St John‘s Church, Milford
As 1914 opened the Vicar of Milford, Ronald Nattrass, was primarily concerned with matters financial, particularly in relation to the parish schools and the Alms Fund, which had ‘broken down under the strain of the increasing demands which have been made upon it’. For the majority of the year the parish magazine was taken up with the usual day to day concerns of a parish, including missionary work, Sunday schools, local societies, the choir, the Boy Scouts and rummage sales, as well as the controversy surrounding the passage of the Welsh Church Act 1914.
However, by March 1914 the world outside the parish started to encroach, as concerns about the ‘national troubles’ began to be voiced and calls were made for individuals to add special petitions to their ordinary prayers, in line with the Bishop’s wish, for guidance through this time. The Bishop’s own attitudes were also voiced for the first time as he described this time of trouble as ‘the chastisement which our sins deserve’. In April the magazine recorded that special prayers, again authorized by the Bishop, were to be said from time to time during service, for ‘so long as grave unrest continues’. In particular prayers were to be said for the King, that he may be guided by God to meet the tremendous responsibility which faced him.
In September 1914, the magazine began with an address by the Bishop of Winchester, Edward Talbot. On August 5th, 1914, he wrote from Farnham Castle that ‘an unspeakably solemn and momentous time is upon us… [as we] find ourselves faced with a crisis which shakes every stone in our national house’. The Bishop recognised the ‘tremendous reality… that in its scale, in the numbers whom it will touch, in the amount of suffering which it may cause, there has been nothing like it in the history of Europe’ and, highlighting the feelings of uncertainty, he continued, saying that ‘there is not one of us who can tell what it may mean to himself or herself, not one to whom it may not be personally ruinous, for whom it may not change the whole outlook of life’.
The Bishop called upon Readers to remember that ‘this awful thing comes to us in the Providence of God’, asserting that if this is ‘chastisement or discipline’ for what many have felt to be a life of ‘luxury, pleasure-worship and money-worship, with all its forgetfulness or contempt of God, all its unequal pressure on the poor’ that ‘could not go on long unchanged’, then it is necessary to ‘humble ourselves as a people and as individuals before Him’ and ‘have the penitence and faith’ to search for the ‘good to come out of agony and suffering’. He recognised that there will be a temptation to doubt God but recommended returning to the Bible, Psalms and Prophets to see how faith and hope have led to victory in the darkness of previous trials. Finally the Bishop called for all to unite, forgetting differences and recognising that what seems wrong to us may seem right to our enemies, who ‘will suffer horribly too’, before entreating people to ‘pray as you have never prayed before’.
October 1914 again began with a message from Bishop who felt ‘increasingly sure that we are fighting in a righteous cause, for freedom and for a better future’. He was encouraged in this by the support given by the colonies, as well as ‘the main body of American opinion, and by public feeling in Italy’, all of whom he considered to be ‘independent witnesses’ to some degree. The Bishop returned to the idea of God teaching us lessons that will lead to ‘moral gains’, as well as the lessons of courage and prayer that ‘we are being taught by our countrymen’, who ‘face up with high spirit and unwavering readiness to a war by sea and land’. He particularly highlighted the courage of Belgium, ‘a victim sacrificed, in a war for with which she has nothing to do, for the strife and sin of the great nations’, and called for contributions to the Belgian Relief Fund.
The Magazine detailed Milford’s response to the war, which was to take the form of:
Firstly: Prayer – an intercession at every service and a Special Intercessory Service in the Parish Church on Fridays at 7.30pm, and another at Ockford on Thursday evenings. The bell was also to be rung by volunteers at noon each week day ‘to invite all to join in prayer for our Sailors and Soldiers and for those of our Allies’.
Secondly: Men – Over 60 men had gone to serve, the majority volunteering, several of whom were old service men. A List of Honour was being prepared for the Church Porch, which was to give the names of Milford men on service which they expected to continue to grow ‘after so splendid a start’.
Finally: Self Sacrifice – so much voluntary service was being undertaken that ‘space does not allow us to detail’ and, while ‘there was no sort of need to appeal to Milford parishioners to support generously the various War Relief Funds’, there was also a need to, at the same time, maintain the ability of the Alms Funds to render assistance to the parish’s poorer brethren.
It was also announced that Milford had set up a Rifle Club and, with a range provided by Lord Midleton and ‘hearty support’ by Archdeacon Potter, it had been possible to meet this ‘urgently felt’ need.
In addition, a War Working Party was to meet at the Working Men’s Club every Thursday from 2.30-4.30pm and members were invited.
In November 1914 the magazine began with ‘War News’, which talked about the strain of waiting for news ‘from the Front and from our Fleet’, and called for the prayers provided at the outbreak of the war to be supplemented by special intercession that was informed by what was being learnt about the actual progress of the struggle. For the author, ‘prayer is our part in the war which is being waged’, and we should ‘follow our braving fighting men right up to the front with our prayers’.
Returning to the subject of prayer, ‘War Intercession’ lamented the fact that the church was unable to maintain a daily Eucharist, as well as the fact that, even though St John’s was a small parish church, it was not ‘packed to the doors [at the special Intercessory Service] on Friday evenings’. Each reader was asked to give thought to the question ‘How can I allow any obstacle, short of absolute duty, to keep me away when they gather in God’s house to offer those special prayers for those who are offering their lives, that I may dwell in safety’.
Troops were to be quartered in the parish at the locally situated Milford Camp, a part of the Witley Military Camp, and the magazine reported that the Godalming Federation of the Church of England Men’s Society had resolved to offer its services to Reverend Nattrass for him to utilise in ‘whatever work he would apportion it among the troops’ quartered therein. It was also recorded that the Church of England Sailors and Soldiers’ Institute, amongst others, had offered support to supplement the efforts that were to be made locally in hosting this ‘somewhat large number of welcome guests’. However, concerns about funds continued, and attention was drawn to the need for larger support of the Curate’s Stipend Fund. This was to ensure that the parish was not left without the help of a second priest at just the time when their work was ‘calling for the utmost effort’ and they were being given the opportunity ‘of rendering special service in connection with the camp’.
The Mothers’ Union reported that its usual monthly meetings were being suspended in favour of the Working Party, whose numbers had varied from 30 to 40, and who had already made over 50 garments for those who had been impoverished by the war. These were to be sent through the Surrey Needlework Guild to the Queen’s Guild and Red Cross Society. It was also reported that 25 belts and six pairs of socks had been sent towards to the Queen’s gift to the troops, with more being made. In addition, the Girl’s Friendly Society (GFS) was to meet on two Wednesdays in November and any young women interested in doing ‘war work’ and unable to attend the working party, were welcomed. Lastly, Mrs Edith Urmson of Elm House, was to give out work for the Red Cross. To date ‘210 garments of various kinds and 41 bandages have been sent to Headquarters in Godalming, to Hospitals in London and… Godalming [and] two sacks of clothes, four complete sets of baby clothes (also a cradle), have been sent to Belgian Refugees’.
As 1914 drew to a close, with the exception of an announcement about Christmas services, the December edition of the St John’s, Milford, Monthly Magazine was entirely preoccupied with the effects of the war, both directly and indirectly.
The magazine highlighted the Bishop of Winchester’s appeal for contributions towards a special fund aimed to supplement the provision being made by the government for the wellbeing of the troops quartered in camps in the diocese. Part of this fund was to be allotted to providing small hut chapels and the remainder devoted towards the erection of recreation huts, mainly by the Young Men’s Christian Association (YMCA). The parish welcomed this action as it relieved them of the responsibility of providing and maintaining a hut themselves, and they resolved to support the Bishop’s scheme. At a meeting convened on 19th November, to carry out this resolution, the YMCA had reported that they intended to erect four large huts for recreation and refreshment, that would also be available for religious uses, and appealed to Milford for the use of twelve people for each evening for the week to ensure the timely opening of the first hut.
In ‘Navvy Mission’ it was reported that while the camp construction had brought hundreds of men into the parish, any attempt to have a care for these men had so far met with failure. It was with apparent relief then, that the magazine reported that Mr Sutton of the Navvy Mission Society was now hard at work in the Camp supporting these men. A large hut had been set apart as a Workmen’s Institute, which was to provide shelter and a place to relax in the evening, and Mr Sutton was keen to receive offers of help, both in the form of personal service or gifts. In addition, it was reported that the Navvy Mission Society would be glad to receive any financial contributions towards its expenses.
The ongoing financial strain on the parish and its parishioners was a recurring theme, and so it was with some great pleasure they reported that the parish’s response to their earlier appeal had resulted in the total amount of offerings on Sunday 8th November ‘exceeding the usual average of our annual contribution towards the work of the Diocese’. This response was taken as ‘proof that Milford Church people are resolved not to allow the ordinary work of the Church to be hampered because they are being called upon to meet so many demands upon their purses’. The magazine also acknowledged the subscriptions received by the treasurer of the National Relief Fund from various Milford parishioners.
In addition, and in contrast to the previously reported lack of attendance on Friday nights, the magazine reported that, in order to ensure ‘that all who come to the services shall find themselves welcome in our Church’, regular worshippers who have a preference for a particular seat should ensure that they attend in good time as, once the final bell begins, any vacant seats will be liable to be occupied by visitors.
Finally, the congratulations extended to ex-Milford school pupil Walter Harris, on his promotion from Lance-Corporal to 2nd Lieutenant, marked the first time that an individual’s war-time service is reported in the parish magazine.
St John’s Milford, Monthly Magazine, January 1914 to December 1914, SHC Ref. 8005/2/17.