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Hallo again to all.

4 August 1914: The first World War — the 'Great War', the 'War to End All Wars — began. On 4 August 2014, it will be 100 years since that time.

British Army chaplains tending British gravesPlans for remembrance* are apace in England, France, Australia (where it will be known as the ANZAC centenary), New Zealand (where it will be known as WW100), and other countries where engagement began in 1914.§

On 4 August 2014, at Westminster Abbey, a candlelit vigil of prayer and penitence will conclude with a last candle extinguished at 11pm, the moment war was declared and the 'lamps went out over Europe'.

The year 1914 in many ways resembles more 1814 than it will 2014. The structure of institutions, the assumptions about society, the acceptance of a fixed social hierarchy, the sense of a sort of permanent handing-down of traditions, the connectedness of the upper echelons of society transcending national boundaries (see, e.g., La Grande Illusion) — all that began to disappear in the mud and filth of the battlefields. Those who survived the war and those who came of age in the twenties knew there was no going back.

And in many ways, that was undoubtedly a good thing. There was much of exterior beauty and order in the pre-1914 world, but it was equalled (or surpassed) by limited freedoms for much of society and rigid rules that applied to most everyone apart from the ruling classes. Some of the wholesome changes — votes for women, a relaxation of class structure — might have come without a war, but undoubtedly more slowly. Some of the oddities that came as an offshoot of the war — the fascination with spiritualism, to take one example — were even accepted by those who were good Churchmen and Churchwomen.

And what about the Church during WWI? The pews were filled, with prayers rising for family members on the frontlines. Earnest sermons were preached, and the delicate topic of whose side God was on was either asserted boldly (of course England and her allies) or discreetly avoided. Parish priests were required to use to the full their pastoral skills, as families struggled with grief, anxiety, and fear.

Nowhere were those pastoral gifts more needed than in the trenches of the frontline, where chaplains did their best to bring what comfort was possible. We've written before about the Reverend Geoffrey Anketell Studdert Kennedy and his ministry to soldiers; we're ashamed to admit until recently we didn't know the name¶ of the Reverend Theodore Bayley Hardy, who was nearly 53 when accepted as a chaplain.

Good Mr Hardy had tried to enlist as a chaplain since 1914, and was repeatedly turned down. It wasn't until 1916 that he was accepted as a 'temporary chaplain of the fourth class'. First sent to base depots, he insisted on being sent to the Western front, and there, in that chthonic hell, his devotion and concern for his men went well beyond even the most loving of chaplains. The Reverend TB Hardy, DSO, MC, VC

The only still photographs of Hardy in the field show him in typical mode, working at the advanced dressing station at Feuchy chapel, near Arras. He refused all attempts to move him back from the line, even if only to give him a rest; he frequently said that he was a dreadful coward, but that his place was at the front

He was awarded the DSO in 1917

for his concern for the wounded, in particular for staying out with a wounded man, trapped in mud, in no man's land for many hours and under constant fire, and despite the fact that his own wrist was broken. He remained with this man until he died. Hardy collapsed with exhaustion shortly afterwards.

Theodore Hardy later won the MC in that same year for assisting with the evacuation of the wounded whilst under heavy bombardment.

In 1918, he was awarded the Victoria Cross by George V for more extraordinary acts of courage and self-sacrifice. Chaplain Hardy died on 18 October from wounds suffered on 10 October. He was not quite 55 years old.

He remains the most highly decorated chaplain in the British Army. (For a week from Sunday, 20 October you can read his biography at the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography.)

A total of 179 British chaplains were killed in the war.

After the armistice in November 1918, instead of a quiet peace, came the Spanish Influenza. There is a sort of fiendish awfulness that what is called 'the mother of pandemics' would scourge a world where 37 million or so had died in the just ended-war. That appalling 'flu would raise the total of deaths to 65 million.

All wars are horrific. WWI, with its vast numbers of dead, is barely in the 'top ten' for the worst wars in human history. But not every war seems to signify such a break, a chasm, between what was and what was to come. The ramifications shook the world and that world included our beloved Ecclesia Anglicana. In many ways, we're still feeling the reverberations of those guns of August in the church today.

See you next week.

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20 October 2013

* The United States did not officially enter the war until 1917, although many American men volunteered to serve in the Ambulance Corps and a number of women travelled to Europe to serve as nurses before that time.

§ Already on the web there are official sites for WWI video and for a vast digital collection of more than 400,000 items. The BBC has its own centenary plans —  'the biggest and most ambitious pan-BBC project ever commissioned' (the BBC controller for the project Adrian Van Klaveren) — and it includes everything from India's Forgotten War and Teenage Tommies as part of its roughly 2500 hours of television. The official UK government site is here.

This page recognises a few other extraordinary chaplains whose names were unknown to us.


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