St John‘s Church, Milford – 1915
In January 1915 the vicar’s New Year address was, unsurprisingly, very different to that of 1914 which had been entirely preoccupied with parish finances. Only a few months into the war Reverend Nattrass remained optimistically cheerful in his outlook, certain that, when God saw fit, the black cloud of war would lift and the process of healing begin. He praised the troops training in nearby camps, who desired no pity despite the fact that they lived their life in ‘shush and rain’, and viewed their behaviour as evidence of the trustworthiness of reports of the ‘cheerfulness of our men in the fighting lines’. The Reverend also continued to see the war as a just one, concluding that:
‘Everyone of us feels it is a privilege to do what is in their power to meet the endless demands which our country makes upon us in this hour of its great need. God grant that this year may see the end of the Great War, but if this may not be, then our happiness will be found in the unceasing opportunities which are being given us of rendering, however humble, a support in maintaining that heroic conflict until it shall end in a victory such as none shall every [sic] grudge the cost of.’
It seems that earlier pleas for greater support of the Curate’s Stipend Fund had been heeded as the vicar had been joined by a second clergyman, Reverend C J Johnstone.
Finite resources, both human and material, meant that the support given to the South African Church Railway Mission had been deferred, in actuality only until March, as ‘the extra work that is being done to provide for the comfort of the Troops and for the needs of those who are suffering because of the war’ was prioritised. In the meantime the Working Party continued to make garments for soldiers at the Front and mend socks for those at ‘our Camp’. A new Working Party was also to be instigated every Thursday fortnight at 6.30pm, for those who could not attend in the afternoon. Members of the League of Honour were particularly asked to attend.
The ‘League of Honour for Women and Girls of the British Empire’ was established in response to the national crises. Its motto was ‘Strength and Honour’ and its members pledged ‘by the help of God to uphold the honour of our nation and its defenders in this time of war, by Prayer, Purity and Temperance’. The organisation’s four key objects were very much couched in terms of women’s responsibility for the moral welfare of the nation, in particular for ‘the manhood of our country’.
It seems, however, that these aims were misunderstood and the magazine’s authors were keen to establish that ‘far from casting any aspersion on our soldiers, as some have mistakenly thought, members of the League should be ready to do all they can for the true welfare of those who have given up so much in the service of their country’. In practice, by August 1915 the Milford branch of the League had so far held no meetings, although one was proposed towards the end of the month in the Vicarage Garden.
In February 1915 the privations of wartime were clearly demonstrated as magazine recorded that the ‘dearness of food, the heavy taxation, and the irresistible appeals… reaching us daily’ meant that Lent this year was to be welcomed as offering ‘a consecration by Religion of that abstinence which necessity has laid upon us’.
The issue of church seating was once again mentioned and thanks were offered to members of the congregation who had given up their usual seats at the 11am service in favour of Officers and Soldiers from the local camp, who were also welcomed to the Sunday services.
Financially, the Alms Fund was showing increased solvency, which was largely attributed to ‘the special circumstances arising out of the war’, and total church collections had also increased. However, subscriptions had fallen and this was attributed to the ‘departure from the parish of many regular subscribers’.
March 1915 saw reports that, on Sunday 21st February, the parish bade farewell to the first group of men who had occupied ‘Hut City’ at the military encampment. In contrast to their apparent initial misgivings, the it was recorded that they ‘know now that soldiers make excellent neighbours’ and, in response to the appreciation shown for the efforts made by the parishioners to mitigate the hardships of camp life, ’we shall take the more pleasure in doing what lies in our power to be of service to them’. Throughout the year the parish continued to take pleasure in the appreciation shown by the occupants of Milford Camp.
The April and May 1915 editions were mainly taken up with church business, including, once again, the falling off of subscriptions ‘occasioned by death, and by the departure from the parish of several regular subscribers’, particularly in relation to the parish’s ability to maintain an assistant priest at the exact time ‘when unique circumstances call for the utmost exertion’. In May these fears were realised when the Vicar announced that it had become necessary to cancel the services of Reverend Johnstone, despite the increase in work caused by the Military Camp, which included a corresponding increase in Sunday worshippers. However, the Diocese came to the rescue when Reverend H P Thornton, Honorary Secretary of the Diocesan Clerical Registry, consented to help out temporarily, on a part-time basis.
Appeals for money continued throughout the year as the church attempted to compensate for these lost contributions. These included appeals for The Parish Funds, the Curate’s Stipend Fund, funds for fittings at the four Church huts at Milford Camp, the Winchester Diocesan Fund, funds for those made homeless by War, the Sunday School annual Christmas Treat, the National Committee for Relief in Belgium, the Red Cross, and Missions Overseas. The demands on parishoner’s finances were plentiful.
In June 1915 the magazine reported that the parish was to respond to the Bishop of Winchester’s repeated charges of lack of support for the summons to Prayer, by moving the special Intercessory service from Friday evening to Thursdays at 7.30pm, and, if not successful, to Wednesday evenings.
At Milford Camp The Church Army had established a hut, the only institution provided by a Church agency within the camp. The Camp Hospital called for gifts of magazines to relieve the monotony of ‘these innocent prisoners’. Arrangements had been made for The Boy Scouts to call and collect any suitable publications.
In addition the inevitability of conscription was addressed, as the author asserted that ‘to wait for compulsion is to forfeit the honour of self-sacrifice’ and expressed a hope that, when the day arose, no Milford man ‘will be found to be taken other than those whom good reason has restrained from voluntary enlistment’. This sentiment was to be repeated later in the year when King George V made his ‘call to arms’.
July 1915 was once again taken up with matters financial and in many ways, although for different reasons, this was a return to matters that had preoccupied the parish’s organisations before the outbreak of war. Additionally, the magazine reported that a special day of continuous Intercession had taken place on 21st June, which was well observed but by comparatively few. The coming departure from the Camp of XI Division, ‘among whom we have found so many good friends’, was also anticipated.
In August 1915 the effects on a small population of having a military camp nearby were highlighted, when the magazine reported on the Vicar of Aldershot’s appeal for help in building additional schoolrooms for a village that, before the Crimean War, had a population of 200 and which now had ‘a military population of 40,000, and a civil one of 24,000’. The author concluded that it did not call for much effort to foresee a day when Milford might have to take similar action.
In ‘Practical Patriotism’, the magazine recorded that the Educational Authorities, at the request of the Government, had distributed leaflets through the School advising of practical ways in which adults and children could support the war effort. These included practising ‘careful economy in our daily expenditure’ and ‘avoiding, so far as is possible, the purchase of foreign products’. In addition it was asserted that ‘it should be the ambition of everyone to possess at least one £5 War Loan Stock Certificate’.
In June 1915 the Government had announced a new War Loan scheme. Unlike an earlier scheme, in which the minimum subscription of £100.00 could only be made via the Bank of England, the new loan was designed to be more widely accessible and, to that end, bonds for the sum of £5 and £25, paying interest at 4.5%, were to be obtainable through the Post Office. For those for whom this was too much of a stretch, vouchers were also made available in five shilling multiples, not only through Post Offices but also through bodies such as Trade Unions, Friendly Societies and Works Offices. These vouchers carried interest at 5% per annum and, once accumulated to £5, could be exchanged for a bond.
Parents in Milford were invited to encourage their children to ‘save up for the proud moment when they become possessors of a voucher of their own’.
In September 1915 a meeting was held to explain a County Scheme that had been set up to enable individuals to become 2 shilling contributors to the War Loan scheme. Payments were to be made weekly, with a penny fine for each lapsed week, and parents were able to invest in the name of a child, so endowing them with a benefit for the future. However, the meeting was poorly attended and few had become contributors.
The thorny subject of poor attendance at Intercessory prayers was tackled yet again as the author asked ‘how is it that any home which has sent out a sailor or solider to the war has no one to represent it, but leaves it to others to offer united prayer for their own dear ones in danger?’ This was contrasted with the situation in France where it had been reported that partially ruined Churches in devastated districts were ‘crowded with supplicants’.
With the approach of Michaelmas Day, also known as The Feast of Saint Michael and All Angels, the magazine made reference to the story of ‘The Angels at Mons’ as one of many reasons for keeping this festival ‘with special earnestness’.
Lastly in September, the news that Corporal William Ogden, a postman, had become the first of Milford’s own to lay down his life. This had been followed, more recently, by the death of Sydney Voller (known as Frank), who was baptized in Milford Church and had spent his life within the community.
The October 1915 issue advised that the List of Honour in the Church Porch had been revised and, ‘to the credit of our Parish’, been considerably lengthened to reflect the names of all Milford men serving in the Navy and the Army. Amongst these were the churchwarden, Walter Butterworth (known as Cecil), who had taken up a commission in the 3rd West Surrey Regiment, necessitating the appointment of Mr Mackintosh as Acting Churchwarden. Cecil was to fall at the Somme on 21 July 1916.
In addition, the Superintendent of the Ockford Sunday School, Miss E Laidman, had accepted foreign-service as a Red Cross Nurse. Finally, the sad news of the loss of the Bishop of Winchester’s youngest son, Gilbert. The Bishop asked that his two elder sons, who were both serving as Chaplains in France, should be remembered in prayers.
November 1915, opened with the ‘King’s Appeal’ and the looming possibility of ‘compulsory recruiting’. The Girl’s Friendly Society and War Working Party were continuing their good works, and it was announced that strict measures would be adopted to enforce the regulation requiring windows to be blacked-out after dark.
Two more Milford soldiers had also lost their lives in France, Alfred Herbert died of wounds in hospital and Alfred Luff fell in action. The message from the Front telling of Alfred’s death, and the way in which he was ‘so valued by his officers and comrades’, was a matter of both pride and consolation to the parish.
1915 closed with the December issue and extracts from a charge by the Bishop of Winchester, which detailed his reflections on the nation’s response to the War so far.
The Bishop stated that, having found the War necessary, and therefore right, ‘the nation plunged with something of the blitheness of good conscience, and of conscious unanimity into the greatest adventure of history’, and the Church, having found itself convinced that treachery and cowardly self regard are more anti-Christian than war, ‘threw the whole weight of its influence into strengthening and consecrating the nation’s decision’. However, Bishop Talbot went on to assert that ‘a little too content with its decision, the nation was a little slow to see how much the decision involved, and how much it left untouched’.
St John’s Milford, Monthly Magazine, January 1915 to December 1915, SHC Ref. 8005/2/17.
‘The League of Honour’, Surrey Mirror and County Post, 4 December 1914.
‘The New War Loan’, The Times (London), 22 June 1915.