Godalming Congregational Church in World War I

Former Godalming Congregational Church, Bridge Road (April 2015)

Title: Former Godalming Congregational Church, Bridge Road (April 2015)
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Written by Marion Edwards.

The experience of Godalming Congregational Church during the war is well illustrated by records held at Surrey History Centre under the reference 1925. They include annual reports (from 1918 re-named year books) and bound yearly volumes of church magazines.

The church’s annual reports are comprised largely of short reports and detailed accounts. However, each opens with ‘The Pastor’s Letter’ and that for 1914 begins with the statement that ‘This Manual is published while we are as a Nation at War … We are holding the fort and the flag is still flying’. From 1915, a ‘Roll of Honour’ is included of all those members of the congregation serving in the forces, with an ‘In Memoriam’ section naming those who have died.  Rather surprisingly, the regular ‘Items of Interest in … ’ detailing events for each year does not mention the war, but 1916 notes that ‘Many Canadians entertained on alternate Sunday evenings after Service’ in October, November and December; 1917 notes ‘Throughout the year a large number of Canadians from Witley Camp have attended our Sunday Evening Services’; and 1918 (now named the ‘Year Book for 1919’) records that in November there was a ‘United Free Church Service on conclusion [of the War]’.

Godalming Congregational Magazine, 1918 (SHC 1925/2/22)

The ‘Godalming & District Congregational Magazine’ is regularly at least 20+ pages long but most of the content comprises uplifting and informative illustrated stories and articles which are not specific to Godalming or indeed Surrey. This is typical of church magazines of the period, both Non-Conformist and Anglican.  Religious publishing houses provided the main content for local magazines, with local information about church services and meetings confined to an insert or short supplement.  Many people who didn’t take a newspaper will have obtained information about the war, in a rather sanitized form, from such magazines which emphasised the activities of Christian organisations and the continuing relevance of faith and traditional Christian teaching amidst the horror.

The September 1914 issue opens with the regular ‘The Pastor’s Column’, which this month states ‘No one dreamed when our last issue was published that within a few days England would be at War with Germany’. However, this is the only mention of the war and it is not until the October issue that the subject begins to feature in any length, with a page naming those men from Godalming and district serving their country and including extracts from a letter sent by a sailor on board HMS Princess Royal in the North Sea, and a short paragraph entitled ‘Mr KcKay on the War’. This final page becomes a feature in every issue of the magazine for the rest of the year, varying a little each time.  November’s ‘Pastor’s Column’ includes the news that soldiers are now billeted in Godalming and Rodborough, and that Belgian refugees are housed at Bramfield.  The same issue includes an illustrated article ‘Floating Hospitals for Children’ in New York harbour.  December’s ‘Pastor’s Column’ also notes soldiers billeted in Elstead, and the magazine includes the homily’ Powers That Promote Peace’. 

Godalming Congregational Magazine, 1918 (SHC 1925/2/22)

No magazines are held at Surrey History for 1915, although whether these were never published or are just missing is not clear. For 1916, a copy of the annual report appears at the front with the January issue and includes ‘The Pastor’s Letter’; from then on all the contents of the magazines for the year run together, with all the individual monthly introductory pages bound together at the back.  The inspiring general articles include a photograph of a sailor with two children entitled ‘Tales of the Great North Sea’ (p69); and the articles ‘The Effect of War upon Public Worship’ by the Right Hon Sir Joseph Compton-Rickett (p93), ‘Why Does not God Intervene?’ by the Rev George McLuckie (p211) and ‘The War Hymns of Charles Wesley’ by Will T Brooke (p261).  It is left to ‘The Pastor’s Column’ and the pages dedicated to local servicemen in each month’s introductory pages to directly address the war and its effect upon Godalming.

The 1917 volume reverts to the binding each month’s introductory pages together with the main contents, with a copy of the year’s annual report bound at the back. Like 1916, ‘The Pastor’s Column’ (disappearing on his departure in August), the ‘Editorial Notes’ and items dedicated to local servicemen in each month’s introductory pages address the war and its effect upon Godalming, stating in February that locally billeted soldiers are coming to Evening Service and including that month thank-you notes from recipients of parcels sent to those serving abroad.  The more general content again attempts to offer a wider perspective on the war including such pieces as: ‘A Winter of War Work’ by ‘JHN’ (May; noting ‘the idea that some of our Tommies [have] that the German guns say “Krupp, Krupp, Krupp”’); ‘The Greatest Enemy’ (June; comparing young men who fight with those who drink); ‘Labour Problems after the War’ (August); ‘Cameos From Camps’ by the Rev W Kingscote Greenland (October); and ‘New Year’s Day on a Troopship’ by the Rev Major W Field. While not directly related to the war, December’s ‘Saving the Babies’ is also of interest, relating to the education of new mothers and their babies, and the care of babies whose own mothers cannot care for them. 

Godalming Congregational Magazine, 1918 (SHC 1925/2/22)

In 1918, ‘The Pastor’s Letter’ (returning in September), ‘Editorial Notes’ and items dedicated to local servicemen in each month’s introductory pages directly address the war and its effect upon Godalming, noting in the December issue that ‘The war, we trust, is at an end’. However, like 1917, there is more of interest in the main pages again this year: ‘Behind the Firing Line’ by Gipsy Smith (January); ‘When the Boys Come Home’ by the Rev George Cooper (January); ‘The Home of Happiness’ by Sir Arthur Pearson (February; relating the story of St Dunstan’s home for blind servicemen); ‘Services in the Desert’ by the Rev Major W Field (March); ‘Miracles of Reconstruction’ (April; relating to a ‘shattered French village’); ‘Religion at the Front’ by the Rev Major Field (April); ‘My Boys of the Navy’ by Agnes Weston (June); ‘Camouflage’ by the Rev Fred Hastings (September); the short story ‘On Leave’ by Jeanie Fry (September); and ‘Children in Camp’ (December; about posting Christmas letters home to ‘Mother’). 

Mention of the past war continues until March this year, with in January pieces entitled ‘Looking Forward’ by the Rev Arthur T Guttery and ‘Tennyson’s Prophecies Fulfilled’ by the Rev George Eayrs (which includes the delightful paragraph ‘An Early Vision of Aeroplanes’ in Tennyson’s ‘Locksley Hall’ of 1942), and in March extracts from thank-you letters written by recipients of Christmas gifts to servicemen.

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