 Louise had the Legion d’Honneur and the Croix de Guerre conferred on her by Georges Clemenceau, President of the French Republic. He cited that she was:

Model of the purest patriotism, she rendered signal services to the Allied Armies in the invaded regions. Spent herself in caring for the wounded, and in the midst of the gravest danger, probed herself to be actuated by heroic courage and complete disregard for personal safety. Victim of her devotion to our country, France, she was condemned to death by the Germans. This sentence was later commuted into one of transportation with hard labour.

Louise Thuliez medalsLouise with her Legion d’honneur and Croix de guerre


She wrote her memoirs in the 1930s and they were translated into English in 1934. During the Second World War she was active in the French resistance, helping more English and French soldiers to safety and receiving the Order of the British Empire. She died in 1966.



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.



Fight the Good Fight

Fight the Good Fight2









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..

Churchill Prince of Wales 1941

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.

Churchill funeral

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